Thursday, 29 September 2016

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Swarm (Zeroes #2) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti
Published October 27, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: It's the holiday season, but the celebration at the Zeroes's underground nightclub is blown apart when two strangers with new powers take to the dance floor. The Zeroes pursue them, only to discover that they're fleeing an even more sinister power-wielder, Swarm. The Zeroes must learn all they can about this dangerous new player if they are to stay safe.
Meanwhile each of the Zeroes also has their own issues to deal with. Bellwether's confidence is challenged, and Mob questions the nature of her power. Crash's conscience gets a workout, and Anon and Scam face harsh truths about belonging. And it's up to Flicker to pick up the reins and lead the Zeroes into a terrifying showdown.

Swarm, the second book in the Zeroes series, picks up six months after the events of Zeroes, also referred to as "the Summer of Suck" by Ethan Cooper, aka Scam. The team, still led by Nate Saldana, aka Bellwether, have started a night club ("technically it's more of a private party") so they can experiment with their powers and have a place to retreat to. Ethan's job is wrangling a crowd and it's on a party night that he accidentally invites two new Zeroes to their club and take a turn for the worse.

The Zeroes series is a unique take on the idea of superheroes, featuring teenagers with powers that aren't always useful or predictable. As well as Ethan and Nate, we have Riley Phillips, aka Flicker, Chizara Okeke, aka Crash, Thibault Durant, aka Anonymous, and newcomer Kelsie Laszlo, aka Mob.

Just like in book one, the management of the six main characters was perfectly done. Each of them have strong personalities and they were all pushed to learn about themselves, discovering aspects of their personalities they disliked or wanted to change. Kelsie is happy to finally belong, but worries that deep down she's evil. Ethan feels unworthy of love. Nate isn't in control as much as he thought he was. Crash can't always behave how her mother would want her to. Thibault fears he's making his family upset, and Flicker can't force people to remember Thibault. Along with these self-discoveries, they've also developed their powers and learnt to work together.

It was lovely to see Flicker and Thibault as a couple, and to watch romance develop for some of the other characters, even when they couldn't see it for themselves. The addition of new Zeroes expanded their world and showed that this goes beyond their town.

There was a darker, gory element to this instalment which surprised me because their world seems so much like ours, but it's also very different. It's a place where super powers exist and they can be used to turn people against each other, to make them commit atrocious acts. In thinking back to Zeroes, there was a similar element, but Swarm takes it further. There wasn't a lot of time for the characters to contemplate their actions, but they were aware of the horror they were contributing to.

The pacing, like in book one, was spot on. It was fast but never rushed, allowing the action to be spread out over the course of the story, with a dramatic ending I did not see coming. It will be a great place to pick up on in the final book.

Swarm is an excellent follow up to Zeroes. Fans of the series will enjoy being reunited with the team, and the higher stakes make this a thrilling read.

Ableist language: crazy, psycho, lame, dumb, insane.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my copy. RRP A$19.99.

Cover designer: Astred Hicks, Design Cherry

I did nails to match the cover of Zeroes, so of course I had to nails to match Swarm. I started with a base of pale grey polish (the brand is Strange Beautiful but the colour is unnamed). 

I sponged Zoya Freja and Ulta3 Black Satin around the edges.

I used acrylic paint to paint the 0, the chain-link fence and the paint splatters.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Leave Me by Gayle Forman
Published September 6, 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, for every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention--meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who's so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn't even realize she's had a heart attack.Afterward, surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is so often the case, once we get to where we're going, we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is finally able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from those she loves and from herself.

I don't read a lot of adult fiction these days, but when I saw Gayle Forman had a new book coming out, I had to read it and I'm so glad I did.

Forty-four year old Maribeth Klein lives in New York with her husband Jason, and their four year old twins, Liv and Oscar. Maribeth works at a magazine, Frap, alongside her best friend, Elizabeth. She took the job with the idea that it wouldn't be full time but she still finds herself working on her days off and trying to fit everything in. When she begins having pain in her chest she chalks it up to reflux and ignores it. Luckily she had an OBGYN appointment scheduled for the following day and she's sent to the ER where she undergoes surgery for stuttering myocardial infarction.

