Love isn't always by the book...
Self-declared book hater Drew Young never expected to inherit her grandmother's old bookshop, the Book Nook. And now, as she prepares to host a signing for bestselling author (and hopeless romantic) Jasper Williams, she finds herself caught between a bookshelf and a hard place.
Sensing sparks between the unlikely match, a group of mischievous old ladies - otherwise known as the Book Nook's resident book club - spot the opportunity to do what they do best: meddle.
Pushed together, Drew and Jasper soon come to an agreement. If Jasper can create a book bucket list to introduce Drew to the joy of reading, she'll help him explore beautiful Colorado for his next book.
With the shop's future in jeopardy, Drew is determined not to get distracted by the love story Jasper wants to write for them.
She knows that real life isn't like it is in the books, but could Jasper be the plot twist Drew never saw coming?
(P) 2022 Penguin Audio
Release date: November 8, 2022
Print pages: 336
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Better than Fiction
I know it's not the politically correct thing to say, but school is most definitely for fools.
Listen, I get it. I won't tell the kids, but I already fell victim to the great con. I was a good student-not full-scholarship good, but solid-went to a decent college, majored in something other than art. And where did it get me?
A high-paying job on Wall Street where I laugh at the peons around me complaining about school debt?
Not even close.
It landed me as the owner of a bookstore I most definitely didn't want to own, pretending to care while this woman drones on and on about the difference between women's fiction and romance. But, you know, good thing I aced that AP Chemistry exam.
"I'm so glad you're able to find something you love here." I pull out one of my many well-rehearsed responses. I hope it will send her on her way so I can do inventory-or pull out my hair-but then she cuts me off and hits me with something no amount of rehearsal could prepare me for.
"And I want you to know . . ." She reaches over and grabs my hand. I fight the urge to yank it back. Physical touch is def not my love language. "I'm just so sorry about Alice, she was always so kind to me."
My fingers curl into hers, my aversion to touch temporarily forgotten as I seek the comfort I have yet to find since my grandma passed away a year ago.
"Thank you." I can't get the two small words out without my voice breaking. Sympathy swims in the woman's eyes the same way I'm sure unshed tears are swimming in mine.
The woman, whose name I don't remember, gives my hand one more gentle squeeze before walking away, off to bury her problems in a book with a happily ever after that's so elusive to actual humans.
Alice Young was the best person I've ever known. The best person anyone has known. Every stranger who walked into her little bookstore walked out with more books than they probably wanted-and a new friend. The Book Nook sells books, obviously, but the real draw was getting to come and chat with Gran. She was wise beyond her seventy-two years and had a way of listening that made you feel like your biggest problem was actually just a pebble in your shoe. She made you feel as if you could accomplish anything. In the age of the e-book conglomerates and chain bookstores dominating the market, the Book Nook never struggled.
Until she left it to me.
It's not that I have self-esteem issues as much as I know my strengths and weaknesses. And my strength is definitely not sitting with a sympathetic ear and listening to other people's problems. I've never been good at it, but I'm especially terrible at it when my own problems seem so big.
Because yeah, this isn't my dream job or anything, but Gran left the bookstore to me. And sure, sales were through the roof the first couple of months after she passed away, with well-wishers coming to show their support. But now that the months have crawled by, people are going back to their lives. Unfortunately for me, that doesn't include spending money at a store where Alice no longer greets them with her cheerful smile and welcoming ear.
If I don't figure it out soon, I will lose the only tangible link I have left to my grandma.
On that thought, the bell above the front door rings and I look just in time to see Collette, Vivian, Mona, Ethel, and Beth file through the front door.
I really need to check my calendar more often.
"Drew!" Mona's voice bounces off the overstuffed bookshelves. Even at seventy, she strides through the store in her trademark three-inch stilettos, which make my feet wince. Her gray hair has not a strand out of place and her pink-painted lips stand out on her pale, gently wrinkled face, which has aged gracefully over the years. "What are you doing standing over here looking all sad? Is it because you're wearing those sandals again?"
