Jasmine Guillory’s novel By The Book, the second in Disney’s reimagined Meant to Be series, is a delightful modern approach to Beauty and the Beast that preserves all of the hallmarks of the tale while breathing new life into a classic with characters that you will miss when you turn the final page. New York-based editorial assistant Isabelle (“Izzy”) Marlowe, who works for A Tale As Old As Time Publishing, gets sent to California to help persuade the reclusive author Beau Towers to finish writing the memoir that he owes the publisher.
While the budding romance between Izzy and Beau is a central focus of By The Book, Guillory never loses sight of her characters and their individual arcs and development. Izzy has a lot on her plate—in addition to being an overworked editorial assistant that has been pigeonholed into a position with no upward mobility (a sentiment that is running rampant in the real-life publishing industry currently), she is also the only Black employee at A Tale As Old As Time which puts a unique strain on her dynamic with her co-workers and her boss. She constantly finds herself second-guessing how she presents herself, never wanting to be viewed as a problem for simply advocating for herself. These are fears that can be found daily on the Twitter feeds of BIPOC publishing employees and it’s compelling to see these real-life issues threaded into the whimsy of a fairytale redux. The way that the Meant to Be series is grounded in reality is one of its strongest selling points.
Beau Towers is a truly beastly man when we first meet him. He’s cold and cruel and standoffish, even when Izzy just wants to help him. While he does make excuses for some of his behavior and Izzy is quicker to forgive than most women would be, Guillory balances it out by making sure that Beau owns up to his bad behavior and grows from it. The delicious romance that Izzy and Beau embark on, one that delivers a surprising amount of heat for a Disney-adjacent tale, feels suitably earned. Through their relationship, they are both transformed, with Beau learning to address his internal conflict and feelings about his parents, and with Izzy learning to ask for what she wants and take control of her own destiny.
While By The Book isn’t able to showcase whimsical talking household appliances, Guillory was able to create a character—Michaela—who fills the place of the Beast’s enchanted servants. Through her clever planning, she found a way to get Izzy inside Beau’s house and ultimately was the driving force behind opening the doors that allowed Izzy to get inside Beau’s heart too. She’s his steadfast personal assistant and cook who comes in and out of the plot to provide Izzy with someone to confide in about Beau’s behavior while she spends an extended amount of time in California. Guillory also repackages Gaston as Izzy’s coworker Gavin who is the exact type of boastful, oaf of a coworker you’d expect to find bragging around the water cooler and looking for ways to undermine someone's career. He may not fall from the tower like Gaston, but he certainly gets leveled with a fall from grace.
One of the best parts of Guillory’s romance is that there are no misunderstandings, at least not really. When the pair part in the final act of the story—before reuniting for the much-needed happily ever after—it’s not for trite or childish reasons. Their relationship feels mature, and one built on the understanding that they both want each other to succeed in their dream careers, even if that means not being together. They become friends first before they fall in love, and that makes everything that much sweeter.
Beauty and the Beast fans and contemporary romance lovers will adore By The Book. It’s the perfect combination of heartwarming romance and feel-good character development, mixed into a world that feels real with characters you want to befriend and root for.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Disney Books.
Maggie Lovitt is a writer at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery.
In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.