Books I Want To Read Before The Summer’s Over

It’s nearly the end of August but Summer’s not over yet, despite what the Halloween candy in the grocery store has been screaming at me. (If I, an autumn-obsessed witch, say it’s too early… it’s way too early.)

I was reading a stack of New York Times Book Reviews from the past few weeks, and a few titles I’d not considered earlier jumped out at me. So before Summer breathes his last humid gasps, I want to check these brand-new-ish books off my list. They were all featured in recent NYTBRs, so check those out for the in-depth reviews.

The Government Lake – Last Poems by James Tate

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I don’t know much about poetry. As proof of this: I didn’t know who James Tate was until after his death. But these seem fascinating, rather prose-y, more like ideas and fragments than proper verse. I’m keen to give them a try, and will probably try more of his work later. We shall see!

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Recursion by Blake Crouch

This one might be a little too intense for me, as it has neuroscience as a major plot point, but I’m curious to finally read a Blake Crouch book after Dark Matter got so many good reviews. More appealingly, Victor Lavalle reviewed Recursion in the NYTBR and I will try anything that he deems worthwhile.

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Stay And Fight by Madeline ffitch

I don’t know if this book can possibly be as good as I think it will be, based on the power of the title alone. I just love the phrase “stay and fight.” I want a poster for my bedroom. Anyway, this is about an urban millennial who decides to settle in Appalachian Ohio. Pipelines encroach and parenting is questioned… it sounds good.

I still need at least one seafaring adventure for my trip to Acadia national park in September, but these three will likely be in my bag as well. (On that note, anything similar to Treasure Island!!! or We Are Pirates that’s escaped my notice this year? I’ve got my eye on When We Were Vikings but it’s not quite nautical enough to satisfy this very particular itch.)

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Audiobook review: There’s A Word For That by Sloane Tanen

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Star Ratings:

Story: 4/5

Writing: 3/5

Characters: 5/5

Audio recording: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I listened to There’s A Word For That via Libro.fm, which I recommend enthusiastically. A percentage of all purchases helps out indie bookshops! Please go check them out.

This was very much an impulse download; I needed something distracting and contemporary to temper all the unhappy classics I’ve been reading lately.  While I thought the story sounded interesting  — love me a dysfunctional family, any day — I didn’t expect to get so hooked!

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book:

Introducing the Kesslers: Marty, a retired LA film producer whose self-worth has been eroded by age and a late-in-life passion for opioids; his daughter Janine, former child star suffering the aftereffects of a life in the public eye; and granddaughter Hailey, the “less-than” twin sister, whose inferiority complex takes a most unexpected turn. Nearly six thousand miles away, in London, celebrated author Bunny Small, Marty’s long-forgotten first wife, has her own problems: a “preposterous” case of writer’s block, a monstrous drinking habit, and a son who has fled halfway around the world to escape her.

When Marty’s pill-popping gets out of hand and Bunny’s boozing reaches crisis proportions, a perfect storm of dysfunction brings them all together at Directions, Malibu’s most exclusive and absurd rehab center.

The plot is essentially just that: a family and its satellites hash out their long-festering problems when things finally come to a head at rehab. While the psychology of recovery isn’t necessarily the subject of the whole book, it certainly drives up the stakes and gives each character’s journey emotional clarity.

I hesitate to call There’s A Word For That a comedy, since addiction; suicide; depression; and teenage angst all feature heavily, but I’m sorely tempted to do so. A few moments had me laughing out loud, and many others made me smile, sometimes ironically, sometimes due to the optimism that shines through on every page. This is ultimately a hopeful book about overcoming past obstacles, enjoying the flawed present for what it is, and looking towards the future. I was rooting for each character (especially Janine and Bunny, my favorites) as they faced their self-made demons and cracked jokes along the way.

Therese Plummer does a great job narrating the audiobook with only a few minor exceptions. Her voices for each member of the Kessler family were totally spot-on, from Marty’s ironic old man voice to Amanda’s high-strung, self-important chatter. Bunny and Martin were each unique as well, I only wish the British accents had been better. But once I got over that hiccup, I couldn’t get enough of their chapters.

Bunny, a famous and acerbic writer with a penchant for gin, put words to so many of my secret complaints about the world. She was a ferocious delight. Honestly, I would read an entire book just about her.

