Books about books are like the main character of a movie saying “my life is so not a movie” — they’re oddly self-aware and reassuring. You meet characters who also love the musty smell of libraries and appreciate the rush of purchasing a new book. Emily Henry’s newest contemporary romance “Book Lovers” is exactly what its title suggests — it’s a book about book lovers talking about books like it’s their job (hint: it is).
At the beginning of the story, Nora Stephens meets Charlie Lastra, and the two don’t exactly hit it off. She’s a no-nonsense literary agent and he’s a brooding book editor, but their potential working relationship immediately turns sour the moment Charlie says he isn’t interested in editing Nora’s favorite client’s book, “Once in a Lifetime.” Much to Charlie’s dismay, the book becomes a bestseller two years later.
When Nora’s younger and very pregnant sister, Libby, convinces her to take a much-needed girls’ trip, the two travel to the small town of Sunshine Falls, the setting of “Once in a Lifetime,” for a month. Inspired by the book, Libby comes up with a vacation bucket list to ensure the two have their own life-changing small-town adventure. Nora’s plan to lie low and enjoy her vacation is ruined when she bumps into Charlie — again and again. As if Sunshine Falls wasn’t small enough, they are thrown together to work on her client’s new book, but Nora can’t ignore the biggest plot twist yet: she and Charlie actually work well together. Just as Nora and Charlie grapple with their connection in a new setting, they begin to wonder if their relationship will survive back home in New York. Does what happens in a small town stay in a small town?
It should come to the surprise of no one that “Book Lovers” was considered one of the most anticipated books of 2022 by pretty much everybody, myself included. As the New York Times bestselling author of young adult and adult romance novels, Emily Henry is the queen of fun and emotional summer reads, and “Book Lovers” is no exception.
“Book Lovers” is an ode to the Miranda Priestlys and Meredith Blakes of the world. You know, the Ice Queens and career-driven women we love to hate in pop culture. Nora fits this archetype: At work, she’s known as the Shark, and she hasn’t cried in 10 years. However, instead of villainizing her, Henry gives us a well-crafted and sympathetic character. Nora is incredibly sarcastic, which makes her first-person narrative enjoyable and her millennial-esque quirks (a.k.a. being obsessed with her Peloton) not that annoying. Nora knows she’s not the heroine of her own story — she’s successful but overly committed to her job, and she puts the needs of others, specifically Libby and her clients, before her own. She usually dates workaholic guys just like her, until it inevitably doesn’t work out and those exes go on to marry Nora’s complete opposites. But that all changes when Nora gets to know Charlie. Nora and Charlie understand each other because they’re both competitive within the literary world and they’re both New York City people until they die.
The trickiest part about incorporating the “rivals-to-lovers” trope is the transition from the characters hating each other’s guts to enjoying the other’s presence, but Henry’s execution is seamless. The animosity between Nora and Charlie quickly fades, but the chemistry and impeccable banter is constant throughout the story. You can’t help but say “Oh my god” after every single scene involving Nora and Charlie. From the start, their connection is obvious; but as the story progresses, their romance flourishes. Filled with scenes of intimacy (in every sense of the word), their romance is inspired. Charlie is always quick to remind Nora that he wants her to have everything she’s ever dreamed of. It’s such a simple-sounding notion, yet I can’t help but wonder if that is what we can only hope for in our romantic pursuits.
Don’t get me wrong, the romance in “Book Lovers” is exceptional, but it doesn’t compare to Henry’s dedication to developing the relationship between Nora and her sister, Libby. Although the sisters couldn’t be any different — Libby is the hopeless romantic and Nora is the unemotional realist who reads the last page of a book first — their love for each other is evident. Nora wants to use the trip as a way to restore their sisterhood to its former glory because she feels her sister slipping away. Now that Libby has her own family with her husband and two kids, it’s difficult for Nora to accept that Libby doesn’t need her as much. But both women are still dealing with the trauma of losing their mother at a young age, and the responsibility Nora feels for her grown-up sister still weighs heavily on her. It’s painful to read about the internal struggle Nora faces throughout the story. She’s stuck between taking care of Libby like she’s always done, and taking a step back and allowing herself to just be Libby’s sister, not her caretaker — something I’m sure many older sisters can relate to.
Reading Emily Henry’s work is unlike anything else. It’s an experience that makes you feel everything all at once: exhilaration, heartache and contentment. Readers can’t help but become immersed in the characters and the storylines Henry so graciously reveals within her books. Her writing is wholly unique and overwhelmingly beautiful, and the way she weaves humor into her romances is impressive. Although her novels are fun, there’s usually an unforgettable emotional aspect to the story which keeps readers invested.
“Book Lovers” is filled with romance, sisterhood and small-town quirks — what more could you ask for? Emily Henry’s quality of content remains consistent throughout all her books and it’s easy to fall in love with the characters she constructs. Keep in mind, this is the same author who brought us Augustus “When I watch you sleep, I feel overwhelmed that you exist” Everett in her romance debut “Beach Read.” Henry always manages to write incredible love interests; Charlie and even Alex from “People We Meet on Vacation” simultaneously raise the bar for all men. Henry must know her audience well because she incorporates just the right amount of romance that could make any reader swoon. Still, her books are much deeper than other contemporary romances. In a way, it is that depth that helps her books to remain timeless, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at email@example.com.