Book Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Sorry we didn’t post a review last week, I’ve been a bit under the weather. Wait. What does that even mean? Under the weather? Aren’t we always under the weather? Hm. A quick Google search reveals this:

The term is correctly ‘under the weather bow’ which is a gloomy prospect; the weather bow is the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing.

Well. I’ve been under the weather bow and it has been unpleasant to say the least. My poor husband has certainly had his wedding vow tested over the past week! In sickness and in health, right?! And, to make matters worse, for some reason whenever I get sick, I can’t read. I just can’t stand the thought of skimming my eyes over the pages. It’s like a kind of vertigo. Does anyone else get like this?

The sky is looking brighter however, and I have to tell you about this fantastic book I just finished. It’s called Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley. Cath is an Aussie Young Adult author, particularly well known (to me at least) for her YA book Graffiti Moon, which came out a few years ago and received a whole host of accolades.

Words in Deep Blue is a love story (it even says so on the cover). But it certainly isn’t a traditional YA romance. It’s more of a love letter really. One long love letter to words and literature, to books, to family and friends. A loss letter too. The loss of a brother, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a place.

The story is told through Rachel and Henry, two late teens who grew up together before Rachel and her brother moved away. When Rachel’s brother dies, her outlook on life changes. She becomes afraid. Depressed. Sad. Distant. Everything she wasn’t. She returns to the city, to Howling Books – Henry’s family’s second hand bookshop – to try and piece her life together after she fails Year 12.

There’s a delicacy to this book that I didn’t expect and much of this is thanks to the Letter Library – a shelf of books in the bookstore which can be written in and where people leave letters to their loved ones. Entire conversations occur within the pages of these novels. It feels like a comment on the fragility of the online world and the permanence of print. I can see Letter Libraries popping up in second hand bookstores all around the world. I know I’m already wondering how we can incorporate one into the library.

This book really struck a chord with me. It’s lyrical and lovely, the words flowing across the page, the story coming to life so clearly. It’s full of whimsy and philosophy, full of little nods to great literature, all the while maintaining its modernity. It’s also an intelligent book, it doesn’t assume ignorance and naivety from the YA audience it seeks and I love that.

Perhaps Words In Deep Blue was exactly what I needed at this time. But perhaps it’s just a great read and I’d bank on that.

Amanda x

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Book Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet was a surprise find for me. I wasn’t familiar with the author, nor had I read any reviews or social media chatter surrounding the book. I picked this one up purely for the beautiful cover! Oddly enough, after I’d bought it I came across another edition with a cover that was completely different. I would never have picked up this book with that cover! Isn’t that interesting?!

Anyway, what did I get from my surprise find? I got a book I found very hard to put down almost from the very first page! By no means is A Promise of Fire a new story; in fact, reading it I was reminded of other series – The Study and Healer series by Maria V Snyder – both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. A Promise of Fire has your feisty heroine, your dark, menacing stranger, plus your totally dependable band of strong, loveable soldiers. What makes it different is the interesting fantasy world Amanda Bouchet has created for these characters to live in. I also found the first person narrative highly engaging.

I am a huge fan of fantasy books, but I am also very choosy. I like to read stories focused around female characters and told from their perspective. A Promise of Fire, the first book in a new fantasy series called The Kingmaker Chronicles; delivers just that.

The story is told by an unlikely heroine named Cat. She gradually introduces the reader to a world interwoven with Greek mythology, magic and politics. It’s a world divided into three kingdoms, Fisa, Sinta and Tarvan; each with their own ruling family. The main character, Cat was born into the Fisa kingdom but is trying to avoid her terrifying destiny by hiding out in Sinta.

I like Cat’s character very much. She is funny, strong but at the same time vulnerable. The way Amanda Bouchet writes the character is entertaining; she would say one thing and think something entirely different, and you were taken along with her observations. It was highly original and really added to the depth of character.

There’s a lot of romantic tension in this book, which is not something I’m usually that into and I think the story and world was intriguing enough without it.  But I really liked both characters involved in the romance, so that made the story speed along. I’ve read some quite critical reviews of this novel (lesson learned: never read reviews before writing your own!)  but I think there’s no harm in it and it’s a fantastic story. An adventure.

A Promise of Fire was a great book and I will eagerly await the next in the series. But was it a romance with fantasy elements or a fantasy with romance thrown in? Has anyone out there read it? What do you think?

Jody

Book Review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Annabel Crabb recently talked about Emily Maguire on her podcast with Leigh Sales, Chat 10 Looks 3  (which I love!). I hadn’t really heard much about Emily Maguire before, although her first book was published in 2004. Sorry Emily! Anyway, since I read The Dry by Karen Harper a few weeks ago, I’ve been exploring what Australia has to offer in the way of female crime writers.

Emily’s latest book, An Isolated Incidentrevolves around the murder of Bella Michaels, a 25 -year-old small town darling who is killed in a most brutal way. The book never goes into great detail about the nature of her death, instead the incident is implied through others’ reactions to it. This was an interesting take, as it avoids the gruesome details but allows the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

The book tells the story of Bella’s older sister, Chris, a bartender in the small town of Strathdee.

These were the parts of Strathdee the tourists never saw, lined with red-brick and fibro rentals with squat steel fences out front…I exchanged glances with a chain-smoking teenager half watching two toddlers beating each other with plastic tools.

Chris is a hard-working, good-natured woman who before her sister’s murder had wanted little more than a house she could own for herself. Bella’s murder sends her deep into depression. She is filling in the blanks in the same way that we do as we read through the story, and it is understandably driving her to despair.

The impact Bella’s murder has on Chris’s life is profound, and it’s heightened by the media attention that follows. This aspect of the novel rang true of many murder investigations familiar to us here in Australia – Anita Cobby, Jill Meagher, Stephanie Scott. The media attention around these cases was intense, and this novel strives to highlight the effect this has on the family around the victim. The constant harassment, and the debate over using the media to garner information versus having to go through such a private suffering so publicly,  are things Chris battles with daily.

These issues are particularly crystallised through the perspective of May Norman, an investigative reporter who finds herself drawn into the story, even after the attention from rival reporters has died down. Eventually their stories intertwine and Chris finds an unexpected friend in the young city girl.

I don’t want to give the ending away, so I won’t write much about it. I will just say that it’s an interesting take on a crime novel, particularly because the ending is so anti-climactic and I don’t mean that in a bad way. You’re never really directed to suspect particular characters, you never wonder – is that who did it? Instead you’re drawn into the story because of the impact on the small town mindset, the emotion it draws out of the characters, the fear and despair that exudes from the pages. That is where the power of the novel lies, and it is indeed powerful. It’s a great one for book clubs because there is so much you can talk about – the ending, the small-town life, the media, and the connections to those real-life cases. A fascinating, engaging read that felt, at times, a little too real.

Amanda