front cover of Book Lovers by Emily Henry

See how the utterly delightful New York Times bestseller Book Lovers hits Blake Snyder’s 15 story beats.

Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley/Jove
Copyright: 2022
Trade paperback, 373 pages (392 with end matter)
Genre: Buddy Love

Ever wonder about the backstory of the “other woman” in those romantic Hallmark movies? You know who I’m talking about, right? She’s the Successful Big-City Lady who’s dating that Rich Big-City Guy just before he goes off to some tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere (purportedly “for business”) and falls in love with the Small-Town Sweetheart who miraculously shows him that there are more important things in life than living in a city that never sleeps and having access to excellent carryout around every corner…

In Book Lovers, a humorous study on bringing that “other woman’s” point of view to light, Emily Henry won me over with her smart, witty novel. It’s a perfect page-turner for bookworms who’ve become jaded from reading too many romances featuring super-sweet heroines and ultra-manly heroes mingling in idealized small towns.

From the publisher:
One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

Colleen Hoover called Emily Henry, “One of my favorite authors.” And Casey McQuiston wrote of the novel: “Charming, earnest, and clever, Book Lovers is Schitt’s Creek for book nerds.” Book Lovers was named a “Most Anticipated Book of 2022” by Oprah Daily, Today, Parade, Marie Claire, The Washington Post, Bustle, and more.

Here’s the Blake Snyder beat sheet:

Opening Image (pp. 1-7): Prologue, 2 years ago. High-powered literary agent Nora Stephens shares with the reader the details of her breakup with her current boyfriend. She’s the Big-City Career Woman who gets dumped (yet again) by the Wealthy Big-City Guy who, while away on business, unexpectedly falls in love with a Small-Town Girl and leaves her. This particular breakup happens moments before her first meeting with editor Charlie Lastra.

Set-Up (pp. 7-39): Nora and Charlie do not have positive first impressions of each other. He calls her client’s new manuscript “unreadable,” effectively putting an end to a future agent/editor working relationship—at least in Nora’s eyes. She knows she’s the archetypal city person, but Charlie is the dour, stick-in-the-mud, grumpy city guy. He believes Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the small-town setting of the manuscript in question, feels “contrived.”

Nora assures him the town is a real place, but he says if that’s so, Dusty, the book’s author, clearly has never been there. It’s a cold ending to their meeting, but two years later, their paths surprisingly cross again… in Sunshine Falls, no less. Nora’s sister Libby, who’s pregnant with her third child, convinces Nora that they need a sisters’ trip and that this little town in North Carolina is the perfect place to go.

Nora became Libby’s guardian when she was only 20 (and Libby 16), after the death of their mother, and she still acts in a very maternal way toward her younger sister. She’s always trying to fix things and take care of Libby’s needs above her own. Nora remains haunted by memories of their mother, hurt by the breakup of her first love (she’s never opened her heart so fully to another man since then), and perplexed by how romantic Libby is, much like their late mom had been.

Nevertheless, Nora isn’t in the habit of denying her sister anything, and Libby has already created a “checklist” of a dozen small-town activities for them to do from “wear a flannel shirt” to “go skinny dipping” to “sleep under the stars” to “save a local business.” But the most challenging, at least in Nora’s opinion, is “go on dates with two local men.” She has a hard time believing that’ll work out, even though they’ll be staying in this cute town for nearly a month.

Theme Stated (pp. 26-27): As Libby tries to persuade Nora to go on the trip she’s concocted, she focuses on the need for them to get out of their comfort zones. Libby explains, “… it’s more like a small-town romance novel experience than a bucket list. It’s how we’re both going to be transformed via small-town magic into more relaxed versions of ourselves.” The theme of transformation is a persistent one in this novel, weaving its way through all the characters, especially the leads.

Catalyst (pp. 40-42): Within the first hour of Nora and Libby’s arrival in Sunshine Falls, which is a town that’s even smaller than Nora expected, she discovers that, of all people, Charlie (the awful editor who’d rejected Dusty’s book two years ago!) is here, too. Nora tries to hide from him.

