Going Outside My Reading Comfort Zone

My wife loves romance novels. So, every once in a while I like to read (or listen to) one or two to understand and share that love with her.

And now, I’ve read three different books that are a bit outside of my usual reading comfort zone and I’ve got a few thoughts….

Beach ReadBeach Read by Emily Henry

January Andrews and August Everett have been rivals since their college days. But while January sees Gus on the best-seller list, she never quite expected to run him again.

That is, until, her world comes crashing down around her following the death of her father. Breaking up her long-term boyfriend, rocked by revelations about her dad’s fidelity (or lack thereof), and facing a looming deadline, January retreats to her father’s lakeside cottage to get it ready to sell and hopefully get some writing done. But she didn’t count on the fact that Gus Everett would live right next door.

Building on the “opposites attract” model of romance, Emily Henry’s Beach Read is a well-constructed and entertaining story. The rivalry is built on a mutual attraction that neither can or would admit in college (Gus seemed to have relationships that lasted a month or less) and now crossing paths again, those feelings are lurking beneath the surface. Add in a bet to see if each can write in the other’s chosen genre (him literary fiction, her optimistic romance) and you’ve got the perfect prescription for these to slowly fall in love with each other (or admit they’ve been in love all along).

Henry puts obstacles between January and Gus — all of which are authentic and well-founded. Each character is dealing with issues from their past, whether it’s Gus’ memory of a failed marriage or January trying to reconcile the love story she wanted to believe her parents shared with the knowledge that her father had a mistress. It’s not helped by the fact that the mistress resides in the small town near her new house and helped decorate the house she’s living in.

Henry lets the attraction between Gus and January slowly simmer for much of the novel, until it finally boils over. And even once the two finally admit that they’re crazy about each other, things don’t immediately become perfect and rosy. Henry’s storytelling and character-building all create an authentic, enjoyable experience and help you root for these two to get together in an authentic romance.

This one was a pleasant surprise.

A Night to Forget (A Night to Forget, #1)A Night to Forget by Jessica Wood

This one could easily be subtitled “A Book to Forget.”

Emma Anderson has been dreaming of the perfect man all her life, even to the point of saving herself for this perfect man should he ever come along. When she’s dumped by her college boyfriend, Mike, for not sleeping with him, Emma and her friends had to Cancun to drink and forget. While there she sees the man of her (literal) dreams running on the beach. Through a series of coincidences, she ends up missing the boat for her booze cruise and running into him on her last night there. She then proceeds to (half-drunkenly) seduce him and make her first time really special.

Waking up the next day, she leaves Brandon her phone number and heads home. And then he NEVER calls, texts, or writes. Until she heads to her new job and (wait for it!) he’s her new boss!

Look, I don’t necessarily mind a bit of wild coincidence in a novel but this one really stretches the willing suspension of disbelief like it’s some kind of Silly Putty. Which is kind of a shame because when the story isn’t piling on one absurd coincidence after the next, it does have some nice, authentic dialogue between Emma and her best friends.

Alas, the same can’t be said of the dialogue between Emma and Brandon. Turns out he does remember her but he didn’t want to say anything because (wait for it!) he’s her boss now and he didn’t make her first job out of college awkward. But (wait for it!) he’s totally into her and while she recalls a night of passion on the beach, he was a total gentleman who only put her into one of his t-shirts to sleep in his bed and nothing more.

Once the two decide to act on their attractions, the dialogue completely derails and is filled with cliche-ridden speeches. Turns out that Brandon is just too good to be true — and the cliffhanger (which is pretty telegraphed about fifty times) comes into play.

Part of me is (morbidly) curious to see where things go in the second part. And part of me isn’t willing to invest the time or money to follow things up further in the story.

I’m probably not this book’s target audience in any way, shape, or form. And while I’ll admit that I accept some absurd things in my reading choices (look, I follow a franchise built on a character time-travelling inside a box that is bigger on the inside), there are just far too many little things that annoyed me about this one to give it more than a single star. The fact that Emma dreams of the perfect guy and then he literally shows up is when I should have known things were going to go sideways.

The Best Laid PlansThe Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund

Keely has been best friends with Andrew since birth. Now in her senior year of high school, Keely watches as Andrew seems on a mission to seduce the entire junior class.

At her eighteenth birthday party, Keely walks in on two of her friends sleeping together and determines she’s the last virgin left in her class. Determined to lose her virginity before college, Keely sets out to find the right guy to give her v-card to. Enter Dean, a student at the local college who she works with a small video store/coffee shop. Dean is witty, geeky, and seems to be everything Keely could want in a guy.

Except for the fact that she can’t bring herself to tell him it would be her first time. As a reader, I had warning bells going off each time Dean appeared, though, like Keely, it wasn’t something you could necessarily easily put your finger on. Even Andrew seems to think Dean isn’t all that and a bag of chips.

Cameron Lund’s debut novel, The Best Laid Plans offers some interesting commentary on teenagers embracing their sexuality. Keely seems to want to lose her virginity for all the wrong reasons, even going so far as enlisting Andrew to sleep with her to get it over with so she can be with Dean.

One eye-opening aspect of Lund’s teenagers is how various female characters treat each other. One particular character seems willing to shame her friend for apparently losing her virginity earlier, all while willing to play the mean girl to everyone around her. (She is the one that Keely stumbles in and she ends up treating Keely like a pariah for not being willing to sleep with Dean right away, all while treating the guy she slept with like a piece of meat and nothing more. It’s interesting to see a bit of role reversal with him trying to initiate a deeper relationship while she tries to insist it didn’t mean anything).

As the father of a daughter, I’ll admit that Lund’s glimpses into the lives of teenage girls worries me for what my daughter might eventually face in life. But I’m also encouraged that Lund sends the message that there are some things in life that are worth doing right and that everyone can and should have value, no matter if or when he or she loses the “v-card.”


Filed under 20 Books of Summer 2020, audiobook review, book review, review

2 responses to “Going Outside My Reading Comfort Zone

  1. It’s nice to see a male reader talking about romance novels! I think it’s a real shame that they are seen as only for women and also as something to be hidden or scorned. Thanks for sharing your views on what made some books work for you and not others. I’ve discovered some really good romances this year in my search for “comfort reading”. Strong characters and good storytelling matter whether a story is a romance or not.

    • I did Beach Read while running and I’ve found that a “romance” novel works well for my running time. It’s nice to throw one into the mix every once in a while for a change of pace.

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