Freddie once told me that the Devil created all the fear in the world.
But then, the Devil once told me that it's easier to forgive someone for scaring you than for making you cry.
The problem with River West Redding was that he'd done both to me.
The crooked-smiling liar River West Redding, who drove into Violet's life one summer day and shook her world to pieces, is gone. Violet and Neely, River's other brother, are left to worry—until they catch a two a.m. radio program about strange events in a distant mountain town. They take off in search of River but are always a step behind, finding instead frenzied towns, witch hunts, and a wind-whipped island with the thrum of something strange and dangerous just under the surface. It isn't long before Violet begins to wonder if Neely, the one Redding brother she thought trustworthy, has been hiding a secret of his own . . .
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MY DEAD GRANDMOTHER Freddie once told me that the Devil created all the fear in the world.
But then, the Devil once told me that it’s easier to forgive someone for scaring you than for making you cry.
The problem with River West Redding was that he’d done both to me.
Since then I’d spent months just waiting. Waiting on my rotting mansion’s wide front porch, on its secret little beach at the bottom of the cliffs, in its nefarious guesthouse. And I was getting antsy. I’d tasted love and terror last summer, and it left a sweetness in my mouth. I wanted to go somewhere. Anywhere. I wanted to make something happen. I wanted to get bone-shaking scared and face my fear. I wanted to get scratched. Bruised. Bloody.
River and his brother Brodie were gone. Long gone. Doing God knows what. Alone. Or together. Who knew.
Was River the Devil?
Mostly I tried not to think of them. Either of them. Of what they were up to or the trouble they were causing or the lies they were lying.
And mostly that didn’t work. At all.
Where are you, River?
Silence and not a word. Not for months. Neely had gone looking, but nothing. Maybe this was a good thing. Maybe it meant River was keeping his promise. But then why hadn’t he come back? He’d glowed up my damn heart last summer and then left without a trace. He’d been gone so long now that I could barely remember the smell of his skin. Or the way his eyes lit up when he lied. And lied. And lied.
River, what would you say if you could see me now, lonely little book-reading Violet, talking about getting in trouble and making something happen? Would you crooked-smile at me with that glint in your eyes and say, “I like you, Vi”? Or would you look worried and run your hands through your hair, and wonder what the hell had changed inside me since last summer?
A gust of cold wind blew in off the sea and smacked me in the face. Instead of wincing, I smiled. I had a blanket around my shoulders, coffee in a nearby thermos, and a pair of binoculars in my hand. The sea stretched on forever before me, and my thoughts went with it.
I’d read stories of widows who never recovered from the Death at Sea of their captain husbands. Widows who spent their days wandering the seashore, waiting.
But that wasn’t what I was doing down here, under the moody sky by the capering waves in the hidden little cove by my cliff-hugging tumbledown mansion that my grandmother Freddie had named Citizen Kane.
My Freddie-blue eyes squinted under the cold, glaring sun. I’d starting watching the ships again, out there on the Big Blue. I’d started wishing I was on them.
I sighed as a freezing winter breeze blew across my neck. A wave crashed into the sand and stretched its long fingers toward me. It drenched my feet and the hem of Freddie’s red dress—which I had stupidly worn down to the beach when I knew better. The seawater made the dress look redder, like it was blushing.
My hands pressed into cold ground. I leaned back. Closed my eyes. The sand rubbed against the Brodie-scars on my wrists, and they started hurting. But it was a good hurt, like cold snow melting on warm skin. Or like kissing River’s lips after he lied.
Maybe it was River’s magic that made me think of him still. Made me talk to him like I used to talk to Freddie. Maybe it was that bit of glow still lingering in me like the last tingle of opium in an addict’s blood.
River, I found something.
Freddie once caught me climbing a tree in the Citizen’s backyard. I was twenty feet off the ground and still going up when I heard her voice. GET DOWN RIGHT NOW, VIOLET WHITE. The second my feet hit earth she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me for five whole minutes, maybe more.
“Your life is not your own, Vi,” she said. “Don’t you know that? It belongs to the people who love you. So you need to take better care of it.”
Freddie was right, I supposed.
I wasn’t taking very good care of my life. Not since River came into it.
And yet . . .
I walked back up the steep trail toward home, my wet dress hitting my boots with a smack, each step. And I sang a little song to myself, something that I made up as I went along, something that was melancholic and nursery rhyme, something that sounded a little bit like A-hunting I will go, a-hunting I will go.
I FOUND MY parents painting out in the shed—it got great afternoon sun, even in winter, which it was. It sat there, squat and chipping paint, in its little shaft of sunshine, wedged in between the skeletal winter woods and the overgrown maze and the now empty guesthouse and the beautiful, buffeted, browbeaten, salt-stained Citizen Kane.
