Jasmine Guillory’s sweet, charming new novel, By the Book, is a modern-day retelling of a beloved fairy tale that is sure to delight fans of the author – and make her some new ones.
This novel is listed as the second in the Meant to Be series which are novels based on various fairy tales. While I absolutely loved book one – Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits – and would highly recommend it you absolutely don’t need to read that volume to enjoy this one. There is no real cross-over between the two tales.
Isabelle – Izzy – Marlow began work at A Tale as Old as Time publishing with a spring in her step, a smile on her face, and hope in her heart. Two years later, the spring is practically a limp, the smile is fake and she’s pretty much given up hope. She’s overworked and underpaid, and as a result of the latter, forced to live with her parents at the ripe old age of twenty-five. She’s not sure what she wants to have happen but she knows something’s got to change. While at a conference in California, opportunity knocks in the most surprising of ways. Her boss has been working hard at getting Beau Towers to write the memoir he contractually agreed to. Beau is:
A former child star, son of two celebrities, famous first for being a teenage heartthrob, then for his general rich-kid dirtbag-type behavior -fights in nightclubs, crashing sports cars, smashing paparazzi cameras, etc.
Beau is autobiography gold. His tell-all will definitely top bestseller lists if they can just get him to turn it in. But they can’t. Phone calls have not worked. Begging has not worked. Increasingly candid, charming emails from Isabelle, entertaining, enlightening, and dang helpful to a struggling writer, have not worked. But since they’re in California anyway, her boss decides Izzy can spend some extra time in the golden state, head to Beau’s place, and give him an in-person pep talk. Izzy’s thrilled about the opportunity, convinced working with Beau will be a big step in the right direction come promotion time.
When she arrives at Beau’s mansion, she meets his amiable assistant Michaela but the man himself refuses to speak to her. Dejectedly heading to her car, with a watchful Michaela escorting her off the grounds, Izzy is hopeful she can at least score some decent tacos on the way out of Santa Barbara so the trip isn’t a complete failure. But Michaela trips, Izzy winds up taking care of her, and Beau Towers is grateful enough to let Izzy spend the night there. He’s rude and mean and obstinate but Izzy’s combination of charm and blunt talk soon have the savage beast very nearly tamed. By the next morning, Beau has decided Izzy is just the tonic his writer’s block needed. Arrangements are made for her to stay and thanks to Izzy, Beau starts the hard work of writing a candid, surprising tale. One that shows a guy who’s much deeper than expected, the kind of man who could easily win Izzy’s heart.
There are a ton of Beauty and the Beast references, specifically the Disney version, in this novel but this isn’t much of a variant on the original. Yes, Beau starts out unfriendly but beast-like he is not. Maybe I’ve seen the movie too often to think of anyone who doesn’t lock you in a tower as truly heinous, but to me, it was clear from the start that our beast was all bark and no bite. The nice part is that Izzy isn’t the kind of beauty who puts up with either barking or biting – the few times Beau snaps at her, she makes it clear that behavior is intolerable and repeats that lesson till he learns it.
In fact, I thought Beau was pretty fabulous. Beneath his occasionally gruff exterior is someone who is generous, kind, caring, and talented. I love how diversified his interests are – he surfs, he bakes, he loves to read – his surface hobbies reveal a person who is, internally, very multidimensional. He (mostly) treats Izzy with an amazing amount of respect and kindness and his few temper flare ups re never violent – he can be cutting but he is equally quick to be apologetic.
Izzy is equally fabulous. Life has beaten her down a bit in recent years but she uses her time in California to regroup, think through what she wants, and then go after it. She’s got a very positive, upbeat personality without being a Pollyanna, and she is tolerant and forgiving of others’ foibles and mishaps without being a pushover. For example, her boss has a rather acerbic personality but Izzy is able to see through that to the person who lies beneath and recognize the difference between someone who has a quirky, prickly nature and a person who’s a genuine jerk. I liked that Izzy has such a keen sense of discernment.
The secondary characters here are very secondary. We get little information about them and they receive equally sparse page time. The concentration is on the growth of Beau and Izzy as individuals and as a couple. I would have expected that to result in a deeply romantic tale but this story is actually more women’s fiction/general fiction than romance. A lot of time is spent on them dealing with their individual issues/personal growth and the rest of that time is spent on Izzy and Beau building a friendship and working on the issues he is having writing his memoir. There’s no kissing till the 70% mark and not even a lot of lustful thinking. They keep things very professional, and while each finds the other attractive, neither does anything about that until we are almost all the way through the book. In some ways that really works – these two have such a terrific friendship that when the heat does appear it’s a foregone conclusion they will have an HEA. They are just too fantastic together not to. For those who like sexy romances, this might be a negative, however.
Jasmine Guillory is a terrific writer who pens an absolutely lovely tale whether it’s a hot love story like While We Were Dating or a much more subtle and sublime narrative like this one. I thoroughly enjoyed By the Book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a friends-to-lovers romance.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer
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