Debate (pp. 43-75): As Nora tries to reconcile Charlie’s handsomeness with his personality and the sheer improbability that they’re both in this little town at the same time, she sends him a series of snarky emails, under the guise of inquiring about “new writing projects” she could submit to him as an agent. (Despite Charlie’s initial rejection of Dusty’s book, it sold to another publisher and was a triumphant success—so take that, Grumpy Editor!) Charlie’s replies are equally snarky, and their virtual banter is one of the most charmingly funny aspects of this novel. Nora isn’t prepared to talk with him in person, but she finds herself thinking about him constantly.

One night at a local restaurant/bar, though, she’s reading the opening pages from Dusty’s newest manuscript and is surprised to discover that the protagonist is a character who shares many personality traits with Nora herself, including Nora’s real nickname in the publishing world—“The Shark.” The shock of recognizing herself in her client’s main character has her running blindly and accidentally into Charlie.

Break into Two (pp. 76-81): Libby conveniently disappears, leaving Nora alone with Charlie at the restaurant/bar in this new and frightening small-town world… a place she soon realizes is not somewhere he’s merely visiting. Turns out, Charlie is actually from here. He grew up in Sunshine Falls, and his parents own the place Nora and her sister are renting for the month.

B Story (p. 80): An aching, ever-increasing gap has been growing between Nora and Libby, and Nora desperately wants to fix it. In this book, the sister relationship is an incredibly powerful plot thread, nearly as important as the romantic one. The A Story and the B Story are tightly entwined because they both factor into the way Nora deals with emotional upheaval, and both need to be resolved for the desired transformation to occur.

Fun and Games (pp. 76-171): This is great fun. Fighting and flirting over beer, pool, books, and more, it’s a series of humorous fish-out-of-water moments for Nora and an increasingly complex set of interactions between her and Charlie. There’s a near-miss kiss, followed by a real one, that the two of them agree to pretend never happened.

Dusty’s editor departs earlier than expected on her maternity leave, and Charlie offers to step in and edit this new manuscript for the publishing house, with Nora’s help. In addition to the rental property, Charlie’s parents own a bookstore, and he works there. Since the bookstore has the only reliable Wi-Fi in town, the sisters spend a lot of time there.

Libby puts Nora on a dating app to get her to go out with some hot local guys. She ends up on a hilariously bad date that Charlie helps her escape from—with the help of his former fiancée. Plot complication! When Nora confesses to Charlie about her sister’s checklist and the array of “transformative” experiences she’s supposed to be having in his hometown, she essentially dares him to go skinny dipping with her.

Midpoint (pp. 171-174): In the water, they end up seriously making out. It’s intense—and this kiss isn’t one either of them will just be able to pretend to forget. Unfortunately, a work phone call interrupts them. (False defeat.)

Bad Guys Close In (pp. 174-277): The call is from the author Dusty, and Nora also sees that her phone is filled with increasingly worried texts from Libby, wondering where she is. Nora is filled with guilt. When she isn’t focused, she misses things and bad stuff happens. As for Charlie, he doesn’t know why it’s so hard for him to accept there can be nothing longlasting between him and Nora, but he also believes their relationship will be too complicated to continue. All sorts of issues begin to surface, not only between Charlie and Nora, but also between each of them and their family members.

Nora’s worries persist that there’s some disconnect in her otherwise close relationship with her sister. She fears Libby and her husband are on the verge of divorce but aren’t confiding in her. She’s deeply confused by the differing memories she and Libby have of their mother. Nora has always idealized some aspects of their childhood that her sister clearly sees in a more negative light.

Charlie, who craves honesty and always strives to understand the world around him, doesn’t trust that this world is safe for him. He has negative childhood memories, too, many of which come to light now that he’s back in his hometown. He’s been trying to help his mom with the bookstore and assist his dad with the house and the physical therapy his father needs following a stroke.

