The story of the time I met Neil Gaiman and he said something extremely lovely to me

I have been reading to Social Sister for more than eighteen years now — off more than on, since we went to college, just as a function of our never being in the same place for very long, but still: Eighteen years. A whole person who can vote. She got brainwashed early into thinking this was a good form of entertainment, and I enjoy it because there is nothing quite like seeing someone else experience a book you love in real time.

Anyway, we just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I was reading for the first time while I was reading it to her. I’ve finally read it now!, and hence, I shall tell you about the time I met Neil Gaiman at an event pertaining to the 2013 release of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (No pictures, I’m afraid! They might have been allowed (I can’t remember, actually), but I hate pictures of myself too much to have even considered taking any.) There was a talk first, in which Neil Gaiman issued a rousing endorsement of semicolons, and then I did a thing I have never done, which was to stand in line to have a book signed.

I had brought Reflections on the Magic of Writing, a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays to which Neil Gaiman wrote a foreword. When I gave it to Neil Gaiman to sign and told him (though probably very incoherently) why I wanted him to sign it, he said, “I miss her. I wanted to give this book [The Ocean at the End of the Lane] to her when it was finished. I think it’s more like hers than others I’ve written.”

I wanted to say “Yes, it sounds like it is very her; her books are all about the way children understand things.” I said probably some very stammery incoherent version of that instead; and Neil Gaiman said, “I think it’s quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways.”

Fact about me: When someone mentions a lesser-known book of Diana Wynne Jones to me (such as Time of the Ghost), I lose all reason. Ask my friends if you don’t believe me. I did it this time too. I shrieked “I LOVE TIME OF THE GHOST I JUST READ TIME OF THE GHOST,” which is true and is what I would have said to anyone; but it was embarrassing because I wanted to be cool 100% of the time I was talking to Neil Gaiman and shrieky 0% of the time. So then I was embarrassed and I said thank you and left.

Oh well. You cannot be cool all the time, especially if you actually are not cool. I am pleased to know that Neil Gaiman thinks that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways. It pleases me in the way that I am always pleased when somebody says something that displays the same affectionate and easy level of familiarity with Diana Wynne Jones’s oeuvre that 1) I have; and 2) is her due because she is an amazingly gifted writer and her books should be standard childhood books that all children read. Except it made me happier in this case than usual because it was an author I also love who was saying it.

And now I have told you about it (over a year later). And hopefully when you have read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or before then!), you will think, “Oh, I am intrigued by the stated similarity to Time of the Ghost. I had better rush out and read Time of the Ghost, a book I now know is Neil Gaiman-endorsed.”

The end.


What I thought was a reading slump has turned out to be a mania for rereading. I’ve reread Special Topics in Calamity Physics and am happily entrenched in HHhH. Wonderful rereading! It has been too long since I reread some of the excellent fiction on my shelves! Glorious!

Review: Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

In my professional career, academics have occasionally been really, really snotty to me when I didn’t deserve snottiness. This isn’t a judgment on academics. When you work with a very large number of people from any demographic group, it is statistically likely that a couple of them will be jerks. But still: I have sometimes asked an academic a simple question, and s/he has responded with — instead of an answer to my question — a paragraphs-long, sarcasm-and-righteousness-laden treatise on his/her mistreatment at the hands of academic publishers like the one I worked for, the entirety of the scholarly community in that discipline, the university departments, or some other entity I was also not in charge of. It was punching down, because I was the lowliest of worker bees (especially early on), it made my day shittier, and I very very rarely had any power to fix whatever the problem was.

In other words, a girl on my career trajectory is maybe not the target audience for Dear Committee Members.

Jason Fitger is a divorced creative writing professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. His department is facing cuts. His next novel is going nowhere. His personal life is a mess, and his favorite creative writing student has lost funding. He’s raging against the world, and the world is going to hear about it, in every recommendation letter Jay is ever asked to write.

Dear Committee Members is good satire in that it points up many of the real, true problems of academia: ballooning numbers of adjunct faculty, reduced support for liberal arts, apathetic students, incompetent department chairs, the frustrations of using buggy online databases — these are all real frustrations. Jason Fitger writes the way angry liberal arts academics write, so Julie Schumacher is super successful on that front too. Nor does his unrelenting snarkiness in letters of recommendation imply fundamental nastiness: He writes warmly of his hardworking students, and even more warmly of those of his past and present colleagues whose work  he respects.

