Beauty and the Beast is one of my least favorite Disney movies. This feels necessary to say because, like many a bookish young woman, I do identify with Belle to a certain extent. Yet ultimately, the whole kidnapping angle makes it a bit hard for me to buy into the love story.
Which brings us to the central question I came away from my most recent audiobook listen with: Why do we keep trying to do modern, realistic retellings of a tale where a man is turned into a beast and the furniture talks? Lean in to the fantasy of it or go home, in my opinion.
I decided to read Jasmine Guillory’s By the Book, the second fairy tale retelling in the Meant to Be series, because I misremembered one of the prompts for a reading challenge and thought this would satisfy it. That, and I’ve been meaning to give Guillory another go since reading The Proposal a few years earlier.
It took me well over a month to finish this book as I never quite felt pulled to keep listening to it. Let’s dig in to why that was.
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What I Liked
I confess I’m struggling a bit here. It’s not like the book was wholly awful or poorly written. There were plenty of aspects of this book that were fine. The food descriptions. The portrayal of what it’s like to work in publishing. Some of the nods to the original story, had they been issued wit ha lighter touch.
The character arc for our male lead is probably the thing I liked best, in that he really grew and matured through the course of the book.
This is also a single POV, which is my personal preference for a romance.
I did also appreciate the reason that Izzy has to leave the “beast” earlier than anticipated, in that it felt quite believable.
What I Didn’t Like
This book fell flat for me on so many levels, unfortunately.
The setup for how our leading lady gets “trapped” with a “beast” is a bit flimsy, though I grant this is a challenging aspect of the Beauty and the Beast story to render plausible for two adults in the modern day.
The romance was intended as a slow burn, but actually felt like it was nonexistent until suddeny bursting into being late in the story. I love a slow burn, but the sense of tension and growing affection felt lacking here, as so much of the characters’ time together was spent working on writing.
While some of them were cute, the nods to Beauty and the Beast were a bit too on the nose and had me rolling my eyes early on. Little comments about talking to the furniture, the names of the publishers in the story (Tale as Old as Time and Maurices), the assistant with the nickname “Kettle”, etc. Because they were so numerous, they ended up just feeling like a forced reminder that this romance was based on Beauty and the Beast that, in my opinion, did not really serve the story in any way.
Ultimately, the story just failed to pull me in and I never felt invested in the characters or the love story between them. I didn’t care whether they wound up together because it didn’t really seem like they did, either.
In all, By the Book was not for me. A modernized Beauty and the Beast where the characters are full-on adults in a non-fantasy setting is a tricky thing to pull off, and while there’s a clear effort here, it ultimately fell short for me as a reader.
If you’re a big fan of Beauty and the Beast retellings, stories about publishing, and an incredibly, incredibly slow burn, this book may be the one for you.