CW: past death of a parent, anxiety, nightmares, pregnancy
I read the author's Beach Read when it released and found it to be very enjoyable. But as I wasn't reading much contemporaries, I didn't checkout the next one by her. But this book was an instant addition to my tbr because how can I resist that title, cover and two main characters working in the publishing industry.
The writing was so so easy to get captivated by and once I started, I got lost in it. The banter is first class and there's just so much casual humor in every conversation that you'll have a smile on your face for a good part of the book. But the book is also quite serious in parts, especially regarding the handling of grief, how that pain of losing a parent never goes away and how it can manifest as panic/anxiety at the idea of losing other family members. The idea of belonging, not being able to feel like home where we are supposed to, finding the place where we feel like we can be our true selves - all these themes are explored and while I've not had any American small town experience, I could relate to it a lot because I'm a city girl through and through as well. And frankly, I'm glad the author subverted the usual tropes of small town romance because it's not my favorite sub genre. The pacing is pretty fast too, because most of the book takes place in just a month and while a romance in that short of a time can feel like instalove, the author does a great job convincing us of the connection between the two main characters.
While this maybe marketed as a romance, it did feel more like the story of two sisters with a romantic subplot. Nora is an older sister, very organized and excellent at her job, with no interest in romance because she has been burned before. She is almost like a mother figure to Libby, taking care of everything for her since their mother died, and is wracked with anxiety that if she doesn't do everything perfectly, she might not be available when her sister needs her. Which just means that she is always there for everyone except herself. This story is about her realizing what she needs to be happy, opening up her heart for romance, and learning to be a sister instead of a mother.
Charlie is in all ways perfect for her. They are both dedicated to their jobs, are meticulous in everything they do, are very competitive and love how the pace of New York suits their attitude in life. Charlie is someone who has always looked for belonging and while he has found it in New York, he also wants to be a dedicated son who takes care of his parents. While this was an issue that needed to be resolved, I loved how Charlie and Nora's relationship developed in the meantime. They just understand each other in many ways, find comfort in working together without the need to talk all the time, their love for books was absolute and I related so hard to that, and they try to encourage each other to do what's best for themselves. It felt like a very comfortable relationship and I like that a lot.
There are quite a few interesting side characters too though no one was a particular favorite of mine. Nora's sister Libby was a major presence throughout but I also don't know if I understood her well. She definitely did feel like someone who needed a break and was also trying to prove something to herself. Shepherd, Charlie's cousin was a typical small town former quarterback turned lumberjack, a very good guy who'll be someone's special person, but not suited for Nora. Charlie's mom Sally was a former artist who had been disillusioned by fame and decided to settle down, but her free spirit and artistic ways couldn't be fully tamed. We also have other typical small town quirky characters, stores, and events which all make for a very lived in experience of Sunshine Falls.
Overall, this was a mostly heartwarming book with a great group of characters, an inevitable love story, the exploration of grief and loss and all the messy aftermath, and the unbreakable bond between sisters. It's funny and angsty and everything in between, giving us a very emotional experience and I loved how both laughing and crying went together for me. I hope the author will continue to subvert the small town romance tropes in her future novels too and give us more exciting stories.