Title: By the Book (Meant to be #2)
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Hyperion Avenue
Publication date: May 3, 2022
One Sentence Summary: In this contemporary re-imagining of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, editorial assistant Izzy finds herself helping the mean and rude celebrity Beau Towers write his memoir.
By the Book is a contemporary re-imagining of Disney’s classic Beauty and the Beast. The parallels are strong during the first half of the book, but, during the second half, it felt more like a romance with some fun nods to the movie. I did like that it didn’t strictly adhere to the confines of the movie so it could take a life of it’s own. Izzy and Beau were very cute and sweet together, but sometimes they just had a little too much in common for me to believe it. The setting in Santa Barbara wasn’t quite what I was hoping for as I’m a native of LA County a couple of hours south, but I am glad the beach and some California culture made it in. Overall, this was a sweet romance with some fun nods to the movie.
Isabelle Marlowe is an editorial assistant to Marta Wallace, a top editor at Tale as Old as Time Publishing. She works hard for her demanding boss, but never really gets any feedback or praise from Marta, and Marta’s former assistant, Gavin, doesn’t seem to think she has any real talent when it comes to writing. The only fun she seems to have is hanging out with Priya, another editorial assistant, and writing whimsical biweekly emails to Beau Towers, a beastly, spoiled celebrity who was supposed to turn in his memoir manuscript ages ago and who has seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth.
In a bid to get on Marta’s good side and prove she can do her job, Izzy volunteers to head over to Beau’s Santa Barbara home and ask how the writing’s going. When she gets there, she’s confronted with an angry Beau, but also his cheerful assistant, Michaela. With Michaela’s encouragement, Izzy talks her way into staying the next few days, and, after an interesting breakthrough with the rude and angry man, things start to smooth out and actually go well, leaving them to grow and struggle through writing, and maybe discover there might be something there after all.
By the Book is a contemporary re-imagining of the classic Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. About halfway through I started to lose the thread of the fairy tale and just found myself reading little more than a cute and sweet fairy tale love story, but elements from the movie were woven in all the way through. I liked that this book focused on writing and publishing, but I found I best enjoyed this read while not thinking too hard on it. The first half was a bit boring to me as it felt like it was either trying too hard to align with the movie or was trying to break away from the movie to become something novel but didn’t know how to do it. The second half, though, felt more like a typical romance with some movie-specific references thrown in, so I found it to be a much more fun read as it finally found it’s stride.
As a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, it was easy to pick out the details, but they felt more like background pieces. I liked that the books mentioned were references to some of the songs in the movie. Michaela was clearly supposed to be Mrs. Potts, and she nailed that role so perfectly that I really, really wanted to see more of her in the book (and her snack cabinet was brilliant! I loved that there was so much food in this book.), though Gavin made for a poor Gaston. But my favorite was when Izzy found herself talking to the furniture. It was funny and a little absurd, but was such a nice nod to the movie that, no matter how cheesy it came off, I found it oddly endearing and wanted more. There were a number of small references liberally peppered through the book, but the focus was always on Izzy and Beau and their romance.
The romance was sweet and cute. After a rough spot, it was, more or less, smooth sailing and I liked that they eventually handled bumps with maturity and understanding. They both had a great deal of introspection, which didn’t always make their bumps easier to deal with, but at least they could give each other space and admit when they acted like jerks. For two twenty-somethings, it was refreshing, so I had a lot of fun reading about their relationship. Most of all, I loved that there were few references to Beau’s celebrity status, and instead a focus on his struggles with that celebrity status and that of his family, and even fewer references to Izzy’s physical appearance. Izzy and Beau just seemed to embrace who the other was, which made way for a cute romance between two people who clearly like each other, but aren’t quite sure how to proceed. Since I prefer romances that offer both points of view, I actually really loved the ending to By the Book. The progression and pace of their romance felt natural, and I liked their dancing around each other, though I did sometimes feel impatient with them.
Beau kind of felt like a toasted marshmallow to me. He was surprisingly sweet and gooey on the inside, but his exterior was clearly rough and, well, beastly. But, other than his mean behavior towards Izzy in the beginning, I failed to see how he was supposed to be the Beast character. At first, it was kind of annoying, the way he behaved. I quickly grew tired of his behavior and did feel his change was a little sudden, but, after getting to know his character better, I could start to understand it. Izzy sometimes felt a little too cheerful to me and a bit hotheaded, but she did remind me of Belle. I loved that she worked in publishing and was struggling through her own writing. Her friendship with Priya was incredibly fun, and I wish Priya had more of a presence in the book and had gotten a little more personality. It did make it seem like Izzy was self-centered since almost all of their interactions focused on what was going on in Izzys’s life. I liked how Beau and Izzy had a lot in common, but sometimes it felt like overkill and too unrealistic so it kind of annoyed me. Though, other times, it did feel sweet, and I liked that they had similar struggles they worked through together.
The one thing that really disappointed me was the setting. Santa Barbara is gorgeous, but, other than Beau’s house and the beach, Izzy and Beau don’t really seem to explore what it has to offer, especially since Izzy isn’t the prisoner Belle was. But what really bothered me at the beginning was the sheer number of baths and showers Izzy was taking since all of California is in moderate to severe drought conditions. Considering I’m a Californian who has been asked to conserve (with more restrictions to come in June), I found myself getting angry at her and with everyone else not mentioning the drought. It’s kind of a big part of what California is. I also struggled with it being February and March. Of course Izzy is from New York with much colder temperatures, but, after a few days, she should have acclimated, but seemed to spend more time laughing at how people bundled up and saying how warm and sunny it is. The beach was nice, as well as the surfing, which made it easier to swallow them going periodically to a beach in February. It’s cold at the beaches, especially at night, but surfers will still surf. Though their trip to a beach at sunset felt unrealistic as it would have been chilly. I guess I just wanted it to feel like it was February and not June. So the setting was a massive miss to me.
By the Book is a cute romance that felt loosely based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. As the story wore on, I found fewer and fewer similarities to the movie, and sorely wished Gavin had been more villainous. Other than Izzy and Beau, all the characters felt one dimensional and little more than useful. I did like the depth given to Izzy and Beau, though. They both clearly had struggles to get past and I liked that they did it together. Theirs was a surprisingly mature relationship and I enjoyed the way it ended. I did find Izzy’s pep talks to be a little too casual, generic, and repetitive, but their actual writing sessions felt very serious and rang with a great deal of honesty.
As a romance, By the Book really delivers. As a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, it had moments where it was strong and moments when I completely lost track of it. By the end, I wasn’t quite convinced I was reading a re-imagining of the classic, but could completely believe it in the beginning. The references were definitely nice touches, so the only real negative to me was the setting. Overall, this was a very cute romance and I liked the nods to the movie.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Hyperion Avenue for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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