You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.
After mulling over my thoughts on this book for a few days, I finally believe I know how I want to approach this review. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – which is possibly the longest title in existence, seriously – was a book I was very excited to read, and not only because of its amazing cover. I have been in the mood of late for gothic, atmospheric reads, and was pretty sure this book – henceforth known as Between… – would hit that particular nail on the head. And I wasn’t wrong in that regard; I adored the whole way this book was written and the setting and characters presented. In fact, I came away from Between… being quite pleased overall with my whole reading experience. However, there were also some things that I really couldn’t come to grips with and just flat-out did not like. Those definitely tinged my overall enjoyment, although you’ll note by my rating that I’ve ultimately decided that the atmosphere outweighed any of my other complaints.
First of all, this book was quite a bit different from the usual gothic reads you’ve probably come to know and love. This book is set in the present, not the past, and therefore has a very “time out of place” feel to it, which I thought added perfectly to the air of mystery and danger prominent in Between…‘s pages. Our main character, Violet, lives in a huge house on the outskirts of a small town, with no one but her twin brother, Luke, for company. The family used to have money, but all of it’s been spent, so the house is becoming more and more derelict as time goes on. Violet herself is equally as odd, choosing to wear dresses and skirts that belonged to her dead grandmother instead of the modern fashions of today. Our introduction to her and the house – dubbed Citizen Kane – pretty much sets the tone for this book. Equally as important, though, is our introduction to River, who the reader – and Violet, though she’s loathe to admit it – knows is Bad News pretty much from his entry into the story.
While all of the set-up for this novel – the setting, the way the characters are introduced, the weird things that start happening from the moment River enters Violet’s life – is done absolutely fantastically, I couldn’t help but have some issues with some other aspects of Between… as well. Namely, the character of Sunshine. Setting aside her name for a moment, I really did not like the way Sunshine was portrayed. She is somewhat blank, and seems only to be in the story to cause Violet discomfort as she makes out with Violet’s brother. Every single description of her mentions how well her dresses hug her curves, how her “white thighs” are on display, and how Luke and she pretty much fall all over each other, even though he’s dating someone else. I was extremely uncomfortable with the way she was portrayed in this book, which possibly was the point because Violet is equally as discomfited by her, and we’re reading this story through her eyes. But I’m not sure what the point of that portrayal really was, or why she was written in that way. She had no personality aside from her inherent sexuality, or at least that’s the way she read for me. She just really made me feel uneasy, which takes some doing considering how odd and creepy the rest of this book was.
I also did not like the revelation or “twist” of the plot, but cannot speak about that any further because it would be a massive spoiler and I want to avoid those at all costs. There was also the way that River manipulates Violet pretty much from the get-go, and while I get that there’s a reason for it – a really big reason, all told – it still made me want to strangle her as I watched her go back and forth between being afraid of him, hating him, and back to being so intrigued she couldn’t let him go. Again, it’s the whole oddness factor that comes into play, and yet, had their relationship NOT played out like that, I’m not sure the book would have been nearly as compulsively readable and I probably would not have enjoyed the time I spent in its pages nearly as much. It sort of reminded me of that edge of your seat, can’t believe what you’re seeing feeling you get when watching horror movies, and I couldn’t believe how enjoyable I actually found that to be.
However, aside from the things I laid out above that I did not like, I can say with certainty that I very much DID enjoy Between… There was just something absolutely compelling about the story, the characters, the setting, everything. Even when things were driving me crazy, I still could NOT stop reading or reacting to what was going on in the story. If you love heavy, gothic atmosphere that gives you that tingle up your spine because something is just not right, then I definitely think you’ll enjoy this book. I know that, for me, that was certainly the biggest draw, and the thing I’m taking away from the book as my absolute favorite.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.