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Beach Read

By Emily Henry, A cute and sexy but somewhat somber romance where opposites attract

Brief Summary
Detailed Summary
Read it or Skip It?

Summer is upon us, and Beach Read by Emily Henry was recommended to me by a friend as something to take my mind off of the world going up in flames around us. Why not? I thought. As the title not-so-subtle-ly hints, it’s a beach read (well, sort of) romance, with the tried and true formula of opposites attracting — but, it also hints cryptically on the back cover that “no one will fall in love” in the course of this novel. Hmm.

Now, I realize these are the machinations of a marketing machine at work (Beach read just in time for the summer! A romance novel where no one falls in love!), but I’m also sort of okay with just … letting it happen. I was intrigued! It had good reviews! My friend liked it! And I was in the mood for something that doesn’t make me feel miserable about the world! So, yeah, I caved to the marketing gods.

(Quick warning: there are some spoiler-ish thoughts at the very end of this review. I’ll bold/highlight a warning before it starts, but just a FYI.)

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

In Beach Read, January Adams is a plucky chick lit writer who moves into a lake house to try to eke out a novel she owes to her publisher. But with her happily-ever-after worldview in question — she recently found out her parent’s happy marriage was a lie and was dumped by a boyfriend who didn’t want to deal with the resulting emotional turmoil — she’s having a hard time writing about romance.

At the lake house, she finds out her neighbor is the handsome but grumpy Augustus “Gus” Everett, a novelist and former college acquaintance slash rival slash crush, who is working on his next book as well.

As they reacquaint themselves, they come up with a bet. January will try to write a serious work of literary fiction, while Gus will attempt to write something happy for once. It’s a plan formulated to get January’s creativity flowing again, with perhaps a bit of romance on the side…

See Beach Read on Amazon.

Book Review

I liked the premise of book a lot. The way they get thrown together is kind of cutesy (two writers with opposite personalities living next to each other who make a bet!), but it’s believable enough to come off as charming. Like, it’s not unfathomable that two writers could end up being neighbors.

As for the story, it’s got a blend of thorough character development and plenty of (slightly torrid) romance, plus a sprinkling of comedic asides and sex (gasp!). I would say it’s got a little more substance that your typical chick lit, though it does add some moroseness to the tone of the book. Of course, no one will mistake this for a work of literary fiction, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Not everyone is in the mood for literary fiction all the time!

Honestly, I struggled a little writing this review because I could definitely see the right reader really enjoying this book, but I personally didn’t love it. I was hoping for a much breezier read than this turned out to be. While there are many light and funny parts of Beach Read, it’s mixed in with quite a bit of more morose sections.

I still think it more or less qualifies as a “beach read”, as the title implies, though the book is notably less beachy than the title and cover art would lead you to believe. And the serious parts are necessary for the plot and character development. However, it just wasn’t what I’d been looking for when I picked up this book.

I think if you’re someone who likes chick lit and wants something that tosses in something a bit more serious to give the story more heft, then you’ll be delighted by this book. On the other hand, if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a bit of fun, maybe hold off on this one. (I have mixed feelings about the phrase “chick lit” but I still find it be the most effective way to convey what genre of book I’m talking about, since “romance” novel seems to have a slightly different connotation. Feel free to drop a comment if you have an alternative moniker to suggest.)

I also have a few more criticisms in the Spoiler-ish Thoughts section, but I won’t state them here. Final note: It’s told in first person. Doesn’t bother me, but I know some people don’t like that.

Audiobook Review

I listened to a lot of this on audiobook, and I thought it was very well done. It’s voiced by Julia Whelan, and her narration is crisp, quick-paced and does a good job of conveying emotion or emphases with crossing into cheesy or over dramatic territory. If you’re interested in this book, the audiobook is a more than serviceable option for “reading” it.

Anyway, I liked it, and you can listen to a clip to see if you’d like it, too.

What in the Devil is Up With That Book Club Scene

Okay, this is silly and not important, but can we talk about the book club scene, please? No spoilers, don’t worry.

Basically, there’s a scene where our two protagonists (who are both novelists) get invited to a party, which turns out to be a book club meeting. It’s meant to be a funny hijinks-type scenario as our drunken heroine tries to figure out what’s going on or what book they’re talking about, but come on! This is just nonsensical and as a writer who presumably has some affinity for books and book clubs, Emily Henry should know better.

What kind of weirdo invites not one but two published novelists to a book club meeting and a) doesn’t bother to tell them what book they’re reading and b) doesn’t tell them it’s a book club? Gus notes that maybe it’s because he wouldn’t have gone if he knew, but what about January? Oh, and also why did no one who attended bother to bring the book? January very obviously should have been able to just glance around to see what book it was. It’s usually not some state secret what book is being discussed. Her being all lost and confused is just silly. COME ON, EMILY, THAT IS NOT HOW A BOOK CLUB WORKS.

