Book Lovers by Emily Henry

            But even aside from that, any decent person would at least wait until there was some bread on the table before throwing out insults.

            I close my own menu and fold my hands on the table. “I think it’s her best yet.”

            Dusty’s already published three others, each of them fantastic, though none sold well. Her last publisher wasn’t willing to take another chance on her, so she’s back in the water, looking for a new home for her next novel.

            And okay, maybe it’s not my favorite of hers, but it has immense commercial appeal. With the right editor, I know what this book can be.

            Charlie sits back, the heavy, discerning quality of his gaze sending a prickling down my backbone. It feels like he’s looking right through me, past the shiny politeness to the jagged edges underneath. His look says, Wipe that frozen smile off your face. You’re not that nice.

            He turns his water glass in place. “Her best is The Glory of Small Things,” he says, like three seconds of eye contact was enough to read my innermost thoughts and he knows he’s speaking for both of us.

            Frankly, Glory was one of my favorite books in the last decade, but that doesn’t make this one chopped liver.

            I say, “This book is every bit as good. It’s just different—less subdued, maybe, but that gives it a cinematic edge.”

            “Less subdued?” Charlie squints. At least the golden brown has seeped back into his eyes so I feel less like they’re going to burn holes in me. “That’s like saying Charles Manson was a lifestyle guru. It might be true, but it’s hardly the point. This book feels like someone watched that Sarah McLachlan commercial for animal cruelty prevention and thought, But what if all the puppies died on camera?”

            An irritable laugh lurches out of me. “Fine. It’s not your cup of tea. But maybe it would be helpful,” I fume, “if you told me what you liked about the book. Then I know what to send you in the future.”

            Liar, my brain says. You’re not sending him more books.

            Liar, Charlie’s unsettling, owlish eyes say. You’re not sending me more books.

            This lunch—this potential working relationship—is dead in the water.

            Charlie doesn’t want to work with me, and I don’t want to work with him, but I guess he hasn’t entirely abandoned the social contract, because he considers my question.

            “It’s overly sentimental for my taste,” he says eventually. “And the cast is caricatured—”

            “Quirky,” I disagree. “We could scale them back, but it’s a large cast—their quirks help distinguish them.”

            “And the setting—”

            “What’s wrong with the setting?” The setting in Once in a Lifetime sells the whole book. “Sunshine Falls is charming.”

            Charlie scoffs, literally rolls his eyes. “It’s completely unrealistic.”

            “It’s a real place,” I counter. Dusty had made the little mountain town sound so idyllic I’d actually googled it. Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, sits just a little ways outside Asheville.

            Charlie shakes his head. He seems irritable. Well, that makes two of us.

            I do not like him. If I’m the archetypical City Person, he is the Dour, Unappeasable Stick-in-the-Mud. He’s the Growly Misanthrope, Oscar the Grouch, second-act Heathcliff, the worst parts of Mr. Knightley.