I loved the ocean. Its sounds were like lullabies and mothers’ voices—I’d grown up on them, a soundtrack of lapping waves and seagulls and storms.
Yet the rollicking sea sea sea was a bully. I reached up to the low roof of the shed and knocked off a couple of icicles. A rotted piece of wood fell with them. I left it on the ground and went inside.
My brother was in there too, painting away, and the redheaded orphan boy, Jack. My next-door neighbor Sunshine was sitting on the floor, watching. I sat down next to her and enjoyed the cluttering bodies and the burnt smell of the space heater in the corner.
It was Christmas Eve and pretty much everyone I knew was packed into a painting shed. There wouldn’t be any baking, or decorating, or caroling. Not with the Whites, not at the Citizen. But that was all right with me.
“So I’ve decided to go after River.”
I said it quick, just like that, before I had a chance to think better of it.
“Who is River?” my mother asked, head snapping up, looking straight at me. Really looking, for once. Most of the time her eyes were distracted and dreamy when she talked to me, as if her mind were clicking through colors, figuring out the exact peachy shade of my skin, the perfect wheat-yellow combination of my blond hair. My parents painted and the rest of us moved around them in a blur.
“Neely’s older brother,” Luke said when I didn’t answer. They searched my face, Luke and Jack and Sunshine, trying to puzzle out why I’d brought up River after all this time, why I’d dipped my toes into that mess of lying, glowing, out of control, brown-eyed, brown-haired rich boy.
The hell if I knew why I did it. The words just fell out of my head, out of my mouth, like leaves off trees. Like snow out of the sky.
Maybe there was something in the air.
I wondered if Neely would be back for Christmas.
I missed him.
I missed the way he reminded me of River—the way he drank espresso with narrowed eyes and ran his hands through his hair.
Though Neely’s hair was blond, like mine, not brown, like River’s.
And Brodie, the other brother, the half brother, his was red. Red, red, red.
I missed the way Neely laughed at everything. Redheaded cowboys with knives. River’s lying. Everything.
I missed the way he loved his older brother so damn much and at the same time really liked putting his fists in River’s face.
Neely had run off three times already, trying to find his older brother, trying not to think about his younger one.
I wanted Neely to come back. But not because he looked like River. And not because I was restless and cabin-fevered and dying for something to happen.
I wanted him to come back because I’d found something while he was gone.
“Violet.” This from Dad, though he didn’t look up from the sunset colors he was splashing on his canvas. He leaned forward on his little wooden painter’s chair, his nose almost touching the wet paint, and the pink skin of his bald spot caught the winter sun coming through the shed’s skylight. He motioned at me with his free hand. “Violet, fetch me the Dante.”
I knew better than to ask follow-up questions when my father was painting. They wouldn’t get answered, so I didn’t even try.
People didn’t change. Not really. Not ever.
Except . . .
Freddie changed, once. She’d given up booze and boys and trouble and painters and Reddings. I’d found the letters. I knew.
I’ve changed too, River. You would have noticed, if you were here, because you notice everything.
Even Luke and Sunshine were different now, after Brodie. After the bat and the rat and the cutting and the leaving me for dead. They were deeper, darker, quieter. Freddie used to say that kids were sponges, soaking up everything around them.
I wondered what I had soaked up from River last summer.
Freddie would have been able to tell me.
I looked from Dad to Mom. Dad leaned forward when he was concentrating. Mom leaned back. Her straight brown hair, long like mine and Sunshine’s, swished across her back as her pretty hazel eyes blinked against the bright light.
I went to the door.
I turned back around. My twin brother waved his fingers at me, just like dad. “Fetch me some coffee.”
“Me too,” Jack said from the far corner, though he at least glanced up and gave me a grin to take the edge off.
I walked up the steps of the Citizen, on my way to the library. I’d been sitting right there, right there on those steps, reading Hawthorne on a balmy, breezy June day, when I first saw River. When I first saw the wavy hair and the brown eyes and the black linen pants and the white button-down shirt and the panther hips and the all of it.
Dante. Citizen Kane’s big, fat, twisty-staired dusty library was a thing to behold. The long velvet curtains hadn’t been drawn to let in the sun, and the room was shadowed and cold. So cold it burned the inside of my nose. I thought about starting a fire in the fireplace—there was some old wood piled up in a nearby basket from God knew when. But as my fingertips touched the knobby bark I remembered reading a story about someone somewhere who lit a fire under a sooty chimney, breathed in, and fell over dead.
So I just stood in the icy library shadows wondering what to do, and the next thing I knew, I was shivering. And it might have been from the cold. Or it might have been that dark rooms made me think of Brodie now. Of him watching and listening and waiting, all those days last summer when we didn’t know he was there.
I went to the floor-length curtains and yanked them open with both arms, dramatically, like people do in movies. Dust exploded into the air and rolled around in the pale winter light.
