I love it when a book not only meets your excited expectations, but actually exceeds them. That’s what happened with Emily Henry’s Beach Read, a sweet romance about two rival authors trading genres for a summer. Although this novel wasn’t on my radar, as soon as it appeared as a pick for Book of the Month this spring, I knew I had to have it. It was an impulse buy, sure, but one that I’d repeat in a heartbeat.
January Andrews has just moved into a beach house in Michigan, but it’s not under carefree, vacation-y circumstances. Quite the contrary, her beloved father passed away, leaving her a house she never knew about that he’d shared with a lover she never knew about. January is reeling from his death and the revelation that he’s a cheater, but she’s also just gone through a breakup of her own, is suffering writer’s block, and is broke and has nowhere to go. Living in her dad’s secret love nest is a last resort move indeed.
She soon meets her neighbor, a man she knew back in college. Augustus “Gus” Everett was her nemesis, a rival she secretly found attractive, and like her, he’s also become a successful writer. Maybe a bit more successful than her. But whereas she writes romances with happy endings, he writes serious literary fiction.
It isn’t long before they come up with a bet: They’ll trade genres. January will write a dreary book with a sad ending, and Gus will write a rom-com with a happily ever after. Whoever publishes their book first wins. January is on a mission to finish the book by the end of summer – barely meeting a deadline from her publisher. She’ll also sell her dad’s house by then.
To help each other out, they’ll train each other in their craft. Gus will take January to interview death cult survivors, and January will teach Gus the art of romantic comedy. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s so much I love about Beach Read. The premise of the book is what reeled me in, and it was an early highlight. I guess it’s no surprise that I love thinking, talking, and writing about books; I do run this book review blog, after all. I loved Gus and January’s conversations about genres, writing tropes, writing techniques, the publishing industry, and famous books. It was fun to watch January craft a story, make changes, write, and edit. It’s pretty meta, but I truly enjoyed the whole “authors writing contest” theme of the book.
Moreover, the witty banter was on point! January and Gus are constantly roasting each other, making jokes, and playing along with random ideas. Their conversations were a delight to read because they’re so quick, sharp, and hilarious. I laughed out loud several times. This is some of the best dialogue I’ve read.
That said, this is a surprisingly heavy read. January has a lot of baggage, from her dad’s secret affair to her grief over his death to her own breakup with a longterm boyfriend. She’s nearly stopped talking to her mom, and she no longer believes in the Happily Ever After that built her writing career. January is going through some major life shifts and major shifts in how she sees the world. It’s no wonder she’s developed writer’s block. Her coping mechanisms aren’t the best, and it’s sometimes painful to watch her in the first several chapters.
Gus, likewise, has his own baggage. He’s not forthcoming at first, but as the story progresses, we start to learn why he is the way he is. There’s some tough stuff from his childhood and from more recently in his life.
When Gus and January’s relationship starts blossoming, though, it’s heartwarming to see the care with which they treat each other. Despite their baggage and communication issues, it’s clear that they care and are trying to be careful with one another. They’re forming a quality relationship, and it’s great to see their deep regard for one another.
Beyond January and Gus, Beach Read also shares a few other great characters. Some standouts are January’s best friend Shadi and a local woman named Pete. These are some wholesome relationships that move beyond romance.
Beach Read is an adorable and thought-provoking novel that’s sure to warm even the coldest of hearts. My husband actually read this before I did, and even if he wasn’t the target audience, he loved it and urged me to read it, too. If you can’t get to a real beach this summer (thanks, COVID), then Beach Read is an excellent (superior) alternative.