Words in Deep Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“And if there is no hope of saving the thing we love in their original form, we must save them however we can.”

“Sometimes, the end begins.”

Rachel Sweetie lays her heart bear when she writes Henry Jones a love letter and leaves it in his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. It is the ultimate grand gesture before she moves away with her family.

Henry never acknowledges it.

Years later Rachel is moving back to the city and, unbelievably, picking up a job at Howling Books. But nothing is the same as when she left because her brother Cal drowned months ago. She knows she isn’t the girl she was before–failing Year 12 and abandoning her dream of becoming a marine biologist prove that well enough. But she isn’t sure how she can be anything else when her brother is gone.

All Henry knows is that his best friend is back and, he hopes, willing to pick up their friendship where they left off. Henry could use a friend right now. He is perfectly content working in the family bookshop, hunting for secondhand books to buy and living upstairs with his father and his younger sister George. Henry’s comfortable world is shattered when his girlfriend dumps him and his parents start arguing about selling the bookshop. With everything changing, Henry’s perfect if unambitious future is threatened.

Howling Books is filled with memories in used books, love letters, and messages exchanged through the shop’s Letter Library. As she rediscovers the bookstore and the boy she left behind, Rachel realizes that is is possible to breathe and keep going even when everything feels broken. She and Henry both begin to understand that second chances can be as beautiful as new beginnings in Words in Deep Blue (2017) by Cath Crowley.

Crowley explores familiar themes of grief and reclaiming what was lost. Words in Deep Blue alternates between Rachel and Henry’s first person narrations. The lighthearted banter and romance of this story belie the deep melancholy and sadness that has settled over Rachel like a shroud after her brother’s death. Rachel’s pragmatic and introspective tone contrasts well with Henry’s more boisterous narration filled with references to books and poetry.

Rachel and Henry’s fragile relationship mends itself in front of the backdrop of the bookstore and its own uncertain fate. As Rachel works to catalog the notes and memories in the shop’s Letter Library other stories unfold and reveal secrets about longtime customers, Henry’s sister George, and even Rachel’s brother. These threads come together by the end of Words in Deep Blue in a neat but ultimately bittersweet conclusion as Rachel and Henry realize that some losses cannot be avoided.

The scope of the plot leaves little room in this slim novel for fully realized characters but the sketches readers do receive are more than enough to make this story crackle with potential. The evocative setting, particularly the world within Howling Books, adds another dimension to this story. Words in Deep Blue is a thoughtful story about healing and reunions as well as memory and salvaging that which is lost–whether it’s a beloved person or a cherished place. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

Everything I Learned From Reading Contemporary YA for One Month

Here, in no particular order, is everything I learned from reading contemporary YA novels for the better part of one month:

  1. A lot of teens want to go to Stanford. Not all of them will get in.
  2. You can love your best friend or hate your best friend or actually be in love with your best friend. You still won’t end up at the same college.
  3. Colleges no longer send out acceptance letters in big envelopes or rejections in little envelopes. It’s all digital. Except when it isn’t and someone frames a rejection letter to stay humble. Then it might be analog.
  4. If two teens are involved romantically and over eighteen they will have sex (or come close anyway).
  5. You can’t buy love or happiness, but you can win the lottery.
  6. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a girl’s father is a mechanic she will know more about cars than her love interest.
  7. You can have widowed or divorced parents but you cannot have a daughter living with her single mother. Same goes for sons living with single fathers.
  8. STEM-loving girls are drawn to art-loving boys–opposites attract.
  9. There will be dancing.
  10. Teens might worry about affording their dream college or getting into their dream college. Teens will not apply to college based solely on proximity and financial aid packages.
  11. Everyone goes to prom. No one goes to prom alone.
  12. There will be pining.
  13. If anyone loses something of great sentimental value they are not getting it back.
  14. Some people might wear glasses or contacts but no one wears sunglasses.
  15. Even if it feels like the absolute worst thing has happened, it’s going to be okay because life goes on and you’re still heading toward that happy ending.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Re-Reading and Curating My Personal Library

I started thinking about this post when I re-read Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series this winter. Since I’ll be spending next week re-reviewing that series (based on my re-reads), today seemed like a good time to share this post.

