CBR14Bingo – Holiday: Zuri takes a six week vacation to Europe to explore various stationary stores.
I was in the mood for a quick cute rom-com, and this book certainly delivered. A penpal romance with a dash of travel and some craftiness, this book hit a lot of the right notes for me.
“We are writing to each other. On paper. Because paper is kind of my thing.”
Zuri may be underpaid and unrecognized at her job – customer service for an online dating app called Hookupz – but work is just to pay her bills. Her true passions are gardening and paper. When her favorite paper company sets up an anonymized penpal service, Zuri jumps to join in – and as the letters and months go by, starts to feel herself opening up to Alessandro, her Italian penpal. When something good finally happens for Zuri, she decides to finally start living her life and plans a six week vacation in Europe. Mostly she’ll visit friends and various famous papers stores, but she also plans on meeting up with Alessandro. The problem? The man she’s been writing to is actually Nico, Alessandro’s brother, and owner of the paper company. Nico wants to fess up immediately, but Alessandro worries it’ll hurt the company, which is already on shaky footing. After all, it’s only one meeting, right?
It’s hard not to like Zuri. Her stepdad gambled away her college fund partway through her degree, leaving her in the lurch and him in jail. Besides the resentment of spending the past several years scrimping and saving to keep her head above water with all the loans, she regrets not having some of the more typical early twenties experiences. As part of her vacation, she creates a bucket list to take care of on the trip – ride a train through Europe (check), indulge herself (probably at a paper store), get drunk at a party… and fall in love. She’s terrified of ending up like her mother – or any of the various callers to the dating app helpline – stuck clinging to someone bad for them. Because of that, she’s never really been invested in dating or getting too close to anyone. A lot of her problems have to do with the fallout of her stepdad’s crime. Her mother can’t seem to understand the boundaries she’s set to keep herself safe, insisting that maybe it’s time to forgive him. But to Zuri, the problem runs deeper than forgiveness.
“She accepted beauty and joy in her life wherever she could find it, but she hadn’t had an easy go of it. Maybe that was the source of their kinship. Neither of them had.”
Her capacity to forgive is one thing that Nico is desperately counting on. Nico along with his brother Alessandro inherited the family paper making after their parents died when Nico was barely nineteen, derailing their own life plans. Nico truly loves making paper though and his explanations of the different types and how they’re made was one of my favorite parts of the book. Nico’s got his own issues revolving around a mistake he made that hurt the company and caused him to temporarily step down as CEO. Things aren’t great for him and the only bright spot is his correspondence with Zuri. Through their letters, the act of telling someone else about their own lives causes them to re-examine themselves and provides impetus for change, whether that’s restarting the family garden or having the courage to finally take a much longed-for trip. They support each other in a way that felt authentic to me, though the final grovel was a bit over the top but still quite adorable.
I loved Nico’s paper making explanations. His (and Zuri’s) enthusiasm for the process and the product shone through, so even though I’m the farthest thing possible from a paper snob, I really enjoyed reading about it. I also loved the Italian countryside setting. There was just enough detail without it beginning to feel like a travelogue and I loved the vicarious feeling of eating pastries in a little Italian cafe. What I didn’t like? Out of nowhere, suddenly there’s magical paper making, or at least imbuing paper with intentions. For me, it didn’t jive with the rest of the book and it seemed to be a way to wrap up several threads without much effort. Is it really magic? No, but I didn’t like the suggestion that Zuri needed that magic paper to get the courage to write those letters. Perhaps worse, I found Nico’s reasons for not telling Zuri, well, a bit contrived.
Overall, this was a lot of fun, sweet with just enough angst. I haven’t read this author before but I’ll definitely be looking for her books in the future!
I received an advance review copy of this book from Valentine PR. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.