I fear, though, that it’s a case of premise denial (a phrase I coined to describe that thing where you can’t suspend the requisite area of disbelief to enjoy a book). Like my dog Jazz when the guard dogs of Up start barking ferociously on screen, I was unable to convince my brain that this was not a real person aiming real vitriol my way. I kept having stress reactions as if it were real. I kept thinking that I wished Jay Fitger would consider before stamping and mailing these letters that they were about someone and to someone, and not always did both of those someones merit the level of inventive negativity that was going into them. And also I kept thinking I HATE YOU WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME PLEASE STOP I HATE YOU.

The book deserves more than two stars on its merits, but it and I just weren’t meant for each other.

Linda Holmes of NPR recommended Dear Committee Members. The other book she recommended that I read was Eleanor and Park. So I have learned the valuable lesson that while I may have overlapping literary tastes with Linda Holmes, they are definitely not coterminous. Good to know.

Review: Landline, Rainbow Rowell

Note: I received a copy of Landline from the publisher for review consideration.

Two days before Christmas, Georgie tells her husband Neal that she can’t go with him and their two daughters to spend Christmas with his family in Omaha. A tremendous opportunity has come up for her and her writing partner, Seth, and they have to stay in L.A. and write six episodes of their new television show. After Neal leaves, Georgie begins to fear that she’s damaged her marriage beyond repair. But at her mother’s house, she finds that if she calls using her mother’s rotary phone, she can communicate with Neal in the past. Neal before they got married. And she wonders if she’s been given a second chance to make her marriage work.

Eleanor and Park is a romance novel that punches way, way above its weight. Fangirl is an exploration of fan culture and independence that ditto although not quite as consistently or strongly. Landline doesn’t do that. Landline punches its weight. Handily. But your expectations are different for an adult novel; or rather, your expectations are different for adults. When Rowell treats Georgie’s career and marriage and feelings as important, it doesn’t feel surprising, because adult careers are important and adult relationships can (though often don’t) last a lifetime.

I think this says something interesting about memory and childhood, though. I am wont to devalue the feelings I felt very strongly as a teenager. Like, oh Past Jenny was horribly insecure about her knees and cried when she put on a dress. What a dope. Now that I no longer feel that way, it’s very easy to see that feeling and think She was being histrionic. Which I was. For sure. But I think because we all go through that genre of problem, and overwhelmingly we figure out how to manage it, we can often look at teenagers and their teenager problems and see those problems as pre-solved, and thus less important and scary than the problems we are now currently facing as adults. Real, but real with an expiration date. Real but with lots of cushions and second chances. And very often, real but predictable: You are a teenager and you do not yet know [x information or life experience], and not only do you not know it, but you do not know how thoroughly you eventually will know it.

So I think when a young adult author writes (like Rainbow Rowell does) about young adult problems in a way that is utterly sincere but not histrionic, and makes those problems seem new, and you remember that while this was happening to you, it was everything, you respond to that differently. That is a harder trick to pull off.

But Landline is charming and lovable in its own way. If I hadn’t had expectations from Eleanor and Park, I’d probably have given it an extra star. Georgie and Neal and Georgie’s sister, Heather, who follows Georgie around the house badgering her with questions about her marriage, are all wonderful characters. And the phone conversations Georgie has with Past Neal, and her memories of meeting and falling in love with Past Neal — all quite lovely. I could see why they loved each other, and I could see why they had struggled to keep their marriage a happy one.

The end of the book doesn’t resolve any of this, exactly, which I liked. I liked it that the conclusion Georgie reaches is that she has to be more deliberate about her marriage, the way she’s deliberate about her work. She can’t give it half-effort and trust that it’ll still be there waiting for her. Sometimes, even when it means letting go of work stuff, she has to give it everything she’s got. (PS I was seriously worried that Georgie was going to get trapped in too-deep snow in that scene at the end, like that story my mother tells about being a kid and getting trapped in too-deep snow and thinking, This is the stupidest thing I have ever done, and this is how I’m going to die.)

