Sleeping Beauties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You may have noticed that I do not generally review books by very, very popular authors. I mean, do you really come here for me to tell you that Stephen King is worth reading? Likely not, but what about Owen King? Personally, I’ve never read anything by Owen, but I love his father’s and brother’s (Joe Hill) works a lot, so I thought why not give him a try?

A pandemic affecting only women quickly makes its way across the globe. This disease puts all of the human female population into a strange sleeping state and covers their bodies in a fluffy cocoon. If anyone tries to wake them or take the cocoon off, the women suddenly wake and become murderous. But there is one female prisoner in a small American town who seems to be immune, and she also claims to know what this disease is as well as how to stop it. When others in the town hear of her existence, two groups form: one that wants to protect and listen to this strange woman and one that wants to kill her, hoping that her death ends this terrible curse upon their women.

I actually put off reading this novel last year because I didn’t think I could read a book about a pandemic during a pandemic without hurting my mental health, and I’m glad I made that decision. This book was published in 2017, apparently, but it felt like a reimagining of 2020-2021. Aside from the obvious– a pandemic– and the way everyone in the world lost their common sense because of it, it was also the politicization of the tragedy and just general greed and power grabbing in a time of crisis that made it extremely difficult not to draw parallels to the past year or so. After living through the past year I can say that the plot itself as well as the way the cast dealt with the disease is definitely realistic, which made it even more chilling.

This book is…. expansive. The main plot point is the global outbreak of disease, so there are a lot of people involved in the plot and the effects of the disease throw a wrench in all aspects of modern life. I mean, think about it. If all of the women in the world were suddenly in an unending sleep, how many ways would the world change? With such a large cast and a plot that affects the whole world, I could see how this might be a hard book to keep focused and to end satisfyingly. I definitely felt like the book could have been trimmed down. The ending was imperfect and slightly anticlimactic. However, I always find satisfying endings difficult for books that deal with world-changing stakes, so I forgive it. It felt like there were some unnecessary scenes that could have been dropped to make the plot feel tighter, but I feel like I am nitpicking at this point. The book was simply a fun read to get lost in.

I love Stephen King’s characters and the way he dives into the depths of their fictional minds in such a way that makes them realistic, relatable, and slightly unsettling. However, I didn’t feel quite the same magic with the characters in Sleeping Beauties, perhaps because of the sheer number of characters, or perhaps because it wasn’t entirely King Sr.’s writing since it was a joint project. There is also some controversy about whether a book written by two white men does its feminist themes justice. I’m female but no expert on what being a good feminist or ally means, but I didn’t find the novel offensive to me as a woman.

As I said, this was fun… or as fun as a book on this topic can be. I feel like it was an interesting thought experiment that makes for a lot of good discussion. It wasn’t the best King/Hill book I’ve read, but it has my recommendation as a slightly creepy, often violent, but smart read.

2020 in Review, Looking Forward to 2021

Goodbye 2020, and hello to 2021! I’m positive that I’m not the only person looking forward to a new year. Even if the calendar changing doesn’t reset the world, it somehow feels like a fresh start. So, I started this end of the year series in 2017, and I did it in 2018, but I must have missed 2019 (at least I can’t find my own post about it). I used a spreadsheet made by Portal in the Pages on YouTube to track my reading this year.

In 2020 I had some broad goals: read more new releases, read more from POC authors, use my library more/buy less books, and reduce my physical TBR or “to be read” pile of unread books on my shelves. I succeeded in some areas and failed a bit in others.

2020 Statistics

At the start of 2020, I had 59 unread books on my shelves. Throughout the year I borrowed 13 books from my library and bought or was gifted 28 books. By the end of the year I had 49 unread books. So, I reduced my unread pile by 10 despite bringing in 41 new books. I read all of the books I borrowed, and I read most of the new books I bought or was gifted. In 2021 I’d like to reduce my TBR pile even more.

As shown in the first table, I read a total of 50 books this year, just barely making my yearly reading goal. Though I did not finish 3 of the 50, I still counted them toward the total since I read the majority of the books before giving up. I read about 16,951 pages (again, this total counts the DNF’d books) with an average 339 pages per book. I know I read shorter books this year than pervious years. Out of 50 books, my average rating out of 5 stars was 3.6.

