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Book Review: “Beach Read”, a love story for writers

Novels about writers usually produce an exaggerated eye roll from me. It's not that they aren't good per se, but they often read like a pretentious, self-insert rather than a critical or outside perspective of writers. Yet, I was practically giddy to get my hands on Emily Henry's 2020 bestseller "Beach Read"–another contemporary romance from Henry about two writers.

After her father's death, romance novelist January Andrews heads to his Michigan lake house to curb her writer's block for the summer. Only to find she's next-door neighbors with Augustus Everett, a critically acclaimed author of literary fiction, and her college rival, who is also cursed with writer's block.

The two make a deal to drag them out of their creative block: January will write her Great American Novel, and Augustus will write a happily-ever-after for his characters. For each writer to immerse themselves in their new novels, January takes Augustus on rom-com inspired dates. Augustus drags her along to interview the surviving cult members. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and steamy scenes along the way, "Beach Read" dives into the loss of loved ones, trust issues, and the inner thoughts of authors without feeling like an ostentatious fanfiction for writers desperately trying to find love.

After reading (and loving) Henry's recent novel "People We Meet on Vacation," I thought no characters could be as tender and lovable as Poppy and Alex, but boy was I wrong! January and Augustus' friendship and eventual relationship top Poppy and Alex's. The combination of the academic rival and forced proximity tropes are delightfully dramatic to read as January tries (and fails) to put space between the two and Augustus hiding his obvious crush on her.

Beyond their relationship, both protagonists pull back the curtains on the writing lifestyle and cynicism the field is rife with. As a writer, Henry's commentary on all aspects of the novel-writing process is spot on and weirdly encouraging to anyone needing to finish their own manuscript.

Although focused on the romance and writer's block, January's grief and guilt and Augustus's commitment issues are masterfully woven and essential to the meticulous beauty of "Beach Read." Henry doesn't hold back when it comes to these themes–there's no glossing over the reality of losing a parent like so many other romance novels do. The honesty that seems to radiate from all of Henry's books is a testament to her ability to connect with her readers while inserting her own experiences without being a pretentious, self-insert romantic fantasy.

"Beach Read" wouldn't be a romance novel without the steamy, fan-yourself scenes we all know and love. There's plenty of steamy moments (AKA the tent scene?!?), but above all, there's a tenderness between January and Augustus that makes "Beach Read" more than just a sexy rom-com. I was more invested in these endearing and heartbreaking moments than the actual sexy-times scenes, but all in all, it lived up to its hype.

Maybe I'm impartial to "Beach Read" because I, too, am a writer, and is it not an author's ultimate wet-dream to fall in love with a fellow writer? There's nothing like a genuine, fictional connection to make you reconsider your own love life and yearn for your own Augustus.

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