The world outside was still. Holding its breath, like it was waiting for snow. The pine trees were tall and green, as always, but everything else was brown and stiff and dead. The sea was calm and gray, reflecting the cloudy sky above. The broken nude fountain girls had lost their dresses of ivy, and icicles hung from their fingertips and noses and breasts.
One bold ray of sunshine shoved its way through the clouds and reached into the library, and suddenly everything inside looked comfy and cozy. The books seemed to be fidgeting in the light, as if wanting to be held. Even the ratty sofa seemed to be smiling at me, and looked like it wanted me to curl up in its arms.
I started up the spiral staircase to the poetry section, flinching when the frigid metal railing touched my palm. I found Dante’s Inferno on the bottom shelf, the last book on the end, covered in gray dust so thick it looked like the book was wearing a wool sweater. No one had put their hands on this shelf in a while.
John White needed inspiration from Dante’s description of hell, no doubt. My dad painted hell a lot. Maybe because his mother, my grandmother Freddie, had talked about the Devil all the time.
Or maybe not.
I reached for the book, and breathed in. Dust and frozen air. Hell sounded kind of good at the moment. Warm.
I was glad my parents were home. Even if they’d gone to Europe for all those months, and sent no postcards, and seemed to forget us entirely, caught up in their art like a person gone stupid and selfish with their first taste of love. I was still glad to have the bastards back. I was.
I leaned over the black railing that bordered the upper level, wrapping all the way around the library. I hugged the dusty Dante to my chest, and looked down at the grand room below.
We should spend more time in here. Instead of just the kitchen and the painting shed and the attic and our bedrooms. We should try to be a family in here. It’s a family kind of room.
Freddie used to end her summer nights in the library, sitting on one of the swoopy art deco sofas, reading to herself or out loud to me. In late spring it always smelled like the lilac bushes outside the windows, and I figured not even River would have nightmares if he went to sleep with the smell of those purple flowers floating in from outside . . .
My eyes shifted to the side of the room, and the thought drifted away.
I saw it.
There were sloppy stacks of books on the floor in the corner near the fireplace and the grandfather clock. They had been growing and growing over the five years since Freddie’s death. One tower had collapsed onto its side and lay sprawled across the floor . . . and behind the collapsed tower was another stack of books, almost hidden in the shadows. But the shaft of winter sun hit it now in just the right place. And I saw it.
The color of green tea with cream in it.
Of moss growing up a tree.
Of Freddie’s ancient ruby-eyed tiger statue carved from jade that we’d had to sell three years ago.
That specific shade of green was Freddie’s favorite color. My wonderful, flawed, blue-eyed, Devil-fearing grandmother Freddie.
I’d looked for it for years . . . something that Freddie had poured her secrets into. Something that Freddie had left for me. Only me. Not Luke, not my parents. Just me. I found it last summer—letters to Freddie from Jack’s grandfather, and River’s too. But I didn’t think that was all of it. Freddie used to read me gothic books right here in this library. Books in which characters uncovered secret diaries from departed loved ones. She had to know I would look for hers, after her death.
I dropped the Dante and took off down the spiral steps. I pushed books out of my way, reckless and stupid like a bully in the schoolyard. I reached forward, fingers grasping, grasping, and then the Freddie-green was in my hand, my palm gliding along the creamy green leather, butter-smooth.
I opened it.
Saw the thick, heavy writing, as familiar to me as the tilt of her nose and the lilt of her voice.
I’d found it, damn it all. I’d finally found it.
Merry Christmas, Violet, Freddie whispered, from wherever she was.
September Can still feel Will’s lips on me. On my neck, stomach, back, hips, thighs . . .
The diary felt warm in my hands, like it had kept a little bit of living, breathing Freddie in it.
I was lying in River’s bed, in the guesthouse. I hadn’t done that in months. The lamp with its red fringe shade was shooting blood-colored slants across the bed. I could see smudges on the nightstand where my fingertips had disturbed the dust.
Freddie’s diary wasn’t a day-by-day-er. She listed months but not years, which fit my mysterious grandmother to a damn T. She couldn’t give too much away. Even in her diary.
I’d only read the first line and already I felt filled up and ready to burst.
Will. River’s grandfather. Neely’s grandfather. Brodie’s grandfather. I wasn’t surprised that the diary opened with him. It felt like locks clicking and puzzle pieces snapping into place.
So I read the first line again.
And then again.
I couldn’t seem to make myself move past it and read on.
Maybe I was a coward. A Freddie-coward. Maybe I didn’t want to know this person who let boys like River’s grandfather kiss her thighs.
I kept reading that one line, over and over, never getting any further, holding my breath, letting it out, holding it again, until the book floated down onto my chest, and I drifted off to sleep in between one word and the next . . .
Something banged in the kitchen. My heart jumped into my throat, the way it does when I sleep too hard and wake up too fast.
