Title: Nora Goes Off Script
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: June 7, 2022
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Nora’s life is about to get a rewrite…
Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same.
The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.
Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story–the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.
What a breath of fresh air! It often feels like all contemporary romance novels tell versions of the same story, with the same plot beats, but Nora Goes Off Script offers a taste of something new and different, even while checking many familiar boxes.
Nora writes screenplays for romance channel movies, and is good at it. She describes it at one point in the book as being akin to doing Mad Libs — give her a gender, a location, and a career, and she’ll turn it into a romance movie. Is it the real estate mogul falling for the owner of a struggling country inn? Or the big city lawyer who finds love and happiness baking cupcakes in a small town? There has to be a break-up, then a big, grand reunion (preferably at a signficant town event), and then a more-or-less chaste kiss… and a very happy ending, of course.
But… Nora finds herself significantly less inspired to create on-screen romances after her selfish jerk of a husband leaves her and her two children after years of living off Nora’s earnings while also putting her down. When she does commit a version of her true story to paper, she ends up with a screenplay that gets optioned as a Hollywood movie, with the hottest stars and a big-name director on board — and they want to film on her property, where she’s located the story.
Nora and her kids live in their falling-apart country home in rural New York, but Nora’s pride and joy is the tea house, a gorgeous little outbuilding on the property where she does her daily writing sessions. It’s this place that inspires the movie — called The Tea House — and it’s also this place that calls to Leo Vance once filming has ended.
Leo is successful, sexy, and already an Oscar winner, but he’s not happy. Spending time at Nora’s place gives him a hint of life away from Hollywood and the spotlight, so when shooting ends, he offers Nora a ridiculous amount of money to be able to stay in her tea house for one more week. She’s still recovering from the debts her deadbeat ex ran up, so she agrees.
And day by day, sunrise by sunrise, Leo and Nora start to connect. He’s insatiably curious about her life, delights in the simple joys of family time, and even offers to help direct her son’s school play. Nora’s initial annoyance at having Leo in her space quickly turns to enjoyment of his company, and soon it’s clear that there’s more than friendship and appreciation of the sunrise going on.
I found Nora and Leo absolutely delightful together. They bring out sides of one another that had long been dormant, and provide support and joy in all sorts of lovely ways. Yes, there are plenty of Hollywood-star-falling-for-an-ordinary-person romances out there, but this one truly felt special.
I loved Nora’s devotion to her kids, her practicality, and her determination to make her life work. She’s creative, but also highly organized, and keeps her children physically and emotionally well cared for even on her hardest days. I couldn’t help but admire her resilience, and her clear-eyed view of her jerky ex-husband seemed quite healthy to me.
Leo is also lovely — a guy who everyone wants a piece of, but who craves the family and connections that he’s been without for too long. Together, Nora and Leo just work, and it’s very sweet to see how good they are for one another.
Now, this is a romance, so naturally there’s a giant misunderstanding and a break-up, which is heartbreaking for both characters (and the reader!). And really, this is the only part that annoyed me a bit, because two adults should have figured out there was more to the story, or at the very least, made one last attempt to communicate… but alas, in this fictional world, they both have to suffer through heartache and regrets before (not at all a spoiler) finally getting to a well-earned happy ending.
I’ve probably given away more plot details than I should have, but honestly, the joy of this book is in spending time with the characters and seeing the love story unfold. It’s a heart-warming story, but it’s never saccharine, and I loved the little moments just as much as the big dramatic ones.
Nora Goes Off Script is a wonderful reading experience, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading more by this author. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up or need a break from dire/gloomy/heavy reads, this is the one to check out!