Reading about real world issues is always more chilling to me than reading about something paranormal, and this is certainly the case in Leave Me. Knowing that what happens to Maribeth could happen to almost anyone is scary and her attitude towards it, to want to know how much of an inconvenience it would be to her, was such a reflection of our society these days.

At home Maribeth does most of the work, Jason has a lot going on at work, so despite recovering from having major surgery, Maribeth soon finds herself doing chores and taking care of the twins, and herself. Jason's default is to always assume things will work out, mostly because Maribeth always makes sure things get done, his other default is to just cancel on things and not see them through. It was so easy to empathise with her, I could feel her seething resentment, and I felt so frustrated for her. I'm not a mother but I could totally relate to having to find time to do everything, to always be the one running errands, doing chores. I think a lot of readers will be able to see themselves in Maribeth.

It takes a lot of skill to make a story about everyday people compelling but Gayle Forman excels at this. I was riveted from the beginning and all the way right to the end. The story of Maribeth's birth mother was intriguing and paired nicely with her recovery story. It was fascinating to imagine her new, temporary life.

The ending was beautifully done and to an extent it surprised me, I felt quite overwhelmed and it certainly made me cry a lot.

Leave Me is a captivating story of one woman's recovery, her chance to make peace with her past, and to decide her future. It's a story that will resonate with a multitude of readers.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my Netgalley copy.

Despite reading the Aus/UK version, I decided to paint nails to match the US version.

I started with a base of white nail polish on 3 nails and used Pretty Serious Doodle Bug and Natio Sunflower on the other two. I used the same two polishes plus LVX Celeste, LVX Mynt, LVX Midori, and Nubar Dare You to Dragonfly for the stripes.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham
Published July 7, 2016 by Walker Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose may be very different, but they all have one thing in common: they're fed up with being told how to look, what to think and how to act.
They're not like everyone else and they don't want to be.
Becoming friends give them the courage to be themselves.
The Moonlight Dreamers is set on and around Brick Lane, London. Amber, a writer and fan of Oscar Wilde, is having an awful time at school. It's never been a  secret that she has two fathers, but lately she's been bullied about whether or not they've made her a lesbian. It doesn't help that she's also struggling to find anything in common with one of her fathers, an artist who always puts his career first. Maali lives with her family and together they run an Indian confectionery store. She's shy when it comes to boys and she's been praying to Lakshmi to help her find the courage she needs. Sky is a poet and hopes to one day read aloud to an audience. Her mother died five years ago, and since then she and her father have lived together. But now he's met a woman, and her daughter is Rose. Rose is the daughter of an internationally famous model. She doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps, she wants to be a patissier. Amber comes up with the idea of a club for girls who want to be different, and this changes life for all of them.

Sometimes it's hard to connect with multiple main characters in a story, but in this case each girl really stood out and I felt for all of them. Amber's really struggling with who she is and the bullying at school was horrible. Maali's positivity and naïvety was charming, and it was nice to see her speak about her beliefs with confidence. Sky just wants to know her dad still loves her, and Rose feels the same way about her mother. She's had to put up with mood swings, the media, and body shaming talk her entire life, she deserves to be happy and healthy.

It was wonderful to see so much diversity in a novel: sexuality, race, religion. The girls had to work at understanding each other which of course bonded them together even more. It was wonderful to see them tackle issues like bullying, peer pressure, and family.

There were a lot of stereotypes. Don't get me wrong, stereotypes exist because they are based in truth, but it's also nice to get a bit of variety when it comes to characters eg. not always having skinny, starved models or pretty girls with long hair be the bullies. I'm also all for girls sticking together and not conforming to societal pressures out of shame or guilt, but I'd rather the girls focused on their own qualities, without needing to shame others to build themselves up.

The Moonlight Dreamers is a cute story about four girls accepting each other's differences and supporting each other to achieve their dreams. In trying to be different, the girls found each other and in doing so, discovered they were not so different after all.

Ableist language: the words dumb and dumber were used frequently.

Thank you to Walker Books for my review copy.

Cover illustration: Kate Forrester

This is such a a fun cover and it suits the story perfectly.

I started with a base of Nail It! Cornflower and sponged on China Glaze First Mate.

I used acrylic paint and nail polish for the illustration.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

The Memory Book by Lara Avery
Published July 26, 2016 by Hachette
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she's going to win the national debating championship, then she's going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer.But when Sam discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she'd planned so perfectly is derailed before its started.Realising that her life won't wait to be lived, Sam sets out on a summer of firsts.The first party. The first rebellion. The first friendship. The last love.