And then it all came back, boom, and I was there, right there, me and Brodie standing by the railroad tracks, the dead boy at our feet, Brodie’s flaming red hair, tall and skinny as they come, Brodie, in the guesthouse kitchen, my blood covering his neck and shoulders, his face pushed into mine, the smell of copper and steam and madness hugging me up just as I hugged him up and Luke had the knife at Neely’s throat and River just stood over the kettle of hissing water and—
I turned off the lamp. Strained forward in the dark.
It was Brodie’s boot heels clicking on the floor. It was.
I put my hands to my face and my screams were as silent as the moonlight cutting across the end of the bed.
And then I stopped.
I threw back the blankets. I was done silent-screaming. If it was Brodie, then he’d get me no matter where I was, so I might as well meet him standing up.
Besides, I’d asked for this. I’d wanted something to happen. And now it had.
I went to the kitchen, feeling my way down the dark hall.
The guesthouse kitchen was empty, no one, not a soul, no moka pot on the stove, no cups in the sink, no smell of coffee in the air, no tall boy in the shadows.
The wind was beating on the kitchen shutters, making the latches shake. That’s all it was.
I breathed out. And in.
I’d been ready to meet him. Hadn’t I?
I opened the windows. It was black, all black, outside. A storm was brewing out on the ocean. I could smell it more than see it, smell the sea being stirred up, pushing salt into the air. Maybe we were finally going to get some snow.
I pulled my cardigan tighter. The guesthouse had heating, and was one-tenth the size of Citizen Kane, with lower ceilings, so it was actually warmer sleeping here than in my own bed. But then I usually wrecked it all by opening the windows to let the sea air in.
I looked around the kitchen.
One boy. Coffee. Lies.
Two boys. Coffee. Fighting.
Three boys. A knife. And blood, blood, blood, blood, blood.
A snowflake blew in through the window. It floated up, and then twirled down to land on my cheek.
I felt the heat first. Before the fingers, and the palm. It permeated my dream, warmth pouring down my back and making me shiver with the goodness of it in the cold, cold room.
“Vi, wake up.”
I pushed my eyelids open. Neely’s hand was on my upper back. I turned over, and his hand moved to the pillow beside me.
“Neely,” I whispered.
“Hey,” he said, and smiled, ear to ear, his eyes glinting so bright I could see them even in the dark.
“Did you find him?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
He shook his head. “It was just a bunch of bored, lying kids with some mischief to burn off. Evil fairies prey on small Connecticut town . . . It was a long shot. I should have known better. Tabloids.”
I slid over and Neely stretched himself out on the bed beside me. We both stared up at the dark ceiling.
“It’s cold in here,” he said.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” I said back. “December. Maine. Notorious.”
“Yeah, but that radiator over there is clinking and clanking away. No, it’s cold in here because you opened the windows like someone with a death wish.”
Neely laughed again and it was low and rumbling and chuckling and made me want to laugh right along with him. He lifted his arm and pressed something on his wrist. His watch lit up. “Eleven thirty. Almost Christmas Day.”
I turned my head and looked at him. “Merry Christmas, Neely.”
He grinned. “I got you something.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“But I didn’t get you anything.”
“Well then, give it here.” I was grinning right back at him.
“No way. You’ll get it later, when we open presents with everyone else. You guys put up a tree like I told you to?”
I shook my head, and my hair rustled against the pillow.
He sighed. “Fine. This morning we’re getting a tree. First thing. All you have to do is walk into the woods past your backyard, and chop. Throw some lights on it. It’s not hard. You’re worthless, all you little Rembrandts. Get your head out of your paints. Christmas comes but once a year.”
I reached up and turned on the lamp by the bed. Neely jumped into focus. Blond hair, the roots a bit darker now that they weren’t bleached white by the sun. Big smile. Beaming blue eyes. Broken nose. Tall and long next to me on the bed. No bruises. At least not where I could see them. He hadn’t been fighting, then.
It was nice to see him again. It really, really was.
“Want some coffee?” I asked.
He nodded, looking at me in the same pleasant way I was looking at him.
Freddie’s diary was still lying on the bed. I moved it to the nightstand. I wasn’t ready to tell Neely about it yet. Not him, not Luke, not anyone.
I buttoned my yellow cardigan over my long white nightgown—the one Luke hated, because he said it made me look like a wailing Victorian ghost—and then put on a pair of striped wool socks to counteract the freezing floor. Neely was already in the kitchen, warming up the moka pot and pulling down espresso cups from the cupboard.
I watched him as he poured the steaming coffee. I breathed in the salty sea air and the roasty toasty espresso and the clean soft smell of falling snow. The flakes were blowing in stronger now, dancing around Neely’s head. He handed me a cup and I sipped the coffee, slow, and looked around the guesthouse.
