REVIEW: Beach Read by Emily Henry

In brief: January’s happily ever after life has fallen apart. When she ends up living next to former rival Gus, they form a bet – write a novel in each other’s genre and get it sold first. But they could actually start to become friends or more…

The good: Great premise.

The not-so-good: I felt the writing premise got a bit buried towards the end under all the other plot threads coming together.

Why I chose it: Sounded like fun.

Year: 2020

Pages: 361

Publisher: Penguin

Setting: Michigan, USA

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Beach Read sounded like a great read for summer nights – light, fun and engaging. For the most part it was exactly that, but does get bogged down occasionally in tying up some of the subplots introduced.

January is at a loss big time. She’s broken up with her boyfriend, she has writer’s block and her father has died unexpectedly. He has left her behind a house by the lake in Michigan, but that is little comfort when she finds out that he was in a relationship with another woman despite being married to January’s mother. January is a writer who writes about true love and romance, but now her biggest inspiration (her parents) has turned out to be a big fat lie. January’s plan is to prepare the house for sale and hope that inspiration strikes to end her agent and publisher being on her tail. The last thing she expected is that her university nemesis Gus lives next door. Gus writes literary fiction without happy endings because that’s how he sees the world (yes, he has Baggage). They start talking and set a bet – write a novel in the other’s genre and be the first to be sold/published. This also involves coaching on the finer aspects of their genres (interviewing people who have lost family to a cult and activities that result in meet-cutes). But then January and Gus start to fall for each other – will it be a happy ever after or will their respective baggage doom them to an unhappy ending?

Beach Read has a lot of fine aspects, such as the bet and the romantic tension. These sections were light and funny. But it also has aspects of Gus’ literary fiction world of broken promises and betrayals, which change the feel to darker and more serious. This happened more toward the end of the book, so I didn’t really know what to feel – happy? Sad? The turn from exploring a burnt-out site of a cult to romance was a little off-putting and I wasn’t sure whether I should cheer for January and Gus making decisions in their relationship or feel creeped out at the setting. The resolution to January and the Other Woman’s relationship (well, they weren’t talking for most of the novel) also felt a little rushed.

But there are still many great things about Beach Read. The bet. The Love Actually type signs between Gus and January writing in their houses. The discussion of what makes different kinds of fiction and the elements that are essentially the same (take that, purists)! Pete who makes terrible coffee and runs the local bookshop. Her wife Maggie who is obsessed with rocks. The coaching for meet-cutes and other romantic settings, from boot scooting to the fun fair. It’s definitely a book you can enjoy on hot summer nights, just be prepared for some serious and sad moments amongst the fun.

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