The Memory Book is my first book by Lara Avery, and it won't be my last. This story sounded intriguing, but I wasn't expecting just how much I'd feel for main character, Sam. I'd also read Forgetting Foster earlier the same week, another heartbreaking book about memory loss.

Eighteen year old Sammie McCoy lives in South Strafford, Vermont. She knew she wanted to go to Hanover High in a neighbouring town, and she fought her way in. Since then she's been planning her future - debate team, win nationals, become valedictorian, go to NYU. What she didn't include in her plan was to get sidetracked by a diagnosis of Niemann Pick Type C, a hereditary disease that is fatal. Sammie is an optimist and she resolves not to let that diagnosis take over her life.

I adored Sam from the beginning. She's not a girl with many friends as she's a little introverted and she's not a fan of small talk. But she has a best friend in her debate partner, Maddie, and she spends time taking care of her younger siblings, Harrison, Bette, and Davy. She's a focused and driven girl, she reads and studies a lot, and her passion was admirable.

Not long after the diagnosis, two boys reenter her life. The first is her crush, Stuart Shah, he's returned from New York and they reconnect. The other is her neighbour and former best friend, Cooper Lind. She and Cooper drifted apart years ago and Sam's never been sure why. It was so sweet to watch Coop and Same redevelop their friendship and reminisce over their shared memories.

The concept for this book was clever, Sam starts a memory book in the form of a document on her laptop. This was engaging and unique, it also allowed for others to occasionally add to it, and it meant to she could take it with her, so that when she did start to forget, she could refer to it.

The Memory Book is a beautiful and heartbreaking story, featuring wonderful characters that will stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

To All the Book Covers I've Loved Before

Earlier this month I was interviewed by the wonderful Jennifer Wong, creator and presenter of ABC Bookish. Jen and her lovely producer/director Carmen caught up with me before YAFanFest to talk about books, bookish manicures, and book covers. It was a really fun experience and it was great to showcase some of my favourite book covers. I get a lot of love from authors and the book community but I wouldn't be able to paint bookish manicures if it weren't for the people that create book covers.

The episode of Bookish I'm in is available today, so to tie in with that I thought I'd highlight some of my favourite cover designers and illustrators.

A book featured in my interview is The Flywheel by Erin Gough. I adore covers like this because they give me a lot to work with. This cover is beautifully illustrated by Amy Borrell.

One of the first bookish manicures I did was for Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil. I loved the cover the moment I saw it. The cover was designed by Stephanie Spartels of Studio Spartels. Stephanie creates some of the best Aussie YA covers, another fave of mine is The Yearbook Committee.

Astred Hicks of Design Cherry is an amazing cover designer. She worked on Cracked by Clare Strahan, a cover I enjoyed recreating.

Another wonderful Aussie YA title is The Minnow by Diana Sweeney. It has one of my favourite covers, illustrated by Katie Hartnett. It's so atmospheric and I loved painting it.

Lisa Perrin of Made by Perrin is one of my favouite illustrators. Everything she does is beautiful and is instantly recognisable as hers. I will automatically buy any book she works on. I adore both The Muse by Jessie Burton and Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke.

Leo Nickolls creates amazing book covers, I see them and immediately want to turn them into manicures. I love his cover for Cargo by Jessica Au - you can read about the design process for that one here, and his cover for Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher.

Another illustrator/designer is Olga Grlic, she illustrated and designed the cover for You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan - this sort of cover is perfect for nail art, it's bright and bold. She also designed the cover of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, using a beautiful illustration by Harriet Russell.

Neil Swaab is an illustrator, designer, and author. He illustrated and designed the stunning cover of I'll Be There by Holly Sloan.

Jo Hunt is the designer at UQP books, I always like her work, especially The Haunting of Lily Frost by Nova Weetman.

W.H. Chong and Imogen Stubbs at Text Publishing create some amazing covers, including The Minnow (mentioned above).

Some other designers/illustrators I like: Oliver Jeffers, Lisa Horton, and Design by Committee. I'm sure I'm forgetting many, so I'll keep this page updated or turn this into a feature.

