What do you get when you cross a cursed bookshop, three hot fictional men, and a punk rock heroine nursing a broken heart?
After being fired from her fashion internship in New York City, Mina Wilde decides it’s time to reevaluate her life. She returns to the quaint English village where she grew up to take a job at the local bookshop, hoping that being surrounded by great literature will help her heal from a devastating blow.
But Mina soon discovers her life is stranger than fiction – a mysterious curse on the bookshop brings fictional characters to life in lust-worthy bodies. Mina finds herself babysitting Poe’s raven, making hot dogs for Heathcliff, and getting IT help from James Moriarty, all while trying not to fall for the three broken men who should only exist within her imagination.
When Mina’s ex-best friend shows up dead with a knife in her back, she’s the chief suspect. She’ll have to solve the murder if she wants to clear her name. Will her fictional boyfriends be able to keep her out of prison?
The Main Characters.
Mina is a character with an interesting past and a compelling current conflict. She's slowly losing her eyesight due to an inherited degenerative disease, and it's completely derailed her life. Mina is forced to confront all the things she's going to lose every once in a while in the book, and every time, her anger and grief over that fact hit me right in the chest. It did not surprise me to find out that the author is legally blind herself, because these parts felt very realistic and very personal. (Yes, of course I read the author's notes! Don't you?)
As much as I truly enjoy the bigger concept behind the book, I think it was this conflict that won me over most -- I don't see many people with disabilities respectfully represented in romance novels, and it was just so refreshing to read one with a main character who not only has a major disability but also isn't either magically fixed or else treated like inspiration porn (we're here for real porn, my dears, not hike-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps porn).
The three eligible bachelors of the series are actually some that you might already know quite well -- they're all tragic literary figures, transported to the real world by the magic of the Nevermore Bookshop. I found the author's choice of book boyfriends both unexpected and intriguing; part of the reason I just had to read the book was because I saw Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights mentioned. I, probably similar to the author, had the biggest sixteen-year old crush on Heathcliff, and it's not an exaggeration to say that he deeply influenced how I like my fictional romances.
Heathcliff is characterized just how I'd imagine him (with a little hint of Bernard Black from Black Books). I genuinely loved every scene he was in, and I never got tired of seeing him on-screen. He's broody, witty, and adorably curmudgeonly, and I'd probably fall in love with him too!
James Moriarty was an unexpected twist for me, but I fell for him pretty quickly too. There's more than a hint of the BBC Moriarty in his manner... but since coming to the real world, Moriarty has discovered that he enjoys the challenge of toppling established classist and patriarchal norms, which makes him instantly sexy. Who doesn't love a genius bad boy with all the right aims? I will say, having the other characters call him Morrie was a little jarring at first, but I eventually got used to it.
Quoth, the raven from Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven, was probably the strangest for me. I enjoyed him being around in raven form, harranging customers in the shop, but it took a long time for me to warm up to him in his shapeshifted human form. I do feel like he could have used a bit more depth in this first book -- but to be fair, most reverse harem series are bound to focus most on only one or two love interests per book, due to sheer space and plot constraints. I'm continuing to read the series, so I'm going to reserve full judgement on Quoth until he's had a bit more space to himself.
The Big Keyword: Reverse Harem.
At this point, reverse harem is more a category than a keyword, but it's got so much to unpack that I'll give it its own cozy section.
I prefer some solid emotional lead-up to my sex scenes, which means that many reverse harem books can be diffiicult for me to enjoy; it's hard enough to fully develop characters and relationships even when you've got two main characters, let alone four. As such, it takes an author with a solid grasp of their craft to draw me in with a reverse harem -- but since I put this reverse harem on my bookshelf, you should already know that it delivers!
There is definitely some wish fulfillment involved in reverse harem for most of us, which is why it goes particularly well with the author's idea of "book boyfriends" -- that's a genuinely tasty treat, when packaged all together. Moreover, it has the advantage of the fact that many of us are already acquainted with the main characters, and therefore don't need as much screentime to emotionally attach ourselves to them! It's a fantastic trick that works wonders, because as well as the author writes Heathcliff, she didn't really need to introduce me to him in order for me to fall in love with him -- I did that years ago, after all!
But what really made the reverse harem in this book work for me was mostly... the banter. It was good banter, guys. Is there anything sexier than a man with good humor? It turns out there is -- three men with good humor will do it for you every time!
The Big Misunderstanding.
There's no particularly huge misunderstanding in this book outside of the murder mystery aspect. The closest thing, I think, to a romantic misunderstanding would be Mina's reluctance to admit her disability to anyone else. In that respect, as I mentioned above, I always felt very deeply for her. There's a definite catharsis involved when the three men react to her admission, and yes -- it made me wibble just a little bit. There's nothing quite like a partner who loves and accepts you for who you are, and who intends to stick around through thick and thin. If you've ever had a serious health issue of your own, you'll probably have the same little teary moment that I did here.
Fie, You Villain!
There is a villain here, of course -- it's a murder mystery, and someone's got to be the killer. I called who it was from the very first time they showed up on screen, but honestly, that's not a mark against this book. If you're halfway familiar with both murder mystery and romance tropes, you'll probably call it too -- because this author clearly doesn't believe that tropes are bad, and I'm in agreement with her there. That said, the killer doesn't have a lot of character development, because I think it's fair to say that we're here for the book boyfriends and not the villain.
Get Your Popcorn!
This book fulfilled every promise in its concept and its summary. I read through it in one go, and even started the second one straight away. Between my favorite book boys and Mina's ongoing conflict with her loss of vision, I ate this one up in one bite.
Book boyfriends plus murder mysteries was an instaclick concept for me, and it totally delivered! This book felt very fresh and very different from anything else in the genre right now.
Why It's On the Bookshelf.
I haven't decided yet whether I would read this book a second time -- mostly because you lose a little re-readability in any murder mystery, already knowing how the investigation will turn out. But I truly loved the book boyfriends, and so I just have to keep it around in case I get a craving for Heathcliff or Moriarty. (I'm sure I'll love you eventually too, Quoth... just not today.)
Update: I read the follow-up books, and Quoth did indeed grow on me. ;)