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Reclaiming romances: The beauty of a beach read

By Maria Couto

Romance novels have been labeled as fluffy, shallow and low-brow art, and while they may sometimes lack the nuance of a classic novel, there is also a world of writing that takes love to a whole new level. Many fun and sexy romances dare to tackle themes such as grief, neurodivergence, racism, homophobia and more. Though these novels are abundant, there is still a certain stigma attached to the genre. However, the stigma is less about the content and more about who exactly reads them.

According to the Romance Writers of America, an advocacy group for professional authors, 82 per cent
of romance readers identify as female, making women not only the target audience, but a target for scrutiny. In the same boat as pumpkin spice lattes and Taylor Swift, romance novels are categorically ‘bad’ because they are beloved by women. In reality, romance novels are so much more. We often see women characters taking control of their sexuality and pleasure, being career-driven and working through emotional obstacles. These novels work as both an assist through similar roadblocks or an escape from them.

The classic “beach read” is a particular set of romance novels, perfect for flipping through while on vacation. These are deemed superficial and “soft”—but is there actually anything wrong with that? Indulge in these four sexy summer books below and start your own windswept romance with an infamous “beach read.”

Beach Read by Emily Henry

I mean, it’s in the title, how perfect can it get? When romance writer January Andrews moves into her late father’s beach house to write her next best-seller, she doesn’t expect her next door neighbor to be the brooding Augustus Everett—author of literary fiction and, oh yeah, her sworn enemy. Both in a state of grief-induced writer’s block, they switch genres, learning and understanding more about the other in the short and sweet summer that they have together.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

When August moves to New York City, the last thing she expects to find is enigmatic Jane riding the subway—that is, every subway ride August takes on her commute to school. Mystified by Jane’s constant presence on the train, she enlists her quirky roommates to help her solve this mystery. When they come to the realization that Jane is not only stuck on the subway but in the ‘70s, they have to help her before the summer is over and the subway line shuts down, taking Jane with it. In a race against time, August and Jane work together to discover who Jane is and what got her stuck in the first place. Sparks fly—and they’re not just from the subway tracks.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

When Esme Tran gets the opportunity to go from Vietnam to San Francisco to meet a potential husband, she willingly goes in the hopes it will help her daughter and mother out of poverty. Meanwhile, Khai Diep believes he is incapable of emotions, while his family knows that as a man with autism, he just processes his emotions differently. When his mother takes matters into her own hands and brings Esme home to meet Khai, he keeps his distance, certain that he will only hurt her. But Esme is patient, taking the time to understand Khai’s needs and teaching him to learn the queues of her own needs as well. After all, they have the whole summer together to fall in love.

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This takes the fun and flirty beach read to the next level when Emma Blair receives a call from her husband, who was declared dead in a helicopter crash three years earlier. Stuck between the old love she has for her husband Jesse and the new love she has for her fiancé Sam, Emma finds herself in a twisted love triangle. Not only does she have to pick between the two loves of her life, but between the versions of who she was before and after she went through the grief of losing her life partner. Swimming between the two worlds, we come to understand that her predicament runs oceans deep.

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