All of these talented people inspire me so much, I get really excited to recreate their work. I love the feeling of seeing a beautifully designed cover, one that ties into the story perfectly, and knowing I must buy it immediately. Thank you for all the work you do to make books look good.

Monday, 19 September 2016

London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning

London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning
Published June 2, 2016 by Hot Key Books
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Sunny is used to being a bit of a pushover. But when she's sent a picture of her boyfriend Mark kissing another girl, she's finally had enough. Vengeance will be hers - she just has to find him first.As Sunny travels across London to huny Mark down, she has the help of some of the city's most colourful characters and two devilishly handsome French boys. Sunny might be having the best night of her life, but when she finally catches up with Mark will she have the courage to do the right thing?

Sarra Manning is one of my favourite authors and I was so excited for London Belongs to Us, especially as I found the most perfect London-themed book tabs to match.

Seventeen year old Sunny lives in Crouch End with her mother, step-father, and step brother. Her father is Jamaican and her mother English, meaning she often feels as though people only see her skin colour, or just want to touch her hair, which she currently wears in an afro. Sunny's happily been dating Mark for 8 months and they were planning on having sex for the first time, but when she gets sent a photo of him kissing another girl, she knows she must confront him.

Sunny is a wonderful protagonist as she's easy to relate to. She's not great at confrontation or standing up for herself. She gets anxious and often lies awake at night making lists of her fears. She's sick of the commentary on her body and ancestry. She's a loyal friend, she loves Mean Girls, and she's an excellent girlfriend.

I thought the focus on friendship was excellent as a lot of books make everything about the romance, but in reality friends are often far more important. Even when it came to the potential relationship between Sunny and the alluring Jean-Luc, it was clear that their romance was going to be something that took time to grow rather than being jumped into immediately.

There was commentary on racism, something Sunny has had to deal with, being given different advice from her parents. The girls also discuss sexism and feminism, often struggling not to call other girls names, even when they know they shouldn't. It felt very real, I could definitely see teens wanting to do the right thing, but falling back into using names as a form of protection.

Each chapter begins with a time stamp and a description of a different place or suburb in London. This was a really fun way to introduce landmarks and areas that aren't as well known as the idea of London itself, especially as they weren't official descriptions, but Sunny's opinions of them. Sunny adores London, it's her favourite place and she's so happy she lives there. I could feel the author's love for the city whenever it was described.

I love, love, LOVED all the references to characters in the author's previous books: Max and Keith from You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (my all time fave book, I listen to the audio book at least once a month), Jeanne, Michael, and Duckie from Adorkable. It's always fun when an author links up her books and Sarra does this really well.

The pacing was also perfect. I'm sure it can be difficult to set a story over the course of one night but the story moved along at a good speed, never feeling rushed.

London Belongs to Us is a beautiful ode to London. It's a fun, feminist story perfect for teens and adults.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$16.99.

Cover design and illustration: Nic and Lou
Typography: Jon Kennedy

This is such a fun cover, I love the London skyline and the adorable illustration of Sunny and the boys.

I started with a base of Barry M Navy. I used the following polishes for the polka dots: China Glaze Sea Spray, Zoya Juicy,. Zoya Marley, Zoya Robyn. I used acrylic paint for the illustrations.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
Published August 27, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Ming survived the famine that killed his parents during China's 'Great Leap Forward', and lives a hard but adequate life, working in the fields...When a group of city boys comes to the village as part of a Communist Party re-education program, Ming and his friends aren't sure what to make of the new arrivals. They're not used to hard labour and village life. But despite his reservations, Ming befriends a charming city boy called Li. The two couldn't be more different, but slowly they form a bond over evening swims and shared dreams...But as the bitterness of life under the Party begins to take its toll on both boys, they begin to imagine the impossible: freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is Wai Chim's first novel for young adults and is based true events and her father's life in China. The prologue is set in the winter of 1962, a year after China's Great Leap Forward. Eleven year old Ming Hong lives in Dingzai, a small fishing village on the Dapeng Peninsula, in the district of Longgang, Guangdong province. His father, who has been missing for years, loved to swim and instilled this love in Ming as well, but he disappeared one night. Now Ming's mother has died of starvation. He takes her body to the river and returns to an empty house. It's at this time that Ming meets Fei, a girl from Long-chi, a neighbouring village, but they are soon separated and Ming doesn't have the courage to seek her out.