As you can see from the table to the right, I read the most books in May when I was off work and feeling kind of good about having to stay home due to the pandemic. Of course, my totals took a steep drop during the rest of the year as work ramped up and my depression reared its ugly head.

The blog definitely reflected these next stats. Almost half of everything I read was fantasy because I love fantasy and needed the escapism. Surprisingly, graphic novels came in second, mainly because I borrowed several from my library at the end of the year to make my reading goal. The number of sci-fi and non-fiction is surprising as I didn’t realize I read that many. Historical fiction and thrillers, usually genres I gravitate toward often, had lower than normal numbers for this year. I didn’t push myself to read anything that I didn’t want to, and I’m already a mood reader, so I unfortunately really stayed in my comfort zone this year.

Lastly, I wanted to read from more diverse authors in 2020. I would say that I used to read from more male authors than female, but in the past few years it has been close to 50/50. You’ll notice that my author gender category has only 48 books counted. This is because two books had more than one author, and I didn’t update the spreadsheet to count books by multiple authors. Only one third of what I read was from POC writers, and I’d like to get this closer to 50/50 next year just to expose myself to different peoples, perspectives, and cultures.

2021 PLANS AND GOALS

So, what are my reading plans for 2021? Well, I’d like to read more books in general. I used to read about 100 books per year, but I’m not in college any more and have less free time, so I’m not sure how realistic 100 books is. However, since another of my goals is to use my library even more, I can borrow more audio and eBooks, which I think will help me reach a higher amount of books read. I actually saved about $150 this year just by borrowing books from the library instead of buying books. Use your library if you can! And if I do buy books, I want to avoid using Amazon and instead buy exclusively from independent bookstores. I started this in 2020, and I plan to continue in 2021 and beyond. As I said earlier in this post, I want to read from more diverse authors again in 2021 as well as continue to read more newer releases. Lastly, I want to read books that have been sitting on my shelves for years and get my physical TBR down to around 20-25 books.

How was your reading in 2020? What are some of your reading goals for 2021?

The Turn of the Key

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It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.

The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.

I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.

However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?

Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.

Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.

Series Review: The Dreamblood Duology

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The Dreamblood Duology consists of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite authors. The duology takes place in the fictional city of Gujaareh where peace takes precedence over all else. Within this city are priests that serve the goddess Hananja who rules over the realm of dreaming. These priests harvest dream ichors to both heal and harm citizens in order to keep peace in the city. This series is marketed as an Egyptian-inspired fantasy, and though I agree that this is a loose way to explain it, the world building and magic system are themselves very unique.

In The Killing Moon we follow the Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, a diplomat of a neighboring city-state. Gatherer Ehiru is tasked with eliminating those in Gujaareh who are deemed corrupt. But although Sunandi is judged as corrupt, Ehiru finds that the two of them actually have similar goals, and in fact there may be corruption within Gujaareh itself instead. The characters struggle between what they feel is right for themselves and the city and what is their duty.

The Shadowed Sun takes place about a decade after the events in The Killing Moon. Readers get to see the aftermath of the changes in Gujaareh from book one, which is something you do not see too often in fantasy, and it made the world feel more realistic because things are always changing. In the sequel we travel the lands beyond Gujaareh’s walls, explore other paths in the worship of Hananja, and see more of the magic that the priests wield. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this book deals with more political maneuvering in Gujaareh as well as a mysterious dreaming sickness that is spreading around the city.

These books are some of Jemisin’s earlier works, but you can clearly see she excels in both world building and character building even at this point in her career. The world and the magic system are very unique and well developed. I could see the Egyptian influence, but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the culture and magic as separate, new entities. To me, she perfectly built off of real life ideas and histories but made them stand on their own. Too often I see authors draw too much or not enough from their influences, but Jemisin hits the balance here perfectly.

Although I love her characters in The Broken Earth Trilogy because they are truly human and jump off of the page with personality, The Dreamblood Duology shows her progress in character development. I have seen several reviewers say that they preferred The Shadowed Sun to The Killing Moon, but I would disagree. I just found the characters in The Killing Moon easier to connect with and enjoyed their personalities and stories more. However, in both novels the characters make believable mistakes and grow from them. Many have grey moral areas, and being true to life, not everyone survives the trials they face.