Look, I’m joking, I’m joking, it doesn’t matter, but also I’m kind of serious, and you know what, it does matter. I can understand when writers butcher scenes about stuff that’s complicated to understand, but a book club? Tsk.

Read it or Skip it?

If you like chick lit and are up for a more somber story, then I’d recommend checking this book out. Personally, it wasn’t as breezy of a read as I was hoping it would be. I like my chick lit to be more of the “Confessions of a Shopaholic”-type story where it’s all sort of lighthearted fun.

Beach Read is fun in parts and sexy and sometimes funny, but it’s just as often more serious and even a bit dour in tone. But if you’re up for it, it does offer solid character development and a premise that’s likely to appeal to book lovers.

See Beach Read on Amazon.

Spoiler-ish Thoughts

Spoilers begin here. You’ve been warned. I was pretty disappointed when I realized the book was turning into a “oh, he’s just distant because he’s scared of his feelings”-type story. I really don’t like this type of character in chick lit (or any type of romance), and it’s annoying it comes up all the time.

Quite frankly, I don’t find the concept of emotionally distant men to be romantic, like, at all. I also think it’s not realistic that there are so many characters that are attractive, intelligent guys that are simply too scared of their feelings. I mean, maybe if it’s some kid in high school, but grown men, in my experience, who are interested in you will act like it. Guys who are being difficult or running hot and cold have either lukewarm or un-serious feelings about you.

I also hated how he had some sob story about his parents as the excuse for why he sucks at relationships. Seriously, guys who tell these types of stories about how they’re so sad and broken and can’t love properly two weeks into dating you are always the biggest assholes. Guys who want to be with you want to convince you that they’re date-able — they might have baggage, but they’re not going to be foisting it around like an excuse. Guys who warn you early on that they suck are playing on your emotions; if some dude tells you he’s not date-able, you should believe him!

(For any Janeites/Austenites out there, this is why I am very much #TeamKnightly and fairly anti-Mr. Darcy.)

Finally, can we please talk about how the book cover totally lied? It said no one would fall in love, so I was expecting some clever twist. I felt a little cheated by the end, honestly. And plus, the cover makes it look like it’s set in a bright and sunny place, but instead it’s in Michigan by a lake. Bait and switch, anyone?

Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)

Quick Synopsis

The section-by-section summary is below, but here's the quick version.

January Andrews is a chick lit novelist whose life is a bit of a wreck following the death of her father, Walt. At the funeral, she meets Sonya, his mistress, revealing that he had been cheating on his mother the whole time and shattering her idea of their happy marriage. January is also now semi-homeless and single, because her (now ex) boyfriend Jacques couldn't deal with her emotional fallout. As a result of it all, January is disillusioned about love, which has made it hard for her to write about romance.

Sonya also gives January a letter from her father and the key to his secret love nest, a lake house in North Bear Shores, Michigan. January moves there to write, and her neighbor turn out to be the handsome but grumpy Augustus Everett ("Gus" or "SEG"), a former college rival. In college, they both competed for the same writing prizes, and he made fun of her upbeat writing. He was also a womanizer and commitment-phobe. Now, he writes literary fiction.

When January confides in him about her writer's block, they come up with a challenge. Gus will write a happily-ever-after, and January will try her hand at literary fiction. Whoever sells their book first, wins. The loser has to help promote the other's book. They also agree to educate each other on their respective genres. January and Gus each work on their books during the week, hang out at night, and on weekends they each get one day to plan an "educational" activity for the other. Gus takes January on a series of interviews and visits regarding a cult called New Eden that was once located in the area. January takes Gus to things like a beach day, a carnival, a rom-com movie marathon, and other romantic fodder.

As they get to know each other, January tells Gus about her mother's cancer, her father's betrayal, her her ex and so forth. Gus is more guarded but, with some help from Gus's aunt Pete, January eventually learns about Gus's abusive father, the death of his mother and how his ex-wife Naomi left him for his best friend, Parker.

Things heat up romantically between January and Gus, but January also recognizes that he has deep trust issues that need to be addressed. When January finally confronts Gus about his behavior, he admits that he's been crazy about her since college and has been scared of his feelings because he's still such a mess right now. Their romantic relationship continues to grow and January finally finishes her book. However, Naomi then shows up looking for Gus, and afterwards he is nowhere to be found.

Sonya also shows up, demanding to talk to January. She explains how Walt was her first boyfriend back in high school, and they had initially reconnected when January's parents were separated. Walt had been planning on moving to North Bear Shores until January's mother was diagnosed with cancer, which ended things. However, Sonya and Walt later rekindled their now-illicit romance, but again it petered off when January's mother finally got better. Sonya also urges January to finally read the letter he left her. It leads January to a stack of letters from her father, one written on each of her birthdays, as well as the keys to a boat that is named after her.

