REVIEW: The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F T Lukens

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F. T. Lukens (September 7, 2017); 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

If I were a gawky teenage boy and had to climb the side of a house to get a job working for a weirdo Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-Watcher-Type-Guy who got smelly-slimed by trolls frequently and had a 1960s-ish nutjob secretary and a couple of junk-food-obsessed pixies living with him, and this job put me in situations in which I was chased by gore-furious unicorns and nearly killed by unfriendly mermaids, then… I don’t know what. I guess I’d be the star of this book and my name would be Bridger. Unlike the star of this book, I probably wouldn’t have the fortitude and determination to press on after that first mermaid attack.

But Bridger, like many a hero of young adult novels, is stronger and more determined than I. He bumbles into a job helping someone who’s charged with ensuring the world’s myths (like the Loch Ness Monster and a unicorn and a manticore) remain in their proper places (that is, hidden from “regular” folks) and the world’s humans are safe from their magic. Lovely enough for the reader, but unfortunately for poor Bridger, those mermaids, that manticore and all the other myths are pretty dangerous—that unicorn is definitely NOT a My Little Pony hearts and rainbows sort. Bridger discovers there’s magic in the world, but it’s not the fantasy magic he read in storybooks—it’s real, terrifying, and the only way the “normal” world stays in balance is if it remains ignorant of it.

This is an adventure story (Bridger, and many of the other characters, have quests and Joseph Campbell-like arcs to complete) and a love story (Bridger falls for football hero Leo) and a tale of chivalry (Bridger must rescue not only the world, but Leo, so that he may ride off happily into the sunset with him, and the two rescues are in direct conflict). The novel is knowing, and softly humorous at the same time that it’s gripping and tense. It puts me in mind of Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time quintet—believably weird, starring outsider teens who come into their own through intrigue with odd creatures and helpful-but-strange mentors.

 

 

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REVIEW: Blended Notes by Lilah Suzanne

REVIEW: Blended Notes by Lilah Suzanne (August 17, 2017); 275 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Nico and Grady are back at the center of the narrative in the third book of the Spotlight series, and they’re getting maaaaarried. If you haven’t read Broken Records or Burning Tracks, you can still read Blended Notes and understand everything going on, but why would you skip those other two books? Broken started us off with Nico, a stylist to the stars, meeting Grady, a star country singer, and, well, hitting it off. Burning moved the focus to Nico’s business partner Gwen and her life with her wife Flora, and added focus on famous country singer Clementine, who reminds me a bit of a young Lucinda Williams (at least I picture her that way—smart and feisty and full of everything). Blended swings back to Nico and Grady, but Clementine is there, and Flora and Gwen are there, along with their wee son Cayo, who’s there with all of his drool and joy.

(I should make a special note here: Cayo’s in it, but it’s not a fawning, baby-focused thing in which even his diapers are cute. He’s there for realness.)

Lest you think Blended Notes is only about the fantasy of getting married, there is much more to be had (I’ve written about this before—not all gay folk, or folk in general, burn only for a straight-style wedding and marriage or care much about it, except for the significant financial and legal equality it delivers in many parts of the world… in short, a wedding alone is not enough to sustain an interesting narrative in my opinion). (And I recognize that this, on the heels of my “a baby is not all cuteness” thing probably makes me seem like the bitterest old lesbian ever, but I swear that’s not it. I like both weddings and babies, but I also recognize there’s more in a person’s life, or at least there should be, and those two elements are usually cheap and easy story devices to lend motive and pathos to characters. But that isn’t the case here.) The wedding here is neither central (I mean, who wants to read about picking out napkins for more than a paragraph?) nor is it the point. It’s there, but only as an impetus for other things to happen. Also going on: Grady comes out about his love for Nico (well, “him”) in a song, his record company censors him, and he must make the decision about whether to sing from inside or outside the closet, and Nico must figure out how to support him.