"The way you come for me every time you see me is still completely unnecessary, Mona." We live in Colorado: Birkenstocks are not only a completely reasonable footwear choice; it's practically mandatory for all Denverites to own a pair.
Also, it's still strange for me to call her, Mona instead of Mrs. Fuller, but as I transitioned into adulthood, she insisted that I call her by her first name only. It's weird, but I acquiesced. Respect your elders and all that jazz.
It is kind of nice to feel like I'm on an even field with them now. Even though they're a lot older than me, they're still the coolest people I know.
"Coming for you? I just want you to join us and sit with some old ladies for a little while."
"Well, if you insist." I play it cool, but there's actually not a chance in hell I'd ever pass on the opportunity to listen to them very self-righteously talk shit about every person they know.
I aspire to be just like them when I grow up.
Minus the book club, obvi. Maybe I'll start a podcast club or something.
She links her arm through mine. Her nearly translucent skin is a stark contrast against my golden-brown skin.
"How's Mr. Fuller?" I always ask about her husband of almost fifty years when I see her.
"Old and cranky. Happy golfing weather has returned, though not as happy as I am to get him out of the house." The snide words don't match the dreamy look that crosses her face whenever his name is mentioned.
I love seeing how happy she still is. My best friend, Elsie, married her high school sweetheart before she could even legally drink-I still tease her relentlessly for her sparkling grape juice toasts-and is blissfully happy with four kids. As for me, however, I'm very much not into the idea of marriage.
I don't even like myself half the time and you're telling me it's a good idea to latch myself on to one other person until death do we freaking part? Or more likely, until they cheat, get bored, or whatever other reason fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.
Yeah. No thank you.
It's probably a good thing I have no interest in marriage. I'm not fighting off a swarm of potential suitors. Apparently my winning personality isn't doing it for them.
When we reach the back corner of the bookstore where the Dirty Birds-the name they chose for their book club-meet on the second Wednesday of every month, they're cackling just like their name would suggest. Copies of whatever romance novel they decided to read this month are sitting on the coffee table and each woman is in her unofficial-official chair. None of the chairs are the same. Gran and I would take weekly trips to the flea market, and she'd treat me to a fancy coffee and pastry before we'd spend hours wandering around, hoping to find the next treasure to grace her store. It took us months before we found all seven chairs that now occupy the nook portion of the Book Nook. I sanded and painted them all a creamy shade of mint while Gran sewed cushions to top them.
Now when I look at the chairs filled with all her friends, laughing and chatting like she imagined, I struggle to remember the joy we had creating them. All I see is the empty seventh seat.
"Did you finally read this month's book?" Collette, the most crass of the Dirty Birds, narrows her eyes when I sit. Her hair is dyed a bright red that turns a little orange and always clashes with her red lipstick.
"You know I didn't." I've never participated in a book club and I never will. Once I watched the movie instead but was shamed so intensely for it, I avoided them for a week. The Dirty Birds are vicious.
"You do know you own a bookstore now," she reminds me, as if I've thought of anything else since the lawyers read Gran's will all those months ago. "You have to read books. You can't keep this place running if you don't know the products."
"Geez, Collette, give the girl a break. She just inherited the place!" Sweet Beth sticks up for me. "Not even you could read all the time when you were working. Just because you're retired now doesn't mean she can do whatever you think she should be doing."
I want to high-five Beth, but I resist when Collette's knowing glare cuts my way.
"Fine," she mumbles, leaning back into her seat. "But you're going to need to start reading something. You can't own a bookstore and hate books!"
She's not wrong. This is why I thought Gran was only leaving me her necklace I loved so much.
My fingers drift to the pendant always resting on my chest. She still left me the necklace; it's just that now it feels more like an apology than a gift. Especially since she left me to fight off her son too.
"I'll figure it out." I wave off her concern, sounding much less worried than I actually am. "What book are you reading this time?"
Vivian leans forward, the creak of her chair cutting through the quiet chatter. "Last Hope, by Jasper Williams." Color fills her cheeks as she summarizes the book for me, and I can't help but wonder exactly how dirty these Dirty Birds are getting. Maybe I should start reading along, given how single I am. "Oh, and it was just so lovely. The way he writes. I'll never get over it."
