Book review and synopsis for Beach Read by Emily Henry, a cute and sexy but somewhat somber romance where opposites attract .
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Recommended Published May 18, 2020
Page Count 361 pages
Goodreads4.02 (out of 5)
From the Publisher
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They're polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.