It still had the chipped teacups and the yellow cupboards and the patchwork quilts and the paintbrushes drying on the counter and the tubes of paint scattered on tables and windowsills. But all of them meant something more to me now. Things had happened here. Important things. Kissing and lying and cooking and cutting. The guesthouse would never just be the guesthouse again.
“What are you doing?” Neely asked.
I’d finished the joe, turned on one of the dim kitchen lights, and started digging around in the closet by the front door.
“Here it is.”
I looked at Neely over my shoulder. He was leaning one hip into the kitchen counter in the same graceful way that River used to. He was barefoot too, even with the cold, and he had the same pretty feet as his older brother.
A snowflake flew in and landed on the top of his left foot, right on the smooth skin at the base of his big toe. And something about it, about the snowflake melting gently on his pretty Redding foot, made my stomach flutter.
I turned back to the closet. “I found this when I was looking for the Citizen’s blueprints last summer—we never did find that secret passageway . . .” I pulled the brown wooden box out, stood up, and brought it to the table.
“That thing is never going to work,” Neely said.
I picked up the frayed old cord, plugged it in, and static filled the kitchen.
“You were saying?”
“I’ve been listening to the radio a lot since you left. Something about hearing things from the wider world . . .” I paused. “It’s been appealing to me. I was fiddling with the vintage Freddie radio in my bedroom one night, looking for this AM station that plays War of the Worlds every Saturday. But what I found was this.”
I spun the dial, right, left, right again, and there it was. A man’s voice, deep and cultivated like Orson Welles’s, speaking of, started rolling over us.
Hey there, believers. It’s Wide-Eyed Theo. I’m here. You’re here. And it’s the witching hour. That means it’s time for your daily dose of Stranger Than Fiction. Are you ready?
First of all, Merry Christmas to those out there who still honor the conventional holidays. Good for you. And in the spirit of festive things, our top story tonight comes from a woman in Toronto who claims that a man calling himself “Father Christmas” has been visiting her each year on Christmas Eve since she was fifteen. He’s attractive, bearded, and in his mid-forties. He doesn’t seem to age. According to her, she wakes up to find him standing over her bed. They share one loving night, and he’s gone the next morning. The woman’s husband, who sleeps in the bed next to her, has never woken up during the visit, and seems not to . . .
And then. The part I was waiting for. The part I wanted Neely to hear.
. . . Last but not least, I mentioned the other night that a small community in the Appalachian Mountains has been seeing, quote, “a boy with flames in his eyes and hooves instead of feet.” This is all I’ve got, so if you can make something of it, then you’re smarter than me. But I’m going to squeeze my source for more info tomorrow. Stay tuned.
I clicked the radio off. “Well? Is there anything to it? It’s got to be better than the tabloids, right? A boy with devil-feet? That could be something. It could.”
Neely looked at me. “River’s been gone for months. I’ve always been able to track him down before, Vi, but now . . . nothing. No stories, not even in the local papers. No one is talking. Maybe it means River’s just hiding out somewhere and not using the glow.” Neely paused for a long second. “Still, for some reason, I’m starting to get . . . frantic.”
Neely didn’t look frantic, standing there, all tall and smiling with that chipper gleam in his eyes that said I’m-one-second-away-from-laughing.
Freddie used to say there were many ways to lie, and most didn’t use your mouth.
I wrapped my hand around Neely’s arm, the one with the scar.
“We’ll find him,” I said.
Neely put his hand on mine. “I know. It’s just . . . what kind of shape will he be in when we do? I have a bad feeling, Vi.”
A cold wind burst in through the window, and we both shivered.
“Maybe he’s just holed up in some pleasant place like Quebec City,” I whispered. What is it about snow in the middle of the night that makes you want to whisper? “We’ll find him wearing a red knit scarf and he’ll speak flawless French and eat poutine every day for lunch.”
“Yeah,” Neely whispered back at me, not smiling now. “But I doubt it.”
I hugged him then, hugged him up hard, like I’d been wanting to do since I first saw him. Because I doubted it too.
Standing there in the kitchen with the smell of coffee and the cold and the snow and Neely’s arms tight around me, all I could hear was the little voice inside my heart that whispered, None of this is going anywhere good, anywhere good at all . . .
FIRST THING, NEELY woke us kids up at dawn, just as the first pink was squeezing into the winter sky. He made us all march through the fresh fallen snow in Citizen Kane’s backyard to get a Christmas tree.
Sunshine had a thick blue hat pulled down over her long brown hair, and her brown eyes were clear and lazy. Whether Neely fetched her at the Black family cabin down the road, or whether he’d found her in Luke’s bed, I didn’t know. Sunshine’s parents, Cassie and Sam, were already used to their only child spending most of her time at our house, so I guess the transition to her dating my brother had been pretty easy.