The story picks up again in 1968. Ming now shares a room with three other boys, all without families. They live in poverty, with no electricity or running water. They work each day in the fields, overseen by the Cadre, who is employed by the Communist Party, under instruction from Chairman Mao Zedong. Working earns them points which are used for rations and as a way to keep them in check. It's a time of great suspicion, the smallest change in behaviour or one wrong word can earn you the label of reactionary or counter-revolutionary, and can lead to imprisonment or death.
Soon a group of youths from the city, former Red Guards, arrive. They are there to learn how to work in the fields and to be reeducated, as well as to help spread the word of Mao. Li is on of these boys and he soon befriends Ming.

From memory, we didn't learn a lot of Chinese history in high school. We covered World War I, II, and Vietnam, but I do recall learning a little of Mao, perhaps from conversations at home, and possibly from my own reading. It's a time that lead to a lot of deaths, with estimates as high as 35 million people. That's so sad and shocking and I'm sure this must be a time that still has repercussions for many families today.

The friendship that blooms between Ming and Li was heartwarming and really highlighted how tense and fear-based most relationships must have been at the time. Ming isn't even sure he can trust his closest friend Tian because you never know who will turn on you. Ming still loves to swim and manages to get away to indulge every now and then. When he discovers that Li cannot swim, he sets about teaching him, something that cements their bond. Ming later reveals to Li that his father talked of escaping China by swimming to Hong Kong, a treacherous journey.

Right from the start my heart broke for Ming, he's orphaned at a young age and there's no one in the village to care for him because they are all suffering too. The atmosphere was palpable throughout the story, I could sense his fear and loneliness. I felt so worried for Ming, Li, Fei and Tian, sure they were being watched, that at any moment they could be accused of traitorous acts and taken away or killed.

Freedom Swimmer is a beautifully told story of a time in history that is painful and horrifying. It's obviously a story close to the author's heart and she writes about it with such honesty and feeling. It highlights how far humans will go to survive, and the bonds they forge with friends and family. It would make an excellent school text, and is perfect for both teens and adults.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$16.99.

Cover design: Debra Billson.

I adore this cover, it's beautiful and is perfect for the story.

I started with 2 coats of Zoya Maura and used acrylic paint for the design.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Black by Fleur Ferris

Black by Fleur Ferris
Published July 22, 2016 by Penguin Random House
Source: purchased, and later received an unsolicited copy from the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: Ebony Marshall is in her final year of high school. Five months, two weeks and four days . . . She can't wait to leave the town where she's known only as ‘Black'. Because of her name, of course. But for another reason, too. Everyone says Black Marshall is cursed. Three of her best friends have died in tragic accidents. After Oscar, the whispers started. Now she's used to being on her own. It's easier that way. But when her date for the formal ends up in intensive care, something in quiet little Dainsfield starts to stir. Old secrets are revealed and terrifying new dangers emerge. If only Black could put all the pieces together, she could work out who her real enemies are. Should she run for her life, or stay and fight? 

Ebony 'Black' Marshall is seventeen and lives in the fictional Victorian town of Dainsfield. Her father runs the water plant and she works there after school. She earned her nickname Black not only because of her hair but because over the course of her life three friends have died, Jess, Louis, and Oscar. Now there's a new boy at school and he's interested in her but that makes Ebony worried.

I really enjoyed Fleur Ferris' debut, Risk, so I was excited to pick up her latest book, Black. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy this one as much. I think my issues started with the characterisation. Ebony felt a lot younger than seventeen, I probably would have placed her at fourteen from the way she talked and interacted with other characters. The romance also felt like a huge distraction. I'm all for romance in YA as it's realistic to have teens falling in love all over the place, but trying to juggle two love interests really detracted from the thriller aspect.

Ebony also has to catch us up on her life so far and while she lets the reader know that a few of her friends have died, and that the townsfolk turned on her, it didn't really seem that scary or believable. I was expecting her to have been present at each of their deaths and for there to have been unusual circumstances, but they were all unrelated and at different times. I really couldn't fathom adults believing a girl is cursed with so little reason, maybe if this was set in Salem back in the day, but not present day Australia.

