A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.
Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England—home to C.S. Lewis—to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.
Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers—until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.
When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.
While I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this book, as I did with Close to You, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Littered with literary references, it’s a book lover’s dream, and as a native of Britain, I appreciated the incredibly accurate descriptions of Britain’s unpredictable and dreary weather, and the equally accurate near-constant tea-drinking. I’ve been reviewing Christian fiction for about six years now, and while there are many historical novels set in Britain, it’s rare to find a contemporary one where the characters spend most of their time on British soil. While I’m not all that familiar with Oxford, it was still a pleasant change to read a novel set somewhere closer to home.
Littered with literary references, it’s a book lover’s dream, and as a native of Britain, I appreciated the incredibly accurate descriptions of Britain’s unpredictable and dreary weather, and the equally accurate near-constant tea-drinking.
I prefaced my review of Close to You by admitting that all of my Tolkein knowledge came from the Lord of the Ringsfilms, but I still absolutely adored Kara’s debut novel. Bizarrely, although I’m actually a lot more familiar with the Narnia novels—having read all of the books as a child, listened to them on audiotapes, frequently watched rather terrible 90s cartoon and low-budget straight-to-VHS live-action adaptations, and finally saw the most recent Hollywood adaptations—I’m not a massive, life-long fan of the series. I understood most of the references in this novel, in spite of the many years that have passed since I’ve read one of the books or even watched a film, but they felt a bit more forced than the Lord of the Rings theme that prevailed in the last novel. Maybe it’s because the theme in Close to You was directly tied to Allie’s job as a tour guide, while Narnia is just a shared obsession of Emelie and Peter, and only tangentially relevant to Emelia’s job at the literary foundation, but the references didn’t weave their way into the novel quite as well as I’d anticipated.
Do you have to be a massive Narnia fan in order to appreciate this book? Absolutely not! While Emelia’s love of all things Narnia is evident, her romance with Peter and her determination to redeem herself through her work at the foundation are the main focus of the story. Emelia has a lot of growing to do over the course of the novel, and I really hurt for her and hoped she would open up to one of her new friends in Oxford and gain comfort from someone who could ease the burden of guilt she was feeling. I appreciated the friendship that she developed with Allie, especially as I hadn’t realise that the protagonists from Close to You would feature in this book. There were a few times when I almost shouted “Just tell Peter the truth!” at the book, but her hesitance made sense given her backstory. There are some pretty big coincidences in this story—I mean, what are the chances that Emelia and Peter would become friends, and that Peter be related to someone Emelia had hurt in her past, when their lives are so different?—but I was able to overlook them because I was so wrapped up in Emelia’s story.
Do you have to be a massive Narnia fan in order to appreciate this book? Absolutely not!
Peter’s pain is more of a physical pain, as he’s suffered an injury that’s preventing him from attaining his dream of competing in the Olympics as a rowing champion. In spite of my self-confessed Britishness, I know very, very little about rowing. I studied and St. Andrews and we are all about the golf—although, admittedly, I also know nothing about golf. Sports just aren’t my thing. Anyway, you don’t have to know anything about rowing to understand Peter’s frustration at having his dreams ripped away from him. He also has some issues with his relationship with his brother that he needs to work through, so it’s not all about his sporting goals. I did feel like I got to know Emelia better than I did Peter, but I didn’t mind this too much, as her story is very compelling.
I have mixed feelings about the spiritual element in this novel, partly because I tend to avoid books where the focus is on a non-Christian character finding faith. Maybe I’ve just read too many books where this storyline is badly executed, or cheesy, or contains a massive moment of revelation that no one I know personally has ever experienced. The development of Emelia’s faith definitely felt realistic, and it was a very gradual, tentative growth that made sense given what we know about Emelia. I still feel a bit uncertain about the novel’s focus on all of the coincidences that brought Emelia and Peter together, that were basically summed up as “This is all God’s plan for you” or “This was meant to happen”. I felt like it took away a lot of the agency and free-will of the protagonists actions, and it was just a little bit too twee and cheesy for my personal taste. While I’m sure the “This was meant to happen” angle probably works for some readers (and obviously it was enough to sway Emelia into believing in God) it just didn’t sit well with me.
The development of Emelia’s faith definitely felt realistic, and it was a very gradual, tentative growth that made sense given what we know about Emelia.