I fell in love withe culture and magic system in book one, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them fleshed out in the sequel. The fact that peace is what guides the city’s decisions made for a thought-provoking reading experience. I enjoyed considering the practices and beliefs in Hananja’s teachings and how they compared to those in modern America. For example, though someone was judged as corrupt, the Gatherers tried very hard to give even their enemies peaceful deaths. Both books have intricate plots that involve politics, religion, family (both biological and found families), love (romantic and otherwise), and questions of morality.

I would give the series as a whole four to four and half stars out of five. It is hard to find fault with either novel, and they are both well above average in terms of what is available in the genre, but I find Jemisin’s later works a notch above this one in all of the aforementioned areas. If you enjoyed any of her other works, you’ll very likely enjoy this series as well.

The Deep

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I recommend listening to the song that inspired this novella. I would also like to share a review of the book that I enjoyed.

The Wajinru are mermaid-like people, descendants of pregnant African slave women who were thrown overboard during the slave trade. The children inside the slavewomens’ wombs transformed and were birthed with gills and fins. Since the Wajinrus’ past is so traumatic, they do not all remember how their people came to be and how their ancestors’ culture developed. Instead, only one of their people is tasked with remembering their history. Since her 14th birthday Yetu has been the Wajinru’s historian. Yetu isn’t particularly happy about her position because she is consumed by visions of past trauma and the memories of previous historians. She must sacrifice her own identity to be their historian. The historian must lead her people through a ritual of Remembering their past, but Yetu is unsure if she can bear this responsibility.

For such a short read, this packed an emotional punch on many levels. It is easy to feel for Yetu herself. She sacrifices a lot to be the historian, and her position wasn’t something she had much choice in. It requires a lot from her, both physically and mentally, and her people do not fully appreciate or understand what she goes through. Because of this she rightly feels alone, and since she is the only one to remember her people’s past, she shoulders the full force of their people’s trauma. I liked that she met another character that was a foil to her: a character who lacks a family and ancestral knowledge and hungers for it when Yetu herself runs from her people. This puts Yetu’s personal struggles into a broader perspective and was ultimately what drove the plot.

The narrative jumps between Yetu’s present experiences and the Wajinru’s history. The writing is beautiful, and even though the book is short, the Wajinru are quite developed in their culture and history. The plot centers on Yetu’s internal struggle and her people’s understanding of what she is going through. Both come to appreciate each other while Yetu makes connections outside of the Wajinru, which helps her understand her identity and her people even more. The climax was also very powerful.

Whether you will like the novella or not really depends on what you’re looking for. If you just want a fantasy novel about mermaids, you may not like this very much. But, if you are interested in something a little experimental, something more about exploring historical and social concepts within a fantastical lens than a more traditional plot and its characters, then you might like this. I gave it four out of five stars because it was so unique and emotional, yet I still would have liked to have more time in the world or a more complex plot. Perhaps instead of the Wajinru’s history being told in flashbacks, the novella could have taken place during those events and covered several generations instead? Regardless of my wants or needs, the novella is definitely worth a read so that you can make your own judgments.

The novella approaches a number of heavy subjects: slavery, shared and personal traumas, the individual vs. the collective, and the importance of family ties, to name a few. I read The Deep as an audiobook, which I would also highly recommend. It is read by Daveed Diggs from the musical group clippings and the musical Hamilton.

Senlin Ascends

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The Tower of Babel stretches up into the clouds so far that no one on the ground can see the top. While Senlin has taught his students about the tower, he has never been there himself. However, he and his new bride Marya are heading to the Tower for their honeymoon. The Tower is advertised as an exotic entertainment paradise with shops, plays, baths, and much more in each of the floors or “ringdoms.” However, Senlin very quickly loses his bride in the crowds around the Tower. Senlin makes his way up the Tower alone in order to hopefully reunite his wife.

