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  • Writer's pictureNicole Stewart

The Best Surprise

Sometimes I think I do a pretty good job choosing books by a diverse range of authors and from a variety of genres, but at the end of the year when I flip back through my planner (my current method for tracking my reading), I usually get a cold, hard reality check. It's apparently all too easy for me to slip right into a reading rut. My personal go-tos tend to be literary fiction and mystery/suspense. Don't get me wrong, there can absolutely be diversity within each of those categories, but honestly, I've noticed that unchecked, I tend to gravitate toward very similar types of stories.

Yet, when I think about some of the books that I have enjoyed the most and that have left the most lasting impression, so many of them are the ones that go against type for me. They are either books that got a glowing review from a trusted source, or they're those magical books that just somehow appear in your path and then turn out to be the book you needed right at that moment. That last kind - those are the absolute best and I was lucky enough to encounter one recently.

Although I read about a lot of great YA books, I don't actually read that many. I'm not really sure I could tell you why, except that there are always at least 157 books piled on and around my nightstand and, like I said, I'm not great about turning down another deliciously twisty, psychological thriller for something that I might not enjoy as much. On a night when it was nearly bedtime already, but I knew I needed a little something to get me there, on a complete whim, I grabbed an advance copy of Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner. If anything, I was thinking that I didn't want to be awake forever and this would surely be something that would make my eyes feel heavy and I would have no trouble putting down after a couple of chapters. A few hours later, I'm calculating how far I have to go and what time it would be if I let myself go ahead and finish it (way too late!). I had to cut myself off, but went straight back to it after dinner the next evening and finished it in two sittings.

It's the story of two best friends, Josie and Delia, who do a show on their local cable access station where they screen the best really bad horror movies as their vampire alter egos, Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood. Josie and Delia are high school seniors and their lives, which have always been very different (Delia lives in a trailer with a single mom battling depression and Josie lives in a much more stable, upper-middle class family), are about to diverge in a way that may rip them apart. Delia, who is more heavily invested in the show and seems to have few options outside of it, is determined to make it something big enough to keep Josie there - in the show and in her life. Although Josie loves the show and her best friend, and is fiercely loyal to both, her dream has always been to break out of their small town and pursue a career in television. Now that her future is looming, however, she's feeling anxious about striking out on her own.

For me, this was the perfect, intoxicating blend of light-hearted storytelling with moments of real depth and feeling. I have no idea how Zentner captured this kind of young, female friendship so authentically, but it's a big part of what charmed me. I also fell head over heels for these characters, who are unique and universal, flawed but good. They're impulsive, moody, sassmouth teenagers, but they're also funny, smart and full of heart and I definitely enjoyed hanging out with them. I don't voyage into the YA world often enough, but this seems to me one of those archetype kinds of stories replete with fierce friendships, budding romance, pain from the past, insecurity about the future, figuring out who you are and who you want to be. I laughed, I cried, I felt all the feelings, and when it was over, I wanted to hang out with my oldest friend and reminisce over a bottle of wine (or two).

Rayne & Delilah won't hit the shelves until Feb. 26 (sorry!), so if you're looking for a recommendation to hold you over until you can get your hands on this one, here are some other titles that I and my fellow booksellers have been enjoying lately:

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

“A strange virus invades a small university community, sending its victims into deep, seemingly endless sleep and infecting them with extremely powerful dreams. This backdrop provides a perfect scenario for examining the delicate, often unrecognized line between reality and perception. As the crisis deepens, the characters are caught up in a phantasmagorical world that challenges normal conceptions of existence. A thoughtful, provocative novel of strength and beauty.” — Bill Cusmano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

“Here’s what they know: men hurt women, even if they don’t mean to. And the island is the only safe place in a world that has been completely corrupted by pollution — at least that’s what they’ve been told. So sisters Grace, Lia, and Sky occupy themselves with the painful rituals their parents have devised, exercises that will make them stronger and immune to love’s sickness. Every day is the same until their father disappears and three strange men appear in his place. Violence is inevitable, but who will be the perpetrator? Gorgeously, perfectly written, The Water Cure luxuriates in an atmosphere of haunting, Atwoodian strangeness.” — Lauren Peugh, Powell's Books, Portland, OR

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

“Good gracious. I just adore all things written by Lyndsay Faye. Like her glorious Gods of Gotham series,The Paragon Hotel is a clever, fast-paced read with a unique ensemble of characters. Set during the Prohibition era, the novel bounces between the mafia-ridden streets of Harlem and the racially tense community of Portland, Oregon. Steeped in historical detail, The Paragon Hotel is wickedly smart and wholly entertaining. Faye has given readers another deviously delicious story.” — Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, AL

The Gown (available in paperback) by Jennifer Robson

“Ann and Miriam are working for Norman Hartwell as embroiderers in 1947 when his firm receives a commission to create the wedding gown for Princess Elizabeth. As the two become best friends, we learn about their lives before the war and follow them as the gown is created. A fascinating look at life in post-WWII England, a time of both deprivation and joy as the country celebrates the wedding of their princess.” — Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

The Au Pair (available in paperback) by Emma Rous

“If you love beautiful English country houses full of secrets, you’ll devour The Au Pair. Rumors have always surrounded the family that lives at Summerbourne. As Seraphine sorts through her recently deceased father’s possessions, she finds a photo from the day she and her brother were born but doesn’t know why only one twin is in the photo. The answers to that question might lie with the au pair who took care of her older brother, Edwin. When Seraphine starts looking into the past, she doesn’t realize the danger it will pose to her and her family. Rous immediately throws you into the fray with Seraphine’s family, and it won’t take long before you’re furiously flipping the pages to find out what happens.” — John Kwiatkowski, Murder By the Book, Houston, TX

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