I never thought of myself as a person who re-reads books. I even mentioned that I wasn’t a re-reader when I talked about curating my personal library.

I was wrong.

It turns out I am totally a re-reader but I still had a lot of curating to do because I didn’t have books that I wanted to re-read on my shelves. I discovered this in a very concrete way when I picked up the Queen’s Thief series for the first time in seven years. And wound up buying three sets of the series over the course of one month.

As soon as I heard about the reissues of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I knew I’d be buying a set as soon as they came out. My plan was to re-read the entire series once the reissues were in hand so that I’d be ready when Thick as Thieves came out. My plans changed when I found out I’d be reviewing Thick as Thieves for School Library Journal (reader, I screamed). Thick as Thieves is marketed as a standalone but I wanted to have the series fresh in my mind so I could really be sure this book would stand on its own. (Spoiler: It totally does.)

SO instead of re-reading shiny new editions, it was time to pull out my rag tag set. My “original” set of MWT books includes library sale copies and one ARC. The library sale copies included two hardcovers I acquired at my first ever library job as a shelving page. Then I found a paperback of book three (and discovered there was a book three!) when I was working as a library clerk. I received an ARC of A Conspiracy of Kings in 2010 from Caroline Ward, one of my favorite library school professors who gave me her copy when I finished her Children’s Literature course. (Caroline is the best and gave every student in her class a book to keep.)

Maybe everyone else who re-reads all the time knows this already, but I felt such nostalgia when I picked up this series again and re-read these books I had picked up years ago. I love this series in a way that I love few things and it was amazing to rediscover these stories.

I also realized that even though I knew the broad strokes of the series by heart, I still had room to be surprised by the intricacies of the series. I’ll spare you all the details but I also discovered that while I remembered favorite lines and scenes, I often forgot their framing in the larger context of the story which added another layer to my (re)reading.

Anyway, I had a blast re-reading the series and realized I loved it so much that I became one of those weirdos with multiple editions.

So now in addition to my rag tag set I have a full set of hardcovers. I love having these because the series has changed so much (remember The Thief was originally published in 1996). Even The Thief and The Queen of Attolia are far enough apart that the aesthetic changes a bit although they have the same trim size. By the time The King of Attolia is published, the series was due for a complete reissue. I have to admit that these covers are some of my favorites. I really like the subtle nods to the characters–especially on A Conspiracy of Kings where you can pinpoint the exact scene used to show Sophos on the cover.

Since I love that cover art so much, I decided I should also get a set of paperbacks. I like this version of The Thief a bit more because it feels like it really is Gen and Hamiathes’ Gift. The cover for The Queen of Attolia has always given me chills. It works interestingly as the cover for that particular book but also in the context of the rest of the series.

And then it seemed like the series might have been done except for some tantalizing hints from MWT that she had more to say. Until lo Thick as Thieves was announced along with a complete reissue, special bonus content, and maps for the first time ever. I love these covers and have been poring over them basically since they were announced trying to pick out all of the details. The reissue makes sense with current cover trends and it also works with the direction the series is taking. Thick as Thieves is the first story that doesn’t focus directly on one of the main kingdoms (Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis) and as such it has a new cast of characters and a new setting. While I love the hyper-realistic artwork of the 2006 reissues, I don’t know what they would have pulled for potential art from Thick as Thieves. Seeing the series as a whole with this latest story, the new covers make so much sense and underscore the grand stage of these books.

Also because I have fallen so far down this rabbit hole (and accidentally found an ARC of The King of Attolia through sheer happenstance) I’m trying to complete a set of ARCs but that might be more than my budget and sanity can stand.

And, of course, I had to dedicate much more shelf space to the full set:

Since picking up MWT’s books I’ve also started re-reading other favorites from my shelves including Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Saving Francesca and its companion The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. I’m currently re-reading Diana Wynne Jone’s Dalemark Quartet which is interesting because I only barely remember reading it and also because the series is currently out of print so tracking down copies took some time.

I think a lot of my choice to start re-reading right now is escapism. The world is scary and unpredictable, especially lately, so it’s nice to be able to return to stories where I know exactly what to expect and that I will love it. As more and more of my favorites go out of print or become scarce in the library, I also find that I like having copies on my shelves so I can read them at the drop of a hat.

