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April Genevieve Tucholke

REVIEW:  Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke

REVIEW: Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve...


Dear Ms. Tucholke,

Between the Spark and the Burn is the follow-up to your debut, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which I read and enjoyed last year. It continues the story of Violet, whose life was rocked when the Redding brothers walked into her life. I won’t summarize what happened in that book — the review’s linked right there. But I will warn new readers that because the books are tightly linked, there may be spoilers in this review. Tread carefully!

The story picks up a few months after Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Despite his promise, River still has not returned to Violet and she begins to fear the worst. Then one night, on a late night paranormal radio program, she hears rumors of weird occurrences and “devil sightings” in an isolated country town. Suspecting that it might be River–or worst, the murderous Brodie–she and Neely (the third Redding brother who stayed) go on a road trip.

They arrive, only to find that River–or Brodie–is gone. But they find clues pointing to other places the brothers may have gone. So their road trip leads them on a chase from one town to next, as they track the brothers. They always seem to be one step behind, until they catch up to River in a North Carolina island community. There, Violet learns her fears were quite founded. Now to find Brodie — except he might be closer than any of them ever suspected.

While I think Between the Spark and the Burn has the same dreamy gothic tone as its predecessor, I enjoyed this book a lot more. I’m fond of road trip stories, and this is basically a gothic monster hunter road trip story! All of my favorite things in one.

I really liked Violet in this. She loves River. She always will in some way. While I wasn’t really okay with these feelings in the previous book for reasons I explained in the linked review, I apprecated how much Violet has grown in the months between. She doesn’t trust River anymore because despite his promise not to, he’s used his powers and they’re harming people. Because of this, she refuses to let herself fall into the same trap again. He’s bad for her, she realizes it, and she makes the correct decision. Essentially, all of the misgivings I had about the first book are addressed. The screwed up relationship is presented as screwed up. It’s not presented as romantic. I loved that this happened!

I also really liked the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Neely. It’s a variation on one of my favorite tropes: Girl goes after guy… and ultimately ends up with guy’s brother/best friend instead. And while you can argue that it’s Bad Boy (River) versus Nice Boy (Neely), I didn’t view it as a love triangle for the reasons I stated above. I understand why other readers would, but by the time they catch up with River, I felt confident that Violet’s feelings for him stopped being romantic and became one more of responsibility and debt. Because of the things River did in the past, and because of the horrible things he does in this book, Violet will never feel the same way about him as she once did. She can’t.

The twist involving Finch made me gasp. It was so obvious. The signs were all there, but I was determined to believe that I was wrong. Never have I been so sad to be right! (I mean this in a good way.) Still, well done on that particular plot thread.

One thing I wish the book had more of is close female friendships. Violet’s friend, Sunshine, is absent for large stretches of the book and while Pine and Canto are introduced, the former only makes brief appearances and the latter is wrapped up in Finch. It just seemed like it was all about Violet and her relationships with the brothers. Yes, that is the premise, but it would have been a nice to see another dimension to her life.

If you imagine a Stephen King story written for the YA set in a gothic style, you’ll get this book. I think the two books together make a fabulous whole. And if you were like me, and viewed the romance in the first book with distaste, know this book will satisfy you. B+

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

REVIEW: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by...

Dear Ms. Tucholke,

I’m a sucker for evocative titles. And if Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is one thing, it’s evocative. It’s the type of title that overrides any misgivings I may have about mysterious bad boys who come into our heroine’s life. We all know that story, don’t we? But your debut puts a small town, gothic sensibility on a familiar premise and I was hooked.

devil-tucholkeViolet White comes from old money. Her family is rich — or used to be, anyway. Their glory days are certainly behind them. Their family estate in the seaside town of Echo is falling apart. Since their parents are conveniently, and irresponsibly, absent, Violet is looking for ways to earn money. One way involves renting out the guesthouse behind their estate. She has no idea if anyone will take up the offer, but then River West shows up on her doorstep.

A bit of an odd duck, Violet has never before shown interest in boys. River changes that. She’s tempted by him in a way she’s never been and falls in love for the very first time. Except River’s mysterious past comes back to bite them with terrible consequences. And Violet will have to face an awful possibility: River just might be the epitome of evil.

I love the idea of gothic horror, but I often struggle with it. I didn’t encounter that struggle here. I fell into this novel and didn’t want to come up for air. From the family estate in its fading decadence to the White family’s numerous buried secrets, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was filled with creeping dread. For me, that is the epitome of horror. It’s not gore or violence. It’s the dread, the anticipation of the axe falling.

I liked Violet a lot. She was such an eccentric girl and I can only imagine how she was viewed by her high school classmates. But I adored how much she loved her grandmother, and how Freddie’s voice constantly came through in the narrative, even though she was already dead.

It made up for the fact that Violet’s parents suffer from the ever-common Absent Parent trope. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of immigrants but I can’t understand how parents could just up and randomly go to Europe on some kind of artist vacation with no firm ending, leaving their twin children behind to fend for themselves. Is this a rich person thing? Is this what it’s like to be so rich that mundane things like paying for food and electricity don’t even occur to you? Someone needs to explain this to me.

While I usually roll my eyes at the mysterious bad boy trope, it worked for me here. Violet inadvertently isolates herself. Unlike her twin, Luke, she doesn’t play any sports. She’s not part of any clubs. She wears her grandmother’s old-fashioned clothes. She thinks other people treat her differently because she comes from the White family and acts like it, which only perpetuates the cycle. So when River shows up on her doorstep, asking to rent the guesthouse and acting like she’s not strange or aloof at all, I can see why she’d find that attractive.

But River has a supernatural ability that has terrible connotations within the context of a relationship. Are Violet’s feelings for River genuine? I think so. Have they been manipulated? I believe so as well. And that’s what makes me pause. Because the romance takes on non-consensual aspects, and that’s uncomfortable to say the least.

In its defense, the narrative does not shy away from this. It treats the manipulation as the awful thing it is. Violet is furious when she finds out. I actually thought her struggle between knowing that manipulation was awful and succumbing because being with River felt so good was authentic for a teenager on the verge of adulthood. I think most people can empathize with this conflict. At some point in our lives, we’ve encountered a situation where we know doing something is wrong or is bad for us (or both) but we do it anyway and screw the consequences.

But because of all this, I couldn’t support the relationship between Violet and River. I don’t trust River not to influence Violet to get his way. It goes beyond my apathy towards bad boys. Psychically manipulating someone to make them stop fighting with you, even to the point of altering their memories, is awful. That’s not a healthy basis for a relationship. I know there’s a sequel forthcoming and I can say that River will have to work hard to make me believe a relationship between him and Violet would not be toxic.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is the first YA gothic I’ve truly enjoyed. I think it’s because the novel partly reminds me of old school Stephen King, and I love old school Stephen King. I’m still reserving judgment on the Violet and River romance. I think it’s toxic, but River has shown that he’s trying to change — even if he keeps failing in spectacular ways. I guess the sequel will tell us whether he wins the battle against himself. And even though there is a sequel, this novel ends in a good place. There’s no cliffhanger and in fact, I think readers can consider it one of those satisfying open-ended conclusions. B

My regards,

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