Luke looked happy. He carried an ax in one hand, and Sunshine’s fingers in the other. The early-morning light brought the red out in his hair, and Jack’s too.
Jack was singing a song about snow that he made up as he went along. The serious, quiet Jack I’d known last summer, the one who organized those kids in the cemetery to fight the Devil, the one who’d been tied up in the Glenship attic, the one who had his back sliced up by Brodie’s knife . . . he was pretty much gone.
Jack was still serious when he painted, but otherwise . . . I guess life at Citizen Kane suited him. Now he was all about running around the house for no particular reason other than the joy of doing it. Or making “forty-ingredient sandwiches” in the kitchen with Luke, and then daring him to take the first bite. Or drinking too much coffee too late at night and then jumping up and down on one of the guest beds for twenty minutes, begging me to join him.
My parents accepted Jack into their life, as if he’d always been there. As if they’d always had an eleven-year-old son and just forgot about him for a while.
I never told them Jack was their nephew. Half nephew. Or that Freddie had an affair with a painter and it led to my father. Or that my father had a drunk brother who wasn’t a great guy and was dead now anyway so what did it matter. Maybe I would tell them one day, but I hadn’t yet.
Luke and Jack picked out the tree, a straight pine, just taller than Neely, and started chopping. Snow fell on them from the branches above and they laughed. Sunshine was by my side, drinking coffee from a thermos Neely offered her. Neely put his arm around my shoulder in a companionable way and the tree fell over into a cloud of fresh snow like a spoon dropped in a bowl of powdered sugar.
Neely had come home for Christmas and I was about as happy as I was going to get, all things considered.
Roaring fire in the library. Check. Tree decked to the nines with glass ornaments found in the attic. Check. Blizzard smashing the world up outside. Check. Sunshine’s parents cooking for everyone in the Citizen’s big kitchen. Check.
My own parents set aside their paints for the night and Mom dug up some crispy yellowed sheet music from somewhere and we sang about the holly and the ivy and the three ships sailing in and the feast of Stephen. We ate juicy organic ham with mustard and maple syrup, and buttery potatoes, and spindly baby parsnips, and roasted chestnuts, and brown beer gingerbread. We drank spiced apple cider and hot buttered rum.
And then we opened gifts. I got a new knit scarf, black with white stripes, from Cassie, Sunshine’s mother. Sunshine gave me a classic novel about one boy’s journey of impossible coincidences and random fornications. My parents gave me a bottle of perfume, the same Freddie used to wear, brought to me all the way from Paris. Luke gave Jack his own set of paintbrushes, brand-spanking-new, and I gave them both a screen printing kit, which seemed to excite them in exactly the way I hoped it would.
And so on. Though I didn’t see Neely’s present, the one he said he’d gotten for me, and I’d been looking forward to it too.
After sunset the blizzard blew away again, and we all went outside to see the sea and the stars. The snow pressed in around our ankles and the sky went on forever and I sort of thought, This is a pretty good day.
The adults played cards at a card table rustled up from the cellar. My parents, playing cards just like normal parents, though my father had always said card games were for children and halfwits. Sunshine’s mother and father sat with their skinny behinds on the edge of their chairs, and took the game very seriously, with Cassie calling for breaks every forty minutes so she could brew up more Darjeeling. She grew up in England and ran on tea like River and Neely ran on coffee.
Eventually I followed Neely into the kitchen and watched him put thick chunks of dark chocolate in a pot, add some whole milk, and some maple syrup, and melt it all until it was steaming. He spiced it with cinnamon, and a pinch of chili powder, and a shot of espresso, and poured it into an old stainless steel thermos. And then we tromped up the three flights of stairs to the Citizen’s cluttered, dusty, beautiful attic.
“You look pretty,” Jack said to me as he sipped from his mug of chocolate, the steam making his cheeks pink.
He was nestled into his usual place, right up next to me on one of the old sofas. He had on the black hand-knit sweater he’d gotten from Cassie, and my new black-and-white scarf, because it was freezing. Silver-white frost blossomed across the round windows, and the air was light and sharp. Luke had plugged in the space heater, but it hadn’t worked its magic yet.
“You do look pretty,” Neely said, sitting down on my other side. “Your blue eyes look bluer in the cold. Did you know that?”
“Freddie’s eyes were like that too,” Luke said. He glanced between Neely and me and looked kind of snappy and smart-alec for a second, like he knew something I didn’t.
But the hell if I was going to ask him about it.
“I painted a portrait of Freddie once, outside on a bright day in February.” Luke’s expression went a bit deep and distant. “I was just a kid, but I remember how hard it was to mix the blue for her eyes—it was the color of the ocean and the sky and . . . every color in between, somehow.”
I smiled at him. “Luke, you get so poetic when you talk about art. It almost makes you likable.”