This series is getting rave reviews on Goodreads, and I’ve seen it popping on a few “underrated reads” lists too. Considering the book is a little odd and meandering, I am surprised at the high reviews. I often read weird books, and they often have middling to low ratings because of their oddities, but that isn’t the case here. Maybe this isn’t the right kind of weird for me because I just couldn’t get into the book.

As I said, the plot is a bit all over the place. Shortly after the book begins Senlin loses his wife. I wouldn’t have been nearly as calm or collected as Senlin if this happened to me, and all he has to go on is an itinerary that he and his wife agreed to follow and his wife’s last words about meeting her at the top of the tower if they get lost. I’m not sure what I would do in that situation, but I don’t think I would continue with the planned activities if it were my spouse who got lost in this strange and sometimes frightening place. However, the ringdoms were interesting and described in good detail. Senlin’s journey has some surprising twists within it because the Tower is not what he expected from his research. I can tell the author put a lot of creativity into the development of the Tower.

As Senlin goes up through the ringdoms of the tower he encounters thieves, murderous actors, harsh punishments for those who break the rules, and only a handful of trustworthy people. We see Marya only through Senlin’s memories as he thinks back on how they met, courted, and married. I disliked this as it felt like Marya was reduced to being the quest item Senlin seeks instead of his beloved wife who is missing in an unfamiliar and dangerous place. The secondary characters that he met along the way had personality and were fairly memorable. Senlin himself is a headmaster who is serious, timid, and at times naive. I did not connect with him as a character and found myself wishing that Marya was the one on the quest to save Senlin. As much as I give Senlin a hard time, his character developed as he climbed the tower. He becomes less timid and can use his intelligence effectively.

You’ve probably noticed that the review is fairly positive, but I gave the book an unexciting rating of three stars. Many readers will find this to be a refreshingly unique book, but I’ve concluded it just wasn’t right for me.

The Tiger’s Daughter

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This was the third and final book that was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

O-Shizuka is the last member of her royal bloodline in the Hokkaran empire, and she is a fierce warrior empress who isn’t afraid to go against her family. Barsalayaa Shefali is an equally fierce member of the nomadic Qorin tribe who is a very accomplished mounted markswoman from a young age. O-Shizuka and Shefali’s parents were friends, and their daughters were raised together for many of their formative years, making the bond between the women very strong. As they came of age it became clear that demons were returning to their lands and threatening their people. O-Shizuka and Shefali believe that they can rid the world of the demon threat if they are fighting side by side, but the demons are not the only threat they will need to worry about.

This is a tough one! Give me an Asian-inspired fantasy any day, but this also promised a Lesbian romance! So, why didn’t I enjoy it? For one, the novel was mostly written in the form of a letter from Barsalayaa Shefali to O-Shizuka. From the start, we know that they grew up together, but they are now separated. The letter tells us why, but it is written in second person. I can imagine that some readers will dislike the fact that it is written in second person, but what bothered me more was that the letter recounts everything. If this were actually a letter to O-Shizuka, would Shefali really recount every instance of them together like this? Shefali’s perspective obviously would give O-Shizuka some insight into her lover’s mind all those years ago, but at times I felt that the amount of detail included in the letter would be redundant to O-Shizuka if she were indeed the reader.

My other main issue was that the Asian influence wasn’t utilized in the best or most respectful way. However, I will let the top review on Goodreads that explains the cultural issues speak for itself. I am not from the cultures that the novel is inspired by, nor am I an expert myself, but from what little I do know, a few of the aspects mentioned in the linked review bothered me too. Maybe you feel differently? Feel free to comment on this post if so because I’d love to hear about more perspectives on this to educate myself better.

That aside, I did enjoy parts of this reading experience. I haven’t read a lot of epic fantasy that has had lesbian romances, and I actually liked the romance itself. It is clear that the warrior women are very committed to each other, and they are stronger, both mentally and physically, than many of the other characters give them credit for. Their romance is fiery and bold, and I loved that. Although, personally, I just prefer romance as a subplot in fantasy, so I wanted more of the fighting and demons in addition to the romance. I also enjoyed what we saw of the characters’ abilities in battle and in magic, but I just wanted to see more of it all! The magic isn’t well explained in the first book, but since this is a trilogy, there is a lot of room for development and growth of these aspects in the subsequent novels.

