(Full disclosure: This post uses Bookshop.org affiliate links. I received a complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for my hoenst review.)
I love reading books about writers, but I approach these stories with a little bit of caution. As a writer myself, I sometimes get weirdly jealous of the imaginary success of a writer in the book I’m reading. I wondered how I’d fare reading about Nora, who keeps her family afloat with her writing and her budget-savvy ways.
But, I couldn’t resist hitting that request button on NetGalley for Nora Goes Off Script anyway. Nora is a single mother who writes for The Romance Channel (a pretty clear Hallmark Channel stand-in). Except that, when her husband leaves her and their two children, she channels that pain into a script that isn’t remotely a fit for the cookie-cutter TV romance world.
Cue her agent selling the script to Hollywood and the director deciding the only possible place they can film this movie is, in fact, Nora’s house. Or more specifically, her Tea House, which is where she does her writing.
The slightly eccentric actor who plays her ex-husband refuses to stay in a hotel and, instead, lives in a trailer on the lawn during shooting, encroaching on her morning sunrise viewing ritual. At first, they annoy one another, but somehow, suddenly, sparks begin to fly.
What a fun premise, am I right? Big thank you to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the digital advanced review copy of this book. Less thank you for the hour and a half of lost sleep it caused last night when I stayed up late to finish it.
What I Liked
Overall, I really enjoyed the narrative voice of the story. Nora is a no-nonsense, self-aware woman who enjoys her newfound independence from her ex-husband and his overspending ways. She has a strict writing ritual and a carefully cultivated schedule that keeps her life together, and I really enjoyed spending time in her world. The writing style hooked me from page one as I sat in the salon with my Kindle, and I was excited to step back into this book time and time again.
The love interest, Leo, is an entertaining character, as well. He’s a bit too eccentric yet somehow down-to-earth for my taste, but it was entertaining to watch him fold himself effortlessly into Nora’s carefully controlled life.
I also adored Nora’s kids and their family relationship, which felt real and honest (she says, as a woman who does not and will not have children).
The small town vibes were on point here, as well. Watching Nora show Leo what it’s like to be a “real person” while the whole town fawns over him has a bit of a Gilmore Girls vibe, if Rory started dating a celebrity. The romance itself was more or less believable, given the relatively unlikely premise, and it was fun to watch Nora make space for love in her carefully crafted life.
Also, this was not a dual POV story! As much as Leo felt a bit aloof at times, letting Nora keep hold of the narrative reigns the entire time felt like the right move, and not just because I don’t like dual POV romances very much.
I won’t get into it too much because I don’t want to spoil it, but the big tension that threatens our fledging relationship wouldn’t have worked half as well in dual POV. I really liked how this part of the book ended up playing out, as it didn’t turn out to be what I expected, at all. I love when a book keeps me on my toes in that way.
What I Didn’t Like
I will fully admit I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of thing as someone who spent two years in an MFA program where I constantly battled imposter syndrome about whether I am Literary enough. But, I didn’t love the way that Nora thought and spoke about her writing for The Romance Channel, as if it was somehow not real writing, and her only good work came about once she wrote her big, sad movie.
I do get how these things feel different for her and how she’s tapping into herself in a deeper way when she stops writing using the formula and lets her heart out, and I know that an Oscar-nominated film and a Romance Channel made-for-TV movie are different styles of writing. But there’s a hint of snobbery and putting herself down that occasionally felt a bit much for me on the page.
Parts of the book did feel a bit fast or like we skipped ahead suddenly (in some cases, we literally do, as there’s a section where time passes pretty quickly), but overall I didn’t find this to be a big issue.
Nora Goes off Script is a deeply engaging, beautiful story that makes the idea of a screenwriter and the actor who played her ex-husband in a movie feel as realistic as possible. I thoroughly enjoyed this one after reading a string of romances that didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
I recommend this book to fans of Gilmore Girls, small town vibes, and the work of Emily Henry.