Give There’s A Word For That a listen if you like Arrested Development, California sunshine, screwed up families, and a drink or two.

Staff Pick: The Changeling by Victore Lavalle

My most recent staff pick at the bookshop:

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Victor Lavalle mixes family drama, horror, folklore, and vivid realism in this absolutely gripping novel about parenthood and American culture. Appollo Kagwa is a “book man” and a father, devoted to his wife Emma and their newborn baby. But Emma’s postpartum depression soon turns into something far more terrifying, and she vanishes with Appollo’s son into unknown and fantastical parts of New York. His journey to find them brings him to the edge of reason, while the people he meets prove that there’s more to America than what fits into the boundaries of imagination. This book is startling and sweet, haunting and harrowing. Highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

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How does everything Helen Oyeyemi touches turn to gold? Her writing follows some fairy tale logic that meanders off the road, yet never leads you astray. I was smitten with Boy, Snow, Bird and White Is For Witching. I was beyond enchanted by the stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. And I keep coming back for more, an addict, forever surprised by a writer who refuses to get comfortable in any of the nice neat categories that I create in my head.

Here’s the thing about Gingerbread: you’ve got to read it for style, for character, for the shining observations that dazzle throughout. Don’t go in looking for the sort of plot that makes you think “oh, of course!” as you contentedly turn the last page. Suspend your disbelief. In fact, just toss your disbelief into the air, let it hover, and forget about it entirely.

Oyeyemi’s worlds are very like our own, rife with everyday things like London, PTA meetings, and drunk voicemails. But there’s also the hard-to-pin-down (but very real) country of Druhástrana, changeling children hanging out in wells, and houses built by industrious fireflies. Don’t ask me how a book can so charmingly accommodate descriptions of child labor exploitation all the while a sweetly sinister friendship unfolds. In Helen Oyeyemi’s capable hands, you can go from a simmering rage about injustice to delight at a turn of phrase within a sentence or two. I think she may be a wizard of some kind, a warmer Herr Drosselmeyer who has perfect control over the whole stage even when the set feels larger (or smaller) than life.

I realize I’ve not given a proper description of what Gingerbread is actually about, and to be frank I don’t think I’m up for the task. It’s about mothers and daughters and granddaughters, about farms and cities, about extended families doing good deeds for bad reasons. It starts in England, where Harriet’s daughter Perdita has eaten an unusual batch of gingerbread and goes into a coma, supposedly trying to find the country where her mother and grandmother grew up. We then get to witness a friendship form between two young Druhástranian girls, one of whom’s mother happens to own the gingerbread factory where the other toils away.  And then there’s the Kerchevals back in England again, the extremely rich family of dubious origins who take in Harriet and her mother with far-reaching consequences. Margot and Harriet and Perdita are subjected to bullying, heartbreak, betrayals, and poverty. They revel in beautiful spaces and form unbreakable bonds. And all the while there’s gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread: in tins in London, in the Kercheval’s kitchen at three am, in Druhá city boutiques and way back in Margot’s old farmhouse.

A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge.

This is not a revenge story, but neither is it a love story, or the sort of allegory aimed to smash you over the head. It’s a fairy tale and a contemporary novel and something so much more delicious than either. I don’t know, they should invent a new genre for whatever Helen Oyeyemi does. She does it very well indeed.

Star Ratings

Characters: ***** (5 stars)

Character Development: ***** (5 stars)

Plot: **** (4 stars)

Writing : ***** (5 stars)

Overall: ***** (5 stars)

Currently Reading: Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

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Remember how much I liked Grave Mercy? It was years ago, and I never wrote reviews for the other two books in Robin LaFever’s excellent His Fair Assassin trilogy, but the stories of Ismae, Sybella, and Annith have stuck with me for ages and have, quite honestly, made other historical fantasies pale in comparison. So imagine my joy when I saw, newly arrived on our YA shelves, Courting Darkness!

I’d been in a book slump ever since finishing Normal People. I needed something gripping, intricate, and not so close to home.  Enter my old assasin-nun friends, the girls I’d grown to love over three books and miss terribly in their absence. Even better, we get to meet new characters with connections to Saint Mortain in Courting Darkness.  I’m already so invested in the betrayals and connections at court, and can’t wait to read more tonight.