All that being said, I am not overly excited to read the second book in this series after finishing the first. The Tiger’s Daughter was just a three star read for me, but if you prefer more romance in your fantasy and don’t mind the somewhat epistolary format of the novel, you might enjoy this book more.

 

The Night Tiger

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This was the second book I was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

The Night Tiger follows two characters in 1930’s Malaysia, Ren and Ji Lin. Ren is a houseboy who assists doctors practicing medicine in Malaysia. Before Ren’s first master died, he told the boy that he needed to be reunited with his severed finger within 49 days of his death. Otherwise, his master’s spirit would restlessly roam the world forever. Ren is also haunted by strange dreams of his dead twin brother. Ji Lin dreams of being a doctor, but she is held back because she is female, her family’s personal problems, and her mother’s gambling debts. Because of all this, Ji Lin works as a dancehall girl to escape her household and earn money for her mother. Though she only dances with her customers, being a dancehall girl has negative connotations, which complicates her romantic prospects as well. Through mysterious circumstances and a dream-like connection, Ren and Ji Lin’s worlds collide.

This book ticked so many of my boxes. First, the writing was just my style. There were some beautifully written and descriptive lines, though nothing was overly flowery, and the way the mythology was incorporated in the narrative seamlessly blended it with reality. If you like books that are unclear whether the magical realism parts are real or not, you’ll enjoy this aspect in The Night Tiger. It felt like there was more distance between the characters and the reader in the structure of the narrative than I would have liked, but the characters themselves are well written and believable. Ren’s chapters are in third person perspective, while Ji Lin’s are in first person. The way the author plays with their perspectives was also very interesting. For example, a secondary character might be viewed very differently by Ren and Ji Lin because they have had different experiences with that character. These different experiences impact the way the characters act in events and dialogue.

The plot and pacing were also well constructed. The plot is primarily driven by the mystery of the missing finger with its magical realism elements peppered in, but along the way we see that Ren and Ji Lin have problems in their personal lives. I found it easy to be invested in their struggles, and I enjoyed seeing how the mystery impacted their lives and their futures. I found the pacing steady but slightly on the slower, more literary side. There is a romance that develops, and I found it to be a satisfyingly slow-ish burn, which I really liked.

This book will definitely be one of my favorites from this year. I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Although, maybe I should just give it 5 since I’m not sure how to express what I didn’t like about the novel. Either way, I would highly recommend this to lovers of quiet, magical realism novels that have historic and mythological influences.

 

Mexican Gothic

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Earlier this year I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I really enjoyed but had a few minor problems with. However, I think Mexican Gothic really shows the writing talent that Moreno-Garcia has, and she seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved hype for her newest novel.

Mexican Gothic takes place in Mexico in the 1950’s. Noemí Taboada loves parties, fashion, and flirting, but when her father takes her aside and tells her that her cousin, Catalina, has sent an erratic, strange letter, Noemí gives up her city life to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside. Catalina had married into an English family (the Doyles) a few years before and moved into her husband’s family home called High Place. Once upon a time High Place was funded by a bustling, rich silver mining operation that employed many locals. Now High Place is a rundown, moldy mess of a house with no electricity and only a few silent servants. Catalina’s new family claims she is sick with tuberculosis, but Noemí has other suspicions. Noemí must navigate the family’s strange rules, the possibly haunted house, and the patriarch’s odd beliefs in order to find out what has happened to her cousin.

My personal life has been very stressful lately, which has greatly impacted my reading. I guess I’ve been in a reading slump, but this book pulled me out of it. I could not put it down once I got past the first few chapters! It felt like each chapter hinted a little at what was going on in High Place, and I kept thinking “just one more chapter, I’ll get some answers, then I’ll stop.” The sense of suspense and unease was woven throughout the narrative, and I really wasn’t sure if the author would kill off the characters I liked. The novel was very atmospheric. I’d call it “creepily claustrophobic.” I really enjoyed the novel’s pacing and the tension was addictive. The climax was satisfying, and the explanation for all the strange events was delightfully devious, if unsettling.