The writing is well-paced as usual—and perhaps in this book, even better than before. It might have something to do with the tension created when wedding plans and homophobic record labels and snooping press all begin to make things go awry and one’s never sure whether the wedding—or Nico and Grady’s relationship–will go forward or not. Grady sees Nico sneaking around with some guy, and then Nico wants to cancel the wedding, and it just can’t be what it seems to be, right? (One more page, one more page, I kept saying, which is how I found myself still reading at 2:30 AM more than once.)

All in all, it’s a really satisfying way to wrap up a series of books which follows the lives of some very likeable, interesting characters. I, for one, am particularly partial to Clementine, Grady’s compatriot country singer—she’s been by turns vain, compassionate, weird, complex and interesting in this and past books, and I want to be her friend. On the whole, these characters are not, by any means, perfect, but they are all people you root for despite that (or maybe because of it).

 

 

REVIEW: Grrrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack (June 8, 2017); 230 pages. Available from Duet Books/Interlude Press here.

Back when Riot Grrrls were active, I no longer qualified as a girl, except perhaps to a certain breed of older person who would probably still call me a girl at 46. Still, I remember the movement and the excitement and hope that went with it. It was a good time, with particularly good music.

Grrrls on the Side takes place in the 1990s in the US, at the height of the Riot Grrrl movement. It follows the growth from girl to grrrl of Tabitha, who finds her bisexuality, and then finds Riot Grrrl. She’s fat (as a fat woman myself, boy, howdy, do I hate the word “chubby” or other euphemisms like “of size”… I’m going to use “fat” here, because it’s what I call myself), she’s white, she’s sheltered, and she’s a teenager still in high school. Life, in other words, is a combination of tough and easy, which all changes when she finds a Riot Grrrl group—the tough stuff gets easier and the easy stuff gets tougher. She finds support, but also must figure out how to support others (along the way, confronting the implacable whiteness of much of the mainstream feminist movement). When her support system—her friends and new girlfriend—hit the road to tour as a new band, Tabitha is left to figure out how to be independent while still depending on support from others.

The novel’s focus isn’t politics, per se, though if one understands “politics” to refer to the workings of power, politics are certainly sewn in there. Instead, it focuses on the experience of Tabitha, learning to accept herself, find her own power, and work it out with others. (In other words, it’s a very apt story for a young person, since that’s what most of us spend our youth doing.)

Told in the first person present tense, Grrrls on the Side is interspersed (epistle-style) with short excerpts from the various zines the Riot Grrrls write, and as a result, there are several narrations represented here—in other words, the novel wants to bring together all these different voices and let speak everyone who usually doesn’t get to do so.

 

REVIEW: And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone

And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone (May 18, 2017); 222 pages. Available from Interlude Press here:

The title of this novel, And It Came to Pass, occurs frequently in the Bible, and is usually understood to mean “it happened.” But we American-English-speakers also use “pass” in the sense that it came and went (like a storm), and “it came to” to mean that was the intent all along—it appeared in order to rise up, make trouble, and then go away.

That little language musing (from someone who generally can’t help herself on such things) is my way of getting to the point that, in the case of this novel, both meanings work: the novel is about a stormy situation that happens, but also the point of the novel is that the storm happens and then there’s life on the other side. What goes up must come down, They say. It’s a story full of hope, I say.

And It Came to Pass is the story of Adam and Brendan, two young Mormon men who meet each other when they are paired as missionaries during a 2-year assignment in Spain. They fall in love, but this is especially bad for contemporary LDS folk, who are not generally accepted by the LDS church for being gay (or acting on SSA, “same sex attraction”). As missionaries, if they are discovered in their love, Adam and Brendan run the risk of being dishonorably discharged from their service, sent home early in shame and excommunicated from the LDS Church. This is complicated by the fact that Adam’s father and mother practice an unyielding, dour form of their faith which compels them to cut off contact with their own son if they discover he is gay. So Adam and Brendan, as so many of us queer folk tend to be, are strung between faith/family and love/personal fulfillment, and must figure out a way to live.

