Thursday 1 September 2022


Book reviews: If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy & By the Book by Jasmine Guillory (Meant to Be series)

I love a good fairy tale retelling. However, the ones I've read up until this point usually fall into one of two categories: empowering a female character and making them a bad-ass hero in a fantasy world, or redeeming a villain by diving into their back story to make the reader realise that they're not evil, just misunderstood. These are great arcs, don't get me wrong, but they have started to feel a bit repetitive. The Meant to Be series by Studio Press (Bonnier Books), has taken a completely different take with their retellings: placing classic fairy tale characters in contemporary, Hallmark-like romance stories. And they absolutely smashed it.

In If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy we meet Cindy. She's a fashion college graduate who's not sure what to do with her life, so she temporarily moves back home. Yes, her father died when she was just a teenager, leaving Cindy in the care of her step mum and living with two older step sisters, but that's where the similarities with the Cinderella fairy tale ends. Her step mum isn't evil, she loves Cindy as she reminds her of her late husband. And the gorgeous and popular step sisters are no bullies, they take Cindy under their wing. We love a supportive blended family!

Cindy's step mother is the wildly successful executive producer of reality show Before Midnight (a fictionalised version of The Bachelor). When there are some last-minute bachelorette openings, Cindy and her step sisters suddenly find themselves in the world of reality TV dating. The twins join to boost their influencer status, but Cindy has a different goal: she thinks the programme might help her get her shoe designs out there and land her a job with a fashion company. What she hadn't counted on, however, is that she has a history with the bachelor for this season. And suddenly it's not just her design career at stake, but her love life too...

My goodness, I loved this book so much, I can't even. I'm not a fan of reality TV and have never seen The Bachelor, but Julie Murphy has created such a wonderful, (mostly) supportive cast of characters that suddenly even a show known for ruthlessness and backstabbing becomes pretty darn wholesome. I adored the setting of this story, the fun take on the classic Cinderella tale, the adorable romance at the heart of it all (I don't care that it was predictable), and the majority of the characters. It was all so cute and heart-fluttering, I couldn't get enough of it.

Following in the footsteps of Murphy's wildly successful Dumplin' series, the protagonist in this novel is a plus-size woman. I really appreciated a lot of her ideas and commentary around body positivity (e.g. her frustration when called "brave" for wearing certain outfits or for simply being herself), which really does a lot to normalise people's differences rather than pointing them out. And, honestly, it works. What I've mostly taken away about Cindy's character is how awesome she is as a person, not to mention her incredible shoe collection and supportive family. And while the romance was super cute, this is mostly the story about Cindy finding herself – and I loved it. 

In By the Book by Jasmine GuilloryIzzy (short for Isabelle) lands a dream job as an editorial assistant at A Tale as Old as Time publishing house. As a book lover she couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to be able to read for work. But fast-forward two years and not everything is as she hoped it'd be. She's bogged down by admin work, with a manager who doesn't appreciate her, and no career progression in sight. And to make matters even worse, they're supposed to publish a memoir by celebrity Beau Towers, but he doesn't nothing aside from ignore her emails, which makes her look even more incompetent in front of her boss. 

In a last-ditch attempt to save the book, and her struggling career, Izzy drops by Beau's house in California after a conference. She hopes to be able to give him a pep talk to motivate him to start writing. Instead she's met with a rude man telling her to go away. But when, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Izzy is forced to spend the night in Beau's spare room, things change. She does get a chance to give him a pep talk in the morning, and they see each other in a – reluctant – different light. They make a deal: if Izzy stays for a few weeks to motivate and help Beau, he will genuinely try to write. Seeing no other choice that will save her career (and struggling with the New York winter so easily tempted by the sunshine in California), Izzy agrees. 

By the Book is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but without throwing Belle's father in the dungeons (I never understood Belle forgiving the Beast for this). The 'beast' in this tale is still gruff and temperamental but in a much more human and relatable way, so Izzy's journey from 'imprisonment'-to-romance doesn't feel like she's suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Beau is just struggling with his past, and aside from being a bit too blunt and selfish at time, he's really rather sweet and considerate from the get-go. A much better take on the classic fairy tale. 

As the book is set in the publishing world, I already knew I would adore it – but Izzy and Beau (not to mention Beau's sort-of housekeeper Michaela) are utterly delightful too. And about mid-way through I wish I was right there in California with them (and I don't even like the heat!), going on surfing and baking adventures. I also loved the nods to the Disney film from the "grey stuff" through to talking to furniture, and even baddy Gaston (Gavin in this book) makes an appearance and gets a delicious taste of his own medicine towards the end. This tale as old as time makes for a perfect modern romance.

If the Shoe Fits and By the Book were both wonderful and quite unexpected reads. I assumed I'd like them enough, sure, but I didn't think I'd fall head over heels in love with the respective retellings and the main characters. I read both in a single sitting each, just a day apart, that's how much I was pulled into these wonderful modern fairy tales. They were utterly delightful and fixed a lot of the issues I had with the original stories. These are not just retellings set in contemporary times, they take inspiration from the classics and make them better for a far more genuine 'happy ever after'. It's a magical formula, and I'm already excited about reading the next one in the series!

If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy and By the Book by Jasmine Guillory are both published by Studio Press (Bonnier Books) and you can purchase them now from your favourite book shop.

Disclaimer: These books were gifted to me by the publisher, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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