Trust me to go from characters dealing with anxiety to another grappling with depression. Ha! Lucky I have the best people around me to help me not get sucked in either.
The thing is, when authors are as talented as Clare Ashton or, in this instance, Anna Burke, the books are much more than their characters’ issues. And they’re not, in and of themselves, depressing or sad. Quite the opposite, actually. To stay standing when struggling with mental health requires monumental strength, and that strength permeates the story, flowing into the reader. It’s empowering.
Emilia Russo is trying to get back onto her feet after the worst year ever. Her father’s death triggered a suicidal depression, the groundwork to which had been laid by her work as a shelter vet, where putting animals to death seems to happen more often than saving lives. And as if that wasn’t enough, her girlfriend left her. Emilia arrives in Seal Cove, Maine, to renovate the house her father left her and to decide what to do with it, his sailboat, her life. While drowning her sorrows in wine, she falls off her boat and is rescued by her high school crush, Morgan Donovan. In appearance, Morgan is everything Emilia isn’t: easygoing, confident, laidback, happy with her job as a big animals vet. Sparks fly, first from Emilia’s anger at life, then from the out-of-this-world chemistry.
Something in Spindrift reminds me of Lise Gold’s Living, which was my absolute favourite book last year. It’s both the atmosphere, the way Emilia rebuilds herself, Morgan’s obvious love and support.
As usual, what matters most to me is the characters. If I don’t believe in them, even the best story will fall short. I loved each and every single one of the characters in Spindrift. I loved Emilia and Morgan, I loved Morgan’s friends, as a group and individually, I loved Morgan’s boss, her parents, Emilia’s sister. I even loved Emilia’s dead father. And the animals. All the animals. They’re not the cute puppies that are so easy to love in those fluffy romance novels I enjoy so much. They’re very real. Like their humans.
Real, that’s the word Emilia’s sister uses at some point when talking about Morgan, and it’s absolutely accurate, for her and every other being populating this book. Per her own admission, Anna Burke isn’t a romantic (“I didn’t even fantasize about Morgan or Emilia being eaten by man-eating squid during the saggy middle section of the draft, which was a first”, she writes on her blog), yet she wrote one of the most romantic novels (in the heartbreaking/heart-mending sense) I’ve read in months. And the excellent news of the day is that Spindrift is the first novel in a series. Will Stevie be the next one to get her own book? Or will it be Lillian? Or someone else entirely? So many possibilities…
Last January, Nottingham, my first book by Anna Burke, wrecked me, and yet all I remember is how wonderful and fantastic and smart it was. I’m pretty sure this one will have the same effect. What I’ll remember in a few months will not be what brought Emilia to Seal Cove but how it helped her give new meaning to her life. And let’s be honest, probably how hot the sex was too.
Also, bonus points for another beautiful cover by Ann McMan.