It did take me a few minutes to re-adjust myself in the world of 15th century France and Brittany.  Luckily for those of us who don’t have such canny memories, Robin LaFevers’ website has quite a lot of helpful information. A quick break to absorb it all and I was right back in the action (and the romance, and the drama… all that good stuff.)

I’ll try to post an actual review when I’ve finished the book. I imagine it will be soon. It’s been so long since I dove headfirst into a time-period and setting so rich as this, and I’m so happy to be back.

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney’s novels have away of finding me right when I need them most, and they always hurt my feelings.  There’s not much I can say about Normal People that other reviewers haven’t already said, so I’ll be brief.

I liked Conversations With Friends quite a lot when I read it this time last year, though again I took it right to heart and needed a moment to recover after. On the surface, Normal People is very – almost overly – similar, in style and structure especially.  Normal People also focuses on the internal workings of some complicated and intense relationships. The settings are even similar: Trinity College, a summer house abroad…  But Rooney’s already good writing has improved tenfold in this second offering. Her characters feel so real I miss them. And the joys and anguish they suffer through, though dramatic, are flawless mirrors held up to the experiences of so many individuals learning to be adults and trying to be people.

The plot, quickly, is as follows: Connell and Marianne are schoolmates in county Sligo. He’s quiet but popular, concerned about how others perceive him, secretly intellectual.  She’s friendless and refuses to alter her abrasive personality to remedy this. Normally the two of them would never come into contact, but Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house for a living and in this pocket of the world the two become something like friends, something like lovers.  The narrative skips ahead days, weeks, months every chapter to show us the progressions and regressions of their entanglement. Eventually, both characters are students at Trinity, where Marianne has found herself among like-minded people and Connell feels isolated. Though their circumstances have changed, their fraught reliance on one another has not.

We follow Marianne through abuse, genius, friendships, and attempted self-destruction. We watch Connell struggle with class, creativity, love, and depression. All the while, I was desperately hoping they’d be there for each other. And sometimes they are.

Even though the characters in Normal People are teenagers, it’s definitely a book for adults. I would have enjoyed it as a young person, but part of the magic here is that they were slightly younger than me, and I felt oddly protective of their feelings even while they were destroying mine.  (There’s also quite a lot of sex and misery, so, like, not a book for people under 13.)

It will take me a few weeks to get my heart back on straight(ish) after reading this.  Normal People comes out in the states this April. Buy it – locally! independently! – and fall right in.

Top 10 Reads of 2018

Ahoy there, long forgotten and much-missed corner of the internet.  I’m just dropping in to forcefully recommend my ten favorite books that came out in 2018, then I’ll probably forget to post for another year or so. Sad but true!  Let us not delude ourselves with thoughts of extra-curricular productivity in this shiny new year.

Anyway, here are the ten new books that brought me the most joy in 2018. Not included: old books, dead authors, advanced copies of books that will come out in 2019.

  1. Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  2. French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
  3. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
  4. City Of Crows by Chris Womersly
  5. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
  6. A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
  7. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
  8. City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
  9. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
  10. Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery

Diary of a Bookseller

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I cannot over-emphasize how much I adored this memoir. I’ve read it three times, and have underlined so many wonderful observations I have barely any blank space left. Shaun Bythell puts into words what so many of us booksellers can only think to ourselves, and I love him for it. It’s impossible to choose a favorite line because the whole book is just so damn quotable.  Not only are Bythell’s observations incredibly spot-on, his descriptions of the customers and his idiosyncratic staff are the stuff of a masterpiece. Excuse me while I go read the whole thing again.

French Exit

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Is this a black social comedy? A tragedy of manners? Akin to Fitzgerald or Waugh or Daniel Handler?  I have no answers for you, I can only say that French Exit was an absolute delight to read, with incredible characters (most of whom I wanted to slap at one point or another) and ruthless observations about the wealthy, expats, and life in general.  If you’ve had your doubts about De Witt before, I promise this is nothing like his previous books – it’s an entirely new creature and my favorite of his to date.

The Hazel Wood

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Books about books are my favorite books. Inkheart has been a favorite forever. Melissa Albert’s magical debut has a bit of that same vibe: the feel of a classic but with contemporary stakes. It’s beautiful in places, spooky in others, and totally engrossing. You can read my full review here.