When Gus reappears, he tells January that Naomi has split up with Parker and wants to get back together. However, he knows he wants to be with January. Nine months later, January receives the advanced copies of her book, and Gus's book has been completed as well. When Gus's advanced copy comes in, January sees that it is dedicated to her, and she tells him she loves him.

See Beach Read on Amazon.

Section-by-Section Summary

Chapters 1 - 4

January Andrews is a chick lit writer whose father has recently passed, leaving her life in tatters. Her father's funeral resulted in the discovery that he had been cheating on her mother. (Her mother knew, but January did not.) His mistress, Sonya, also gave January a letter from him and passed along the keys to his secret love nest, a lake house in Michigan, which he willed to January. January's boyfriend, Jacques, didn't want to deal with her emotional fallout from her father's death and broke up with her.

As a result, January is now single, semi-homeless and having a very hard time writing about romance (i.e. making a living) because her happily-ever-after worldview has been shattered. Financially strapped, she goes to stay at the lake house in North Bear Shores, Michigan. Her plan is work on a book and then sell the book and the house. The letter from her late father goes unopened.

At the house, January calls her best friend Shadi and asks her grumpy neighbor to turn down his music, who she soon discovers is Augustus Everett ("Gus" or "SEG"), a former college rival. In college, they competed for the same writing prizes and now they are both novelists. His writing was always brooding and serious, while hers was upbeat and full of happily ever afters. Gus is handsome, but was a serious commitment-phobe in college. He doesn't seem to recognize her.

Meanwhile, Anya, January's agent, urges her to finish her book which she owes to her publisher, Sandy Lowe Books.

Chapters 5 - 8

January is invited over a get-together by Pete (a nickname, real name is Posey), an older woman who is the proprietor of the local coffee-shop-slash-bookstore, Pete's Coffee. January shows up, but finds Sonya (the mistress) there as well as Gus. She also realizes it's a meeting for a book club that reads spy novels. January gets drunk, so Gus drives her home. On the way, he stops to pick up his hangover cure: donuts.

Things are getting flirty until they start talking about their writing and Gus mocks her happily-ever-after-type books. Gus finally recalls that they knew each other, though he can tell that she seems troubled compared to when they were in college. (January also remembers a night in college where she and Gus had almost hooked up, but had been interrupted by her best friend, Shadi.)

As January confides in him about her writer's block when it comes to happy novels, they end up coming up with a challenge for each other -- Gus will try to write a happily-ever-after novel, while January will try her hand at serious literary fiction. Whoever sells their book first, wins. The loser has to help promote the other's book. They also agree to weekly excursions to educate each other and help with research on their respective genres.

Chapters 9 - 14

January starts her book, and not knowing what else to write about, she starts writing about her own experiences and parents' marriage. She also contemplates how she was affected by her mother's cancer; January had tried to live her life in a way that would make her parents believe that she was "okay" despite of it.

When Friday rolls around, it's Gus's day to introduce January to his research process for literary fiction. They go to interview a woman whose sister was in a suicide cult. Afterwards, Gus tells her about working on a book about cults for the last five years. January confides in him about her father. The next day, January takes Gus to a carnival, describing it as a great place for characters to fall in love. She admits her parents fell in love at a carnival. January also tells Gus about her ex, Jacques, who Gus also knew in college. He tells January about his parents as well, and his awful dad. He hadn't understood why his mother didn't leave him, which is why the topic of cults and why people stay in situations against reason interests him. Gus moved here because a cult, New Eden, used to be situated nearby.

Back to working on her book, January changes the names, time period, occupations and small details to divorce the characters from her life, with only a skeleton of the original inspiration. As the days pass, they get into a comfortable rhythm of writing and chatting from across their respective balconies. When an interview subject (Dave) stands them up, January and Gus end up having dinner and holding hands.

For January's excursion, she plans a Meg Ryan rom-com movie marathon. She's also increasingly aware of her desire for Gus, but she knows it's a bad idea because he's a commitment-phobe who only engages in casual relationships. Nonetheless, they end up kissing and getting increasingly physical until they get kicked out of the movie theater.

The next few days, Gus is nowhere to be found, and January feels angry at herself at how crazy it makes her feel. Meanwhile, Shadi texts January, updating her about Ricky (who she nicknames "Haunted Hat"), a man she is falling for.

Chapters 15 - 16

January goes to Pete's bookstore to sign copies of her books. Pete casually mentions that she's Gus's aunt, to January's surprise. Pete also fills in why he was grumpy on the day January moved in. It had been his birthday, and his wife had previously left him his birthday. Each year his friend throws a party for him to try to get his mind off of it, which is why the music had been so loud. All of this is news to January who had no idea he had been married and divorced.