"You've read him before, haven't you?" I recognize the name right away. It's a popular one in the store; soccer moms and pierced pixies alike request his work weekly. Jasper Williams stands out among the shelves of female romance authors despite the understated covers that grace all his books.
"You'd know that if you'd read the damn books with us." Collette's raspy smoker's voice rises and I bite back my smirk. I didn't mean to, but getting her worked up is one of my favorite pastimes.
"Maybe next month," I lie. And by the exaggerated roll of her eyes, she knows I'm full of it.
It's not that I don't like stories. Of course I do. I'm human, after all. I just like my stories told to me in a different way. I like visuals. The countless stories photographs can tell. The real-life images where the curve of a mouth can tell more than any book can. The perfectly framed shot of a mountain that allows your imagination to drift to the countless lives that have graced the landscape. Those are the stories I'm drawn to. I love conjuring hope myself, not being force-fed broken promises or lies telling me love is for everyone and I'm right around the corner from a happy ending of my very own.
"Oooorrrr . . ." Ethel drags out the word. My spine snaps straight. I recognize that tone and the meddling that always follows it. "You could read it before this weekend because Jasper Williams has agreed to come to the store. He's going to join our book club and do a reading."
I shake my head, trying to understand. "What do you mean? Shouldn't I know about in-store events?"
"Well, now you know, dear." Mona reaches for her copy on the table . . . the one with about eight hundred sticky notes popping out from the pages. "It's Saturday evening. The reading begins at five, followed by a discussion lasting until six or so, but he said he's flexible. I put it on your calendar. I thought you would've seen it by now."
I grab my phone out of my back pocket and open up my calendar, but nothing is there. I swipe around a little more, trying to see if she entered it somewhere else by mistake.
"It's not on my calendar."
"Oh no, not on your phone." Mona laughs and shakes her head like I'm being silly. "I said your calendar. The one on your desk."
I barely manage to fight back my groan.
This is just one of the problems that come with inheriting a business from your grandma. Mona and Ethel helped me get organized when I officially took over about nine months ago. And by that, I mean they nagged me about how I did everything and tried to force a day planner on me. For some ridiculous reason, I assumed that once the adjustment phase was over, they would step away completely. I should've known better.
"Mona, you know that was Gran's planner, not mine." And I avoid it like the freaking plague. I made the mistake of opening it once, and seeing her heavily slanted penmanship covering the pages with plans she would no longer be here for broke me.
"Well, she left you the store and that includes everything in it. Besides"-Mona lifts her chin in the air, looking down her nose at me-"if I don't put it in there, how am I supposed to schedule things for the Book Nook?"
"Ummm . . . I'm not sure?" Sarcasm is heavy in my voice. "Maybe don't? Or ask me?"
"Nonsense. It's going to be amazing. You'll thank us." She waves me off like I'm the little girl I was when she met me and not a grown woman trying-and fine, whatever, maybe failing-to run a business. "Now, where should we start? I think that little bit by the lake in chapter two was interesting."
On that note . . .
I stand up, ignoring the way my chair groans beneath my weight, and make my way to my office in the back to cancel the booty call-I mean the date-I had scheduled for Saturday and add Jasper Williams to my calendar.
A Saturday night spent listening to some old guy mansplain what women want?
Can't freaking wait.
In movies, when a person gets home after work, we watch them visibly deflate right in front of us. All the stress from the outside world melts away. They rip off their bra and crack open a bottle of wine. The luckiest of them all lounge on a gigantic couch with too many throw pillows as they snuggle up with an extra-fluffy puppy thrilled to finally be back with their human.
That's not me.
I toss my purse onto my entryway table in my too-quiet apartment. The distressed turquoise piece needs to be refinished, but all the equipment I needed was at Gran's house, and Dad sold the house . . . and everything inside it . . . months ago. I look around for a moment and consider putting my purse back on and getting the heck out of Dodge.
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