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’ve heard a lot of great things about this book, so I was excited to delve into it. However, I’m sad to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as other readers, and a lot of that hinged on the author’s lack of execution when it came to anything but the romance. I appreciate the direction she was going, but I don’t think it was well-written enough to make a lasting impression on me. This is a romance book between two writers who cover different topics: January writes romances with happily-ever-afters, and Gus captures tragic stories through his literary fiction. They find themselves neighbors, and hijinks ensue in the small beach town that they live in. There are adorable moments between the two, between moments of tension in regards to their relationship and past tragedies. Both moments worked, but I never found myself letting go of the ‘tense’ aspects, especially when it came to January.
I was happy to be here, doing nothing with Gus, and even if it was temporary, it was enough for me to believe that someday I’d be okay again. Maybe not the exact same brand of it I’d been before Dad died – probably not – but a new kind, nearly as solid and safe.
There’s cuteness, of course, as the “neighbors trope” is wont to have – stolen moments on decks, walks on the beach, sending notes across windows like Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me music video. It’s all there, including a growing understanding and attraction between January and Gus as they understand why the other writes what they write. They challenge each other to write outside their normal genre. January’s first-person POV keeps readers guessing on Gus’s intentions, as she believes he’s looking for a ‘one-time thing’ while she’s falling in love. It all works, and it’s all as cheesy as it sounds in this review.
‘When you love someone,’ he said haltingly, ‘… you want to make this world look different for them. To give all the ugly stuff meaning, and amplify the good. That’s what you do. For your readers. For me. You make beautiful things, because you love the world, and maybe the world doesn’t always look how it does in your books, but… I think putting them out there, that changes the world a little bit. And the world can’t afford to lose that.’
However, I had to be really patient being in January’s POV and struggled with her as a character. The background is that she’s living in her father’s secret mistress’s house for the summer and is packing everything away to sell the house. She desperately needs to sell another story and currently has writer’s block after the tragic death of her father, where she can’t believe in happily-ever-afters – especially after finding out about his secret mistress. This sets the story up for lots of growth from January’s side as she comes to understand her father and the meaning of “happily-ever-afters.” BUT, January remains what I call a “passively-responsive” character throughout the whole book. She’s passive in her strained relationship with her mother, passive with opening her father’s letter to her, and passive with confronting the mistress that lives in the same town. When she decides to do something about these matters and get the resolution she needs, Henry decides to write her thoughts and reactions in very few sentences, which I struggled with. I can’t describe it as anything but a huge build-up (repetitive monologues about how her father ruined her conception of a perfect reality) with an anticlimactic peak and lack of resolution. The thing is – I wanted to understand January and how she would be able to move on from the tough spots in her life. But other than the romance, I didn’t see how.
So getting to the romance – this was the only aspect of the book that had a satisfying resolution. I guess this sets it up for a good ending, but I was miffed that Henry decides to introduce tough issues to set up January’s character without giving the same time and care on their ending as their beginning. Anyway, Gus is a cute enough romantic interest that January had a rivalry/semi-attraction with in college. He has his own tragic backstory that he reconciles with over the course of their ‘research’ for literary purposes, which I thought had a better execution than January’s issues. It was a struggle for me to read from January’s POV – again – because she expected open communication from Gus about his history without necessarily reciprocating, which is another point against her for being “passively-responsive.” See note: In one scene, she’s like, “I don’t understand you!” And he opens up and he’s like, “I never know what you’re thinking!” And I’m like “Y’all, it’s like 75% in the book, this can’t be happening.” I don’t think lack of communication is necessarily bad, but this is after they spend much time together and I expected more from characters that were around 30 years old. (January is 29, Gus is 3 years older.)
I honestly think BEACH READ works for a light romance, because Henry doesn’t quite pull through with the tough issues that really make January’s character. Other than that, the romance is light-hearted and fun, with easy-to-read dialogue and geeky writer chemistry. I guess I expected more, and it was hard for me to connect with January and support her “passively-responsive” actions.
death of loved one, grief, adultery, mention of sexual harrassment in the past, death/suicide cult, mention of (breast) cancer
Have you read books with characters that you thought were too passive? Or maybe a story that had good intentions but wasn’t executed to a satisfying degree? Let me know your thoughts!