While these two books might seem an odd mix – one fiction and one non; one written by a man and one a woman. (They are both written by white people but let’s be honest—that’s not a theme)—they’re both books that I read and immediately added to my To-Buy list. I didn’t expect to love them both and so both were library books for the first read. Castle of Water ended my year last year and Dear Fahrenheit 451 started my new one. If every year’s transition can go so smoothly for the next fifty or so years, everything might just be ok.
First Up– Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
Why I Almost Quit This Book & Synopsis
I’ll admit, I almost didn’t read this book and even abandoned it after five minutes of trying to listen to the audio. (I couldn’t follow the weird French accent. It’s possible I was also distracted and was listening to a portion in actual French which would explain why I felt like I couldn’t follow it.) A handful of Bookstagrammers I trust had raved about it over the summer and it had the long library wait characteristic of many of the new books I love so I tried again in print. I am so glad I did. This was one of my favorite books last year and I’ve got my eyes peeled for my own copy.
The plot of Castle of Water sounds like one of the “women’s fiction” books that drives me a little batty, which was another initial turn-off. Investment-banker-turned-aspiring-artist Barry and newlywed-newlywidowed Sophie find themselves the sole survivors of a small plane crash, washed ashore on a literal deserted island. Because their plane wasn’t flying where it should have been (of course) no one is looking for them. They’re on the own with the limited supplies in the emergency raft and an endless supply of bananas.
And yet, Huckelbridge takes what sounds like the plot of a hastily written mass-market paperback or even a steamy romance (don’t worry—there are no pirates) and turns it into something absolutely gorgeous. The writing is elevated over your run of the mill fiction book—it’s lyrical in places, haunting in others, and beautiful throughout without ever feeling flowery. Huckelbridge has moments of levity (Barry is dependent upon contacts and only has the three pairs) with moments of deep sadness. As the book reached its crescendo, I found myself with tears streaming down my face in a sports bar. (I wouldn’t recommend reading the last chapters during halftime of a football game. I was trying to deny the emotional twist I suspected was coming and foolishly hit that part in public.)
Both Barry and Sophie are well-rounded and believable, with aspects of their personalities and backstories that seem, on the one hand, ridiculous and on the other entirely believable. Would Barry really give up his entire life and fortune as an investment banker to become an artist? I don’t know, but as a five-foot tall former firefighter, now lawyer, I’m not one to judge on unusual backstories. Most people have something a little quirky in their experience-closets—Huckelbridge hits the right spot of just weird enough to be interesting but not so weird as to be eye-rollingly-unbelievable.
Castle of Water was the book that most surprised me in 2017 and left me wanting more of Huckelbridge’s fiction (this was his first). It’s also one of the books with the most mass appeal—unlike something like The Heart, Castle of Water isn’t so flowery as to seem pretentious. It’s easy to read—it feels accessible and not like something that’s gunning for a literary prize. And yet, there’s so much more to it than a cheap beach read.
Published: April 4, 2017 by St. Martins Press (@StMartinsPress)
Author: Dane Huckelbridge (@huckelbridge)
Date read: December 31, 2017
Next Up — Dear Fahrenheit 451
Smart-ass librarian writes letters to books in her life. Causing cringing, awkward moments of laughing-out-loud in public, and the expansion of many a TBR list.
Yes, I called Annie Spence A Smart Ass
I’m pretty sure she would agree with me. A sample quote:
Reading can get you more hot and bothered than a Tinder date, without the cost of drinks and with a lower frequency of unwanted dick pics.
I have to admit, I expected Dear Fahrenheit 451 to be cute, but I didn’t expect it to be irreverent. This is a librarian we’re talking about here. While Spence’s snark might turn off a handful of readers (I probably won’t recommend this to my mother), I loved her tone and found her sarcasm refreshing.
Her most-biting commentary, however, is directed at books that are safe. She pokes harmless fun at books about cat anatomy and “fun with calculators” (remember 80085?) but doesn’t turn her criticism toward any current books or authors who could take offense. You could see this as safe; however, having a friend who is an author and knowing how hard it is to write a book, this seems to me to be a kindness. Spence doesn’t make her jokes at the expense of anyone currently writing and the only truly negative post that goes beyond joking at outdated technology or weird dissection niches is reserved for a book on how to convert someone from homosexuality. If you’re looking for Mean Girls Read Books, this book isn’t it. I want to meet her—she seems like a girlfriend I’d want to meet at a wine bar and then not talk to while we both read books at the same table.
(Admittedly Minor) Complaints
My complaints about this book are only two and deal with two specific books she recommends—that she sort of spoils a twist in a book and that she recommended Roth’s Divergent series. As to the first, there is a book I love where a twist isn’t revealed for several chapters (though, I admit, it is revealed somewhere around a quarter of the way in, possibly earlier. It was an audiobook so it’s a little hard to recall how early it was. But it was early.). I loved that early twist and knowing it ahead of time would have taken something away from the experience for me. Spence summarizes the book in one sentence giving away that twist. I begrudged her a little for that. As to Divergent, I thought we all agreed that Allegiant was so awful that it ruined the books that preceded it?
Even with those two little complaints, this is still a book I loved. Though I was trying not to add books to my ever-multiplying TBR, I still added fifteen books to the list of books I want to read. If you pick this book up and you’re trying to decide whether or not to read it, flip to page 36 in the hardback and read her summary of getting progressively drunker and angrier at a pretentious bookshelf at a party. This chapter had me in tears—I made several people read that chapter as an explanation of why I loved the book. If that chapter hits the right note in your snark bone (located just behind the funny bone), pick up Dear Fahrenheit 451. You won’t be disappointed.
Published: September 26, 2017 by Flatiron Books (@flatiron_books)
Author: Annie Spence
Date read: January 4, 2018