Beach Read by Emily Henry $1.99 on Kindle + Book Review

The name says it all: Beach Read. This book, which was released in May 2020, would be the perfect light contemporary fiction one reads whilst relaxing on the beach. If only this weren’t 2020. If only I’d made it to the beach. If only I’d gotten my hands on the books sooner than the waning days of summer. Alas, it was not to be, but the big question should be, was it worth the wait?

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.”

From the author’s notes: “When friends ask me what Beach Read is about, I tell them it’s about a disillusioned romance author and a literary fiction writer who make a deal to swap genres for the summer. When other writers ask me what Beach Read is about, I tell them it’s about writer’s block.”

I got Beach Read through Overdrive, the library’s digital lending library. I thought I had more time with it, as I had several other books I was reading before it. When I started reading Beach Read, I only had 3 days left before it would be returned. And I was working all three days. Could I do it?

I almost did. I got 80% through the book before my Kindle loan was returned. I went to the book’s page on Amazon and discovered that this best-selling summer hot read was only $1.99 on Kindle right now. I’d enjoyed the story so much at that point that I bought the book and finished it.

January is a best-selling author, who is still reeling from the death of her father some months before. At the funeral, January finds out her dad had been having an affair for years. Her mom knew, and didn’t want to talk about it. January’s grief at losing her dad and this revelation are too much for her long-time boyfriend, Jacques, who breaks up with her while they’re in a hot tub.

Obviously, January’s life is a mess, and she has a book due to the publisher at the end of the summer. She’s had writer’s block because normally she writes romance and after all she’s been through, she’s having a hard time thinking about anything remotely romantic.

However, January heads to her dad’s hidden beach house in northern lower Michigan (almost the Upper Peninsula, or U.P. as we call it, but not quite) along the lake. She needs to sell the contents and the house and write the book because her bank account insists she do so. But she doesn’t really want to deal with her dad’s baggage. On her first night there, she meets a grumpy guy out on his deck, blasting music because there’s a party going on. In the dark on the deck, she doesn’t really get a good look at the guy, but calls him Grumpy.

It turns out “Grumpy” is really Augustus, or Gus, as he’s known, a former college colleague who has also become a best-selling author. January thought Augustus was full of contempt for her in all their college writing classes. He was a few years older than her, had real-life experiences before entering college, and accused January’s stories of always having a happy ending. Of course, over the ensuing years and literary success, January has been aware of his own; their books were on the best seller lists at the same time, but Gus most definitely does not write “women’s fiction” (I prefer the term contemporary fiction so it doesn’t pigeon-hole a book.) Gus writes literary fiction.

The two have a couple of exchanges, and January remembers Gus just as he was in college. She “didn’t understand how he could do that, bounce between being rude, almost condescending, and disarmingly complimentary.” But despite that, she finds herself strangely attracted to Gus.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Living next door to each other, both with book deadlines. After a few encounters with Gus and a bad case of writer’s block, she suggests they switch genres and try to write a book for each other’s style, because she doesn’t believe Gus could write a romantic novel. Gus agrees, and they also agree to “research” nights. January’s consists of romantic outings like the drive-in theater or nearby carnival, Gus’s consist of getting into the minds of former cult members by interviewing them. A cult that was located not too far from where they were staying some years back; a cult that went up in flames with most perishing. The remains of the compound are still untouched, and a trip is made to them by the writers for research.

The dialog between Gus and January is what made the book for me. There’s nothing better than reading two literate minds talking out loud. The banter reminded me of the Gilmore Girls or Veronica Mars, it was crackling. (Fact: I have daughters named Veronica and Lorelei {different spelling}–one was named after their TV character, one just happened to be born about the same time as the TV show debuted)

January remembers Gus as a guy who had a series of short-term relationships in college, who was too cynical to believe in love like her. Ah, the tension. It’s there, and it’s palpable. Will they or won’t they? But of course you know, it’s a beach read kind of romantic book, so they do. And if you’re a literary prude, you should be forewarned that there are two pretty steamy sex scenes in the book. Not as graphic as some books I’ve read, but still pretty intense.

As in most romantic novels, there’s a big misunderstanding after January and Gus have sex. I wasn’t a big fan of this part of the book because it seemed so unreal; Gus and January had a very good talking relationship and were getting really good at opening up to each other, so for the doors to close–from both of them, seemed a little like unrealistic to me. But as a writer, I understand the need for the conflict in the book.

I was happy that once the “big misunderstanding” gets talked about between Gus and January, they really talk about it, just like their earlier dialogues when they were getting to know each other better. It’s a lengthy discussion. They just didn’t say a few platitudes and hop back into bed with each other. There’s a realism to that; many books in the genre don’t have that.

As a Wisconsinite, I did have to laugh when January decided to make Michigan her home in the end. “I’d had to buy a bigger coat. One that looked like a sleeping bag with arms. A fur-lined hood and rings of down-stuffed Gore-Tex all the way to my ankles, and still I sometimes had to layer sweatshirts and long-sleeved T-shirts under it.” Aw, that warms my heart. Some people in the Midwest walk around in the winter with sweatshirts and shorts on. For real. I’m most definitely like January, investing in Land’s End alternative down-filled parkas with a temperature rating of -30 degrees.

So the people were right–this was the perfect Beach Read, if only we’d had a summer in which to enjoy the beach. Because summer is now officially over, maybe that’s the reason Beach Read is only $1.99 on Kindle right now. What a steal. I highly recommend adding it to your collection.

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