Sunshine grinned. She leaned back into my brother, and he tucked a blanket around both of them and then his distant look went away.
“You know what makes you almost likeable, Vi?” he asked. “When you forget to act smarter than everyone else for half a second. When you stop being eccentric long enough for a person to get a word in edgewise. When you stop wearing our dead grandmother’s clothes and put on something that doesn’t smell like dust and closet.”
Sunshine laughed her throaty laugh. “I do like your new dress, Vi. We were all sick of seeing you in a dead person’s clothes.”
My dress was silky and long and black and came with a smooth, pale yellow cardigan that had small pearl buttons. My mother had bought it in NYC during my father’s art show in October and given it to me for Christmas. I ran my hands over the skirt again. I liked the way it slid back and forth against my cold thighs, soft as air. I probably should have been saving it for a special occasion, because I didn’t get new clothes very often, but what the hell.
Excerpted from "Between the Spark and the Burn"
Copyright © 2014 April Genevieve Tucholke.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"The faded opulence of the setting is an ideal backdrop for this lushly atmospheric gothic thriller . . . Darkly romantic and evocative."—Kirkus
"The lush and polished prose, eerie locales, and pervading sense of dark unease are just as engrossing as they were in the first installment. . . .The twists, secrets, and Redding-brand mayhem make this a worthy successor."—School Library Journal
"Horror and romance blend seamlessly in Tucholke's distinctive prose. . . .[T]hose already captured by Tucholke's previous installment will not want to put this one down."—VOYA
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this lovely series!
I absolutely love Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea and I almost wish April had left it at that. I'm not entirely sure what happened during Between the Spark and the Burn, but I felt unfilled, let down, and confused upon finishing. The magic, mystery, and intensity was missing from the second half of this duology. April's writing style is still excellent and engaging, but plot wise I feel like she lost momentum somewhere around the middle. I kept waiting for something to happen, but it was a lot of . . . nothing. The twist was lackluster - and while I didn't see it coming - it felt as if the character's did. It happened and their reaction was "Oh, well that's interesting" and then they moved on with their lives. I really wanted to love Between the Spark and the Burn as much as I did Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea, and there were aspects I enjoyed but overall I wanted more.
This failed on many levels
Boring. I read the first one and it was so/so so I gave the sequel a chance. I only made it half-way. Violet drove me crazy with her obsession with River. They picked up people in the way a crazy cat lady collects felines. There was some action but there was so much in-between that I got tired of skimming. I liked the ties between the past and the present (continued from the first one) but there was just not enough to see me through to the end. I felt my time was worth more than this read.
I loved this series. One of my favorites to date. The characters and setting in these books is amazing. The mysteries and glamor of these Whites and Reddings will leave you wanting more. These books make me want to buy a dilapidated mansion on the sea, learn how to use a mocha pot, and hangout in a dusty old attic looking for clues about my mysterious Grandmother.
“Go forth and find the strange” and so I did as I open Between the Spark and the Burn, the second book of this duet and I found inside, intriguing characters with eccentric stories for which I could not decide whose tale was superior. As the characters were introduced the stories became more sinister and complex, I threw myself into the story, ready for anything and everything. To fully understand the book, you should have read the first one as things take off quit quickly with just a few tidbits of information about what happened in the previous book. Vi wants to find River and Brodie but what she wants to do with them are totally different. Wide-Eyed Theo’s daily radio show gives nightly reports of strange occurrences and “a boy with flames for eyes and hooves instead of feet” has Vi thinking it might be one of the Redding boys. It’s a road trip with Vi’s determination leading the way with River’s brother Neely, Luke and Sunshine bringing up the rear. It’s the adventure of getting there and the way the author put the details into that adventure that I really enjoyed. It’s not a book that jumps around; you are truly on an adventure visiting many different places. Arriving at Inn’s End, the foursome enter silence, eerie silence, the town is dark with black- feathered corpses littering the ground and dangling for all to see. No signs of life except for the lights in the windows. I held my breath, wanting to savor this moment, how intense, what has just happened? Moments like these, reading the words written on the page and capturing the image in my own head occurred quite often as accompanied Vi on her journey. So certain that these reports from Wide-Eyed Theo had something to do with the Redding boys, they listened to the radio quite often, listening to the callers call in with their reports of strange occurrences in their towns. Acting on a whim they would go, hunting down the brothers if it remotely sounded like something they would do using their powers. Although we have the same characters as the first book, I was surprised in the shift between the two books. The first book had romance, a close-knit appeal to it and this book reached out to a broader community and there wasn’t much romance. Vi has many flashbacks to her days with River but times are changing and so is River.