What’s really gratifying here is that this is a loving, generous portrait of the struggle—this does not present the easy situation (evil LDS folk who hate the Innocent Gay Victims nor Selfish Hedonistic Gays and Innocent Well-Meaning LDS folk), but a complex portrait of two deeply faithful men who must struggle between two poles (love and faith). It’s also gratifying that the LDS followers are not shown as universally dour and unyielding as Adam’s parents—it’s not a bloc, one comes to understand; there are many ways of practicing and believing.

At its heart, this is a true romance—two folks meet, fall in love, are faced with a seemingly-insurmountable challenge and must figure out a way to surmount it or go their separate ways.

Due to time constraints, I read this novel in little bursts over the course of more than a week, but between bursts, my mind kept wandering back to the characters and wanting to return. It grips, in other words, but subtly, a kind grip; friendly, but no less compelling for its friendliness. In part, I think this is because of its evenness, its kindness, its resistance to easy villains and black-white divisions.

No solution is without sacrifice here, but no sacrifice is total—loss comes to feel, as it so often does, inevitable, even a relief, a gentle winnowing. The implicit criticism here is of stasis, of clinging to what is wrong or cruel just because someone tells you to do so. At the heart of this love story is the idea that one can know truth and right—some people call that God—for oneself better than anyone else can.

Like I said, it’s a true romance.

 

 

Review: THE SEAFARER’S KISS by Julia Ember

The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember (May 4, 2017); 224 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Now, I don’t know any of the versions of the story known to most Americans as “The Little Mermaid” (neither Hans Christian Andersen nor Disney nor subsequent K-Mart bedspread mythos), but I believe The Seafarer’s Kiss is a retelling of the tale, but à la Wicked, retold empathetically from a different point of view (than, at least, the Disney version). As with all good retellings, this is a new story, not simply a recast rehashing of something already said.

I won’t waste your time with comparisons, since I’m not very familiar with any of the other versions of this story; this novel stands on its own, anyway. I’m living proof that you don’t need to have any connection to the Disney or Andersen stories to understand and like this book. The only thing I will say, based on admittedly brief internet-based research into the other versions, is that this one seems more feminist, featuring female characters prominently as more than victim or villain (those roles get really complex here), constructing a kind of Handmaid’s Tale empathy for the conditions under which the female mermaids must function, and coloring every character’s actions with real motivations that extend further than simply stating that someone is an Evil Witch.

I’m trying not to reveal the actual story here, the discovery of which is part of the fun of reading, so forgive the verbal gymnastics.

This is, at its heart, a really strong character study. Don’t mistake me: I mean this in the best of ways, as all good stories, in my opinion, are character studies. Too many novels rely too strongly on plot and forego character development at all, but in my opinion, good insight into character should be what drives the plot at every turn. The plot of a good story should feel like a surprise as it happens, but inevitable once it does, because the characters are so well drawn that things could unfold no other way than the way they do. This is assuredly the case.

The titular seafarer, and the titular kiss she gives Ersel, the main character (is this the original form of Ursula, who is the sea witch in Disney’s version?), is what drives the plot, though not in the mooney-eyed-weak-princess way most Disney films seem to require. The chain of events that becomes Ersel’s adventure (and eventually the impetus for her growing up and finding her strength and her moral drive) starts with this girl, this kiss, but it’s merely the catalyst, and not the only driving force. Too often, female heroes are depicted as being solely motivated by love in their heroism. Not so here, and thanks for that. (Nor, for that matter, is Ersel’s “coming out” as being in love with a human girl much of a horror to anyone—and when there is discomfort, it’s with the “human” thing and the going-against-decree thing, not the “girl” thing. That’s refreshing.)

