Second-Hand Love

Sometimes when a book is so good, I think about leaving a note inside of it when I return it to the library. In my imagination my note would be all sophisticated and intelligent, pointing out the themes and underlying messages. But in reality, it would probably read: Hi Fellow Book Friend! This book was good. That’s all I got.

I think I need professional help.

In Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue, Rachel returns to her hometown after having been away for three years. Her younger brother drowned almost a year ago and she’s spent the last year being haunted and hunted by sadness. She’s failed her senior year of high school, her mother’s grief is pushing her further and further away, and Rachel’s grandmother can see that to move on Rachel will need to get away from the place her brother Cal died.

So Rachel goes home and has to deal with Henry, her best friend since birth.  But what was once friendship for Rachel changed before their freshman year of high school. She realized she was in love with Henry. She wrote him a letter about how she felt and hid it in Henry’s favorite T.S. Eliot book of poetry. Then she moved to another town. Henry never mentioned reading the letter and Rachel figured he didn’t feel the same way. So, folding up on herself in humiliation and regret, Rachel stops speaking to Henry for three years.

Henry, meanwhile, is passionate about two things: his family’s second hand bookstore (Howling Books) and his girlfriend Amy. He graduated high school and blew his savings to travel the world with her. That is, until Amy sits him down and tells him that while she still loves him, she’s also interested in someone else. I didn’t know that was allowed. Huh. You learn something new every day. So Henry does what every 18 year old boy has done since the beginning of time: vows to win her back and make her fall in love with him.

The family’s bookstore isn’t doing too well, not with online book companies and the rise of e-readers. Nobody seems to want to browse in bookstores anymore. Howling Books has been in business for twenty years. Henry, his sister George, and their father are very protective of their love for books and the bookstore itself. Henry’s parents are divorced and their mother is trying to convince them to sell the building. The company that wants to buy it plans to bull-doze the building to make way for condominiums.

What’s so special about this secondhand bookstore? It has a section called the Letter Library where people can leave letters for friends or for a love interest.  Rachel had put her letter in a book in the Letter Library before moving away.  And now that she’s back, she has a job at the bookstore cataloging all of the letters in the Letter Library (yes, there are that many letters hidden between the pages of all those books).

Thinking that Henry’s just too embarrassed to mention her love letter from three years ago, Rachel decides to start over with him. They’ve been beyond close almost since birth and they’ve both missed each other terribly in the three years she was gone. Rachel doesn’t tell anyone about Cal’s death. Everybody thinks she’s just taking a break before college and living with her aunt for the summer. She doesn’t tell them she couldn’t concentrate during her senior year and couldn’t see the point of high school and flunked out.

Rachel hates Amy and the feeling is mutual. Amy, a beautiful redhead, is the type of girl who will latch onto the next thing that comes along if it’s shiny enough. But she keeps letting Henry think there’s hope for the two of them. Rachel bites her tongue about the situation, relieved that she doesn’t have any feelings of love for Henry anymore and they can go back to being best friends.

But isn’t that what we all say when confronted with unrequited love? Of course Rachel still loves him. Duh. So they spend a few weeks getting back into their friendship and coming up with ways for Henry to win Amy back. But Rachel finds that dealing with Cal’s death isn’t getting any easier and she especially wants to share her grief with her best friend.

All seems lost when Amy decides Henry’s shiny enough to take back. But does Henry finally see that the girl he loves is the same one he grew up with?

Told in alternating voices and letters from the Letter Library, Words in Deep Blue is not just about getting over grief but also about learning how to live with it while still doing the work of everyday living. It’s about a family of bookworms learning that letting go might not be a bad idea. And, maybe most importantly, it’s a book about love in all its forms and incarnations. I shied away from this book at first because of the romance angle but found that it was my kind of book: difficult love, love that makes your heart into a zombie (yes, the book could have used some real zombies too but that’s just me being me).

As Barry Gibb once sang (before the falsetto years) “Let there be love.”

And there was.

