Beach Read by Emily Henry is an entertaining romance novel. It adds some twists to the traditional girl next-door story.
Augustus (Gus) and January went to university together, both studying writing. Gus was a critic of January’s stories, with their perpetual happy endings. His stories run dark, exploring what drove human beings to hurt themselves and each other. Despite mostly avoiding him, January was smitten, and there was one night at a frat party when their attraction ruled.
Looking for a review without spoilers, read Beach Read Book Review instead.
January was named by her father after his favorite song, and the line “It’s June in January, because I’m in love” shows up many times in the book. Her parents had a magical love story that inspired her writing. Their love had always been strong, through two bouts of fighting her mother’s cancer, and with lots of beautiful yet mundane moments that make up a marriage. There was romance and companionship.
January has written three romance novels, inspired by her parents’ relationship and how it tinted her view of the world. Even her own relationship, with Jacques, is held together by her parents’ relationship. She loves being in love and her relationship with Jacques appears to have all the right elements; plus her parents love him. Then her father dies suddenly one night in his bed.
While January mourns her father she is also angry with him. At his funeral, a lady, Sonya, showed up. It’s clear that her father was someone special to this lady, and her mother’s reaction confirms it. Sonya came to the funeral to give her a letter and a key from her father. The key is to a house in North Bear Shores, Michigan. January’s life unravels. She’s broke (although we never quite find out exactly why), has nowhere else to live, and is in mourning. Jacques kept the flat in Queens; it turns out that her tears and sadness were not what he expected out of their relationship. The performance was up.
Moving to North Bay Shores
January moves to North Bear Shores. Her mother is avoiding talking about her father; she’s single, and mostly friendless except for her best friend Shandi who lives in Chicago. In North Bear Shores, her goal is to live rent-free, clear out the house, and sell it. On her first night, there is loud music from next door and she confronts her neighbor. Each of them is on their deck, both of them in shadow. Between that and their first “meeting”, where he stayed seated on his deck, his back to her, she decides that he’s a grouch. (We later find out that the night they met was his birthday, and his wife had left him on his birthday, so his best friend threw him a party every year since that event.)
January does make a friend, Pete, who owns the bookshop and café. On her first visit to the bookshop, she finds out that they don’t have any of her books in stock, but they do have a tower of books by her nemesis, Augustus Everett. He’s recently published a book, and January feels competitive toward him. Of course, who walks into the bookshop but Gus. It turns out that he is her curmudgeonly neighbor.
Gus has been living in North Bear Shores for about 5 years. He moved there to be close to his aunt Pete after his marriage fell apart. His wife left him for his best man and best friend from university, Parker. Gus wanted to reconcile with his wife after finding out about her infidelity, but she left him. His best friend, Markham, is handling the divorce.
Gus was physically abused by his father and had a lot of trauma to deal with. He chose North Bear Shores because his aunt lived there, and she had always been kind to him.
While January found the happy endings in the world, Gus explored the dark places. From January’s perspective, he was trying to find out “why bad things happen”.
Gus and January
Naturally, in a place as small as North Bear Shores, and being next-door neighbors, January and Gus can’t avoid each other. Not long after their initial meeting at the bookstore, they both find themselves at Pete’s for a book club. Neither of them has read the book, but they do get to go home together, to their separate homes. It’s just that January is too drunk to drive and there is only one Uber in town, and he’s outside the range, so Gus drives her home. Really, this is a vehicle for the two of them to engage in some ridiculous and funny banter. On that drive, Gus admits that he remembers January from school, and the two of them discuss their work. They are both struggling to write.
Here comes the wager that is critical to the rest of the book. Since both January and Gus are having trouble writing their books anyway, and January is on a deadline with her agent getting more anxious by the day, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to try something new. January will try to write a dark book, in Gus’ style, and he will try to write a happy ending, in January’s style. Whoever finishes and publishes first will promote the other’s book. Of course, what better way to learn each other’s style than to do research with each other? They will write on weekdays and research on the weekend.
