This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle, and has been reposted here with permission.
You know what my favourite story of all time is? Based on the subject of this book review you’re probably guessing Beatuy and the Beast and if so you would be right. When a retelling is done well, in whatever capacity, I will find something to love about it. What matters to me is that the heart of the story remains intact.
With Jasmine Guillory’s By The Book, the second fairy tale retelling in Disney’s Meant To Be series, she manages to preserve everything that makes this story my favourite, while putting her own unexpected spin on the classic tale of a beauty and a beast falling in love. I guess things can be ever just the same and also ever a surprise after all.
By The Books follows editorial assistant Isabelle Marlowe, whose love of books has driven her to a career in publishing. Unfortunately, after two years at her current place of work, it doesnt look like a promotion to assistant editor is in the cards for her. While in LA for a conference, she is determined to prove herself to her famously stingy-with-praise boss. Izzy volunteers to head out to Santa Barbara and check up on reclusive celebrity Beau Towers, whose memoir her boss acquired for a large sum, and see what has stalled progress on the book.
On arrival, Beau Towers is less than pleased to see her. Because Izzy doesn’t give up, Beau agrees to continue working on the book on one condition: that Izzy be his guest and move into his palatial home for a month to help him work through whatever is holding him up. Despite the beastly attitude, Izzy agrees.
Like If The Shoe Fits, By The Book is inspired heavily by Disney’s version of the story. Little winks and nods, with references to characters or song lyrics are sprinkled throughout. What impressed me most, however, was how the fantasy fairy tale aspects of the story were adapted to suit a modern context.
The conflicts between Izzy and Beau are not driven by external factors – no, there is no wolf chase in this version – but instead purely by their personalities and personal frustrations coming into conflict. Pain in Beau’s past makes him lash out at Izzy, while Izzy’s own self-doubt makes her push Beau instead of pushing herself.
An intriguing change in adaptation is the way Guillory handles the Gaston character, here named Gavin. Rather than posing him as a toxic rival for Izzy’s affections, Guillory makes him out to be what Gaston always was at the core: a man no one says no to, with behaviour that too often gets swept under the rug and is only flagged as a problem by those not in a position of power.
In the absence of a household of enchanted beings pushing for them to get together – other than Beau’s assistant Michaela, who is no object, but certainly works magic in the kitchen – it comes purely down to Izzy and Beau to discover something there that wasn’t there before.
The best Beauty and the Beast adaptations come with a certain degree of honesty and communication between the central pair. Nothing is left to linger in the rom-com world of misunderstandings and miscommunication. Instead, their sweet, slow-burn romance comes with a healthy dose of trust and genuine friendship.
Also, I say this as a general warning: do not – I repeat, do not – read this book on an empty stomach. The same holds true for any of Jasmine Guillory’s work, really. The woman enjoys baking and it shows.
By The Book is an absolute must for fans of the Disney film, for book lovers who love reading about books, and for anyone in the mood for a gentle, heartwarming tale about two people finding they can change for the right reasons, and falling in love along the way.
By the Book is available May 3, 2022.
Special thanks to Disney Books and Hyperion Avenue for the advance copy for review purposes.
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