REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s LOVE LETTERING

Love_LetteringI never start a first-person-narrated romance with any confidence that I will enjoy it. I’m old-ish and old-fashioned and with the exception of Jane Eyre want my romances to be thirdly-centred. While I didn’t love Clayborn’s mannered “Chance of a Lifetime” series, I did enjoy it and thought her a thoughtful romance writer, trying too-hard to bring a self-conscious emotional complexity to the romance novel (while not sacrificing the HEA). Like the third-person, I prefer a more definitive HEA, but I wasn’t dissatisfied with Love Lettering‘s ending, thanks to its nod to Austen’s Persuasion.

As a non-fan of planners and pens and gel-vs-ink aficionados, I wasn’t keen on Love Lettering‘s premise: calligraphic heroine Meg Mackworth, with some kind of vague woo-woo sense, weaves the word M-I-S-T-A-K-E into hero Reid Sutherland’s wedding program. One year and a broken engagement later, Reid appears at Meg’s sometimes-paperie-employer, Cecelia’s, with an accusatory tone and the said wedding program. As a genius-IQ, Wall Street quantitative analyst, Reid sure can read a pattern where others might not and he wants to know how Meg knew his engagement would end. 

What ensued was confusing to me: I think Meg, who has made QUITE a name for herself thanks to the originality of her work, is creatively blocked at a crucial moment in her career: an upcoming pitch to a national planner-and-paper company. In conversation with Reid, who turns out to hate NYC as much as Meg loves it, Meg asks Reid to join her in an exploration of NYC-signage in an attempt to unblock her creativity and unhate his NYC-hates-it. Reid agrees and they embark on a courtship of sorts, exploring NYC on foot, meeting in different neighbourhoods, making sustenance stops at small, inexpensive, but delicious neighbourhood eateries.

I was never really sure why Meg proposed this scheme, or why Reid agreed, but I did enjoy their journeying. Once the unlikely, vague premise was set up, I thought Clayborn created a wonderful balance of engaging setting, a peripatetic movement to her narrative that echoed its perfect pacing, coupled with hey, one of my faves in romance, food descriptions, and a see-saw of banter-attraction and genuinely serious conversation between hero and heroine. Clayborn also gave Meg an inner voice that was funny at times; at others, insecure and frightened, yet never made her less than likeable. Add potent physical attraction and the alternating of hero-heroine-heroine’s-inner-voice was engaging and delightful.

The novel’s rhythm of texting, meeting, talking, observing, playing word and signage games, sometimes breaking into a fight (especially because Love Lettering is an opposites-attract romance) lulled me into a this-is-a-quiet-psychological-romance state. Then, Clayborn saved the best for last and ratcheted the tension to sky-high with a dramatic last quarter, without a Big Mis, or a terrible emotionally-wrenching rift between hero and heroine. Above all, one of the most wonderful things about Clayborn’s romance is that its main theme is care: care for the other, and friends play as great a part in the heroine’s well-being as does a lover-boyfriend, care for oneself, care with what one brings to one’s work.

If Love Lettering ends with a Persuasion-homage, it opens with Pride and Prejudice. Reid is pissed off and stiff; Meg is cringy embarrassed and blubbery out-there, also judgy-judgy. Like my beloved P & P, Meg is FUNNY at first-sight of Reid (and she remembers him with this fiancée, Avery, quite vividly too):

Last year, he’d been wearing what other people call “business casual” and what I’d privately call “weekend-stick-up-your-ass”: tan chinos pressed so sharply they’d looked starched, white collared shirt under a slim cut, expensive-looking navyblue V-neck sweater.

“Maybe, I think, his life is pretty different now, too. But then he says, “Good evening,” which I guess means he’s still got the stick up his ass. Who says Good evening? Your grandad, that’s who.

“Of course in the face of a human-shaped piece of granite I find myself struggling to muster the cheerful informality that’s always made me such a hit in here, that had lifted my low spirits throughout today’s shift. Ridiculously, I can only think of phrases that seem straight out of Jane Austen. Are you in need of assistance, sir? What do you require this evening? Which of our parchment-like wares appeals most to you?

Reid may be stiff, slow-to-smile, and excessively-polite, but he’s also kind, caring, honest, and moral. Meg may be blurting-my-feelings out there, but she too has emotional wounds to hide and has to learn to be honest about what she needs. (Reid’s direct honesty helps with that.) And the delight of the novel? How Meg peels away Reid’s stiff-chino layers, hubba to the love scenes too, to find the man worthy of her love and loyalty as he is of her open heart and humour. This is only a tiny sampling of all the ways Love Lettering won me over and will remain as one of the best romances I’ve read this year. With Miss Austen, who appreciates all the nods, we say Love Lettering is proof “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.

Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering is published by Kensington Books. It was released in December 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Kensington Books, via Netgalley.

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s LOVE LETTERING

  1. I agree that the ‘let’s do this together’ premise seemed a bit strained (though I thought the initial MISTAKE part made sense because she has met a lot of couples and sees how these two interact) — but I loved the lettering part and, like you, found the way the story then unfolded really enjoyable. I like your point that it is about caring for other people: that brings the friendship plots in nicely too.

    Her original trilogy has somewhat elaborate start-up points too but I’ve now reread them multiple times and really admire the depth of her characterizations and also how intensely the relationships develop and how long she lets the sexual tension play out, so that the intimacy really feels earned.

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    • I think contemporary romance’s premise-dilemma is its Achilles-heel, but if there’s one thing we can say about Clayborn’s romances is that from thereon, they get better and better and better. The last quarter was AMAZING and I loved it.

      I loved that theme, and she managed to balance it with a really hot attraction and the humour was wonderful too.

      A great, great point about the sexual tension: I thought it was so pitch-perfect: the first love scene takes place at 60% on the Kindle and that, for me, is a romance writer who can sustain tension, build character and relationship, no shortcuts, as many love scenes are. This makes them all that more powerful and organic to the relationship.
      Thank you for such a wonderful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    • P.S. I think, addendum to your point about friendship, that it was great how Clayborn made Meg’s inability to confront her friends the same as her inability to confront Reid. Her problem was one and the same for relationships, not separate too. I thought that most psychologically acute on Clayborn’s part.

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  2. Ok. I HAVE TO READ this now! I’ve been eyeing it for a while and going to place it on hold now.

    Btw, I enjoyed The lady and the highwayman so so much. Thx for talking about it!

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    • Oh yay, I’m so glad you liked it, Lady and Highwayman is beautifully layered romance. Loved it.

      I think you may found this quite stupendous!! I predict it may your year’s fave … just sayin’.

      Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So, I really, really liked this too. I am a planner girl, not obsessively, but I do watch more than my fair share of planner videos on Youtube, so. I agree that the set-up doesn’t really make sense, but for me the other big weakness in the book was the lack of Reid’s POV. I understand why she had to do it like that for plot reasons, but for romance reasons, it made it less satisfying for me.

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    • Hmmmm, that is SO interesting. I thought about the lack of Reid’s POV too, as I was reading. I was okay not having his perspective, but I assumed that’s how it would go because it’s a first-person heroine narration. I think that’s why she included that letter at the end, for POV reasons and Persuasion reasons, I hope …. and whoa, it was one of the best things in it!

      I’m not much of a planner girl, but I do use a bullet journal (a Leuchtturm, a gold one, so pretty) daily. And I love it. I divide it into four: mind, body, spirit, and mood.

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      • Yes, I was very glad she included the letter (and yay for Persuasion hints) but I had thought we might get alternating POVs.

        It wasn’t as bad as some Betty Neels, where the heroine says she had no idea the hero was interested and I find myself agreeing with her….

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