Basically, this is the story of a young mermaid who’s expected to be betrothed to her childhood bestie merman in a society in which reproductive heterosexual pairings are required due to a waning population (and in which, as a result, a girl’s worth is based on her potential fertility), but who bucks—and eventually upturns–the system, has her own adventures and her own ideas. She makes grave (I’m talking Shakespeare’s Mercutio-pun-grave) mistakes along the way, strives to address those mistakes, and becomes a better person, all without losing her fierceness. In fact, her fierceness becomes her great strength (no eternally slumbering and helpless princess, no mice to dress her, no unreal femininity clouds this up).

And K-Mart, as a result, probably won’t sell the bedspread. But, seriously, bedspreads are for sleeping princesses anyway.

What Happened? What Happened:

Those who know me as a professor may be surprised to hear that crowds of people, especially when I have to do something in front of those crowds, really shake me to my core. I am not very good at being in front of people, nor am I great in a crowd, nor do I do social stuff comfortably (many teachers are like this, apparently). So Book Con (the crazytown 2-day book fair of the Book Expo America (BEA) conference), which took place at a ridiculously-big venue (the Javits Center) in a ridiculously-big city (New York) was, for someone like me, daunting to say the least.

Still, I went, signed copies of SWEET, met some excellent people, browsed books and bookseller displays, drank my share of caffeinated diet colas that cost waaaaaay too much money at the convention center vendor stands, listened to some really great writers and editors give talks and did my fair share of hiding with a book in bathroom stalls and hallways with spare chairs. (I missed most of Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket’s talk, but caught the tail end and at least got to hear his deadpan voice… my book signing time conflicted with Lemony Snicket AND Bill Nye, and I messed up the days and missed hearing Janet Mock, but still… I was in the same room as all of them at one point. I’m a reader and fan first, writer second–in fact, I remember this lesson from my college writing program days perhaps more than any other: you cannot be a good writer unless you are reading voraciously–it’s dangerous hubris and also sort of gross-narcissistic-ignorant not to participate in the literary community as a reader if you’re contributing to it as a writer.)

signing

I will say it was really fun to meet so many people, almost all of whom were readers–and some of those were writers–who love books. I felt myself to be among my own kind.

I will also say it was very exciting to see the cover of the new book, OLYMPIA KNIFE, on a poster–this was the official revelation (I cannot say “reveal,” even though that’s the lingo… “reveal” is a verb, friends) of the cover for the book that comes out November 2, and, though I’d seen earlier versions, this was also MY first look at the official, final cover, and I really quite love it. (I had no doubt I would, because I am a huge fan of the art director/cover designer C. B. Messer, who also did the cover and book design for SWEET, my first novel, the one that’s stacked next to me that I’m signing in the picture… that sticky note cover design will forever have my heart. She read the book and totally got what I was trying to make it, which is a satirical take on being romance while still kind of being a love story, a kind of cake-and-eat-it-too situation (please all hail that joke, because the novel largely takes place in a bakery) and the cover just exactly captures that blend of Romance Novel Trope and Not That At All.) Here is the cover for OLYMPIA KNIFE, due out Nov 2:

OK cover poster

At the bottom there, that’s a teaser quotation from the first chapter. But seriously, how beautiful is that cover? (The book takes place at the start of the 20th century in a rather janky travelling circus, and over the course of the novel all the acts wind up disappearing, hence the slightly dangerous-looking tents…)

So, I left the 2-day book-oriented fiasco with mixed feelings: on the one hand, my head was swimming from SO much (people, noise, books, things to do, money spent, long days) and I my body actually hurt, and I was exhausted for a full day afterward (I consider myself a tough dame, but sometimes my disability reminds me I may be tough but I’m still at its whim). On the other hand, I felt buoyed by meeting so many really superb people, and especially buoyed the ones that asked me to sign a copy of a thing I wrote, about which I had never even dared to dream when I was a fourth grader and decided I would be a writer when I grew up. Hard not to be red-faced and flattered when someone not only reads something you wrote, but BUYS it and then ASKS YOU TO DEFACE IT WITH YOUR TAG. One fellow asked that I sign a copy of Sweet for his wife, and requested to take a picture of himself next to me as I did so in order to prove to her that he didn’t just fake it (are you out there, sir or sir’s wife? you totally made my YEAR).

