Book Review: Paper Love, by Jae
Brittany B. | 04/15/2020
Today is another repeat author review where we’re going to revisit Jae and her woman loving woman romance that is also a love letter to brick and mortar stationery stores, Paper Love. Paper Love is cute, relaxed, and for me, a bit anti-climactic:
Susanne Wolff isn’t thrilled when her mother sends her all the way across the country to Freiburg to save her uncle’s stationery store from bankruptcy. Freiburg is too provincial for her taste, and besides, pen and paper are outdated anyway.
Anja Lamm, Paper Love’s only full-time employee, takes an instant dislike to the arrogant, digital-loving snob who’s supposed to be her temporary boss.
But thanks to a meddling cat, a business trip to a stationery fair, and an armada of origami boats, Anja soon starts to see beneath Susanne’s aloof exterior, and Susanne discovers how sexy pens and notebooks can be—at least when Anja handles them.
As the end of Susanne’s three-month stay approaches, will she stick to her plan to leave, or will she open her heart to more than just paper love?
The characters in the Paper Love are cute and mostly relatable and I enjoyed that no one in the story was younger than their mid-thirties. Anja is a bisexual woman who is more on the meek side until you get to know her and the biggest stationery and fountain pen nerd that has ever walked the cobblestone streets of Freiburg, Germany. Susanne, on the other hand, is a lesbian that is a stiff, unapproachable businesswoman between jobs and has a giant chip on her shoulder when it comes to business and love. The two make for an iconic pairing by improving the other in areas they’re weak in professionally or personally and being the ultimate yin to the others’ yang.
I’ve only read a few other books by Jae in her Hollywood series and I’ve rather enjoyed what I have read of hers. Paper Love came out in August of 2018, just after I’d finished reading Just Physical, the third book in The Hollywood Series. I bought Paper Love shortly after it was published without reading too much into it because I’d enjoyed the Hollywood Series so much and wanted to see something else from the author that wasn’t about Hollywood drama, but then the book sat on my shelf collecting dust after I’d tried to read it and just couldn’t get into when it finally arrived in the mail.
Flash forward to April 2020 and COVID-19. Under the Washington State mandate, I’ve been stuck home with not much to do, as many of us have been. Being stuck at home and no motivation to work on any of my other creative projects brought on the desire to begin my repeat author reviews and thought that it was finally time to get through that first chapter of Paper Love and read the book. I knew I enjoyed Jae’s writing, so why was I holding off?
It turns out that my hesitation towards Paper Love was valid because the book is just plain slow and a little boring if I’m being honest. The book starts with a scene of Susanne, her twin sister Franzi, and their mother in Berlin watching new years fireworks and having a conversation. The hook of Susanne needing to go to Freiburg to help save her Uncle’s business doesn’t feel like much of a hook because Susanne is so reluctant which made me as a reader reluctant as well. And, well, it just didn’t really pick up from there. Normally I can easily read a queer romance book within a handful of hours, but it took me two days (and a lot of Tumblr & Twitter breaks) to get through Paper Love. Don’t get me wrong, the book is cute and isn’t difficult to read – the book is technically correct in its writing, accessible in word choice and sentence structure, and absolutely error-free. The thing that makes the Paper Love boring, however, is that there is next to no tension throughout the book and no climactic high point. There’s no rising or falling action. There is just building attraction between Susanne and Anja and then a million excuses why the two women won’t get together, scenes in a stationary store, and scenes that compare Franzi and Miri falling in love before Susanne and Anja allow themselves to do the same.
