The Lily Cafe is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour for The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak! Thank you to Justine Sha at for both the opportunity and a review e-copy.
Title: The Bookstore on the Beach
Author: Brenda Novak
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance
For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Kay Andrews, comes New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak’s newest standalone work of women’s fiction, a big, sweeping novel about family and the ties that bind and challenge us. In this novel, three generations of women from the same family share a house and work together at a bookstore in Colonial Beach over the course of a summer.
How do you start a new chapter when you haven’t closed the book on the last one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers—she still has no idea where he went or why. After being happily married for twenty years, she can’t imagine moving forward without him, but for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort by working alongside her mother and aunt at their quaint bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a life change neither of them saw coming and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into Quinn Vanderbilt—the boy who stole her heart in high school—old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray
Bookstore. Beach. That’s all I needed to know I wanted to read it. Reading the description made it sound like it would be a sweet, heartwarming second chance at romance kind of story. I really liked that it involved a love interest from a very formative point in her younger life. I was really looking forward to a grown woman coming to terms with a sudden and tragic change to her life and family and finding the courage to open her heart again. At least, that’s what the description made me think. Oh, it was sweet, but the best parts were not Autumn’s.
Three Interwoven Stories
Eighteen months ago, Autumn’s husband of almost two decades mysteriously disappeared in Ukraine, supposedly not while working for the FBI as an informant, but, also, quite possibly. No one’s telling her. With summer upon her and her two teenage kids, Autumn decides it’s time for a change of scenery and packs up her shrunken family to her mother’s beach house in the quaint seaside town of Sable Beach, Virginia.
A summer of sun, surf, relaxation, and books in her mother and aunt’s bookstore by the beach is just what Autumn needs. And maybe a shot at her first love, who is also back in town after a rather messy divorce from his high school sweetheart. But, while her mother Mary is thrilled to have her family back in town, it also stirs up painful questions about her and Autumn’s past she isn’t ready to tell Autumn, a past that’s finally catching up to her. There’s also Autumn’s daughter Taylor who was ripped apart by her father’s disappearance that resulted in reckless behavior that might have a heavy impact on her future as she looks to college.
The Bookstore on the Beach is, not as the description might have you believing, the stories of three women in one family: Mary, who has a secret, traumatizing past she wants to keep secret; Autumn, who is desperate to find her missing husband, until an old flame shows up; and Taylor, who has her own potentially devastating secret and whose new friend has her questioning her sexuality. Each woman has her own heartwrenching story, and they were interwoven really well. I never actually felt that one took over the others. At the same time, I was a little let down that Taylor’s story, which was just as present as the other two, felt a little separate as she chose to spend so much time away from her family. I wish the women had leaned on each other a little more, suffered, grieved, and healed together. But they were all on separate paths that just happened to be woven together quite well.
The description would have me believing this is, overarchingly, a romance. Unfortunately, it simply wasn’t my cup of tea. I did love seeing the subtle shifts into it in Autumn, but, at some point, it felt more like a switch had been flipped rather than a full shift. It made it feel a little too sudden. What was probably meant to be heartbreaking and then heartwarming just left me feeling a little cold. I was not a fan of the romance and wish it had been handled a different way. It was, actually, a rather sweet romance, but just not for me.
Instead, I found the family story driving most of the book to be most interesting. Indeed, I felt Mary and Taylor had the more interesting, more compelling stories. They had all the secrets, and the secrets were slowly let out throughout the book. I was just disappointed when some of it felt more like plot points than a natural evolution of the story. But I loved how all the secrets affected the entire family, especially Autumn’s son Caden.
I did liked that this book brought in sexuality and prejudices surrounding it. Actually, as a primarily fantasy reader who is accustomed to inclusive worlds, this was a little jarring, and it made me more than a little sad that it is reality. Honestly, I struggled with it because it broke my heart that these are real prejudices real people face. I do wonder if it could have been handled a little more openly, a little more sensitively especially by the other characters, but I also think I’m glad it was included.
Three Women, One Family
The Bookstore on the Beach focuses on the three women, but it also had some fantastic secondary characters. They were well-crafted and had stories of their own, lives of their own, worries and concerns of their own. But there were also some tertiary characters that almost completely muddled together in my mind. I was disappointed that Caden was treated in this manner as I think he could have had an interesting story instead of being such a well-adjusted counterpoint to literally everyone else in the family.
Then there’s the love interest for Autumn, Quinn. I thought he was adequately complex and kind of interesting, but he also came off as too much of a good guy, almost too perfect. But I liked that he had his own history that was, admittedly, kind of nutty. Unfortunately, he just didn’t win me over, so that might explain why his and Autumn’s romance made me feel cold.
But the focus of The Bookstore on the Beach is on Mary, Autumn, and Taylor. I really felt for Mary and really enjoyed her story. I think I kept reading because I wanted to know what she was hiding. It was more terrible than I thought, but it perfectly led to her characterization at that point of time in her life and in the story. I loved that it was coming back to haunt her, but also opened her to the opportunity to face and overcome it and prove to herself and everyone around her just how brave she is and was. Autumn was more of a problematic character to me. I think she was meant to have a heartbreaking story with her husband missing, but I felt like I missed out on most of her anguish, instead getting mostly a sappy Autumn who just jumped into a new romance. Overall, I felt she regressed back to adolescence and was barely functional as a mother until everything just fell on her head. But then there’s Taylor, sweet, confused Taylor who cares deeply and is fiercely loyal. I loved everything about her. She was strong, but scared, yet had a strong backbone that a solid, happy childhood provided her. But she is deeply confused through most of the book and dealing with a huge secret that really impacted how she interacted with the other characters.
A Quaint Seaside Town
The Bookstore on the Beach is set by the sea in a cute little seaside town called Sable Beach in Virginia. Everything about it is meant to be idyllic and beautiful. The why all comes down to Mary’s past, so I found it easy to picture a picturesque town with a beautiful blue, glittering sea. One thing I found interesting, though, was that the characters constantly noted how hot it was, but, as I live close to beaches in Southern California, there seemed to be very little ice cream in sight? Maybe it’s just me, but ice cream and summer and beaches usually go together.
Anyways, I loved that much of the story is set on the beach. It felt relaxing and beautiful and made me want to go to the beach. I loved how well it transported me to warm sands and blue water glistening in the sun. Nothing more idyllic than that! I just wish more attention to detail had been given to the town itself as I got a lovely sense of community, but had to make up most of what it looked like. I also wish the bookstore had played a larger role in the story, though it felt like a perfectly lovely place to quickly pick up a book. It felt more like an escape to the main characters than an actual place of business sometimes and I couldn’t help wondering what it’s bottom line was like.
The Family Story More Interesting Than the Romance
Overall, The Bookstore on the Beach has it’s strength in the family part of the story. Mary and Taylor definitely had the more fascinating story lines that kept me reading while the romance was cute, but definitely not my cup of tea. This book has a lot in it, and I fear it may have overwhelmed the real exploration of Autumn’s story and romance. I think I wanted more anguish from her, more conflicted emotions. It was just too neat and perfect, which made the ending not fall on a heartwarming note that made me smile. Honestly, I think there might have been too much packed into this story, but some good things were explored.
How many cups of tea will you need?
About Brenda Novak
Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a five-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Bookbuyer’s Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit http://www.brendanovak.com.
Follow Brenda Novak
Thank you to Justine Sha at MIRA for a review copy and the opportunity to take part in the book blog tour for The Bookstore on the Beach. All opinions expressed are my own.