When Gus reappears again, with no explanation, January tries to keep her distance, feeling hurt and emotionally vulnerable after realizing how little she knew about him and how unwilling he was to share information about himself. However, Gus ends up telling her to come over because Dave, a former New Eden member and their absentee interview subject, had shown up at his place. Dave talks about how his family had been drawn into the cult after Dave had been hit by lightning and survived. His parents had become interested in religion, but ended up finding New Eden instead. After two years, his mother took him out of there since she knew something was wrong. His dad stayed and died in a fire soon after.

Afterwards, January notices that Gus had gotten a tattoo, which he doesn't explain. January leaves, thinking about how she doesn't want the type of emotionally distant and secretive relationship that seems to be all that Gus is capable of.

Chapters 17 - 21

January and Gus go to a cowboy-styled bar and dance club, the Black Cat Saloon, the following Saturday. They have fun dancing and drinking, but as they sober up, January finally confronts Gus about all the things he hadn't told her. He's defensive and angry about it, but finally tells her about his wife, Naomi, leaving him for his best friend and college roommate, Parker. They have a margarita night the next day and Gus reveals more about his ex-wife, a visual artist who he was married to for two years. Gus also tells her that he never met her father or Sonya. They are getting physical again when they're interrupted by their food delivery arriving.

The next week they meet with Dave as well as his mother Julie-Ann to get more insight into his story. The day after, they go to the beach. Gus talks more about his father, how his mother had passed away, and how Gus been left to take care of his father even though his father was abusive. January and Gus acknowledge that they've come to care for each other.

Meanwhile, Shadi texts January to tell her that she thinks she's in love with Haunted Hat guy. Also, January is in contact with Sonya about some leftover furniture, and Sonya asks to meet up with her to talk.

The next week plan to go to Pete's 4th of July cookout and visit the New Eden site the next day. Before the party, January and Gus finally have sex, but immediately afterwards Gus gets a phone call and January leaves, which she feels weird about. At Pete and Maggie's (Pete's partner) place, January notices something is off with Gus. When she suggests that they sneak into a bathroom for a quickie, he declines. January thinks about how Gus is someone who mistrusts other and needs to be "fixed". She also realizes how much she wants him anyway.

Chapters 22 - 24

The next day, they go to see the charred remains of New Eden. There had been a series of fires at the camp, which is what had ended the settlement. At the site, Gus admits that he was upset yesterday because of a call from his divorce lawyer (and best friend), Kayla Markham, and he reassures January about his feelings for her. He also admits that he's been crazy about her since college, but has been scared that he's too much of a mess to give her what she needs. January assures him that she wants to be with him, and they make love again. Later, Gus tells January that he liked that January's writing makes the world seem happier.

The days pass, and eventually Gus and January tell each other that they love each other. By August, January has written the final chapter of her book, Family Secrets, one month before her September 1 deadline from Anya. She sends off the draft. Gus is nearly done with his book as well. At a bookstore event hosted by Pete and Maggie, Naomi shows up, looking for Gus. Meanwhile, Sonya comes looking for January and insists on talking to her.

Chapters 25 - 27

Sonya explains that she met January's father (Walt Andrews) in high school, and he was her first boyfriend. Years later, they ran into each other around here while January's parents were separated. They started spending weekends together, he'd bought the lake house and was planning on moving there.

When January's mother was diagnosed with cancer, things changed and January's parents got back together. However, when January's mother's cancer returned for a second time, Walt ended up reaching out to Sonya for comfort. When the cancer abated again, he grew distant and things ended. Much later, Sonya was surprised when the lawyer reached out after his death, asking Sonya to give January the letter and the key. Sonya thinks it's because Walt wanted January to know the truth about him, and he thought January's mother would never tell.

After Sonya leaves, January finally opens the letter from her father. It's now been a year since his death. The letter directs her to more letters, stored in a safe. January reads the stack of letters, one per year of her life, each dated on her birthday. There's also a key to a boat named January that's docked in the marina nearby. January asks her best friend to come, so Shadi arrives the next morning and they talk all night.

When she still hasn't heard from Gus the next day, January is worried about what it means, but eventually Gus reaches out. He confirms that Naomi had split up with Parker and wanted to get back together. But he wants to be with January.

Chapter 28: Nine Months Later

Nine months later, January receives the advance copies of her novel, The Great Family Marconi. This is soon followed by Gus's completed manuscript for his book, The Cup Is Already Broken. Together, they read each other's books. In Gus's novel, his characters escape a cult, but die after leading. In January's, the female protagonist ends up with someone other than the man she loves -- but he loves her and there's the sense they'll end up together one day. They note that they both both sort of failed at the bet, but they had to write what they knew to be true.

When Gus's advance copies arrive, January sees that he has dedicated the book to her, and she tells him she loves him.

See Beach Read on Amazon.

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See Beach Read on Amazon.

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