Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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. 

Sometimes you pick up a book and it’s exactly what you need in that moment. And for me, Beach Read was it this week — as evidenced by the fact that I read it in about a day and a half, ignoring the real-world obligations nagging for my attention.

Beach Read is sweet and uplifting, but also a little heavier than you might guess from the title and the cover.

Main character January is a young, successful romance writer. She’s known for her swoony love stories and happy ending. However, she’s been thrown for a loop, and isn’t able to summon her inner belief in the power of true love — and her looming book deadline isn’t helping at all.

January’s father recently died, so she’s dealing with the loss of her incredible dad — but on top of that, at his funeral, she met That Woman. It turns out that her father had an on-again, off-again mistress for years, including during her mother’s battle with cancer. January is shattered and angry, and feels like her foundation has been swept out from under her. After all, it was her parent’s shining love story that taught her to believe in love-story-quality love — and if that was all a lie, then what is she supposed to believe? And how can she possibly write a believable love story when she’s not sure her heart will ever be in it again?

January’s father left her a beach-side bungalow in a small-town in Michigan. With her book deadline looming and a serious lack of funds, she decides to spend her summer writing at the cottage, while also cleaning, sorting, and getting it ready for sale. And the fact that this was her father’s place with That Woman is not helping in the slightest.

Also distracting is her next door neightbor, who turns out to be the revered young writer Augustus Everett — whom January knew as Gus back in their college days, when they were fierce competitors, and shared one steamy “almost” at a party.

As January and Gus reconnect, initially with resentment and animosity, they realize they’re in the same boat when it comes to lack of inspiration and dire writer’s block. Gus is battling his own inner demons and past hurts, and he can’t seem to make progress on his next book.

In the book’s central (cute) twist, they challenge each other to write each other’s genres. Gus has always mocked January’s belief in the HEA — now, he needs to find a way to see the possibility of happiness, rather than going for the gloomy conclusion. And January needs to be open to grim reality and the idea that love isn’t always perfect, that messiness and secrets and hard choices are parts of life, and that fairy tales never (rarely) come true.

Beach Read is so much fun, start to finish, but it’s not only sunshine and swooning. (But yes, there is swoon-worthy romance, to be sure.) The author has a lot to say about families and love, how the ideals of childhood can be tarnished by the realities of adulthood, how families can hurt one another but can also save one another in all sorts of different ways… and how true love doesn’t mean no one ever makes a mistakes or hurts the other person, and that sometimes love takes work, compromise, and second chances.

January and Gus have a great chemistry together, and I loved the scenes of them writing in their respective cottages, but communicating through notes held up to the window. It’s adorable — so much better than texting!

The small-town setting is charming, and there’s a wonderful bookstore, so that’s a plus! One of the central plot elements of the book is Gus and January’s series of field trips/dates, where each exposes the other to something that feels related to their own writing style and genre. So, line dancing alternates with going to the site of a tragic fire at a cult compound… and all their excursions bring them closer to each other and also give them each different insights into their own process and emotions.

The writing is cheerful and light, but the author doesn’t shy away from harder emotions. January and Gus both have baggage to deal with, and we do see their pain and confusion as they deal with the events in their lives and try to move forward.

Bonus points too for a terrific female friendship, which helps January realize that true love can also be the bond between two lifelong friends who have each other’s backs and love unconditionally.

Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are.

Beach Read is a wonderful depiction of falling in love, but also a moving exploration of the messiness that comes with growing up and facing real life and accepting the fact that parents aren’t always perfect.

As I mentioned at the start, this book came into my hands right when I needed it, and I enjoyed every minute. A great summer reading choice — and also a great way to escape our current isolation through fiction!

Book Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Title: If It Bleeds
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: April 21, 2020
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas —Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds— each pulling readers into intriguing and frightening places.

A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Call me crazy, but Stephen King books are my version of comfort food. When I need distraction from the drama of daily life, I know I can sink into a King book and get carried away from everything weighing me down.

So getting a library e-book download of If It Bleeds this week was just perfect timing! Also very surprising, as I’d expected to be on the hold list for months… so thank you, San Francisco Public Library!

I approached If It Bleeds a little hesitantly, as short stories are really not my thing. Still, there was the book, just waiting for me on my Kindle, so how could I resist?

I’m so glad I dove right in! If It Bleeds consists of four novella-length stories, all unrelated, and all very different in content and tone. And each was a treat!

The story that garnered the most pre-publication buzz is the title story, If It Bleeds (which appears 3rd in this collection). If It Bleeds stars Holly Gibney, whom even Stephen King refers to as a favorite character! Holly was first introduced in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and then was a key character in The Outsider (the adaptation of which aired on HBO recently).

Here, Holly is the lead in her own story. She is horrified by news of a terrible mass murder by bombing at an elementary school — and then is hooked by a discrepancy she notices in the appearance of the local newscaster who was first on the scene. Holly is never one to let go of details, and as she investigates, she becomes personally involved in tracking down and stopping a monster.

It’s a good story, very suspenseful, although I’m not sure how much sense it’ll make to someone not familiar with The Outsider. It’s not an exact sequel, but the earlier novel definitely informs the way Holly’s case unfolds and what she knows.

As for the other stories… well, I loved them!

In order of preference, my least favorite would be the final story in the book — although don’t get me wrong, I still really liked it! Rat is the story of a writer who’s never been able to finish a novel, although he has published some highly regarded short stories and is an English professor. When a new story idea appears to him, he’s sure it’s his novel at last, and decides to retreat to his family’s remote backwoods cabin to work on it in isolation before the inspiration disappears.

Rat is an interesting look at creativity, the writing process, a writer’s fear, and the superstitions and bargaining that may accompany a fickle gift. Stephen King does love to feature writers as main characters, and then put them in dangerous, awful situations. Is the writer here really experiencing the disturbing things he thinks are happening, or is he losing his grip on his sanity? Read the story and decide!

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the first story in the collection, and feels like classic Stephen King. It combines his patented nostalgic look back at childhood with a small-town setting, the loss of loved ones, and a piece of technology that changes everything. It’s a story about growing up and saying good-bye, but also just a good, spooky, odd ghost story. Very cool.

Finally, the 2nd story in the book, which was my favorite of the bunch. The Life of Chuck is weird and wonderful, and I adored it. Told in three sections that move backward chronologically, this story is surprising and captivating, and strangely moving too. I don’t want to give away a single thing about it! Definitely check it out!

All in all, a terrific collection! As I mentioned, I don’t typically seek out story collections, even from my favorite authors, so I’m really grateful that I happened to be able to get this from the library.

And true confession time: I loved it so much that I ended up using an Amazon gift card to treat myself to my very own hard copy!

If It Bleeds is a great addition to Stephen King’s huge body of work. If you thought he might possibly run out of original stories to tell… this book shows that that’s not at all likely to happen. A must-read for King fans!