Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Small Town
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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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.
Beach Reads does make for great beach reading.
January Andrews is a romance writer who only saw the world with a Happily Ever After. Except now her publisher has been waiting for her next novel, but January can no longer find her HEA’s since she found out her own carefree life has been built on a sandcastle of lies.
After her father passed away, January found out he was living a secret life with another woman. Was her parents’ happy marriage one big sham? She can’t get her mother to talk to her about all the secrets. And when January no longer feels up to romantic walks in the park and spontaneous, fun parties, her own romance of seven years falls apart. How can a romance writer find her literary HEA when she isn’t sure she believes in it anymore?
January now has to clear out her father’s beach house/love nest and while the town might be picturesque, the locals quirky and a beach in her backyard, January can’t stop worrying about what she might find in the next room, or even the next drawer she opens, and what other lies she might learn about the father she really never knew.
Is it fate or cosmic irony, that January finds out that her neighbor is none other than Gus Everett, her college nemesis. Gus and January shared many of the same writing classes but Gus always found a reason to criticize January’s writing and how all her stories ended with a HEA. He might have thought she was a fairy princess, but January has to admit, at least to herself, that competing with the Great Gus Everett pushed her to be a better writer, and even if her characters still found a happy ending wasn’t it better than the dreary, world-weary writing of Best Selling Author Augustus Everett?
It just happens that January isn’t the only writer suffering from a case of writer’s block so she challenges Gus that she could write a better dreary novel than he can a rom-com and whoever sells their book first, wins…something. That’s not important. What is important is showing up snotty Gus.
Challenge accepted, Gus and January spend their days writing and their weekends are spent with Gus teaching January his researching and January introducing Gus to the meet/cute of rom-coms. Of course, the more time they spend together, the more January begins to realize that she and Gus are good together and suddenly January is thinking there might just be a few HEAs to be had if only she has been able to convince Gus that they really do exist.
Beach Reads was last summer’s Must Read. While it took me some time to get around to it, I certainly enjoyed how January and Gus challenged each other and supported each other to come up with storylines. Also a bad architectural design had their house windows aligned and as both of their writing spaces faced each other, they did this adorable thing of writing notes to each other and holding them up which was even cuter than the funny texting we see characters do now.
The only thing that disappointed me was that while January’s childhood was kittens and rainbows, Gus’s was not and his biggest issue was that no one chose him. I thought it was important that January not flounder on Gus and I was disappointed when she did and Gus had to be the one chasing after her after the big conflict. January even comments that if she was the heroine of one of her own books, she wouldn’t let a miscommunication stand between them, but that she wasn’t so brave with her own pride.
Overall, I can see why it was noted as Must Read for the romance lovers.
“Carousel, final offer,” Gus said.
“This is the perfect place for our montage,” I said.
“Our what now?”
“Young–extremely beautiful and very tall for her height–woman in sparkly tennis shoes teaches, fearful, party-hating curmudgeon how to enjoy life,” I said. “There’d be a lot of head shaking. A lot of me dragging you from ride to ride. You dragging me back out of the line. Me dragging you back into it. I’d be adorable, and more importantly it’ll help with your super romantic suicide-cult book. It’s the promise-of-the-promise portion of the novel, when your readers are grinning ear to ear. We need a montage.”
Gus folded his arms and studied me with narrowed eyes.
“Come on, Gus.” I bumped his arm. “You can do it. Be adorable.”
His eyes darted to where I’d bumped him, then back to my face, and he scowled.
“I think you misunderstood me. I said adorable.“
His surly expression cracked. “Fine, January. But it’s not going to be a montage. Choose one deathtrap. If I survive that, you can sleep well tonight knowing you brought me one step closer to believing in happy endings.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “If you wrote this scene, would we die?”
“If I wrote this scene, it wouldn’t be about us.”
“Wow. One, I’m offended. Two, who would it be about?”
He scanned the crowd and I followed his gaze. “Her,” he said finally.
He stepped in close behind me, his head hovering over my right shoulder. “There. At the bottom of the Ferris wheel.”
“The girl in the Screw Me, I’m Irish shirt?” I said.
His laugh was warm and rough in my ear. Standing this close to him was bringing back flashes of the night at the frat house I’d rather not revisit.
“The woman working the machine,” he said in my ear. “Maybe she’d make a mistake and watch someone get hurt because of it. This job was probably her last chance, the only place that would hire her after she made an even bigger mistake. In a factory maybe. Or she broke the law to protect someone she cared about. Some kind of almost-innocent mistake that could lead to less innocent ones.”
I spun to face him. “Or maybe she’d get a chance to be a hero. This job was her last chance, but she loves it and she’s good at it. She gets to travel, and even if she mostly only sees parking lots, she gets to meet people. And she’s a people person. The mistake isn’t hers–the machinery malfunctions, but she makes a snap decision and saves a girl’s life. That girl grows up to be a congresswoman, or a heart surgeon. The two of them cross paths again down the road. The Ferris wheel operator’s too old to travel with the carnival anymore. She’s been living alone, feeling like she wasted her life. Then one day, she’s alone. She has a heart attack. She almost dies but she manages to call nine-one-one. The ambulance rushes her in, and who is her doctor but that same little girl.
“Of course, Ferris doesn’t recognize her–she’s all grown up, But the doctor never could’ve forgotten Ferris’s face. The two women strike up a friendship. Ferris still doesn’t get to travel, but twice a month the doctor comes over to Ferris’s double-wide and they watch movies. Movies set in different countries. They watch Casablanca and eat Moroccan takeout. They watch The King and I and eat Siamese food, whatever that may be. They even watch-gasp!-Bridget Jones’s Diary while bingeing on fish and chips. They make it through twenty countries before Ferris passes away, and when she does, Doctor realizes her life was a gift she almost didn’t get. She takes some of Ferris’s ashes–her ungrateful asshole son didn’t come to collect them–and sets out on a trip around the world. She’s grateful to be alive. The end.”
Gus stared at me, only one corner of his very crooked mouth at all engaged. I was fairly sure he was smiling, although the deep grooves between his eyebrows seemed to disagree. “Then write it,” he said finally.
“Maybe so,” I said.
He glanced back at the gray-haired woman working the machinery. “That one,” he said. “I’m willing to ride that one. But only because I trust Ferris so damn much.”