City Of Crows

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I’m a sucker for stories that make me wonder “is it fantasy or is this all just a coincidence?” City Of Crows made me wonder that at first, then convinced me one way, then another, and left me thinking about it for days after. The setting – 17th century France – and all the true historical details – witches! charlatans! plague! – left me with a new appreciation for how dismal life was back then, as well as how mysterious it could be. Another win for Europa editions.

Small Spaces

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Katherine Arden’s first middle grade novel kept me reading late into the night.  Set up in the spookiest corners of Vermont, it has everything one needs for a chilling October read.  Arden mixed classic ghost story tropes with a fast-paced adventure, and the results were fantastic. I couldn’t stop recommending this to customers, but I did have to mention that it frightened even me at times.  And I was a scary kid.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea

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I was never 100% sold on Mafi’s earlier YA thriller series, but this standalone YA novel has me convinced of her talent.  A Very Large Expanse Of Sea takes place one year after 9/11 and follows Muslim teenager Shirin as she navigates the hatred directed at her from other citizens.  It’s not disheartening, though, because Shirin is a strong main character and the descriptions of the strength she finds in break dancing made me truly happy.  Mafi is writing what she knows and she shines on every page. Also, the romance was both sweet and realistic.

The Cruel Prince

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It’s impossible for me to describe how much I love Holly Black’s new series in coherent sentences. Fairy courts! Changelings! Murder! Betrayal! Enemies who can’t stop looking at each other! Siblings! Poison! The sequel just came out and I cannot wait to start it.  This might turn into one of my favorite YA series of all time.

City Of Ghosts

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V.E. Schwab’s fantasy novels are pretty good, but her middle grade ghostly stuff is fantastic. She captured the atmosphere of Edinburgh so bloody well, and managed to write a creepy book without alienating her more sensitive readers. I so rarely read more than the first book in a series, but I’m committed to following Cass wherever she goes next.

Dread Nation

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I’m not usually a fan of Civil War novels, and I’m very rarely a fan of zombie stories, but Justina Ireland combined the two and suddenly I’m a real big fan.  She focuses on the people who got the worst end of the stick in that time period: Native Americans and Black people.  In the world of Dread Nation, these exploited groups fight the undead that have started rising up from the battlefields.  But it’s not just a zombie hunting novel. There’s mystery, social commentary, conspiracy, and some incredibly bad-ass characters.

Born To Be Posthumous

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Edward Gorey was massively influential to my personal style as a youth, though I refuse to post a photo to prove it.  This biography was my first in-depth peep into his life.  What a dude. What a fella.  I can’t get enough of his illustrations and comics, and knowing more about the man behind the pen only made me love him more.  I’m not always a biography enthusiast but sometimes a subject is enough of a character to keep my interest, and this was definitely one of those times.  And what a perfect title, right?

Alright, friends. That’s all I’ve got today. Please remember to shop indie! All these titles are available at indiebound , and I’m sure your local bookshop would be delighted to order them for you, provided you ask nicely.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

“Tell Alice to stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood.”  That’s Ella Proserpine’s message to her daughter while she’s being kidnapped by nasty characters from a fairy tale.  Naturally, Alice heads straight for the Hazel Wood to find her mom. It’s way weirder there than even I expected.

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Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Writing: 4 stars

Overall: 4 1/2 stars

The Hazel Wood is Melisa Albert’s first novel, and I’m extremely signed up to read whatever she puts out in the future.  Think a grown-up Inkheart (my fav) but with Holly Black’s gritty teenage heroines and only the most brutal fairy tales from Andersen and Grimm.  If your response that that particular literary cocktail is hell yes, you’ll love The Hazel Wood.  If, instead, it’s that sounds like a bit much and also I’m not too great at suspending my disbelief for hundreds of pages, then I advise you to look elsewhere, because this book is indeed A Bit Much.

(Quick side note: I fell hard for the cover and the title alone. W.B. Yeats quotes are the key to my affections.)

The story starts with Alice Proserpine and her mom tentatively setting into a life in Manhattan after a lifetime of being on the run. Bad luck follows them wherever they go, ever since Alice can remember. The dark cloud that seeks them out seems to be connected with Ella’s mother, Althea Proserpine, the famously reclusive author whose book of stories Tales From The Hinterland has gained a cult following despite the near impossibility of tracking down a copy.  The red-haired man who briefly kidnapped Alice when she was a little girl was one such devotee.  Ellery Finch, the adorable and intense boy from school who wants to be part of Alice’s story, is another. Ellery craves the dark inevitability of Althea’s fairy tales, the magic that defies common sense but still follows rules of its own.