I also got to (re)meet some of the other writers at the press who were there: Jude Sierra, Lilah Suzanne and C. B. Lee, all of whom are writers I admire (check out their books at http://www.interludepress.com, or in my reviews on this site. I love all the books–each has several–but can particularly suggest What It Takes by Sierra, Broken Records by Suzanne, and Not Your Sidekick by Lee as favorites.)

Now that BEA is over and the flurry of book conferences has died down a bit (for me) for a while, I can go back to my hidey-hole (thanks, Mr. Bush) and read and write in solitude for a bit.

On my lap right now are two books, so expect reviews soon, of Huntsmen by Michele Osgood and Of Cats and Men by Sam Kalda. Now, please excuse me while I go make up a pot of chamomile-lavender tea and find a cat or dog to warm up my legs as I read in peace.

 

REVIEW: Lunch with the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette by Killian B. Brewer

Lunch with the Do Nothings at the Tammy Dinette by Killian B. Brewer (January 12, 2017); 232 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Somehow, this book slipped past me when it was released back in January, and I only came to it in the past few weeks. It was a sort of late blooming, I suppose.
Lunch… is the story of Marcus, who travels to a little (some would say “Podunk”) town when his grandmother—a grandmother he has never met, due in large part to a rootless mother who kept his life moving from town to town when he was a child—dies and leaves him her house. He comes to town, then, with the intention of quickly tying up any death-related loose ends, selling her property and getting the heck out of Dodge and back to Atlanta, where he’s got a life. (Of course, he’s leaving that life, too—his partner, Robert, is a controlling, manipulative jerk who hit Marcus hard enough to blacken his eye, so Marcus has left him behind in Atlanta and is trying to think himself into a new life.) While in town trying to settle his business, Marcus meets a gaggle of his grandmother’s friends (I think “gaggle” might not be the term for groups of people, but I’m not sure “group” really conveys the real Bodysnatchers-like conspiratory power of this bunch), who call themselves The Do-Nothings and hold regular meetings at a local diner, and who decide to sneak together to get him fixed up with a “good man” and make him stay in town. Despite their misguided efforts, Marcus finds Hank, who is, by all accounts, a “good man.” As a consequence of finding what he wants in a place he doesn’t want, Marcus is faced with questions about what to do with his life: where he will live, what he will do for a living (oh, yes, I forgot to mention the career crisis for Marcus that’s throwing a wrench in the works here), how he will be happy. (It’s another sort of late blooming, I suppose.)

There’s the kind of Southern Charm here about which all of us Northerners seem to fantasize—tough, stubborn, a bit weirdly-executed and don’t-mess-with-us-dangerous, but loving, protective and well-meaning—that reminds one a bit of those great woman-focused south-set stories like Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias, but without that icky schlock stories like that seem intent on doling out. (It feels like the author is not a Northern Fantasizer, but Real Life Southerner.) One is in no danger of choking on pink chintz or juleps or too much saccharine, Poor-Fragile-Diabetic-Shelby-Who-Dies-So-We-Learn-a-Lesson oversentiment (I may have an extra bug up my butt about Steel Magnolias, since I am a juvenile diabetic like Shelby, but I think my point still stands). There’s a light-touch comedy, too, that comes from taking delight in irony: tough-as-nails, ostensibly past-prime Southern belles protecting a young gay man by the means with which they’re familiar (socials, gossip, rifle-wielding).

This novel strikes the right balance between danger and quirk, serious and funny, moving speedily through the plot when it needs to, slowing down when there’s a rose to smell or a point to develop. The characters are lovable and relatable, even to a somewhat cynical Northerner like me. The humor is gentle but easy and fun; the comedy comes from strong character development and not situation (which, in my book, is the best kind of humor).