Reviews of Hello, Sunshine & Less

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

Sunshine MacKenzie is a culinary star! What started as a YouTube video series quickly went viral, attracting a food network producer and cookbook deals. Loved for her “down home farm girl-ness” she makes many guest appearances on talk and other cooking shows. Sunshine is about to get even bigger, with another cookbook in the works and her own cooking show on the food network.

The end…. happy story… NOT!

Someone outs her as a fake who cannot cook, tells the world that Sunshine grew up in Montauk, and then makes it public that she had a one night stand.  Her marriage falls apart and she is forced to go back to her hometown where her (estranged and angry) sister and niece live. As Sunshine tries to get her life put back in order she finds out that she is pregnant.

Sunshine’s journey with her demons and regrets (and her sister!) is very down to earth in that “I’m eating humble pie” kind of way and you can’t help but like her even though she deserves what she gets.

In the end things work out, but not the way you think they will!

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is more, unless your name is Arthur Less – – and then less never seems to be enough. For Arthur it seems the only luck he has is bad luck, and he travels all over the world trying to change his luck and forget his past; only fate has other plans for our dear Arthur!

I enjoyed the journey as he bumbled on and grew to love him even though he’s convinced that he’s unlovable. I think you will love him too!

Spot-Lit for July 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowtiz

What a fun book! Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a mystery within a mystery book…. a really challenging “whodunit!”

A publisher and editor are reading the newest submission from famous author Alan Conway in his ‘Atticus Pund’ series. They both get to the end of their pages and realize the last chapter is missing. Before they have a chance to ask him where it is, Alan commits suicide…. or does he?

I challenge anyone to get halfway through this book and solve the Atticus Pund mystery. There are more suspects and reasons to kill the victim than you could imagine…. or did she really just fall down the stairs?

Also, there are so many coincidences between the Atticus mystery and Alan’s story that one wonders how he could write his own death. You will be amazed how it all ends. I guarantee – – you will not predict the solution!

Richard Dawson Doesn’t Host This Version of Family Feud

I believe there are thin places in this world. The term ‘thin places’ refers to areas in the world where the veil between heaven and earth is particularly thin but I think the term applies to other dimensions, other worlds. There are stories about people out for a stroll who blink and suddenly they’re in a place that looks like the road they were walking on but it’s different. Or there’s the story of a man out walking his dog when his dog takes off and the man chases after him. The man soon finds himself in a slightly different world, a world where John Lennon is still alive, the Twin Towers never fell. The McRib is always available.

In A Million Junes by Emily Henry, Jack “June” O’Donnell (all the offspring share the name Jack, even if a daughter is born) has one rule to follow: stay away from the Angert family. There’s been a deep feud between the O’Donnells and the Angerts for a century even though no one can remember exactly why. June lives with her mother, stepfather and two brothers in Five Fingers, Michigan in a house in a powerful thin place.

If you leave shoes on the porch, coywolves (a mix between coyotes and wolves) will come and steal them away. Window Whites, soft floating orbs, travel throughout the house and bonk against windows. Feathers is a ghost with a pink sheen who is always there, drifting in corners, shimmering where June can see her. Another ghost, a black shadow June calls Nameless, hovers nearby and unlike Feathers, who gives off a comforting vibe, Nameless oozes malevolence.

June’s father, Jack the III, died ten years ago and June still lives in the bubble of him: of his tall tales about the O’Donnell family, how both his family and the Angerts are cursed. If something good happens to the Angerts, something terrible befalls the O’Donnell’s and vice versa. Even though June has set her father up on a pedestal she doesn’t know why there’s hatred between the families.

One evening in the fall, Saul Angert returns home after being away for three years. He’s come back to take care of his father who has dementia. Of course they run into each other (literally, she almost knocks him down and somehow manages to bite him in the shoulder) and don’t you know, there is an instant chemistry. They do their best to stay away from each other but both know it is a losing battle.

June has no plans to go to college and puts little effort into school. Until she takes a creative writing class and puts to paper all the stories her father told her. A new world opens up to her. But one evening, one of the Window Whites lands on her skin and she’s thrown into a memory of when she was a child and her father was telling one of his stories. June craves more memories but what she finds at the other end is more than she bargained for.