I adored the young lad, even though I knew from the beginning that his enthusiasm would lead him astray.  Alice starts out less convinced. But when Ella disappears she needs his help to track down a copy of the book and find The Hazel Wood, the un-mappable estate where Althea Proserpine hid away from the world to write and smoke and be mysteriously glamorous.

Ellery Finch and Alice Proserpine throw their lots in together, for better or horrifyingly worse, and find their way to a fairy tale forest.  The Hazel Wood and the Hinterland beyond are built entirely on story, with the tales from Althea’s book holding the world together, playing out for eternity while “refugees,” or other people who found their way in, make lives for themselves in the space that’s left over.

I can’t share too many of my feelings about this book without spoiling the many twists, but in short, here’s why I liked it: Complex mother-daughter relationships! Magnetic and selfish lady-authors who will do anything for a story! Super angry teenage girls who are trying to control their rage! A reference to Boy Snow Bird! Love stories that don’t work out at all! Road trips! Original fairy tales that feel like classics!

I think that’s what I liked the most about The Hazel Wood: Melissa Albert clearly loves fairy tales, particularly the creepy ones, and she damn well knows how to write one.  I want to read Tales From The Hinterland now, even if it means I might become dangerously obsessed.

Wildfire At Midnight by Mary Stewart

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Star Ratings:

Characters: *** (3 stars)

Writing:***** (5 stars)

Plot: *** (3 stars)

Overall: **** (4 stars)

Oh, hello, it’s been nearly a year since I re-visited this dusty old page. I’ve moved house and made some Frighteningly Big Life Decisions in the meantime, so please forgive the lapse.

Big changes in life bring with them an urgent need for escapist literature and comfort reading, and I’ve started 2018 with a large dose of each. Just this evening I finished reading Mary Stewart’s Wildfire At Midnight. Mary Stewart wrote The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, etc: Arthurian fantasies my dad gave me to read as a pre-teen. I ate those up, so I can’t believe this book had escaped my notice until I found it just this week, in a four-volume hardcover from the library, patiently awaiting my attention with all it’s descriptions of Skye landscapes and Scottish hotels and ritual murder. (These are a few of my favorite things…)

Gianetta Brooke, our heroine, is a young dress-model, divorced from a proud writer-type and looking for a rest from the bustle of 1950s London. Her mother suggests a trip to a nice hotel in Camas Fhionnaridh – or Camasunary – on Skye. “…it’s at the back of beyond, so you go there, darling, and have a lovely time with the birds and the – the water, or whatever you said you wanted.” Reached by boat, beautiful, mountainous, and remote, Camasunary is exactly the majestic, timeless setting you would want for a trip to untamed Scotland.  Also a great location for a series of COMPLETELY BONKERS MURDERS.

When Gianetta arrives at the hotel, she is dismayed to learn that a local teenager was murdered in a style that can only be described as “sacrificial,” her body laid out on a bonfire on the inhospitable face of the Blaven mountain. Possibly even more upsetting, Gianetta’s ex-husband Nicholas is a guest at the hotel, acting smug and flirting with a famous guest. In fact, all of the hotel guests are fascinating and unexpected people: an accomplished mountaineer, two women excited to “conquer” the peaks, a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, a travel writer with a pseudonym, a handsome country man, an admiral with a staunch moral code… If you’re thinking this is a great, albeit slightly predictable, set-up for a closed-room detective story, you’re entirely correct.

What Wildfire At Midnight lacks in originality of plot it makes up for in sumptuous descriptions of mountains lakes, bogs, the sky, and the birds that fly in it. Even while Gianetta discovers body after body, the scenery demands attention. Rightly so, too, because in the end, those peaks and lochs directly inform the method and meaning behind the murders. The traditional twists of “oh I know it’s that guy who did it,” and, inevitably, “wait, no, I was wrong?” made me way more jumpy when a choking mist has blinded our narrator from the murderer in pursuit. And I say this as someone who has spent not a little time in big, old, mostly empty Scottish hotels: A+ atmosphere on the interiors as well.