The romance that Marcus finds is, yes, with a charming and attractive man, but this is not the only romance offered—there’s also the romance of Marcus with his past, with the feeling of family and fitting in and care that the Do-Nothings offer, with the open possibilities of his future, his love of cooking (he discovers this here), even the town’s easy charm. Taken together, all these love stories add up to a person figuring out what (and whom) he loves, how he wants to live, who he is at heart. It’s actually a kind of second chance at this since, though Marcus is quite young, he’s already settled into a life in Atlanta, one which is uprooted and shaken about when he meets the Do-Nothings.

I guess you could call it a kind of late blooming.

REVIEW: Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles

Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles (February 16, 2017); 300 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

 

Beneath the Stars by Lynn Charles tells the romance of Sid, a clothing designer and C-DRT volunteer (those are the folks who support the firefighters and other rescue workers on the scene of a disaster) and Eddie, a firefighter (who is also the fire chief). Playing large parts in this romance are the struggles each character faces with family and loss: Sid’s mother died when he was younger, and his father is in the throes of dementia when the novel begins; Eddie had a baby with his friend Maggie, who died of cancer not many years after, leaving Eddie to raise their now-5-year-old child, Adrian. The two men meet on the scene of a fire and strike up a relationship, but they must figure out how to accommodate their responsibilities to take care of other people and things (Eddie, the fire victims and his son Adrian; Sid, aside from his work as firefighter support, has his suffering father and his fledgling clothing-design business, Bastra).

There is neat symmetry here: though the characters are dealing with very different forms of loss and caretaking, they both do. Negotiating their new relationship together is, in part, about negotiating the difficulties of those pulls in other directions (other people, other cities). Along the way, each becomes imbricated in the other’s concerns (Sid, for instance, becomes attached to Adrian; Eddie… well, I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but Eddie gets attached, too).

This is a mature romance, in other words. Or, it’s a romance about mature people with mature-people problems: kids, illness, jobs, attachments, and very fully-realized lives outside each other. This is the kind of love story that’s hard to find: one in which the world doesn’t stop and end at the romance. I remember when I was young and fell in love—everything else fell away and was secondary; my life (my desires, my time, my location, everything) fit around my love. When I got older, though, falling in love meant having to figure out how to fit my love around my life instead. When two fully-realized lives come together, there’s fitting to be done, compromising and rethinking, falling in love with (or at least learning to tolerate) everything your lover cares for (family, friends, houses, etc.), figuring out how to share with someone else what’s always been yours alone. Very often, younger love gets to be more selfish; mature love has to learn to compromise.

(Don’t misunderstand: these guys are still pretty young, by my standards, but they’re established in their lives. They’re not Romeo-and-Juliet-aged teens. They’ve got roots and responsibilities. Maturity is about that, not the number of candles you put on your cake.

As a result of all the different kinds of attachment, this is a story of different kinds of love. I may be Greek, but I’ve done my best to forget everything I had to learn in Greek School as a kid (yes, non-Greeks, that’s a thing), so I don’t remember the different kinds of love the Greeks named, but I’m pretty sure they’re all here. There’s romantic love, of course, on center stage, but there’s also the love of children, fathers and mothers, friends… and beyond that, there’s the love that is passion for hobbies or work. All those kinds of love figure prominently here.

The title comes from the story’s theme of stars and constellations, a passion that Sid’s father Lou shares with his son. This connection to something more permanent and bigger-than-people fits, for me, with the story’s concern for maturity: love isn’t fleeting, and it’s not limited to your tiny sphere of concern, burning bright and hot, but igniting and burning out fast (like I remember it did when I was 16); mature love is something larger that shifts the world and gives gravity to all bodies,  a force by which to guide ships (was that Aphrodite?), to mark the seasons and the hours, and one that will outlast any single tiny life.