Those are the things I’m keeping in mind as I decide what gets to stay on my shelves. Is this a book I loved? Is it a book I will re-read and love again? Is it a book I’ll miss if it’s gone? These questions aren’t easy to answer and sometimes my choices change. But for now it’s as good a criteria as any to decide what books have earned the right to take up space in my heart and on my shelves.

Do you re-read books? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about what books you own and why? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Let’s Talk About Dust Jackets

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about books and how I treat them as I read them.

If I am reading a hardcover I remove the dust jacket to read the book. If I have the option I do not buy books with damaged dust jackets. I want my book to look pristine. I check under the dust jacket to see what publishers did to the front and back boards as well as the spine.

(I also do not dogear pages. I don’t even crack the spines for paperbacks. If I am reading a paperback/arc it usually goes into a plastic bag before it goes into my purse.)

That said, the hardcover usually gets tossed into my bag and sometimes gets smudges or discoloration on it (Loop it turns out is a white book and now has a grey blotch on the back cover). If the book is black or another dark color I usually end up with stained fingers.

Recently it occurred to me that some people actually use the dust jacket to protect the book or leave it on when they are reading. If I receive a copy that’s already a little worse for wear, that’s okay. I’ll keep it. If it’s special to me I won’t “upgrade” to a new one (see my mismatched copy of Megan Whalen Turner books comprised of discared library copies and a used arc).

But if I get a book in new condition I want it to stay that way. Especially the dust jacket.

What about you? Do you read with the jacket on or off? Do you treat your books carefully? How do you carry books in your bag? (This last one is especially of interest to me as I feel like there has to be a better way than my totally busted used shopping bag strategy.)

Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Let’s Talk About: Reading Habits (Especially with Series!)

A few weeks ago two of my coworkers who I am going to call “Forrest” and “Thor” (because this is my blog and I do what I want) were talking about reading different science fiction series. Forrest was surprised that Thor hadn’t read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books because they are totally his speed.

I joined the conversation late and seconded Forrest’s assessment. That’s when something interesting happened that got me thinking. Forrest asked if I had read the series. I said I had read the first one and never gotten invested enough to continue the series. Forrest expressed no surprise at that and said something along the lines of “You read everything.”

Anyway, that got me thinking more generally about reading habits.

I read widely. Not always in a variety of genres (I don’t enjoy thrillers and I don’t enjoy pure romances–such is life) but I do try to cover a variety of authors. If you check my review index by author you can see pretty quickly that a lot of the authors only have one or two book by their names.

What does that mean exactly?

Aside from reading widely, I tend to be pretty ruthless. I walk away from books I am not enjoying by the 50-100 page mark. I walk away from authors after three unsatisfying books by them. I cut books from my to read list constantly. I do not finish every series I start.

That last one and the thoughts from my coworker are what really got me thinking. I’ve seen a lot of people say that they are “bad” series readers. Many new years resolutions among bloggers have included plans to finish more series (serieses?).

I never feel remorse about leaving a series. Sometimes I will feel regret and wish that the series had continued to enthrall me, but most times I am okay considering the first book a standalone. In fact, if the first book does not function as a standalone that is an immediate strike against it because I do not like being manipulated or teased by my books.

So what is the difference that pushes a series into that “must finish” category? I’m much more likely to read a series I started from the beginning (ie a series I follow the pub schedule with). Loving the first book is also an obvious factor.

Beyond that I’m not sure what makes the difference. I know I am less likely to start a series if I know it’s going to be more than 4 books. There are exceptions but not often. I also generally read more fantasy series than I do contemporary.

(This also doesn’t address the marketing machine aspect of supporting books by buying a series of course but if you want to talk about that too, go for it.)

So let’s talk:

  • What kind of series reader are you?
  • What are some factors that guarantee you will finish a series?
  • What are some book series that you read and loved or are currently working on?

How to: Reader’s Advisory

(This post has been adapted from a handout I made for a presentation on Reader’s Advisory that I gave with a fellow YA Librarian at my place of employ on October 22, 2014 at a YA Specialist’s meeting. While you are welcome to reference and use the ideas and resources listed here, please do not quote or otherwise use this text without credit/linking back to this blog. I have also made this post into a page for easy locating.)

howtoRA

What is Reader’s Advisory?

