I put off writing a review for Love Lettering because I have so many mixed feelings about the book. I love the art of hand lettering and calligraphy, but I sometimes found the minute focus on the process and different styles (which I obsessed over while reading the text!) distracted my attention from the love story. When I wasn’t wholly distracted because I was visualizing letters and fonts and serifs and sans serifs, I loved this quietly charming – and slightly magical – opposites attract romance.
Meg Mackworth was mostly content working at an upscale paperie, creating beautiful custom hand-lettered stationery, journals and planners for its elite clientele. But then word about her talent spread like wildfire over social media, and her once quiet life became a distant memory. As Love Lettering begins, Meg – dubbed The Planner of Park Slope – is struggling to enjoy her success. She’s lost her creative spark just as an important deadline for a hand lettered journal showcasing her innovative style looms, and she’s panicking. Overwhelmed by the pressures of fame, her work feels forced and uninspired. Meanwhile, she can’t talk to her best friend and roommate about any of it because they’re barely on speaking terms (and she doesn’t know why), and Meg is still trying to shake off a sense of guilt about the hidden message she left in a client’s wedding invitation forecasting the demise of the relationship. She’s mostly convinced herself that no one will ever spot it, but if they do, it will spell disaster for her burgeoning career. Worry and doubts are her constant companions, and she’s certain things can’t get worse… until they do. Reid Sutherland, the gorgeous fiancée of her former client – the client whose invitation contained the hidden word – enters the shop. Stunned and wary, Meg’s initial reaction is to hide. And then she notices he isn’t wearing a wedding ring.
Reid Sutherland is a financial analyst with a talent for spotting patterns – which is how he spotted Meg’s hidden word in the wedding invitation. Although Reid called off the wedding for many reasons – not the least of which was because a total stranger knew it was a mistake – he wants and needs to know how the artist knew the relationship was destined to fail. When Reid walks in the door of the shop and spots Meg, he’s curious and angry and anxious, exhausted by New York City and his job, and desperate for answers from the unassuming woman who made him think twice about his meticulously planned life.
Meg and Reid are a study in contrasts, and as usual, Ms. Clayborn – via the first person PoV of Meg – slowly reveals the hidden depths and quirks of her characters as they reveal themselves to each other. (This author knows women and articulates their insecurities, their doubts, their strengths, their secret selves so clearly… they are women I know and understand.). After an alternately awkward, tense and antagonistic conversation with Reid in the shop, he leaves – but neither he nor Meg experiences a sense of closure afterward. Later, Meg obsessively replays the conversation, and in a pseudo-penitent act, she challenges herself to help Reid fall in love with New York City.
As Love Lettering slowly, quietly unfurls, Reid and Meg awkwardly – painfully, really – discover more and more reasons to spend time together, and more and more reasons to like each other. Each ‘scavenger hunt,’ is like a marvelously, intricately crafted short story within the greater novel, and as they roam across the city finding NYC’s secret places and hidden treasures, they also find them in each other. Their conversations are witty and sharp and difficult and lovely, and watching the author’s characters fall in love is such a wondrous experience. I can’t think of any other author who so perfectly captures those scary wonderful feelings of falling in love. Eventually, the slow simmering heat between Meg and Reid reaches a boiling point, and their friendship gives way to a sexy, passionate affair. Their happiness casts something of a magical, soft focus glow over the whole novel, and it’s all amazingly well done… so it’s a bit of a shock when the story takes an abrupt twist. Honestly reader, the clues are all there, but I was surprised nonetheless.
The affair with Reid helps Meg to find new inspiration for her work, and confidence in herself. She challenges her roommate to be honest about their estrangement (I confess, I didn’t love this character), and nurtures a new friendship with a client on her own journey of self-discovery. Reid, as I mentioned earlier, remains something of an enigma – to the reader, and to Meg. Reader, he’s lovely, but intense and oh, so tightly wound. It’s a delight to watch him enjoy Meg, and to sometimes relax and let his guard down. He’s complicated, and so is his life – well, at least the part he allows Meg (and us) to see.
So let me circle back to one of my biggest challenges grading this book. I love hand lettering, calligraphy, typography, branding… truly, I’m obsessed with it, which was a mixed blessing reading Love Lettering. I geeked out when I read the blurb and saw the cover. I looked forward to hearing about Meg and her career and her art. And then I started reading and obsessing. I couldn’t turn my brain off trying to imagine the letters and styles and fonts… and ended up wholly diverted from the story! I suspect the majority of readers will not have this experience, and all the letter talk will serve more as a background to the story. Unfortunately, for me, it was its own special kind of torture!
Based on the aforementioned challenges I experienced reading this book – and my complete and total inability to detach the lettering references from the actual story (UGH!) – my grade is something of a compromise. Love Lettering is a love letter to romance, New York City, and hand lettering. Lush and lovely, it’s sure to please fans of contemporary romance.
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