Bookshop Cinderella

Grade : B+
Grade : B+
Sensuality : Warm
Review Date : June 26, 2023
Published On : 06/2023

Laura Lee Guhrke has done it again. I picked up Bookshop Cinderella on a Tuesday when I was bored and had nothing to do. By Wednesday I was re-reading my favorite parts and marveling over an author who can turn an age-old story into something fun and new.

Maximillian Shaw, Duke of Westbourne, is determined not to marry beneath him. Before the reader has a chance to think him snobbish, however, it’s made clear that his prejudice stems from valid reasons and is offset by his genuinely good nature. Max’s first marriage (at the ripe old age of twenty-two) was to the daughter of a Colorado coal miner. Ill-equipped to handle the demands of her new station, his first wife soon found herself alienated and miserable in British society, while Max was helpless to do anything more than watch her spiral. After her death he spent years avoiding the disastrous prospect of falling in love again, but ten years later he finally determines it is time to remarry in order to beget an heir. However with the wisdom of experience, Max comes to London planning a match with a woman of appropriate station and experience.

Evie Harlow is exactly the opposite of everything Max is looking for – the middle-class proprietor of a book shop, she only enters Max’s sphere when he comes to see her on an errand for his cousin. However something about her sparks his interest, and when some rude young men insult her Max finds himself defending Evie… defending her so strongly that he ends up placing a bet that he could transform her into the season’s Incomparable. And so an acquaintance that should have gone nowhere turns into a Cinderella-and-fairy-godfather relationship, which quickly deepens into love.

Although I can understand being skeptical at the premise, I’m here to attest that Guhrke handles it deftly, striking just the right notes to make this scheme come off. The eccentricities of the aristocracy can be blamed for the outrageous bet, but then Max does the honorable thing by fully explaining it to Evie (and is appropriately embarrassed to boot). He ends up selling it to her as a well-timed vacation, and they’re off to the races without it feeling too silly.

Once they’re in the realm of this Cinderella-like story, Max and Evie quickly grow close. There’s a palpable chemistry between them that only grows over time, and all the ways in which they try to pretend to themselves that it’s just friendship only heighten the tension. I particularly loved the awkward moments when Max and Evie would try to apologize to each other, having fully misunderstood the other person’s thoughts. They’re so delightfully human and funny as they stumble over each other, it’s impossible not to love them as a couple.

I also loved the way that Guhrke balanced the characters between being responsible adults but still having room to grow. At twenty-eight (Evie) and thirty-two (Max), they both pretty much have their lives together and can be relied upon to make good choices. However they also still have blind spots in their love lives, and Evie with her self image, which is where they have the opportunity to grow over the course of the book. As Max opens himself up to the idea of again trusting and marrying someone from a lower social class, and Evie starts to believe in her own beauty and worth, we get to see some real vulnerability from each of them.

Although I would have told you a week ago that I’d read enough Cinderella stories for this lifetime, Bookshop Cinderella proved me wrong. In this book Laura Lee Guhrke has written a light-hearted romp which presents a playful version of reality and will give you characters who practically jump off the page. It should prove the perfect addition to any summer vacation or lazy weekend.

Alexandra Anderson

College student by day. Book enthusiast around the clock. With any luck I'll eventually be able to afford food AND books. But I've got my priorities straight.
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