Layne, Laurel. To Sir, With Love. Gallery Books, 2021. 288 pp. ISBN 9781982152819 $16.99.
Lauren Layne excels in opposites attract stories. This story of anonymous digital pen pals who don’t realize they know (and dislike) one another IRL puts a modern spin on the classics Parfumerie, The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail: an ouvre of plays and movies about letters exchanged with a frenemy, not knowing the secret admirer and antagonist are one and the same.
Gracie Cooper is struggling to keep her family’s champagne store business afloat with her original drinking in NYC themed watercolors for sale along with strategic merchandising (pretty cocktail napkins and quirky corkscrews). An offer to buy out her lease from a real estate developer is an affront to her commitment to her parent’s legacy, even tho running the family business is not what she wants to be doing with her life. She’s a fairy tale romantic still hoping for her Prince Charming, fantasizing about a brown haired, brown-eyed musician with a dad bod. She signs up for a unique dating app that’s the opposite of Tinder: get to know someone with NO images. She connects with a mystery man she calls Sir, buts he’s not available, having been signed up for the app after mocking a friend who met his fiancé online–when he’s already in a relationship.
Their connection deepens as the letters from the development firm increase and finally the hot (blue-eyed) man in charge shows up at her door in what can only be described as a meet surly. Sebastian Andrews appears to be full of contradictions: sometimes mean, but always regretful, and ambitious but kind, he wants to see people settled and seems to become friend with the business owners he displaced to benefit his family’s real estate deals. And when Gracie starts to implement her hands off siblings ideas to turn her shop around, Sebastian shows up for events as a patron, as if he wants her to succeed. In one funny scene, he shows up dateless to a couples cooking class that Bubbles & More is putting on, and Gracie’s co-workers insist on her joining him. Their cooking is delightedly disastrous.
The cast of characters from customers to co-workers to family and friends seem vivid and real, as if each one could someday be the star of their own book. Layne excels at little details that make a person bloom off the page. Including NYC style living, which almost makes the city a character in it’s own right, with pop up flower carts, skyscrapers, taxis and To Sir With Love is a romance with plenty of heart and vulnerability, lots of yearning, and zero on-the-pages nookie–and I didn’t miss it, it worked.
Spoiler alert–highlight to read: I didn’t like the intrusion of the ghosts of the parents at the very end or the babylogue after Gracie’s sister struggled with infertility – childlessness is a valid (and sometimes painful choice), but readers who need a HEA instead of HFN won’t be as bothered.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #ToSirWithLove from #NetGalley.