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Between the Spark and Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke Book Two of the Between series Publisher: Dial Books Publication Date: August 14, 2014 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the author (thank you, April!) Summary (from Goodreads): Freddie once told me that the Devil created all the fear in the world. But then, the Devil once told me that it's easier to forgive someone for scaring you than for making you cry. The problem with River West Redding was that he'd done both to me. The crooked-smiling liar River West Redding, who drove into Violet's life one summer day and shook her world to pieces, is gone. Violet and Neely, River's other brother, are left to worry—until they catch a two a.m. radio program about strange events in a distant mountain town. They take off in search of River but are always a step behind, finding instead frenzied towns, witch hunts, and a wind-whipped island with the thrum of something strange and dangerous just under the surface. It isn't long before Violet begins to wonder if Neely, the one Redding brother she thought trustworthy, has been hiding a secret of his own . . . What I Liked: How to write this review. I remember when I read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, I prefaced my review by saying that I wouldn't be able to do the book justice. Same goes for this book. I didn't rate this book quite as high as the first book, but I still seriously loved this book. River, Neely, Luke, and Sunshine set out to find Brodie and River, after hearing strange reports on the radio about a sea king and a boy stealing girls' dreams, and children disappearing. Could River and Brodie be working together? Could River have broken his promise, or could he have gone mad from the glow? Will they find the boys before it's too late? Just like in the first book, the prose blew me away. The writing style is AMAZING. Like in the first book, this book is written in an old-time, small-town type of way. It's Gothic and lush and beautiful. I've never read books with such a unique and distinctive writing style. There came a point in both books that I knew what Violet would say, or how she would portray a certain thought, because the writing style was so unique and well-crafted. Once again, I'm impressed and stunned! Violet is a quiet, thoughtful character. She seems passive, but she is a girl of subtle action. I love that she decided to take a chance and search for the Redding boys. She took a chance to free Finch, a boy in a town that was sure that he was the one stealing girls' dreams. I loved Violet's bravery and her command over what she wanted. Neely plays a large and important role in this book. I didn't get a good feel of him in book one (mostly my fault, because I wasn't too concerned with him, so I ignored him), but his character gets very developed in this novel. I am a huge fan of Neely! I found that I really liked him. He is selfless and brave, protective and loyal. There are so many great qualities to him, but he isn't perfect. Sunshine and Luke aren't *too* important in this book, but their roles are necessary. They accompany Violet and Neely for the first half of the journey to Inn's End, but they go back to Maine, whereas Neely and Violet go to North Carolina with Finch, the boy they rescued in Inn's End. In South Carolina, Neely, Violet, and Finch meet Canto, and she joins the crew. I wasn't a huge fan of Canto, but I liked her role in the book. The plot of this book is slow-moving, but like the last book, the it creeps up on you, slow snaking its way through what seems like a slow plot. The story is like a narrative, a journal entry, a description of small events that are important, but the important plot winds its way slowly through the story. I. Love. This. Tucholke surprised me with the climax, honestly. I wasn't expecting it at all. I don't know if I should have, or if I have wrapped up in the spellbinding prose, but I really enjoyed the surprises. The romance is different in this book. I don't want to give anything away, but it's different. At first, I was a little surprised at the direction that Tucholke took it. But then I was totally on-board. It makes complete sense, with book one, and I really like what Tucholke did. I can't say anything too specific, because you really need to READ this book in particular to understand. Trust me. The setting is very different in this book. In the first book, we were given much detail on Violet's grandmother's house. The entire book takes place in her town (or house). This book takes place in the house, or in the Appalachian Mountains, or on an island off the coast of North Carolina, or in Colorado. Literally all over the place. I really like this! Tucholke does just as amazing a job of weaving the setting into the story as she does with the setting of the beautiful house (in book one). Also, we get a lot of journal entries from Violet's grandmother, Freddie. I like this. I like that readers (and Violet) get to see into Freddie's past. Freddie is an interesting woman, just as much affected by the glow as Violet was. The two stories parallel, though they are different. I found myself looking forward to reading the journal entries - which is rare for me (usually, I don't read filler things like entries before the chapter begins, or so on). This series is a duology, so this is the last book of the series. The ending of this book is, well, not necessarily bittersweet, but not super duper everything-wraps-up-so-perfectly happy. It's a really fitting ending, and I loved it. That doesn't mean it is perfect and everyone who should live lives and everyone who should die dies and everyone who loves each other finds their way to each other. Again though, an excellent, fitting ending. What I Did Not Like: Errr, I'll get back to you on this one. I can't think of anything at the moment. Would I Recommend It: YES! Very much so! This series in general is one of my favorite series of all time. The writing style alone is enough to make anyone want to read the books. But the story is beautiful and haunting and rich. Both books are very fulfilling! So you should read books one and two if you haven't. Rating: 4 stars. What a fabulous series! I'll definitely be reading anything that Tucholke writes. I hope she has something wonderful up her sleeves, besides the anthology. And you already KNOW that I'm reading that anthology (even though I don't usually care for anthologies)!