Charlie also has a few strained relationships—not just with his ex-fiancée, but with his very attractive male cousin who’d swooped in to date his ex after their breakup. That same cousin takes Nora on a “tour” of the area, which turns into an unofficial date, much to Nora’s surprise. She backs away from him, though, even before she realizes there’s a family connection between the hot guy and Charlie. The cousin is gorgeous, smart, and kind to her, but he’s simply not her type. Charlie, by contrast, really sees and understands her.

As Charlie and Nora work together on editing Dusty’s new manuscript, their bond deepens, becoming as spiritual, intellectual, and emotional as it is physical. They almost have sex at the library, but they pull back. The sense of duty they both feel toward their families keeps interfering with any thoughts each might have of building a future together. Nora feels hugely responsible for Libby and has routinely sacrificed her own dreams for the sake of making life easier for her sister. Charlie, just as much of a true city person as Nora, has also been sacrificing himself and his happiness for his parents.

All Is Lost (pp. 277-279): Nora gets an offer to interview for her dream position as an editor in New York City, but she believes she can’t accept it. Her salary as a literary agent is currently higher than an editorial position would be at first, and she feels she needs to financially help out her sister. She and Libby have an argument where Libby tells her that she doesn’t want Nora’s help any more, and then Libby—who’s mid pregnancy—collapses. (Whiff of death.) Nora cries out for help and Charlie comes running. The two of them get Libby to the hospital.

Dark Night of the Soul (pp. 279-286): Nora, who always feels as though she’s had to be the strong one, is nearly falling apart with worry. In Charlie’s arms, however, she knows she can let go—even though she decides not to cry. When she needed him, he was there for her, and this is a huge thing in Nora’s insular world. The doctors tell them that Libby just has anemia (she’s a vegetarian who needs to eat more animal protein while pregnant), but Nora wonders if there isn’t something more going on.

Break into Three (pp. 287-291): The sisters have a heart-to-heart talk and seem to come to an understanding. Based on Charlie’s insights and advice, Nora realizes that what Libby has been trying to tell her is that she no longer wants Nora to try to fix things for her. What Libby needs is for them to simply be sisters.

Finale (pp. 292-370): It’s tempting to say that the A and B Stories cross here, which they do, but in this novel, the A and B Stories have been crisscrossing throughout. Nora’s growing romance with Charlie has been greatly influenced by her relationship with her sister Libby, and vice versa. Charlie confesses that he’s not back in Sunshine Falls for merely a visit. He’s staying here permanently and leaving behind his editorial position in New York City.

Much as Nora has begun falling in love with him, she knows she can’t live forever in this small town, no matter how charming it is. She’s a big-city person. Charlie is, too, but his sense of familial responsibility is causing him to stay. They finally make love, wanting to share as much time together as possible, despite knowing that a long-distance relationship wouldn’t work between them. After this trip is over, their love story will be as well.

Then, the shock Nora never expected: Libby’s husband has gotten a new job in nearby Asheville. He, Libby, and their children are also leaving New York City and moving to Sunshine Falls. It turns out that this whole trip was a sales pitch on Libby’s part, trying to convince her sister what a wonderful area it is and that Nora should move here with them.

Nora finally breaks down. Much as she loves her sister and much as she loves Charlie, too, she needs to follow her own dreams and desires, which means she needs to live in the big city, where she truly belongs. This place did transform her, unexpectedly, into a woman who is finally willing to put herself first sometimes, especially when it’s really important. But, paradoxically, Nora also realizes it may be possible to belong in multiple places—and to multiple people—at the same time.

Nora is finally able to let Libby and her family go, knowing that she and her sister are close again and will be in touch daily. As for Charlie, once Libby has had her baby and is living in North Carolina full time, Charlie’s parents turn the running of the bookstore over to Libby. In doing so, they release Charlie to New York City—and to Nora—where his family (and her sister) all know he belongs.

Final Image (pp. 371-373): Epilogue, 6 months later. All the players in the cast are reunited at the bookstore in Sunshine Falls with the author Dusty, who’s preparing to read from her newest novel—the one Charlie and Nora edited together. Everyone gets their happy ending, especially the main couple, who are joyously in love, still living in the big city, and on the verge of getting engaged.