by Emily Henry
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
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.
I received an eARC of Beach Read from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m sure I’m not the only reader who’s frustrated with the way ‘women’s fiction’ is treated when compared with how ‘literary fiction’ is treated. Often if a woman writes a novel about a divorce it’s a cute chick-flick with a pink cover, but if a man writes about a divorce it’s the Next Great Novel™, so when I saw the premise of Beach Read I knew I had to get my hands on a copy and I was thrilled when I was approved for an eARC.
January Andrews writes romance novels and has always believed in happy endings—at least she did until her father died and she discovered, at his funeral, that he had an affair while her mother was battling cancer. Her father has left January a beach house to sort through, but when she arrives for the summer she discovers her neighbour is none other than literary fiction author, Augustus Everett, her college rival. The two of them decide to strike a summer deal: they’ll each write a novel in the other’s genre, and whoever sells their book first is guaranteed an endorsement from the other. Oh! And, obviously, no one’s going to fall in love with anyone else in the process…
I’ve seen quite a lot of reviewers talk about how Beach Read is a little darker than your classic rom-com, but while it does tackle some more serious themes (although I think a lot of romance novels do, on the whole) it’s still a really fun and uplifting novel to read. I saw so many warnings about this book that I was expecting it to be rather bleak, but it’s not at all. Yes, we have January’s heartbreak at losing her father and discovering he wasn’t quite the man she thought he was and Gus’s own demons surrounding his childhood and a previous relationship that come to light, but this book isn’t a downer. In fact I loved it all the more for including all those darker elements while still being a book that brought a smile to my face while I was reading it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from January and Gus’s relationship. I know enemies/rivals-to-lovers is a very popular romance trope, but it’s a trope I’m fairly picky with; I don’t like couples who literally hate each other one minute and then love each other the next because it just doesn’t seem like a healthy basis for a relationship and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily, that’s not what happens here at all. January and Gus were on the same writing course in college and there is some rivalry there, especially now that they’re both published authors in very different genres, but it’s all fun.
The chemistry between January and Gus is palpable, their banter is so much fun to read and genuinely funny, and I wanted them to succeed and be happy. They’re the kind of couple who could make washing dishes an enjoyable, romantic experience, without ever feeling corny or over-the-top, and as much as I love the romance genre I do think those kinds of couples who feel real can be hard to find. One of the many joys of the romance genre is that it’s a type of fantasy in and of itself in which everyone’s a romantic and knows exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right time, but there’s also something comforting in reading a romance novel that feels like it could actually happen.
I also really appreciate that this isn’t a romance novel that condemns literary fiction, despite the fact that it features a romance author in a rivalry with a literary fiction author. In much the same way that January is allowed to defend romance and prove it’s a genre that doesn’t deserve to be dismissed just because it’s happy, Gus is also given a chance to defend his writing, too. He doesn’t write literary fiction to make a point about literature – in fact I often got the impression that Gus himself isn’t a fan of the ‘women’s fiction’ vs. ‘literary fiction’ distinction – instead the genre he writes is a way for him to understand his own feelings about the world and everyone in it, in much the same way that January does by writing happily ever afters.
Essentially Beach Read is one of the best contemporary romance novels I’ve read, I had such a good time reading it and immediately recommended it to my sisters and friends, and I’d love to try whatever Emily Henry releases in future.