Book Club

Magpie Book Club: Emily Henry’s Happy Place.

By: Jen Shoop

This was my first experience reading Emily Henry, and — where have I been? Many of you had written to urge me to read her books when looking for a juicy “NOBR” (North of Beach Read), and the consensus seems to be that her earlier books (specifically Book Lovers) are her best.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It read like cinema, which is unsurprising inasmuch as her previous books have been optioned for movie rights — clearly, Henry knows how to paint with a big screen brush. I found myself torn between dream-casting the main characters and feeling exasperated by the ridiculous premise and subsequent situations in which the characters find themselves. But halfway through the novel, I was chatting with a friend along these lines, and she said: “But who cares? She’s giving us what we want,” and a bell went off somewhere deep inside my mind. It’s true, the narrative structure is laughably improbable (the entire set-up: a former couple decide to pretend they are still together for a weekend so as not to upset their friends, “forcing them” to feign physical attraction, obscure their angst, and secretly fall in love again), but aren’t there entire genres dedicated to wild realms of fantasy? Why must this one conform to some semblance of “believability” just by virtue of its implied closeness to reality? By that I mean: this is not a novel where we encounter flying dragons or time travel or mutant creatures from the future. This is a novel that takes place in Maine, that names real things, real brands, real emotions. That by all accounts tracks with surprising candor and accuracy the ways in which people fall in love and make friends and find fault in themselves and choose the wrong paths and work through those undulations of spirit. And so I suppose it “feels like” the plot should bear equal credulity — but it does not. You know that famous Great Awakening era fustian from the 1730s we all learned about in grade school — “sinners in the hands of an angry god?” The characters in this novel are “lovers in the hands of a lusty goddess.” Henry continuously places her characters in absurd situations in which they must work through their own attraction to one another. And, yes, it’s far-fetched. But it makes for transportive and engrossing reading. So where’s the problem? I suppose I am saying I’d originally written off the plot distortions as poor craft but now I wonder whether we have an author who knows how to create a situation rife with juicy tension that will turn a reader’s head, and who shrugs in the face of “is this plot line believable” in favor of “is this plot line fun/saucy/captivating”?

I will say the novel suffered from length — I found myself skimming some of the protracted hand-wringing bits toward the end — and I’m not sure that the ancillary characters add much to the novel itself. They might as well be cardboard cut-outs, loosely keeping the plot on the rails. At the end of the day, we’re dialed in on the main characters and the rest feel interchangeable.

This is a great book for a glass of rose on the back porch, or laying in the sun sans little ones. (It is racy.) This is not protracted book club conversation material, but — another friend of mine observed that Emily Henry is “the Taylor Swift of beach read writers.” I knew exactly what she meant. There is a lot of glitter, a lot of feather penning, but there are passages (and Taylor Swift lyrics) that strike me as deeply true to the female experience — in the case of The Happy Place, I think Henry does a remarkable job capturing the crazed, wildly exciting, tender nuance of attraction in early relationships.

All in, a fun summer read. I will be reading her backlist!

Currently enjoying Remarkably Bright Creatures, per many Magpie recommendations. This one is a better pick for a discussion group, but it still reads glossily. Caveat: the first chapter (and subsequent ones) is/are told in the voice of an octopus in captivity, which initially feels like a red flag in terms of gimmickiness, but actually seems to work within the context of the book. Keep going…!

On audiobook, I just started Stephen King’s On Writing. I was looking for a companionable celebrity memoir, but came up dry, and this had been on my list for a long time. I love that it’s narrated by King himself. (Any other rave audibook recs? Some of my favorites here.)

More Magpie summer book recommendations here — what are you reading?


+What was the first book or movie that really upset/moved you as a child?

+Footholds — quotes that get us through the tough times.

+There are many ways to read.

Shopping Break.

+Adore the shape and color options of this little woven bag. It gives me Gucci vibes.

+Love these pants and the matching crop top. Remind me of something Rhode would do, but pieces are under $100!

+Goop just launched a shampoo and conditioner that is garnering a little buzz. Gwyneth (partial, of course) was raving about it and I’m contemplating…

+I did end up ordering this two-piece — my first bikini buy in a long time.

+These sandals are SO fun.

+A great silhouette for white jeans.

+Your boy needs these swim trunks for the fourth! And how cute is this dress for your little love watching the parade?

+This classic cotton throw is currently on sale for under $100.

+Just ordered my children these insulated snack bags for camp.

+These seersucker fitness shorts are cute.

+This crochet bag is SO funky and fabulous.

+As elegant food storage as it comes.

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12 thoughts on “Magpie Book Club: Emily Henry’s Happy Place.

  1. Book Lovers is still my favorite Emily Henry, but I agree with so many of your thoughts about Happy Place!

    I feel like you may have mentioned it before, but if you haven’t listened to it yet, I highly recommend Stanley Tucci’s memoir, Taste! He reads the audiobook, and it’s absolutely wonderful, with stories about his Italian family, his time as an actor, and even his experience with cancer, woven through with his thoughts about food. The ending is surprisingly poignant. The only downside of the audiobook is that it’s hard to process the recipes included, but I ended up borrowing both an e-book and the audiobook from the library so I could reference the recipes when I wanted to.

    1. Ohhh yes. I still mourn the end of that book. I felt like he was my wonderful companion for many long walks and errand sessions. I miss him! Maybe will re-listen.


  2. In the vein of books that “give us what we want” – I’ve got Once More With Feeling and The Celebrants out from the library. On a more serious (?) note I’m looking forward to reading Babel and Rebecca Makkai’s latest book.

    Looking forward to hearing what you think of Book Lovers! I think your analysis of Happy Place was spot on.

    1. Thank you so much for these notes/suggestions! Glad my review tracked. Will definitely share thoughts on her others!


  3. I recently finished The Chateau by Jaclyn Goldis and thought it was good! She left a comment here on the blog a month or so ago about the book so I decided to rent it from the library.

  4. I just finished The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See and have a complete book hangover… will need in excess of a few days to fully digest and ruminate before moving onto my next pick. It reminded me a lot of Pachinko – beautiful storytelling, completely thrown into a new (to me) world and culture, complex relationships and family dynamics over decades – essentially, all of the makings of a great novel. I found myself googling so many things to help visualize aspects of the culture and day to day life (anyone else do this?! I’m a visual person…).

    It’s easily my top pick of the year so far. Would definitely recommend adding to your list!

  5. The end of Happy Place made me so irritated! I had really enjoyed it up until then, though I agree with your criticisms above. I won’t spoil anything specific, but I thought the main character’s decision was completely baffling. If you’re looking for more rom coms, I highly recommend anything by Mhairi McFarlane. Her books have a lot of great witty banter but also insight into difficult experiences women face, without ever wallowing in trauma. “If I Never Met You” and “Just Last Night” are good to start with, but I’ve loved everything I’ve read from her so far.

    1. Thank you so much for the rec – McFarlane is new to me! Can’t wait to try.

      I agree with your reading of the ending of Happy Place. It sent a really strange message? Baffling is a good word.


  6. I was so sad when I finished all the Harry Potter audio books. I was late to that party because I never read the physical books. The audio versions are terrific. Then another series that kept me entertained was Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. They are what I call cozy mysteries with really good character development. On a very different note, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is wonderful, as is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. These are some of my favorite audio books, along with a couple you mentioned!!

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