I also really enjoyed the characters, but Noemí was of course my favorite. I loved how she was so un-apologetically herself. She liked fine clothes, parties, flirting, her cigarettes, and she didn’t really care if other characters judged her for it. She was also so committed to her cousin and the people she cared about. She was also much more brave than I would have been in that situation. Catalina was unfortunately not given much time on the page. She is mentioned in Noemí’s flashbacks and memories enough that you get a sense of who she is, and her actions within the novel showed what a strong person she really was, but I thought she could have been developed more. The Doyles are also an interesting bunch. It was fun trying to figure out who to trust in the house and what all of their motivations were. The “bad guys” were pretty terrible, which made them satisfying to dislike and cheer against.

Though perhaps not an all-time favorite, I have to give it five stars. One small thing I didn’t like would be the romance. Although I actually liked the idea of them being together, it felt a little out of place and could have been developed more. Also, as I said earlier, I think Catalina could have been utilized more. I would have liked to hear more about how she fared in the Doyles’ household before Noemí arrived, for one thing. But with the book only being about 300 pages, it could have felt odd for Catalina to have her own chapters or to be centered on more. Having Catalina be more passive added to the suspense since the reader only knows what Noemí has found out, but I was interested in the goings on in High Place when it was just Catalina by herself. Like I said, those are just small gripes compared to how much I enjoyed this novel. If you’re looking for a spooky, quick read with a great lead character, pick this up!

Shades of Milk and Honey

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I recently discovered a book recommendation service called Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) from one of my favorite YouTube book reviewers, Kayla from BooksandLala. She did a video in which she used the service, read the recommended books, and reviewed the experience. I thought it was a great idea, so I also used the service. I specified that I wanted recommendations that were a mix of historical fiction and fantasy because I love that mashup of genres. So, I was recommended three books by the service: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Night Tiger, and The Tiger’s Daughter. I will be reviewing all three on my blog so that you can get a sense of the recommendation service experience. I’m of course not sponsored by them. I just wanted to try something new!

This novel takes place in Regnecy era England in which magic exists and is considered a worthy skill for a woman to have. Jane Ellsworth has just about given up on finding a husband for herself because of her plain looks, but her younger sister, Melody, has a few possible suitors. Jane is a skilled glamourist, meaning that she can use magic to create sensory experiences to entertain at parties, cloak herself in darkness, or make a room look, smell, and feel like another place. Melody is very beautiful, but she lacks talent at glamour and is jealous toward her talented older sister. Jane gets caught up in her sister’s scheming and a friend’s secret, and along the way she just might find love of her own.

I liked this novel, but it didn’t blow me away. The overall tone of the story is light. No one is saving the world from an ancient evil. Instead, the plot is more concerned about who will end up marrying who and if so-and-so’s party will be a success or not. The stakes were low, but the reading experience was actually fun and relaxing. My main complaints are that I wanted to know more about the interesting magic system, I wished the writing and plot had more depth, and that the romance was less of a plot point.

The main characters were developed well enough, but I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them and the secondary characters to learn more about them. Jane is our main character, and she is level-headed, talented at glamour, and cares a lot about her friends and family. Her sister, Melody, is a little more flighty and flirty, and she loves having the attention of her suitors. The men in the story could have been fleshed out more though. One man is a young, handsome playboy, another is a mature and polite gentleman, and another is a mysterious and prickly glamourist. I was happy with the romantic outcome, but I’m just not one for romance, especially when the romance is really the driving force of the novel.

I was very intrigued by the magic system, but the explanation for it was a little vague. It seems like it has something to do with being able to see and bend strands of light like strings of thread? There was a lot of talk about light and how the threads could be “tied off” to do certain things. Though I do not need a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where all the rules are laid out, I would have liked to know more about how the glamour worked because many times Jane could see the inner workings of the magic, but the reader was not given much information about how she could do this or what it looked like to her. How the magic was used was also very cool. There were a few parties and gatherings in the book and the entertainment for the parties could be a short play put on with glamour or the party location could be spiced up by using glamour to make the room look and smell like a forest. There are several books after this first one, so maybe the magic and world are expanded more later on, but I don’t think I am interested enough to continue reading.

With the world on fire, it was nice to escape to a simpler time with a low stakes story. I gave Shades of Milk and Honey three out of five stars.