A failing for me was that Seth, Georgie’s lifelong writing partner and best friend, and a major source of stress to her marriage, doesn’t ever come into focus. We don’t see him being funny with Georgie in the way that they say they’re funny together, and I just really didn’t know what the pith of their friendship was, without that. To me, they didn’t have the same rhythm back and forth that Georgie and Neal had, when by the rules of the book they should have had that far more, since they are the writing partners and Neal is the strong silent type.

Altogether, though, it was a dear of a book. Not Eleanor and Park dear, but a lovely read and one I enjoyed immensely.

They read it too: things mean a lot. Rhapsody in Books. Capricious Reader. Chrisbookarama. Good Books and Good Wine. Open Letters Monthly. And here’s Janet Maslin singing Landline’s praises for the New York Times. Tell me if I missed your review, and I’ll add a link!

If you’re an audiobook guy and you’re trying to decide whether to give Landline a try, check out a clip from the audiobook on SoundCloud, from Macmillan Audio!

Links you should read from the past fortnight

First of all, this isn’t book-related, but I don’t know how I can lead with anything else because this is what I’ve mostly been thinking about all this week and last week: Following the police shooting of yet another unarmed black man (kid, actually), in Ferguson, everything is horrible. Here’s Brittany Cooper talking about how tired she is of these stories as they come one after another, seemingly forever. And here’s Greg Howard talking about the militarization of the police force and the criminalization of young black men, and here’s Jelani Cobb on anger and weariness. Y’all, this makes me so angry and sad, and I can’t think of one thing I can do about it.

In happier news, Patrick Ness has a new Tumblr, which he has used to announce his next book. !!!!! He says he hopes we like it. I am pretty sure I will like it, Patrick Ness.

This article from the New York Book Review irritated me in many ways, but ended by saying something that I wish got said more: “There are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction.” Thank you for saying that, Tim Parks. It is super true. I get tired of all the hand-wringing about people reading the Wrong Things and living Unexamined Lives as a result.

The NEA has a new collection of essays about translation, which you can access for free online. The essays are fascinating and insightful, although predictably, most of the translations they recommend are books written by men. #WomeninTranslation

This is the story of the time an American anthropologist told Hamlet to an African tribe.

“That was a very good story,” added the old man, “and you told it with very few mistakes.”

Content note: The piece was written in the 1960s. That is why you feel slightly uncomfortable while reading it. Anthropologists today would probably not write it in exactly this same way.

John Scalzi mimics the angry men of the Hugo Awards.

And finally, if you haven’t yet signed up to participate in A More Diverse Universe later this year, now is a great time to do so! The wonderful Aarti of Book Lust is hosting this year, and she’s made it easier than ever for you to play along. Just read one book by an author of color and post about it in the last two weeks of September (the 14th through the 27th). If you’re not sure what to read, Aarti has suggestions for you here and here and here.

So what are you waiting for? Go sign up and start reading!

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.27: Best and Worst of Fictional Schools and Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall

The Jennys foolishly discuss fictional schools, classes, and teachers, without the benefit of Randon’s presence; but we have a lot of opinions even without his two cents on what makes a good teacher. Then we review Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), which tore Gin Jenny’s heart apart and which Whiskey Jenny was not wild about. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Here are the contents of the podcast if you’d like to skip around:

Starting at 1:14 – Book news! Patrick Ness has announced his new book, and Jules Feiffer has a new noiry graphic novel, which has–since recording–been well-reviewed by the New York Times Book Review.

Starting at 3:11 – We discuss schools in fiction. There is only one we’d like to attend ever, and that is Hogwarts. Wayside School is too unpredictable; Battle School is too unfriendly to ladies; and all the British schools from fiction sound horribly abusive and have convinced Whiskey Jenny and me that we can never ever ever raise children in the UK. Because Randon is not with us, he is not able to provide his list of four things that make a good teacher. He has a list of four things that make a good teacher, y’all. I won’t share them here because I think he should monetize them while also saving education in America.

At 26:16 – Whiskey Jenny and I have a brilliant idea for the next bestselling YA novel. Y’all are going to love it when we write it. Tell your friends.

Starting at 28:50 – We discuss Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall. Oh heavens I really liked this book. Please read it! And then come talk to me about it!

Starting at 49:56 – Listener mail! We love getting listener mail, so by all means email us at readingtheend at gmail dot com! Ask us questions, recommend us books — we crazy love hearing from you!

