Diving into a new book by an author you’ve read and enjoyed in the past is like coming home, getting out of your uncomfortable work clothes, and putting on your favorite pair of sweats and a pair of fuzzy slippers. It’s cozy, it’s relaxing, it’s just what you’ve been dreaming about all day long. That’s how I felt about finally being able to dive into Dating by the Book by Mary Ann Marlowe (Kensington, 2019). This book went on my TBR list long before its release date, since I had read Ms. Marlowe’s A Crazy Kind of Love and very much enjoyed it, then subsequently followed her on Twitter and very much enjoyed her as a person as well. Dating by the Book came out in June, but it was available only at the library in the next town, and finally, finally things matched up so that the book was available there and I needed books! (Of course, as soon as I got all those books home that I checked out, literally everything I’d requested via interlibrary loan, even the book I suggested my library BUY and that I wasn’t expecting them to get in until at least January, came in at the same time, so now I’m entirely swamped. Best problem in the world, right?)
Maddie’s a struggling bookstore owner (is there any other kind?) whose problems don’t only stem from the shop, her favorite childhood store which she bought from the deceased owner’s son, and which she’s desperately trying to keep afloat in her tiny hometown. Her own book, the one she actually wrote herself, is due to be released soon, and she’s both excited and nervous. Six months ago, however, her fiancé didn’t show up at their wedding, and Maddie’s still stinging over Peter’s betrayal. She hasn’t been able to date yet, but things may be changing…or at least, Maddie’s trying to change them. Her old boyfriend-turned-rock star is back in town for a bit, attending her store’s book club, and beyond him, there may be sparks with Charlie, another book club member and regular customer. But none with Max- NONE, DID YOU HEAR THAT- her best friend’s brother and Maddie’s childhood friend (whom she once kissed, but nevermind that either), who keeps trying to squeeze his way into her business and her life.
When a three-star review of an early copy of Maddie’s novel hits a nerve, she finds herself unable to walk away and writes the reviewer, a male blogger who goes by the moniker ‘Silver Fox’ an irate (and also drunken) response. Thus begins a correspondence that slowly turns into friendship. Maddie’s able to be more open and honest with Silver Fox than anyone in her life, and his tough questions and commentaries (along with what she’s been learning about her ex-fiancé, who’s still part owner in her struggling bookstore) have her questioning her life choices. The drama is high, both in regards to Maddie’s love life and the dilemma of her barely-limping-along store, but when Silver Fox’s true identity comes out, Maddie will realize what it is she’s really been wanting- and needing- all this time.
Maddie’s far from a tragic figure, but she’s majorly down on her luck at this moment in time, and thus she makes for an easy character to root for. She’s also easy to identify with- how many of us have followed a dream or two, only to have them backfire on us? Ms. Marlowe’s style is so friendly, so easily readable, that reading Maddie’s words were like listening to an old friend chat. And with the book centering around Maddie’s bookstore and book club, literary references and conversations abound. Book lovers rejoice!
I had to laugh when I turned to the page where Maddie goes full-on Author Behaving Badly and types out a drunken hate-mail to Silver Fox when he picks apart her novel on his book blog. In that moment, she’s the epitome of What Not To Do to a book blogger, and it’s obvious that Ms. Malone has done her research and kept her ear to the ground in terms of author-blogger drama (well done!). Maddie’s response is a total cringefest, which made it super fun to read, being on the Silver Fox side of things (I haven’t received hate mail, fortunately, but I’ve received author comments on negative reviews in the past, and that’s uncomfortable enough). It had been so long since I’d added the book to my TBR that I’d forgotten there was a blogger component at all (although Ms. Marlowe does mention us in the dedications! See photo below), so this was a seriously fun surprise.
Maddie’s a little confused, romantically, about what she wants and where she should end up, ping-ponging back and forth between her attraction to different guys. While this did bother me initially, the more I thought about it, it makes sense. Maddie’s trying to rebuild emotionally after having what she thought was her perfect future crushed to bits. Everything had been mapped out perfectly (or what she’d thought of as perfectly at the time), and when Peter didn’t show up at their wedding and subsequently moved back to the city, leaving her to struggle with the bookstore alone, everything that she thought had been set in store became far more precarious. Add this to the fact that Maddie’s been looking for a place to belong since she was young. Adopted by a couple where the father died almost immediately after she joined them, Maddie spent a lot of her childhood at the neighbor’s, a warm, welcoming family who made her feel at home (her mother does make appearances in the book and is a lovely character. She and Maddie have a great relationship, but obviously Mom hadn’t expected to be raising her as a single mother). She’s trying to figure out what she wants and is viewing the men in her life as stand-ins for the male romantic leads in the books she loves, but at this point, it’s a distractionary technique in order to avoid taking a harder look at what Peter’s destruction has wrought upon her life, what his control and manipulation did to her, and what she truly wants and needs.
Maddie returned to live in her hometown as an adult, and with the exception of one character, the town seems to have aged particularly gracefully, something I appreciated, because I cannot say about my own hometown; my best friend and I have discussed whether the people there were always terrible or if that’s been a new development. After close scrutiny, it’s easy to see that the racism and misogyny was always there and we weren’t always aware enough as young children to see it for what it was. It’s just more obvious these days thanks to social media. Maddie’s hometown, however, is home, warm and friendly and supportive. It plays a huge part in the conflict between Maddie and her ex, so the town being as accessible and welcoming as it is makes it a lot easier to root for Maddie despite her yikes-please-don’t-hit-send behavior with Silver Fox.
There are shades of You’ve Got Mail, the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom cot set in a book shop and over email, so if you’re a fan, Dating by the Book may be right up your alley. Reviews are mixed on Goodreads; some people thought Maddie was too passive, others found her selfish (if you can’t be a little selfish after being dumped at the altar, when can you be?), while still others wanted more from the male characters. For me, this worked just fine, and it was a nice, light read. Every book isn’t right for every reader, and that’s okay! 🙂