REVIEW: Storm Season by Pene Henson

REVIEW: Storm Season by Pene Henson (February 2. 2017); 226 pages. Available from Interlude Press here

 

OK, so first off I want to state that if I could have figured out how to print this review upside down, I would have done it, since the narrative in Storm Season takes place in Australia, and I am just that corny.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can get on with the real business of telling you about this book. Storm Season tells the story of a woman (Lien) who lives in Sidney but goes camping in the relative wilds with her small cadre of friends, gets distracted while taking photographs, and falls down a hole. Or ravine. Chasm. Some nature-y pit. That’s not the point, and neither is my absolute ignorance of outdoorsy stuff. In this way, actually, I am very like Lien—she’s a city girl to her core, and part of the reason she falls is her insistence on wearing inappropriate-but-fashionable shoes. (She’s a journalist who covers fashion and music. In this way, I am nothing like Lien, because nobody should ever read what I have to say about what to wear. It would be wrong.)

The point is she bangs her ankle bad enough that she can’t get out of the pit or move around much, and she’s rescued by a park ranger (Claudie), who—due to flooding—can’t get her back to her campsite and takes her, instead, to stay with her at her own cabin until the roads and driveable again.

So the two women are forced by circumstance to spend a handful of days together, alone with each other, in a cabin in the wilderness, while kookaburras…make whatever noise they usually do… outside the windows. A few things happen here: first, Lien discovers that Claudie is that Claudie, an ex-indie rock darling, and she’s fascinated. (Why did Claudie quit the band and stop performing to hide in a cabin and be a park ranger? Lien’s Spidey—no, Clark Kent—senses are tingling for the story.) Second, Lien discovers that Claudie, while her polar opposite in most ways (Claudie’s fashion sense seems to be about the practical and bush-ready), is fascinating. And attractive. And, well, stuff happens, and it’s everything you’d hope from a trapped-in-a-cabin-with-a-love-interest narrative.

Eventually, as all storms seem to do, the storm passes, the roads clear, and Claudie can take Lien back to her campsite and her friends. But since Claudie lives in the bush and Lien lives in Sidney, taking her back means letting her go, and paradise is, indeed, Mr. Milton, apparently lost. Of course, that can’t be how it ends, can it? (Hint: it can’t.)

Storm Season is a romance and, like a good real romance, it’s part mystery and part adventure, but with a good soundtrack (if you could hear Claudie’s music, at least). It’s got the inward spiraling focus of strangers-to-friends-to-lovers intensity, without ever feeling claustrophobic. Both characters have connections outside their world together, and there are narratives outside their love story which come to matter (intrigue among Lien’s friends, the story of why Claudie quit making music).

It strikes me that this is a novel about trying to get away but then trying to find your way back. Lien absconds to the bush for a vacay, but hurts herself and can’t get home again. Claudie leaves music, leaves hope, leaves love, but Lien shows her she must figure out a way back into those things. I don’t want to give away more of the novel, but much of its plot and character development are about this going-away-and-returning.

In fact, this kind of form—a run away from the norm, and then a return, slightly different, but still familiar—has a long history in art. In music, it might be the fugue (a form whose name translates as “flight”). In psychology, too, it’s a “fugue state.” In nature, it’s the echo. In literature, I can’t help but think of Boccaccio’s Decameron (great for those who want dirty short stories), in which the unifying tale is one of a handful of friends who escape to the country to avoid the ravages of the Plague, and pass the time telling stories. It’s also the history of the topsy-turvey festival (most notably nowadays, Carnavale in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans) in which revelers turn every societal norm on its head (traditionally paupers dress like kings, men dress as women, fish fly, etc., but nowadays it translates into breaking from “good” behavior and getting drunk and running around half-naked while you’re having sex and cussing a lot, I imagine), but for only a limited amount of time to let off the pressure of being normal, like a steam valve that lets the pot go on cooking.

Storm Season is in this tradition, albeit with a lot less naked running around and more intelligence and feeling. What’s interesting is that it not only revels in the topsey-turvey love-affair-in-a-remote-cabin narrative, but also explores the flip side, what happens when Carnavale is over and somebody has to sweep the streets, when Lien must go back to Sydney and Claudie must stay in her remote cabin and paradise goes slipping away, or falls, maybe, into one of those chasms.