The reader is told that Ebony is lonely and that she has no one, but it turns out there are a group of girls at school who stuck by her, and she often hangs out with them, when she's not actively distancing herself from everyone. The new boy, Aiden, is dared to ask her out, and then immediately falls in love with her. She also has Ed, a colleague at the water plant. The fact that she's had multiple friends for years and they haven't died made her fear seem completely unnecessary.

There was a lot of foreshadowing, it almost felt like this book wanted to be a paranormal story. There were a lot of plot holes that even when explained at the end, still made me question the whole story. The dams and the fact that they they supplied the town with water seemed to be important and then nothing came of them. Certain people seemed like suspects but ended up having nothing to do with the cult. Other people seemed so obviously a part of the cult but their involvement took Ebony too long to figure out. Ultimately, there really was no need for her family to stay in a town if they really felt Ebony's life was in danger for seventeen years.

The tagline on the cover was also a bit misleading 'Shut the windows. Lock the doors. You don't know who's coming.' This made it sound like Ebony has lived her life in constant fear of being kidnapped. But Ebony has been oblivious to the secret her parents have been keeping. A secret that turns out to have nothing really to do with her. This brings up my issue with the pacing: at first there's a lot of backstory and a lot of foreshadowing, then it takes Ebony a long time to work things out, and towards the end there's a flurry of action. It was towards the end that I stopped reading properly and began to skim read.

Black, while promising to be a thriller, didn't live up to expectations. But, I would definitely suggest you pick up the author's debut novel, Risk, as it's excellent.

I purchased a copy and read that, but later received an unsolicited copy from the publisher, so thank you to Penguin Random House, I will be passing it onto an AussieYA fan.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Published August 30, 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: This is a love story.
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words.
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind.

Words in Deep Blue is the long-awaited new release by Cath Crowley. I know for some readers and book bloggers it's a book we've been looking forward to for years and it is definitely worth the wait. I've read it twice already and I know it's a book I will reread again and again.

The story begins with eighteen year old Rachel Sweetie who left the fictional Melbourne suburb of Gracetown three years ago along with her mother and younger brother, Cal. They moved to Sea Ridge and almost a year ago Cal drowned. This changed Rachel's life completely, she failed year 12, distanced herself from friends and her boyfriend, and now she's moving back to the city to stay with her aunt.

Henry Jones, Rachel's former best friend, still lives and works at his family's bookshop, Howling Books.  He has no idea of Cal's death because Rachel stopped writing to him soon after she left and he's never been able to figure out why. He's been dating Amy on and off for years but now she's finally broken up with him for good.

Crowley has created two wonderful main characters and each get to tell their side of the story via alternating chapters. Rachel's grief was palpable, she's depressed and can't see the point in life now that Cal is gone. Rachel used to love science and facts, she knew what she wanted to do with her life, but with Cal out of the picture, she's lost.

Henry is ever the optimist, but this personality trait is being tested by his mother's wish to sell the bookshop. In their family they all get a vote on decisions and he knows his younger sister George will side with him, so ultimately his vote will decide their fate. He feels like he has to choose between his parents and the decision weighs on him. He's also always known that Amy will come back after they break up, but this time it feels more final, though he can't help but hope. His optimism was so adorable and realistic because he's such a romantic.

Not only was it a pleasure to read about Rachel and Henry and to see them rekindle their friendship, but the secondary characters were just as lovable, especially George, Cal, Martin, and Lola.

Howling Books was a beautiful setting for the story, a store run by a family of book lovers, selling second hand books and containing a section called the Letter Library, where people can write in the books or leave letters in them. I can't help but wish that this shop really existed and I've read that a bookshop has now started their own Letter Library which is fantastic! Crowley's love of authors, books, quotes, and words was so evident throughout the story, I made note after note of the pages where authors or books were mentioned and it was lovely to see so many AussieYA authors/books, as well as a shout out to Beachside Bookshop.

This was a really emotional book, from Rachel's grief over Cal, to Henry's insecurities, to George's fear. I felt so much while reading this, at certain points I had to stop so that I wouldn't cry in public or so I could savour a particularly sweet moment. The inclusion of some of the letters from the Letter Library was a beautiful touch, each showing a different story or point of view, from the past and the present.

Words in Deep Blue is indeed a love story. It's a story about all the sorts of love you can experience: love for family, friends, partners, your livelihood, your hobbies, your city. It's a book for readers, writers, and book lovers. I have no doubt this will be a favourite of many readers to come.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.