Starting at 51:16 – Whiskey Jenny recommends our book for next time: Nick Harkaway’s newest book, Tigerman. The review that talked her into reading it is on NPR Books.

54:25 – Closing remarks and outro

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

Review: We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory

Note: I received a digital galley of We Are All Completely Fine from the publisher for review consideration.

DARYL GREGORY AUTHOR DISCOVERY YEAR CONTINUES. Not only has Daryl Gregory produced another fine piece of science fiction — this one a novella — but I have at last discovered why I love his books so much. It’s cause his wife is a psychologist! (He thanks her in the acknowledgements.) No wonder Gregory wrote about crazy people so brilliantly in Afterparty. No wonder he is always writing about confronting impossible, insane situations with the only available tools (science, therapy) and knowing all along that those tools are nowhere near adequate to the task. What do I love even more than creepy, inventive science fiction? Creepy, inventive science fiction informed by a background in psychology!

Ahem. Sorry. I’ll try to control myself.

The therapy group is composed of sole survivors: the only ones to survive horrific, supernatural incidents. At first only Stan will speak openly about his story, about the cannibals (demon cannibals?) who tied him and his comrades up for weeks and ate them, bit by bit, limb by limb. And the group knows a little — or thinks it does — about Harrison, who was, long ago, the model for a series of books about a teenaged monster-killing hero. Martin refuses to take off his glasses. Greta never lets anyone catch a glimpse of her skin, and Barbara will only say that she was attacked twenty years ago. The group leader, Dr. Jan Sayer, doesn’t push them for more. She’ll let the stories come in their own time.

Your question at this point may be, Do we find out gradually what happened to each member of the group, and is it inventively horrible in each case, and do they ultimately team up to do a mission together to fight against the darkness in their own small way? And the answer is, yes. That is exactly how it goes down. It’s THE BEST. If this were the pilot episode of a show on Syfy, I would set up a petition for six seasons and a movie.

The characters’ backstories are revealed in fits and starts, sometimes in great detail and sometimes in very little. Like the characters themselves, we aren’t privy to knowing why these things happened to them; only that they happened, and now they are part of that character’s emotional landscape, and must be dealt with. Without some of the details I wanted (who were the Weavers before the demon hybrid thing showed up? How did Barbara come within the orbit of the Scrimshander, and how did she get away?), I kept thinking how much I’d enjoy reading a full book about any of these characters in their lives before they join the group (or, in Martin’s case, after).

Some quick vague spoilers in this section only: I love that we find out at the end that Dr. Sayer has a story of her own to tell. Her own fight not to be defined by her damage turns out to include helping other people to heal from theirs. That is a true thing from real life. Sometimes people respond to the unimaginable pain they have experienced with this exact kind of generosity and grace, and it is remarkable and moving to me.

My only tiny gripe is that the chapters begin with a “we” section, where the group is speaking collectively about itself. This didn’t really work for me. Gregory doesn’t manage to make that “we” feel like an integrated part of the rest of the book, which is all narrated in third person, often from Harrison’s point of view and with detours into Barbara’s and Martin’s.

But really, that’s a small gripe for a novella I overwhelmingly loved. I was heartbroken when it ended, especially as it means that there will be no more new Daryl Gregory for me for a while. Up until now I have had a new Daryl Gregory thing every two months or so. I should have held off on reading one of his books, and saved it for a rainy day. I will just have to do some rereading.

Other Daryl Gregory books I have been excited about this year: Pandemonium, [Devil's Alphabet was just okay], Raising Stony Mayhall, and Afterparty. I am a scary Daryl Gregory evangelist. (PS Ana please read Afterparty, cause I think you will love it.)

You can read an excerpt from We Are All Completely Fine over on, to get the flavor of it. Then if you are interested, Publishers Weekly has good things to say about it, as does Locus. See? Everyone agrees with me. Let me know if you reviewed it too, and I’ll add a link to this post.

Review: I’ll Be Right There, Shin Kyung-Sook (translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

It’s Women in Translation month! Hurrah! Not enough women are getting their work translated into English, so this month bloggers are highlighting some of the wonderful works of foreign literature by women that have made it to our library shelves. Here is a description of “I’ll Be Right There that I stole from Amazon:

When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.