Gianetta isn’t as strong a main character as some of Mary Stewart’s other women, true, but I admired her determination to know the truth. Even when the police arrive at the scene, Gianetta is determined to keep searching, keep helping, keep smoking like a chimney. Her naturally generous disposition balances out other characters’ animosity towards one another (though who can blame them, since someone in the hotel is a crazed murderer). Even so, when push comes to treacherous shove, she’s a resourceful girl, heroic to the end of this city-girl-in-heathen-wilderness mystery novel story that kept me riveted and rather nervous until the last page.

Not quite so comforting as I’d intended, perhaps, but definitely an escape from my surroundings.

Now I’ve got to seriously commit myself to posting at least two reviews a year, which will be an improvement on my past streak. Apologies, appreciation, and adieu.

Book Review: Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

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Star Ratings:

Characters: ***** (5 stars)

Writing:**** (4 stars)

Plot: **** (4 stars)

Overall: **** (4 stars)

(Be it known that I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book and some things may change before publication.)

I liked this book.  It’s realistic, somewhat romantic, somewhat nerdy YA.  It’s Australian, so the seasons were confusing. It’s about the ocean.

Words In Deep Blue was nice and distracting after I devoured Jessica Mitford’s (also delightful) Hons and Rebels, which got me a little worked up about politics and history repeating itself, etc.  Cath Crowley’s book was entirely amusing and touching without weighing too heavily on my mind.

Rachel’s brother drowned.  That’s the beginning.  Her brother Cal drowned and now she can’t go near the ocean, even though the ocean had always been her favorite place, the thing she loved most.  This book has a lot of love in it.  Siblings who want each other to be happy.  Parents who don’t know how to help, but will do whatever they can, even when their own lives are in shambles.  Parents who kind of drop the ball but there’s love there, too.  Love for literature, for Dickens, for Borges, for classics mixed with Zombies, for books about fish.  Nearly half the story takes place in a second hand bookshop, where customers leave letters between their favorite pages.

If that’s not romantic enough for you,there’s a love story between young people, too.  Several pairs of love stories, really.  Rachel and Henry, who used to be best friends, who stopped speaking after a miscommunication that wasn’t quite so tragic as Tess Durbyfield’s letter-under-the-door incident, but isn’t too far away from it, either.  The two of them were very perfect for each other, but he was in love with Amy, beautiful and inconsistent. Henry never replied to Rachel’s love letter when she and Cal moved to the shore, so she decided they weren’t meant to be together, not even as friends.

So now that Rachel has returned to town, and is even working at Howling books, owned by Henry’s family, things are…tense between them.  She’s hostile and rude.  He’s clueless.  She hasn’t told any of her old friends that Cal died, but it’s keeping her from finding joy in anything.  Poor Henry is just confused because Amy dumped him and his heart’s broken and his separated parents might sell the bookshop and his best friend came back after over a year but she’s practically a different person. “Poor Henry,” I thought to myself every twenty pages or so, reading Words In Deep Blue in the Dublin Airport.  Poor young man who loves T.S. Eliot and loves his family and isn’t very good at dealing with girls.  But man, poor Rachel, who doesn’t even believe in ghosts but dreams of her brother and finds his handwriting in the letter library at Howling Books.  That girl has had it rough.

Then there are the fun entanglements, the courtship between endearing Martin and Henry’s gothy sister George, thrown together at the bookshop, butting heads.  Amy and her dickhead new boyfriend, who truly deserve each other, even while Henry thinks he would do anything to get her back.  Rachel and Henry’s friend Lola, whose band mate might be moving on without her, is a supporting character straight out of all the best romantic comedies – she has the answers to everyone’s mistakes except for her own.

The book is funny and sweet even while it’s full of grief.  The “deep blue” of the title strikes me as a reference to the darker parts of the ocean, the unknown parts of the earth that so fascinated Cal.  Rachel and Cal loved learning about the ocean.  Before she failed out of year 12, she earned excellent grades and wanted to study marine biology.  But her passion and drive abandoned her when Cal died, and the loss of those loves along with the obvious love of a little brother makes her grief so pointed and sympathetic.

We are the books we read and the things we love.  Cal is the ocean and the letters he left.  Our ghosts hide in the things we leave behind.” (p. 258 of galley.)

I’m sure there are several Big Ideas you could take away from Words In Deep Blue.  Support your goddamn local independent bookshop, for one!  Tell people how you feel about them because no one can wait forever to find out.  But the barb that has stuck most solidly into my heart is this: you can re-join the living without forgetting who you lost.