Desert Isle Keeper
Sweetest in the Gale
Olivia Dade’s Marysburg series stars older teachers (all characters are forty-somethings) in workplace romances. This anthology contains three novellas: Sweetest in the Gale (in its first release), and reprints of Unraveled (originally from the anthology He’s Come Undone) and Cover Me (from the anthology Rogue Acts). All three stories are heartfelt and enjoyable, and if you don’t already own the other anthologies, I definitely suggest adding Sweetest in the Gale to your reading list.
Sweetest in the Gale
English teacher Candy Albright returns to school with a look Griff Conover recognizes: a grief fog. He lost his wife several years earlier, and it turns out Candy has just lost her sister. Although the impetus for their connection is Candy’s uncharacteristic state of struggle, Griff has admired her and her teaching for a long time. I enjoy a relationship full of mutual respect, and the treatment of grief here is thoughtful and empathetic. This is my favorite story in the collection.
Math teacher Simon Burnham is assigned to mentor art teacher Poppy Wick, new to Marysburg but experienced as an educator. This was a fun story to read at Halloween, because Poppy makes murder dioramas in the style of Frances Glessner Lee, and there’s also a silly/funny mystery about what happened to the art teacher Poppy replaced. Now, uptight-meets-free-spirit isn’t my favorite trope, but that’s a personal thing. It irked me that Simon made presumptions about Poppy when he should have known better (it’s completely normal for art teachers to get a pass on dress code, for instance), and sometimes Poppy was a bit too perfect. Still, it’s a lighthearted read (despite the murder boxes!) and a nice counterpoint to the first story that shows great range from the author. I especially enjoyed the way the author emphasizes a compatible, domestic happiness, with Simon fantasizing about grading in a reading chair while Poppy works on her art.
I had the anthology this story first appeared in (Rogue Acts) and it was the brightest spot in a book I really didn’t care for. Uninsured Elizabeth Stone goes for a mammogram on a clinic’s free day and is told to return for a biopsy she can’t afford. Old friend James Magnusson hatches a plan – Elizabeth can marry him for his health insurance. I appreciated the complexity – Elizabeth, for instance, tells a congressman at a town hall, “I hear you saying that innocent babies born with health conditions shouldn’t die… I’m a flawed human being, and I’ve made some bad decisions… Does being fat and a former smoker mean I deserve to die?” The warmth that grows into attraction and love between two old friends here is believable and made me smile.
My overall verdict for Sweetest in the Gale? Since this is the only place to get the title story – and the title story is by far the best – I recommend buying this collection. The other stories are worthwhile bonus reads.