  • Reader’s Advisory is the “art” of Library Science where librarians talk with patrons to determine the best reading recommendations possible—like a reference interview where there is no specific question or right answer.

Before You Start: Things to Consider

  • Know Your Collection: What books are generally in stock at your branch? What is always checked out? What books can you recall without being near the teen space? Which ones require shelf browsing?
    Remember: You don’t need to know the entire collection for effective RA interactions.
  • Know Your Strengths: What genres do you read or have wide experience with? Which authors can you talk about confidently? Is there one section in particular from which you often recommend?
    Remember: You don’t have to read every book to recommend it but it is a good idea to have a few in your wheelhouse outside of your default reading choices.
  • Know What Else is Out There: Where can you go to find other books outside of your chosen reading areas? Who can you trust for read-alike suggestions?
    Remember: You don’t have to know everything. You just need to know how to find it. The Resources section on the back of this handout offers several ideas about where to look for information.
  • Know Your Space: Where do teens congregate in your library? What books have strong browsing appeal? Set up displays and fliers in high traffic/visibility areas where teens can find them. Keep displays fresh and interesting by changing them regularly.
    Remember: Not everyone wants to talk to a librarian when they come into the library. Displays or fliers are a great way to suggest titles without requiring one-on-one interaction.

Reader’s Advisory in Six Easy Questions

It is very rare for teen patrons to talk about books in terms of genre preferences or literary terms. Instead, it is sometimes easier to try and set up RA conversations in terms of binaries as posed in these easy questions.

  1. How do you feel about books set in a realistic setting or with plots that could happen in real life?
  2. How do you feel about fantasy books? Is a little fantasy okay?
  3. Do you like books with a romantic aspect?
  4. How do you feel about books with historical settings?
  5. How do you feel about mysteries?
  6. Have you read X books?—Couch this in terms of what’s popular now whether it’s If I Stay, Divergent or something else. (Asking in terms of The Hunger Games or Divergent is especially helpful to gauge the level of gore or violence that younger teens are comfortable with.)

Reader’s Advisory Resources

  • The Age of YA: A Timeline of Historical Fiction: http://www.epicreads.com/blog/the-age-of-ya-a-timeline-of-historical-fiction This site is a great list (in infographic timeline form of historical fiction by decade and period.
  • Blogs: Provided you can find bloggers you trust who are consistent in posting, blogs can be a great resource to stay on top of new and current titles. School Library Journal’s blogs are a great combination of professional library evaluation and conversational analysis. (Of course, I’m a fan of my own blog but the key here is really finding bloggers you can understand and trust whether that means you know that you generally agree with their tastes or even if it means that you disagree.)
  • Cozy Mysteries List: http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Cozy-Mysteries-by-Themes.html If you are looking for cozy mysteries, this site has them parsed out by author, theme and even new releases.
  • Cybils: http://www.cybils.com The Cybils Awards recognize children’s and YA authors/illustrators whose books combine literary merit and popular appeal. The award has two rounds which offers a shortlist and then an actual winner in a variety of categories for all ages (and even for book apps). This award is also judged and organized by bloggers so if you want to find some quality blogs, the participants here are always a good start!
  • Disability in Kid Lit: https://disabilityinkidlit.wordpress.com “Thoughtful portrayals of disability require more than memorizing a list of symptoms; we hope that sharing people’s day-to-day experiences, pet peeves, and thoughts on various disability-related topics will help readers and writers learn about the realities of disability, which are often quite different from what you read in books or see on TV.”
  • Diversity in YA: http://diversityinya.tumblr.com Created by authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, this site posts guest posts from authors about their books and writing process to “celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability”.
  • Edgar Awards: http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html The Edgar Awards are given to the best mysteries in a variety of categories including Children’s, Young Adult, Best First Novel and more. In addition to a winner, the Edgars also include a shortlist of nominees. It’s a great way to stay on top of what’s new and worth notice in the mystery world.
  • Fantastic Fiction: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk This site is a great one-stop shop to check out all of the books an author has written (including new titles) as well as seeing which series they have written and their order.
  • Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/ This is another great way to find read-alikes and know if a book is worth recommending before you read it (especially if you add a lot of other librarians as your friends!).
  • KDL’s What’s Next Database: http://ww2.kdl.org/libcat/whatsnext.asp A one-stop shop to find series order for a variety of titles.
  • Lost Titles, Forgotten Rhymes: http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/lost/novels.html This site offers some helpful information on how to go about tracking down a novel (or other written works) when you do not know the title or author.
  • Nebula Awards: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards The Nebulas are an award given for science fiction and fantasy and are a great way to keep up with what is new and noteworthy for speculative fiction in a variety of categories including Young Adult and Best Short Story among others.
  • Review Resources: Review journals like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly or School Library Journal give detailed book summaries as well as a rundown of what does and doesn’t work in a title. If you don’t subscribe to all of those or want to look at every site, another trick is to search for a book on BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com and then check out the editorial reviews section where all of the reviews will be compiled in one handy spot for each book.
  • Sci-Fi Vs. Fantasy Flow Chart: http://static02.mediaite.com/themarysue/uploads//2011/09/Optimized-SFSignalNPR100Flowchart-1-1.jpg This chart was made by Sci-fi Signal to navigate NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books and serves as a great primer for the different sub-genres found in both sci-fi and fantasy.
  • We Need Diverse Books: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ This site is the official home of the We Need Diverse Books movement that started as a hashtag. A great place to look for titles that are both diverse and often lesser-known.
  • What’s That Book?: http://www.whatsthatbook.com/ An online community where members help each other find forgotten book titles.
  • Which Book: http://www.openingthebook.com/whichbook/ This search site offers sliders that allows you to find books based on content (happy or sad? Beautiful or disgusting?) as well as options to search based on setting (including imaginary) as well as on character attributes (race, age, sexuality, gender).
  • YALSA Book Lists: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/bookawards/booklists/members If you are looking for a book in a specific category or demographic, chances are the Young Adult Library Services Association has either an award list or annual book list that can help ranging from the Alex Award for adult books with teen appeal to Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults which offers thematic lists each year.