Soon she and Saul are both given the Window White treatment and both see memories of not only their pasts but the pasts of their relatives. June finds out her father might not be everything she once thought he was. But she’s determined to go into the thin place to find him. And Saul is right there ready to go with her to find out what happened all those years ago to make their families despise one another. They want to break the curse. They want to love.

You guys, I couldn’t put this books down. I know I say that about every book I read but for this one I set my alarm clock an hour earlier than usual just so I could read it. I’m not into woo-woo magic and otherworldly love stories. This novel isn’t like that. The magic and wonder and terror in this story is subtle. It’s a story not only about falling in love but also about realizing the people you love aren’t who you thought they were. But finding that out doesn’t change the fact that you were beyond loved.

If you want a tale about falling in love with someone you’re meant to be with, the wonder of a place that sits between two worlds, and the unbreakable bond of family, get this book. Really. I mean, like, yesterday.

I gotta go. I just found a thin place in the woods behind my house and I swear I can hear Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison tuning their guitars.

Spot-Lit for June 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

 

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Heartwood 7:3 – The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

About a year ago, New Directions rereleased Helen DeWitt’s long out-of-print novel, The Last Samurai, which was accompanied by quite a bit of publicity, including this post on LitHub featuring glowing testimonials from various booksellers. But the buzz seemed to die down quickly in the months following, at least in the online spaces I haunt, so here’s my small effort to call attention once again to this remarkable book.

The cover of the reissue features an extreme-wide-angle, upside-down-and-tilted photo of subway cars in The Tube. It almost shouts challenging text ahead, which both increased my anticipation and made me a bit nervous, but I breathed a little easier as I flipped the pages of DeWitt’s Prologue which is immediately immersive, intelligent, and a bit snarky – it ends with a bang, promising great things ahead. I challenge anyone to read the Prologue and not be tempted to dive into the rest of the book.

At its most stripped-down, the story is about a single woman (Sibylla) who is raising and educating a genius child (Ludo) in London. She supports them by doing low-wage data entry work at home – work that is frequently interrupted to field the many questions from her precocious son. I don’t think there are many novels out there that could be considered page-turners which also, in the course of the narrative, explore the rudiments of Greek and Japanese, the educational ideas of John Stuart Mill, the artistry and deeper meanings beneath Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, or touch on such subjects as solid state physics, the principles of aerodynamics, or Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony.

But a page-turner it is. This is one of those books I could hardly wait to get back to every time I had to leave off reading. That’s not to say, however, that it won’t rub any number of readers the wrong way. I was put off at times by Ludo’s extreme braininess, and by Sibylla’s occasional pedantry and condescension. Others, I imagine, will be skimming the lessons in Greek, Kanji, and the “distributive principle of multiplication.” Stylistically, you should be prepared for paragraphs that simply trail off, a variable use of quotation marks to indicate dialogue, and the use of all caps when Sibylla gets worked up (especially against barbarism and the aesthetic excesses of certain writers and painters). And if you respond as I did, you may well come away from this regretting the quality of your own education and feeling that you wasted your youth (though also inspired, somehow, that maybe it’s not too late to catch up).

As Ludo grows up he becomes more obsessed with discovering who his father is, and though Sibylla will not help him with this, he corners her into dropping clues and making slips which he then pursues. With the film Seven Samurai always playing in the background, it may not surprise you to learn that Ludo has narrowed the field down to seven possible candidates. Much of the impetus for Ludo’s wide-ranging study comes from the specialized interests of these seven men, as he prepares himself to potentially encounter his father as a worthy opponent in the spirit of a samurai. The last half of the book includes Ludo hunting down these individuals, and these diverse tales should certainly please readers who enjoy following a character through various adventures and storylines.

I’m not sure how actively I’ll be attempting to teach myself Greek, but you can add my voice to those who found this an ambitious, inspired, unique, and totally successful piece of writing.