When I was small, my friend who had lived in England for three years told me that if you answer the door with a towel wrapped around your hair, it was a signal to the person at the door that you’ve just had sex. It’s one of those things that stuck with me long after it should have been obvious that it wasn’t true. (Like, right? That’s not true, right, British people?) It’s clung stubbornly to my neurons for over fifteen years, I think because of the totally true truth that you can misunderstand what is going on, completely, when you are in a culture that doesn’t belong to you. When my mother moved from New York to Louisiana, and people she’d just met would ask her to dinner, she said that she used to think, What do you want from me?

(They wanted to feed her dinner.)

I’ll Be Right There gave me a lot of trouble in this regard: I didn’t know what was implied by the words and actions of the characters. I didn’t have enough of a grip on the cultural assumptions of South Korea to feel sure all the time about what was going on. What do these people’s choices mean? To take a small example, a girl called Miru writes down everything she eats in a small notebook. Since none of the other characters observes this and says “Oh dear, has she got an eating disorder?”, I mistrusted my instinct that this was indicative of an eating disorder, and I was surprised and annoyed with myself when it turned out later that yes, she had an eating disorder.

This is nothing to do with the author and everything to do with me. I don’t like the feeling of not being certain about what’s behind the words everyone is saying. I like to understand the subtext, and it’s much much harder with a translated novel, especially one that comes from so far away with — presumably — so many cultural assumptions that won’t be the same as mine. I never felt sure how I was supposed to feel about anything: Yoon’s relationship with her childhood friend as he goes off to the army; Miru’s desperate longing to share a house with her two best friends; the steady growing apart of college friendships. And I think that uncertainty on my part detracted from my ability to appreciate the book on its merits.

But what I did love was the elegiac tone of the book as a whole. There are so many deaths that Yoon misses, not for any dramatic reason but simply by not being there, not doing the work to stay in touch and hold on to people. She remembers a time when she and her ex-boyfriend stopped saying “I’ll be right there” in their phone conversations with each other, and she wishes that she had kept doing that, kept making herself available in difficult times as well as good ones. The wish to have done more and been more after people are gone is universal, I think, and Shin Kyung-Sook carries it across beautifully.
Do y’all encounter this problem with translated novels? Do you get bogged down in uncertainty over what you’re supposed to think of the characters and their actions?

A read for Women in Translation Month that I can’t tell you about

Bibliobio is hosting a Women in Translation Month right now, to call attention to the gender disparity in books translated into English, and to celebrate the works of female international authors whose books are being translated into English. It’s a wonderful initiative, even if you are like me and you have a hard time with books in translation, and you should definitely check out the hashtags for the month (#WITMonth or #WomeninTranslation) to see what folks are reading!

I have struggled long and hard to write a post about the first book I read for Women in Translation Month, and there just isn’t any version of the post I can write that will spare you from major important spoilers. Because here is the thing: The first book I read for Women in Translation Month bears certain very strong similarities to this one American book that you have all heard of, and so I can’t talk about either one of them without spoiling them for people who haven’t read both.

The first book I read for Women in Translation Month is about some people who find themselves in a new situation that’s not totally comfortable to them, and it brings out some traits in them that were already present but maybe not quite so noticeable. It’s also about this other person who’s not totally comfortable with the new people who are around him/her, and the new people bring out some traits in him/her that were also already present but maybe not quite so noticeable at first. I’d like to say a little bit here about point of view, but I think it would make the comparison to that one American book you’ve all heard of too obvious.

When I read that one American book you’ve all heard of, I knew what was going on because I had heard about it from the internet. When I read the first book I read for Women in Translation Month, I didn’t know what was going on at first because it’s way less famous than that one American book you’ve all heard of. But then I read the end, so it was okay. Just like in that one American book you’ve all heard of, the ending of the first book I read for Women in Translation Month turns out okay for some people and less okay for other people. You have to draw your own conclusions about what happens to some of the characters, but that is okay by me.

If you liked that one American book you’ve all heard of, you might like this one too, or you might feel like one of the two books was the lame version of the other one. In any case, I can’t really recommend this book based on your liking for the American book, because if I did that you’d know all the spoilers for this one, and if you’re a spoiler-disliker, that might ruin your enjoyment of it and cancel out how much you might have liked it on the basis of its similarity to that one American book you’ve all heard of. But if you do happen across the first book I read for Women in Translation Month, just know that I enjoyed reading it (though probably not as much as that one American book you’ve all heard of, because I really do struggle with reading books in translation), and I’d say go ahead and try it! if I could do that without spoiling everything for you.

