REVIEW: Sweetest in the Gale by Olivia Dade
CW: Grief, substance abuse, cancer
Dear Olivia Dade,
Sweetest in the Gale is an anthology featuring three novellas set in your Marysburg series set in and around Marysburg High School in Virginia (although, in the case of the last novella, the link to the high school is somewhat tenuous). Two of the novellas have been previously published in multi-author anthologies which sold, at the time for 99c each. I have them both. The title of the anthology comes from the new story and also provides inspiration for the beautiful cover. I suppose readers, like me, might wonder whether it is “worth it” to buy this anthology in order to just get the one novella. For those who don’t have the others already it’s much easier to decide whether or not to buy. If someone were to ask my opinion on this topic, having read Sweetest in the Gale, my vote is a wholehearted yes. Totally worth it.
Sweetest in the Gale (the story) is a romance and there is a HEA but the theme is grief and loss and some readers may need to choose their timing before reading. Both main characters have suffered a tragic loss and this story is, in part, about how they cope. Candy Albright’s loss is new and fresh. Griff Conover’s is older but no less poignant. I about wore out my highlight function on my ereader when I read, marveling over the pinpoint accuracy of some of the thoughts expressed and/or the beauty of the words even while I, at times, cried. (And no, I’m not going to share them all here. You’re welcome.)
This, this just about broke me because it was so real and true and familiar and contradictory and right.
For the first time, it prompted a fierce ache, but didn’t rend his heart anew. And somehow, that felt like yet another loss.
Griff has been teaching at Marysburg for about a year, having moved after the death of his beloved wife, now three years ago. He noticed Candy all the previous year but has not allowed himself to even think of romantic love so it is only this year, at the start of the new school year that he starts to see glimmers of what could be between them if only he will open himself up to love. What tips the balance for him to at least start that process is the recognition he has that Candy has clearly suffered her own grief over the summer break. She is gray-faced and less kempt than usual. He knows that look and her pain is unbearable to him. When he falls and injures herself while preparing for school to start, he helps her and they progress to a more direct friendship beyond the collegiate relationship they’d had the year before.
Readers of the earlier books in the series, particularly 40-Love will recognise the Principal, Tess Dunn, and will more easily see her benevolent manipulation (although it’s not all that opaque in any event) to bring the pair together with a joint project involving poetry – something both Griff and Tess love and feel passionate about.
The story is overtly about subtext. That seems like a contradiction in terms but you’ll have to trust me on that one. There are layers to it but even I, who freely admits I’m not all that good at subtext, found it easy to read the signs. I suspect however, I could find even more on re-read.
No, not everyone enjoyed interpreting subtext. Not all the time.
He closed his eyes.
Metaphors and poetry are wonderful. But sometimes people need to hear the actual words, love. Marianne had cupped his face, stroking her thumbs over his cheeks, her hair tumbled on a shared pillow. Sometimes I need to hear the actual words. ‘I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m sad. I love you.’
Sometimes I can’t find direct words that encompass everything I want to say, everything I feel, he’d protested.
Consider them handholds. Her fingers were warm and tender on his skin. Easily grasped in hard moments. Easily understood. Easily supplemented with a few good metaphors or lines of poetry. I know your family didn’t talk about feelings, but you’re direct about everything else in your life, Griffin. You can do it. It’ll just take some practice.
There are multiple layers to it but even I, who freely admits I’m not all that good at subtext (I’m generally far more like Candy – although we both can understand poetry well – her better than me of course), I found it easy to read the signs. I suspect however, I could find even more on re-read.
There is a wealth of poetry referenced directly and indirectly in the novella and it inspired me to seek some of it out – they add to the whole and enhance the mood.
Candy is fierce and bright (when she’s not grief-stricken) and Griff admires her greatly even while he’s just a little terrified of her. The way he describes her, both awed and fond is lovely. He sees her as she is and loves her because of those qualities, not in spite of them.
Either way, the day Candy found out about the collage assignment, alien life forms in distant galaxies surely heard her infuriated howl and ran for cover.
I’ve said in the past that I don’t require on-page sex in a genre romance book but I do require intimacy. One common way to show intimacy is via sex but there are plenty of other ways too. Sweetest in the Gale is deeply intimate but there is no on-page sex. I didn’t feel the lack at all. It wasn’t that kind of book. There was nothing missing from it. My intimacy requirements were fully met here.
The novella loses a little momentum toward the end when Griff pulls back to consider whether he can really walk into another relationship, believing he has to let go of the old one to do so. But this section is fairly short-lived and it was a necessary beat for the story to work.
There were apt metaphors about appearance and injury and grief and recovery and it was all bundled up with two very relatable characters who found each other at a really difficult time and found in each other the hope to which the title refers (it’s from a poem from Emily Dickinson).
It’s a novella which has stuck with me long after I finished. I actually needed a break before reading anything else, the effect of it was so powerful.
Unraveled was originally published in the He’s Come Undone anthology. It’s a delightful novella about a starchy tightly-buttoned maths teacher, Simon Burnham and new art teacher Poppy Wick, who is just about his polar opposite. He’s assigned as her mentor and it’s his job to sit in on some classes and evaluate her work. Poppy challenges Simon by her very existence. His entire world is turned upside down by her but in a totally good way. Simon was a very sympathetic character – for all his starchiness he was very generous with his time and his heart was always in the right place. Plus, murder dioramas.
I was charmed by Simon and Poppy.
Cover Me originally appeared in the Rogue Acts anthology it features a story about a marriage of convenience. Elizabeth Stone and James Magnusson have been friends for 30 years. When Elizabeth is diagnosed with possible breast cancer, James offers marriage so she can be included on his health insurance as Elizabeth has none. The “convenience” part doesn’t really last long; it’s clear that the pair love each other but have never before let themselves go there. Elizabeth’s situation provides the impetus to do so. I had the impression that you knew a lot more about the characters than what was on the page. I’d have liked a little more as at times the novella felt a little rushed. There was a lot to take in and a short page count so I didn’t quite get the same emotional buildup as in the previous two stories. Even so, I enjoyed Cover Me and was happy to cheer for the HEA at the end.
Overall Grade: A-