the Beach Read of the Summer

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I used to avoid the romance genre entirely, opting instead for heart-racing thrillers or gut-punching literary fiction. Part of me thought of romance novels as just erotica or the mass-produced books you grab from the grocery store on the way to the DMV. I finally fell head-over-heels for contemporary romance novels and rom-coms a couple of years ago,  appreciating how easily I can get lost in a well-written romance and how it can remind me that I truly love to read. 

Emily Henry has authored and co-authored seven books, but her last two — “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation” — were New York Times bestsellers. “Book Lovers,” her most recent novel, will likely make the list as well, based on its popularity on preorder lists and among Goodreads reviewers. 

While “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation” were easy and enjoyable reads, I found myself more invested in her latest novel than the others. Here’s why “Book Lovers” is my favorite Emily Henry novel so far.

1. “Book Lovers” amusingly leans into all the stereotypical small-town romance tropes.

In “Book Lovers,” Nora is a literary agent whose love life has always taken a back burner to her career, her personal time, and most importantly, her sister, Libby. When Libby proposes a trip for the two of them to escape New York City for the storybook town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, Nora agrees just to spend more time with her sister, who has a third baby on the way. 

As the town seems to be one out of a romance novel, the sisters create a checklist to live out every stereotypical “small town” trope, from riding a horse to saving a small business. 

There are still several stereotypes in the story that make it kind of predictable (high-strung NYC corporate woman who is apprehensive about the adorable small town will probably see the charm and maybe fall for a patient, hunky local). But by leaning into the romance trope cliches, Henry is able to sidestep a lot of the cheesy romance novel moments that normally make me roll my eyes. 

That said, there’s a reason “chick flick” movies and romance novels sell so well — we enjoy a little bit of the cheesy moments and predictability. Love stories can be complicated and thunderous, but they can also end with a long monologue and happily ever after.

2. The love story isn’t the main plot of the book.

While in Sunshine Falls, Nora runs into Charlie Lastra, an unflinchingly straightforward book editor from the city with whom Nora has had plenty of prior run-ins. As it turns out, he’s from the small town and his mom runs the local bookstore (yes, another cliche). Though Nora and Charlie historically haven’t gotten along, they’re working together to prepare a new manuscript for publication and spend a lot of time in close proximity where the sexual tension continually builds. 

However, Nora and Charlie’s sparking romance is not the main plot of the book. Nora’s concern lies far more with Libby, who seems to be keeping a secret from her and spending a lot of time alone. Nora is hurt that Libby won’t talk to her and determinedly tries to get Libby to open up. 

The love story is absolutely present, but I felt far more invested in Nora and Libby’s sisterhood and the tangled dynamics that unfolded.

3. Despite the use of rom-com tropes, Emily Henry’s books are written incredibly well.

In the last few years, the romance genre has seen an upheaval that has led to an amazing swell of diverse stories, from non-white or queer main characters to subplots that feature serious topics. 

All to say: there’s a lot of competition, and what makes Emily Henry’s work stand out is the writing itself. She is a fantastic writer with a clear voice, who easily weaves together relatable characters, heartfelt stories, and tender quotes. 

 I keep buying Henry’s books for the same reason I rewatch “The Proposal” or “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” whenever I want to be comforted by a feel-good, deeply entertaining story.

The bottom line

Though “Book Lovers” follows a pretty quintessential romance novel plot, it’s still a really good book. It’s the perfect kind of story that allows readers to get lost for a few hundred pages and forget about real-world stressors, and I’d recommend it to any reader searching for the perfect beach read.

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