Aubrey Barnes is the owner and proprietor of his family bookshop, Barnes’ Books, in Soho, London. He’s living in the cramped bedsit above the store trying to make ends meet now that he’s single. Aubrey’s longtime boyfriend—all through teens and uni—has recently fallen for one of Aubrey’s friends, and those two men are making a go of it, leaving Aubrey out in the cold. Or heat—because London is having an unbearable summer heat wave and the bookshop has no A/C. Also, the street traffic is more messy than usual thanks to a film crew out on the block.
Aubrey’s profit margins are razor thin—if he’s even turning a profit. The truth is, his widowed mother is ill and couldn’t keep running the shop, so Aubrey’s trying not to make a pig’s ear of the situation. Though only in his early twenties, Aubrey’s big responsibilities only match his big heartbreak. He’d never expected to run the business straight out of uni, and his literature degree didn’t really give him the skills in marketing and accounting he needs if he’s going to keep the store afloat. So, when the film folks decide they like the look of his shop for some filming, Aubrey’s not keen on it, but his sole employee, Gemma, makes an agreement with he crew. Aubrey’s frustrated, but he also needs the money badly, so he acquiesces. And, well, Blake Sinclair, one of the supporting actors, is happy to divert Aubrey’s worrying into more interesting endeavors.
Blake is brilliant and beautiful and inexplicably—to Aubrey—attracted to Aubrey. And Aubrey’s acting a right lunatic, frankly, responding to the heat in Blake’s glances in ways he’s embarrassed to admit. That such a vibrant man finds Aubrey attractive is mind blowing, considering the year-long slump he’s been having due to his ex and the breakup. Somber and moody states of mind are swept away in almost fairytale-like fashion because Blake is so diverting, and sweet, and funny, and vegan. Okay, well, vegan isn’t one the features Aubrey enjoys precisely, but he’s grateful that Blake isn’t pushing veganism onto him. The big issue, really, is that Blake isn’t exactly out. And as a rising star, well, he’s afraid to come out. But this is just a fling, right? So, it shouldn’t matter that they aren’t going to be a proper couple. They go out and have fun, even glam it up clubbing, and Aubrey’s trying his hardest to match the joie di vivre he thinks Blake wants. Unfortunately, Blake is too charming, and Aubrey finds himself knee-deep in feels before too long.
This is a sweet M/M romance that felt a LOT like Notting Hill to me, and I loved that! The sweet, reserved, Brit bookseller, trying so hard not to let the glamorous American actor sweep him off his feet? Argh! It was everything I hoped it would be, with all sorts of manners-comedy, and Aubrey’s deadpan wit and self-deprecating humor grafting him right into my heart valves. I was feeling his feels from the first page, wanting desperately to toss a drink into his smarmy ex’s face. Loving the salty Gemma and her sly ways. Enjoying the apprehension and awkwardness of a new romance, of cutting loose from grief and responsibility for a short bit, only to have your most secret dreams come true. And then crash and burn around you. I honestly giggled when Aubrey and Blake began cracking Notting Hill jokes to one another! It could have been too much and yet the balance of humor to plot and character and setting were all just right. I especially enjoyed the running gag with beans, and got teary-eyed in the ending scene. I devoured this one, because the writing was smooth, the pace on-point, the characters approachable, and their journey enjoyable. If you like rom-com, Brit/American love stories and grand gestures that go absolutely sideways, well, you will probably like this one.