Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach: The Book I’ll Be Recommending to Absolutely Everyone

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-LeachFiction – Debut
Released February 21, 2017
353 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Random House)


This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one I’ll be recommending to just about everyone I know for a long time.

Plot Summary

When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.

Why I Read It

I never would have picked up this book on my own (I’m not a fan of the title or the cover and the premise of the story is not particularly appealing)…but Catherine at Gilmore Guide (whose reading taste I trust implicitly) said I absolutely must read it.

Major Themes

Dysfunctional families, alcoholism, degenerative illness, twins

What I Loved

  • It’s rare that I find a book I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” These are my favorite kinds of books to discover and are the ones I feel like I can recommend to anyone at any time. Dead Letters is the first book I’ve read in awhile that fits this description.
  • I knew within the first two paragraphs that I would love this book. Ava’s voice spoke to me immediately and I would later discover the crackling dialogue and snarky, occasionally morbid humor that’s right up my alley.

He has rented a flashy convertible, of course. My dad likes to travel in style, regardless of finances, seemliness, tact. He tends to think of any economic restriction as a dead-letter issue, a rule that does not apply to him.

  • It’s a mystery and a dysfunctional family novel (two of my favorite things) all wrapped up into one ball of alcohol-soaked perfection. There is a crime, but it’s not the center of the story. Rather, it’s a device that helps unravel the twisted dynamics of Zelda and Ava’s relationship (and their relationship with their parents), which is what this book is truly about. And I can add it to my list of winning novels that have a “crime that is not the center of the story” (My Sunshine Away, Every Last One, and Only Love Can Break Your Heart).
  • Dead Letters has almost all of my favorite fiction elements: a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. I don’t think I’ve come across a novel as jam packed with elements that are so firmly in my wheelhouse in quite a while.
  • It’s a book that is fun, yet dark and morbid at the same time. There is a delightfully demented scavenger hunt that strings the reader right along for the ride, yet death and loss permeates the entire story.
  • There’s a sly Friday Night Lights reference!
  • This is a book that you just need to pick up and read. Don’t bother learning a ton about the plot beforehand…going in blind adds to the fun.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I HATE the cover and am not a huge fan of the title. Both make Dead Letters look like it will be type of book that’s compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, then inevitably doesn’t live up to either. Though Dead Letters does have some similarities, it’s it’s own kind of wonderful.
  • I also think the publisher’s blurb gives away far too much information about the plot.

A Defining Quote

Maybe because we were twins, we sought a way to differentiate, to oh so rigorously sketch out our borders. You needed to say, to speak the ways you were different. I’m Ava, I’m the ambitious one; that’s Zelda, she’s the messy one. As though you could determine your own story, secure the ending you wanted through obsessive narration.

Good for People Who Like…

Stories about sisters (particularly twins), stories about mothers and daughters, dysfunctional families, accessible writing, unexpectedly funny, snarky humor.

Other Books You May Like

Another deeply dysfunctional family novel that involves a family member returning home:
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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  1. I was already sold on Dead Letters, but now even more so! I WILL be reading this book. It’s just a question of when. Loved your review!!

    Posted 3.7.17 Reply
  2. Julia wrote:

    I started reading Dead Letters the other day and was instantly grabbed by Ava’s voice. She’s so fiery! I thought it was interesting how the author combined several clichés in one but in a way that still made the family’s dysfunctionality feel unique. Great review!

    Posted 3.7.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I completely agree about Ava’s voice. I was sold within 2 pages!

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  3. I just got a copy of this in my Book of the Month box. I haven’t heard much about it but the few people I’ve seen reading have rated it very highly.

    Posted 3.7.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I literally heard nothing about it until after it was released, which is odd. I would’ve thought there would be more marketing dollars behind this one.

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  4. AmberBug wrote:

    I’ve been hearing so much about this one, can’t wait to get to it!

    Posted 3.7.17 Reply
  5. I’m still waiting on my copy to come from BotM – hopefully by Friday. Your enthusiasm is really coming through about this one. I agree on the cover not being great, and I can’t remember much about the synopsis. I just remember the high recommendations made for this one.

    Posted 3.7.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Ha-well glad my intentions were coming through!

      And best you forget as much of the synopsis from the blurb as possible…just start reading.

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  6. Melinda wrote:

    This sounds fascinating! I am definitely going to add it to my wishlist!

    Posted 3.8.17 Reply
  7. Tara wrote:

    I agree; I’m so thankful that I didn’t look to far into this one and, when you and Catherine suggested it, I simply ordered a copy and started reading! I try to do this pretty often because I am continually burned by marketing descriptions…although, as evidenced by my recent read of Behind Her Eyes, I am still a sucker for some of them – ha!

    Posted 3.8.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I know, right?! I feel like people are getting burned by the Lisa Bellow description right now, which makes me really sad. Going in expecting a pure page turner, which is not what that book is…but I’m really enjoying it so far!

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  8. Naomi wrote:

    I wouldn’t have looked twice at this book, either, because of the cover. That’s what book bloggers are for, right?!

    Posted 3.8.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Yep! Catherine at Gilmore Guide started it all – thank god for her 🙂

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  9. This one is on my radar screen, so I’m so glad you are recommending it. I’m just waiting for a library copy to become available.

    Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  10. Lauren wrote:

    I don’t want to read too much of this because my copy just showed up and I’m going to try and read it on a plane tomorrow. Will come back and revisit. I’m hearing such great things from all fronts, can’t wait to dig in! I did happen to see the FNL bit while skimming, will have fun looking for that!

    Posted 3.9.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Yes, go in blind and enjoy!

      Posted 3.9.17 Reply
  11. Catherine wrote:

    Whew- glad this recommendation worked so well! And I completely agree: What is up with that cover? It doesn’t make sense at all. Thank God, we ignored it.

    I also do not understand why there was no pre-pub noise about this one. I didn’t see it as a recommendation in any of the magazines.

    What do you think about movie potential? All that booze, identical twins, and a mystery? Could be amazing.

    Posted 3.12.17 Reply
    • Lauren wrote:

      I didn’t like this one as much as you two did, but it certainly entertained. I hadn’t even thought about movie potential, but I think it would translate well. Do we have any acting twins other than the Olsens? I actually think they would fit the bill rather perfectly.

      Posted 3.14.17 Reply
      • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

        Awh – sorry you didn’t love it as much 🙁 Interesting thought on the Olsens…I’d sort of thought one actress would play both girls. And I hadn’t really settled on anyone yet…BUT I’m thinking Liam Hemsworth for Wyatt??

        Posted 3.14.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’m so baffled as to the lack of pre-pub noise on this one. I actually have a gym buddy who is in a book club with a Random House marketing person, so I told her to ask! Will let you know what I hear.

      Movie – hmmm…my first thought is that Liam Hemsworth must play Wyatt. And would be interested to see how they handled Zelda. Would they do her character in flashbacks? Do think the plot and snappy dialogue would be great movie material.

      Posted 3.14.17 Reply
  12. carrie wrote:

    I just added this to my “to-read” list. very exited about!

    Posted 3.17.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Yay – I think it’s up your alley! Hope I’m right about that 🙂

      Posted 3.21.17 Reply
  13. I’d not heard much about this, but I’m very interested based on your review!

    “It’s rare that I find a book I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.”<– I agree that this is rare! The book I've read most recently that I'd describe that way is The Possessions by Sara Murphy 🙂

    Posted 3.20.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Oooh – that’s the one that was a Gone Girl AND an Atwood comp, right? I’m kind of curious…

      Posted 3.21.17 Reply

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