A lot of readers often tell me that they love romance novels (or, at least, books with an HEA — happy-ever-after, for those of you who might stumble on this who aren’t romance readers) because life is hard enough, so why read books that make us feel worse?

Susan Elizabeth Phillips famously summed this up with her wonderful quote, “Life Is Too Short For Depressing Books.”

I’m reading — er, listening to — a book that I absolutely adore, except for a few details that really annoy me.

 So I’m trying to figure out how to write about it and manage to get it right.

However, the very nature of the book is kind of designed to remind us to let magic into our lives, to live in constant faith that the universe is generous and abundant and gives us just what we need. It even invites us to take up mantras, one in particular:  “Whatever happens, love that.”

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I do love that. It’s certainly not easy to do, and in these — and all — times of strife, it seems harder to focus on the joy, or to find evidence that our highest good, either individually or collectively, is the universe’s constant goal.

I’ll write more fully about this book when I’ve contemplated it more, because my thoughts on the book reflect some of my thoughts on certain events in my own life, and I find that… well, intriguing, I guess. And in some ways, isn’t that the highest compliment we can pay a book?

So more on that soon.

However, I wanted to talk about a book I’ve been meaning to read for years, and finally did (well, listened to) last week.

Alex Bledsoe is a friend of mine. He lives in the Madison area. He joined the local romance writing troupe here about 10 years ago, though it’s pretty much disbanded since then. Alex graciously met with my son, an aspiring writer, for a bit when he was a teenager, and I’ve always considered him one of the wittiest, kindest writers I know.

When his book, THE HUM AND THE SHIVER came out a few years ago, I always meant to read it, and then my own reviewing career took off and I dove back into romance novels with purpose and zeal, and put the book on my ever-rising To-Be-Read pile. In the meantime Alex wrote five more books in the series plus a vast array of short stories, essays and at least one book in another series. This April, he released Book Six — THE FAIRIES OF SADIEVILLE (subtitled The Final Tufa novel).

So, I finally listened to the first one. 

THE HUM AND THE SHIVER was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2011 and it’s truly wonderful.

Private Bronwyn Hyatt had left her small town of Needsville for the army to escape the pressures of her mystical Tufa family legacy. She returns a lone survivor after a disastrous attack overseas, wounded in body and spirit.

But cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless haint lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn's darkest secrets. Now Bronwyn finds the greatest battle lies right in her backyard, especially as a young minister with too much curiosity arrives in town. If she makes the wrong choice, the consequences could be deadly for all the Tufa. . . .

That’s a perfectly adequate write-up of the book, but doesn’t manage to encompass the details that make the book so terrific and special. The Kirkus reviewer did a slightly better job (full review here): This powerful, character-driven drama, set forth in superbly lucid prose, occurs against an utterly convincing backdrop and owns complications enough to keep everybody compulsively turning the pages. A sheer delight.

I agree, especially, with the superbly lucid prose comment, because I often found myself wondering at how well the narration managed to deal with some very complicated plot and character elements with clarity and elegance.

There are race issues, social pressures, commentary on The Other. There is a very soft spotlight on faith vs. spirituality vs. religion, and another one on patriotism.

There’s also magic, music, family, community. There is sexuality as power, and a woman’s struggle with her identity as an evolving sexual being. And as a lover, a warrior, a soldier, a daughter, a sister. A gifted musician who’s lost her way. A wary representative of her people—the Tufa, the army, her family.

Seriously, there is so much here. I’ll be reading (listening to) this series as quickly as I can get my hands on them, and this book was among the best I’ve read this year.

However, the release of the last book in the series was not the only reason I was (finally) moved to pick up the book.  

I was also moved because, recently, Alex lost his adored, adorable son, 10 year-old Charlie. I met Alex soon before Charlie was born, and have enjoyed watching Charlie grow up through Alex’s thoughtful, amusing Facebook posts about his family.

I grieve for Alex and the Bledsoe’s on their loss, and decided that the best way to support them, aside from sharing the GoFundMe page devoted to helping them, was to read Alex’s book that Kirkus loved so much, and if I loved it too — which I did — to write about it.

So, I can’t honestly say this situation is something I can love. I guess I’m not quite that spiritually evolved yet, because this? It’s not something I can find in my heart to love. But I am choosing to share the love. My love of Alex, my hope for his family that they find peace, and finally, my honest love of his book. This beautiful, intriguing, amazing book written by my friend, Alex Bledsoe.

You should really, really give it a try.