Ok romance lovers here’s a nice twist. Since their windows perfectly align, Gus and January can both sit at their individual tables and work. And they communicate by writing to each other in large letters and holding the sign up to the window. It’s a slow buildup. First comes writing notes, then comes sitting together on their own decks, then comes romantic dates and murderous field trips. Wait, I’m getting the order all confused in my head. There are lots of little details, and they do eventually send text messages and even call each other, but mostly they “send” notes, and meet each other. The meetings start on their individual decks and porches before progressing to the same deck/porch and finally into the same house. Texting would have been so easy for communicating since the windows were too far to comfortably speak; it’s a nice touch that they rarely use it.
Writing and Research
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out that the romantic dates that January plans grow the attraction they already feel for each other. 😈 Some of the dates were to a carnival, a drive-in cinema, and line dancing. Even their field trips to learn more about a local suicide cult brings them closer. Through each outing, they get to learn more about how the other views the world and why. Both January and Gus are healing from recent hurts as they open up to each other.
Each of them is healing from betrayal. As the two of them start trusting each other, they reveal more of their scars, and that only brings them closer. Part of the journey is being brave and vulnerable enough to ask for what you want to know and to answer openly.
Everything is ramping up with Gus and January opening up to each other and spending more time together. They go as far as saying I love you to each other. Then, Gus’ wife, Natalie, shows up at their joint author interview and book signing at Pete’s bookstore. This throws both of them into a tailspin.
January goes home only to find Sonya waiting for her. She’d been avoiding Sonya since she moved to town, but this time Sonya started talking and didn’t give up. January finally gets to learn some more of her dad’s story, the parts involving Sonya. She also learned that her father had left other letters for her besides the one that Sonya had given her. January had yet to open the letter, waiting to feel ready.
She finally decided to read the letter Sonya had given her from her dad. It was for her twenty-ninth birthday. This also provided her with the code she needed for her father’s safe. There, she found 29 other letters to her, one for every birthday, starting with the day of her birth. She learned the parts of her father that had been hidden from her before, and also how much he loved her. She sent a text to her best friend, Shadi to let her know she needed her, and to her mother to talk about her dad.
January told her mother everything that had happened and what she found out since her father died, and her mother did not evade the conversation. This would open up the avenue for them to talk more about her dad over time.
The next day, Shadi showed up to be a friend. She cooked for her, helped her clean, and took care of her, leaving her space to talk about her father and Gus. January doesn’t answer any of Gus’ calls and turns off her phone, putting it away in a drawer.
When Gus showed up, January was afraid of letting him in. Shadi’s support encouraged her to open the door. It was storming outside, and she did not see Gus or his car. She thought he had left, but then he started blaring music from his house (a previous point of contention) and came out to dance with her in the rain. He told her he wanted to build something new with her, and not go back to Natalie. Through the tears and the rain, they decided to take a chance on each other, starting with dancing in the rain.
9 Months Later
January has sold the house and is renting a flat in town above a record store. She finished her book The Great Family Marconi first, although Gus sold his, The Cup Is Already Broken, for more. They published under their own names rather than pen names. Although January needed a new publisher for this book, she already has a book in progress for her romance books publisher, about a curmudgeon.
January’s book is her own brand of dark, with a strong thread of romance, while Gus’ book is a romance with a nontraditional, happy ending. They give each other a pre-release copy and take several trips to the beach to read.
After finishing racing each other’s books on the beach, they walk to Gus’ home. When they walk in, all the important people in their life are inside Gus’ home. He falls on his knee to propose to her, naturally with a note that has been folded and refolded, and she says yes.
Beach Read is a sweet romance with a happy ending befitting a good romance book. It made me smile and occasionally laugh out loud.
I found the parts of the book with the explanation of the plot of each book that they were writing a bit much, like looking into a tunnel of mirrors and getting a bit lost. I didn’t bother to try to make sense of it.
I have two quibbles with the book, and both are around the use of alcohol. I guess that there are different regulations in different places, but I wasn’t always sure that Gus should be driving in some instances. Second, is Gus’ divorce final by the time he asked January to marry him, or does that even matter?
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