Is there a resource you use that is not listed here? Let me know in the comments!

Afterworlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldDarcy Patel has put everything on hold to be a writer. A real, published writer. She moves to New York City with a contract to publish her novel “Afterworlds” and its as yet unwritten and untitled sequel, part of her advance, and the dazzling title of soon-to-be debut author.

Darcy does not have plans for college. She does not have an apartment. She does not have any idea what happens next.

But somehow, in the world of writers–both seasoned and new–Darcy finds her people. Over the course of one tumultuous year in the city Darcy will learn about writing, publishing and even love. More than anything, she’ll learn if she has what it takes to really do this thing that she loves so much.

Interspersed with Darcy’s story is the story that brought her to New York in the first place: Afterworlds. After surviving an unthinkable attack, Lizzie realizes she has the ability to slip into the afterworld–somewhere that exists between life and death. With her new ability, Lizzie discovers that ghosts are everywhere as are other, darker things. Everyone seems to want something from Lizzie but even her new gifts might not be enough to keep those she loves safe.

Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds blend together in this story about facing your fears and finding yourself in Afterworlds (2014) by Scott Westerfeld.

The first thing to know about Afterworlds is that it reads like two books. Odd numbered chapters focus on Darcy’s “real world” story of moving to New York and revising Afterworlds. Even numbered chapters detail the “story within the story” of Lizzie and her journey into the afterworld. While this book clocks in at over 600 pages (hardcover) really it’s two stories–two books even–in one both told to excellent effect.

In addition this book features a truly diverse cast in a casual/accepted way. While it’s important to the story, the diversity never becomes the story.

The premise sounds too lofty. It sounds highly un-writerly. A novel about writing a novel? With the full text of that self-same novel? Surely it can’t work. Yet Westerfeld pulls it off beautifully. Although the story is highly self-aware (and often very meta), every detail works here. Darcy’s new experiences feed into her revisions of Afterworlds. Her growth as a young woman and author mirrors Lizzie’s growth. Both girls, in their respective arcs, accomplish great things.

While not for everyone, Afterworlds is astonishingly successful on every level. Sure to have high appeal for all aspiring authors or sci-fi/fantasy fans. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA14*