Like other reviewers, I did feel like the conclusion of the novel came too quickly and summed too many things up in too little pages. While I was happy that Emelia and Peter were able to push past their problems and make an effort to be together, they didn’t seem to have dealt with everything, and there were still some issues that I would have liked clarified.
In spite of my personal issues with the spiritual thread and the conclusion to the novel, I’d still recommend Can’t Help Falling to book-nerds and contemporary romance fans alike. I might not have loved it as much as Kara Isaac’s debut novel, but I’m still definitely a fan of her work, and I’m intrigued to see which literary world she delves into next. At least, I’m hoping that this trend continues in her novels? Please say yes!
Sometimes you meet a character whose heartache is so palpable, it fairly leaps off the page. This is how I experienced both Emelia Mason and Peter Carlisle in Can’t Help Falling. Both are trying to rebuild their lives after poor decisions and shattered dreams, and when they meet, it’s hard to see how they are going to get past their regrets and consequences of their decisions. Emelia’s former life was that of a successful tabloid reporter; her job wasn’t personal, until one day, death made it so. Peter was an Olympic level rower, whose dreams of competing in the games were derailed by a serious injury to his shoulder. Both are determined to re-build a floundering charity before it has to close its doors for good, and both are looking for atonement.
Sometimes you meet a character whose heartache is so palpable, it fairly leaps off the page. This is how I experienced both Emelia Mason and Peter Carlisle in Can’t Help Falling.
I have never been to Oxford, but a picturesque setting comes to life within these pages. There is a charming, atmospheric feeling to this story; whether it was a country manor house, the pub frequented by Lewis and Tolkien or an antique shop, there is a strong sense of place. The tone is at times more somber, and yet at other times, there is a lot of humor. Rather than feeling jarred in and out of these emotions, there is a nice balance held throughout the story. The Narnia thread is a lot of fun – full of whimsy, but it never becomes an overwhelming thread. Though it’s been a good while since I’ve read the Narnia books, I never felt lost, and honestly, I don’t think a reader that hasn’t read them would feel lost – although perhaps they’d decide that now was the time to read them. I know I was clamoring for a re-read after finishing this book.
Emelia is a complex, layered character. Sometimes she is downright prickly. But I myself can be downright prickly, so honestly, I appreciated that level of realism. While I didn’t always agree with her reactions, I can understand how feelings just kind of bubble over sometimes. She has a very genuine, endearing quality to her, and I admired how she determined to do a good job, no matter how it might end up for her personally. While she may have been looking for peace in the wrong place, it was understandable as to why she felt like she was going about it the best way.
There is a charming, atmospheric feeling to this story; whether it was a country manor house, the pub frequented by Lewis and Tolkien or an antique shop, there is a strong sense of place.
Sometimes with stories where one person is keeping something with huge implications from the other main character, it just doesn’t work. The secret overpowers any chemistry they might have as a couple, but that isn’t the case here between Emelia and Peter. Of course, I did want her to tell him this secret, but I also understood that she really wanted to complete the job she was doing, and if she did tell, it might damage the good she had done so far. She knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but it’s what she could do at that moment, and I really appreciated how well the story was able to handle the weightiness of that issue.
The plot flows well for most of the story – it has one of the cutest meetings that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and it really sets the tone for the relationship between Emelia and Peter as it develops. There were a few times that I felt like I had to suspend my disbelief a bit – some scenes a bit too convenient for my tastes, but that’s more of a personal preference than anything else. We know fairly early on in the story that Emelia is not a believer, whereas Peter and several of the secondary characters are. I appreciate how Allie and Jackson, and even Peter, when he wasn’t being stubborn, treated Emelia. The scenes between her and Allie are especially nice and realistic. I also thought how Emelia comes to faith is a nice part of the story, and, despite my reservations about the coincidental scenes earlier in the story, I actually liked the circumstance that finally moves her to tentative faith as it feels very realistic and true to the life of the story.
The plot flows well for most of the story – it has one of the cutest meetings that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and it really sets the tone for the relationship between Emelia and Peter as it develops.
Overall, I found so much to enjoy in this story, and I can tell that I’ve found a new author in Kara Isaac – one whose books I will always seek out and be eager to read. I love how she integrates literature and fandoms in her books, so I’m hopeful that she will continue with that in her books. I also want to mention that I have not read her first book, Close to You, and though the characters do feature in Can’t Help Falling, I didn’t feel lost. I do, however, want to go back and read Allie’s story very soon, and will be eagerly awaiting the author’s next book!