Several things could have provided more tension throughout the story. The biggest one, aside from the romance (which I’ll get to in a minute) is that Susanne hasn’t seen her Uncle Norbert in over a decade and is moving to a small city for three months to try and help save his business. There are throughlines that Susanne’s father was an utter failure when it came to business, causing her mother to go into sizable debt and ultimately caused her parents to divorce. It is for these reasons that Susanne distanced herself from her Uncle because he is her father’s brother and she didn’t want anything to do with the side of her family who was responsible for tearing her core family apart. Which, I will agree, are valid reasons for not wanting to see extended family. The reader doesn’t get ANY tension between Uncle Nobert (AKA, Nobby) and Susanne until the last two paragraphs on page 203 (of a 222-page story), however, and it is completely wrapped up by the end of page 205. At this point in the story, the confrontation comes out of nowhere because it hasn’t been seen for the 200+ pages prior and the argument doesn’t even rise to the level of yelling, harsh words, or anything really. Uncle Nobby states his disappointment, Susanne gets a tiny bit defensive, feelings are glossed over, a tear or two is shed, and then they hug. The story could have used more of a conflict between these two throughout the book, like several small scenes that build up to something more climactic than what the reader got. As it is written… it just feels like a scene to quickly wrap up something Susanne is guilty about.
Another thing that could have provided some sort of tension, or at least more inner turmoil for Susanne, would have been following through with Susanne’s last experience with dating a co-worker/employee, which she mentions several times and states she’d never do again for the reason she won’t consider Anja in the beginning. The reader never gets the full story behind that, though. Susanne thinks it several times, it’s never said aloud or mentioned to Anja. Ultimately, though, there is no emotional weight behind it; Susanne provides no clues to whether it was a huge heartbreak or detrimental to her career – nothing. Just that it had happened and she didn’t want a repeat.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “this is a woman loving woman romance, there’s bound to be tension in their relationship!” And, yes – you’d be right in thinking that. There is the tiniest bit of tension that is built around the mutual attraction to one another but nothing ever palpable. There is some minuscule, second-hand tension, that is created by Susanne and Anja watching Franzi and Miri start a long-distance relationship and making it seem to work without issue. And when Susanne and Anja begin to explore the possibilities of a relationship, there’s no fighting, no misunderstandings, no conflict other than they’re taking it one day at a time because Susanne is convinced she’ll leave by the end of March. The excuses that the narrative uses to keep Susanne and Anja from becoming sexual with each other are laughable and juvenile at best. The choice to keep the two apart for as long as Jae does reads like filler and doesn’t feel authentic. The first sex scene that finally happens doesn’t feel rewarding for all the waiting the reader had to go through, either.
One thing that I have always enjoyed about Jae and reading her books is how she openly talks about sexual orientation within her narratives. In the review I wrote for Departure from the Script back in September 2018, I touched on how Jae handled it in the book and enjoyed the way that Amanda’s grandmother responded to her being a lesbian. Paper Love follows that same outline of talking about orientation and supporting others unconditionally, but this time talking specifically about bisexual women! The book actually has two bisexual characters, Franzi and Anja, which I’m happy to see as a reader. Here is a quick scene of how it’s handled:
Susanne’s eyes widened. She put down the mug she had just picked up without taking a sip of her hot chocolate. “Wait. You mean bendable-as-a-nail woman was your first and only girlfriend?”
Anja’s defenses went up so fast that [Susanne] could almost hear the metallic clank as the parts of her steel armor snapped into place. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I was just experimenting or confused or taking the easy way out because my two other relationships were with men.”
“Woah!” Susanne held up both hands, palms out. “I never said–or thought–any of that. Do you really think my sister would let me get away with such a stupid biphobic attitude?”
Anja’s cheeks flamed hot. “Sorry.” (Page 124-125)
Bisexuality is talked about a little more throughout the book, which I enjoyed. And although I enjoyed the scene above, it fell prey to a lack of conflict in the end. Anja’s response is like flash paper – she immediately gets defensive but that guard vanishes within two paragraphs and doesn’t continue after the quote above. It could have been something used later for internalized conflict that bubbled over time and blew up at some point. There could have been more of a misunderstanding. But it was an apology and done. Although I hope this is how those scenarios are handled in real life by potential couples (with maturity and communication), I just want a little more drama from what I’m reading.
All in all, I wanted to like Paper Love more than I did. I enjoyed reading a book set in Germany and how Jae wrote a love story to the stationery world. I just wanted substantially more tension and conflict in the story. It was all just a little too easy. And like I said, that isn’t bad for real-life relationships, I just need more from my weekend read.
2 out of 5 rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for a chill, relatively drama-free wlw story or any stationary buffs looking for a little romance with their pen and paper obsessions.