I’ve said too much. I’d better stop.

Edit to add: I swear I just meant this post as a joke, but everyone says it comes off like a riddle. Not intended to be one! If it had been a riddle I would have given some legitimate clues. So now I’m going to tell you what the two books are. But just know that if you read one of them, it will spoil you for the other one. You can highlight the following text to learn which books they are. The German book is Juli Zeh’s newest, Decompression, and the American book you’ve all heard of is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Sorry! I didn’t mean to be mysterious, just funny.

Review: Sinner, Maggie Stiefvater

Note: I received an electronic copy of Sinner from the publisher, through NetGalley, for review consideration.

Coming down from a book hangover after reading The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves was tricky. As of this writing, I think I am mostly okay; I just need to really figure out what my next read is going to be. Alternating Maggie Stiefvater books with unreviewable academic texts is probably not a sustainable direction for the blog (though very fun for me).

Anyway, part of my hangover recovery process was binge-reading The Lesser Works, i.e., Shiver, Linger, and Forever, which are about a girl who falls in love with a wolf. (Luckily for her mental health, the wolf turns out to be a person.) I wasn’t terribly interested in Sam and Grace, but I quite liked the newly made werewolf who shows up in Linger, a drug-addicted suicidal musician called Cole, and I quite liked Grace’s angry friend Isabel, who got impatient when anybody acted wistful and accomplished many helpful deeds in an extremely angry way. Sinner is about them.

Still a werewolf, but generally able — for reasons that aren’t terribly interesting or important — to hang onto his human form, Cole has come to L.A. after Isabel. He’s also there to record a comeback album and be part of a reality show about recording the album, which he hopes will pay him well enough to save him the financial necessity of going on tour, which he’s leary of doing as an addict and also as a werewolf. Isabel is working in a store that pays her not to give a damn and living with her mother and her meek younger cousin Sofia. She is furious with whoever happens to be around, which for much of this book means Cole, about whom she has very very mixed feelings.

I only knew that my heart was galloping so fast that my fingers were numb. Logically, I knew it was just from surprise [at seeing Cole], but I didn’t know if it was like Surprise, here is a cake or Surprise, you’ve had a stroke.

I love reading about angry women. I love it. See also The Woman Upstairs (this is possibly the only Maggie Stiefvater–Claire Messud comparison you will read today).

Unlike Shiver and Linger and Forever, which go into fairly deep detail about the mechanics of being a werewolf, Sinner is light on the supernatural elements. You could swap out Cole’s changing into a werewolf in his bathroom to doing drugs in his bathroom, and the story would carry on in just about exactly the same way. It’s more of a straight romance, as well as a love letter to Los Angeles. Isabel and Cole are each damaged in their own right, and Cole in particular represents aspects of Isabel that she wants to put behind her (the messy lives of the werewolves, the loss of her brother). They are both people who want to get away from who they have been, and be some better version of themselves, and it’s not at all clear that that’s something they can accomplish together.

Though I wouldn’t put this on nearly the same level as The Raven Boys, Stiefvater’s writing has not stopped being wonderful. She’s clever and funny, and she’s also brilliant at producing simple, evocative descriptions that make her settings and characters pop. Like this:

He generally appeared famous and not true and not really present in any given moment. There was always a dissonance between him and his surroundings, as if he were being smoothly and handsomely projected from a distant location.

And this:

But I knew Isabel, and I knew that every single one of her emotions looked like anger from the outside.

Plus, sexual agency! I appreciated this in Shiver as well — teenagers have sex, and Stiefvater isn’t wringing her hands over it. I’m not sure exactly how to phrase this, but basically: Before I had sex for the first time, I had conceived of it as a much bigger deal than it was in some ways, and a much smaller deal than it was in other ways. I think Stiefvater does well here, and in Shiver, at writing about the ways in which sex is and is not actually a big deal in real life.

If you haven’t read the Raven Cycle books yet, go do that; but if you have and you’re just counting down days on your calendar until Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Sinner is a good book to while the time away. I should have maybe read it more slowly, actually. Now I am right back where I was before. Oh when will it be October?

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