Florence Day has inherited two things from her undertaker father: an unwavering belief in romantic love and the ability to see ghosts. At thirteen, she solves a local murder with the assistance of a ghost, and when her gift becomes public knowledge, she is bullied by her peers. At eighteen, she leaves the family and home she loves, moving to New York. She finishes college and becomes the ghostwriter of a bestselling romance author. Still, she misses her family, even though she no longer visits, and in homesick moments, she tells her boyfriend stories of her childhood, presenting it as her latest idea for a novel. When her boyfriend scores a very lucrative book deal, Florence is shocked to find he stole her life story, only to dump her.
Now, a decade after leaving Mairmont, South Carolina, Florence is in a deep depression, surviving off boxed mac & cheese and unable to complete the final book of her four book contract. She’s begged her editor for extensions and received them, but when her editor retires, her new editor is unwilling to grant her extra time nor is he willing to permit her final ghostwritten novel to be anything but a romance, something Florence no longer believes in. Soon after her meeting with her editor, Florence receives a phone call from home. Her father has passed away unexpectedly, and she must come home and confront her demons. When she arrives home, she finds a hurdle she is not expecting. Her sexy new editor is waiting for her there, and he is a ghost.
A book about dead people shouldn’t be delightful, but this one is just that. The writing is beautiful and haunting (Sorry. Florence and Ben really like puns.), and I was hooked from the prologue. It moves from being lighthearted and funny to being a thoughtful meditation on grief to being quirky gothic lite without any of these things clashing. It’s different from any book I’ve ever read, in the best possible way. While it’s somewhat genre defying, if I had to categorize it, I would describe it as a rom com with substance. Instead of dealing with misunderstandings and bad first impressions, Florence and Ben are working through traumatic events of their pasts, and the character growth is steady but slow. Add in a quirky cast of Southern characters and you get one likeable book. This would be a great book club choice as it’s a crowd pleaser and will even appeal to people who don’t normally pick up romances.
Book Club Menu and Recipes:
“I felt a pang of homesickness. For the weather, the funeral parlor, my mom’s amazing fried chicken.” (Page 8)
Planning a menu around The Dead Romantics was pretty easy. Florence’s favorite comfort food is mac & cheese (we’ll pretend that she doesn’t prefer the boxed kind and we’ll bake ours in honor of the South), and her preferred drink is a rum & Coke. Also, the very first food reference in the book is her mom’s fried chicken, so we’re including that here as well.
If you happen to have a few book club members who are lactose intolerant, making mac & cheese a questionable choice, chicken & waffles would be my alternate suggestion, as a few scenes take place in a Waffle House.
- Baked Macaroni & Cheese (recipe below)
- Fried chicken. Takeout is fine here. At risk of sounding like a terrible food blogger, deep frying is scary. Also, you can’t host book club if your kitchen is on fire. Insurance companies will back me up on this one.
- Mom’s Simple Winter Salad, or your go-to side salad
- Rum & Cokes with wedges of lime. Liquor.com has a guide for which rums pair best with Coke.
Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Baked Macaroni & CheeseAdapted from Sweet Tea + Thyme.
- 16 oz elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ sweet onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 oz colby jack cheese, shredded
- 8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 oz cream cheese, cubed and room temperature
- 2 cups half and half
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pinch black pepper
- ½ teaspoon (4g) smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray with a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.
- Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. Add in elbow macaroni and cook until just under al dente, according to package directions. Do not overcook.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a pan and add chopped onion, sauteeing for approximately 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another one to two minutes. Set aside.
- When the macaroni is just shy of al dente, drain the pasta.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except for half of the cheddar and colby jack. Pour the mixture into your baking dish and spread evenly. Top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake the mac and cheese for 32 to 35 minutes, and then broil for 3 minutes for a golden cheesy topping.
- Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.