Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Alexis:

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. I’m currently on an extended Spring Break, and my classes have all been moved online for the rest of the semester. While I’m bummed about that, it means I have more time to read and post on here. Without further ado, let’s start the review!

A dark, gothic fairytale retelling? Very up my alley!

Annaleigh lives in Highmoor, a manor on an island by the sea where the people worship a sea god. She used to be one of twelve sisters, but four of her sisters have died tragic deaths. When Annaleigh’s younger sister begins seeing ghosts, she believes that her last sister to die was actually murdered. In between dancing in myserious balls with her sisters, Annaleigh works to uncover the dark truth.

I really enjoyed this book! I it had a lot of twists and turns, and while I guessed two of the major plot points, the rest, particularly at the end, were great and surprising.

I loved the cast of sisters. They felt very Jane Austen to me, especially when they prepared to go to the balls. Craig’s descriptions of Highmoor and the world around them brought this fantasy world to life. I loved the octopus imagery and the descriptions of the sea. While most of this book was dark and gothic, there were fun ball and festival scenes in between. I also enjoyed learning about the gods and mythology of this world.

I should’ve known from the book’s description, but this book is full of (in-depth) murder and death. So if you’re not into any type of horror, then this isn’t for you.

My only critiques are that the romance was a little too underdeveloped and cheesy for my taste, and the dialogue in certain scenes felt a little flat. But if you’re looking for a fun fairytale read that doubles as a horror/murder mystery book, then pick this up! Its beautiful cover is never leaving my bookshelf.

VERDICT: 📚 📚 📚 📚 /5

Starting my Harry Potter re-read

Anna: Around this time of year I get an itch to read Harry Potter. This fall I’m finally going to try to re-read the series from book one!

I used to re-read these books all the time but I haven’t since college. I love the book community, but especially since I work in publishing there’s pressure to read as many new releases as possible. Sometimes you have to go back to old favorites! I can’t wait to re-read the series that sparked my love for reading. I’ll keep you updated along the way!

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Review: Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Alexis:

I read Etta and Otto and Russell and James last year, and I immediately added it to my favorite books list and gave it 5 stars! But I read so many books that, over a year later, I couldn’t remember all the details. I knew I was going to the beach, so I thought, “Why not get it for the beach and give it a re-read?”

The first time I read this, when I checked it out from the library, I didn’t realize it was magical realism. But I love magical realism, and reading it a second time, it made more sense in the story.

This book is character-driven, low on the plot, and heavy on the emotion. The book is non-linear, and switches back and forth not only in POVs (though all are in 3rd person) but also back and forth in time. It explores the relationships between three main characters: Etta, Otto, and Russell. Etta and Otto are married, and Russell is their longtime friend. In the present day, they are all old farmers in Canada. One day, Etta decides to trek across the Canadian wilderness in order to see the ocean for the first time.

In the past, Otto grows up on a farm, and Russell, his neighbor, becomes his best friend. Later, Etta becomes a school teacher while Otto goes off to fight in WWII.

Hooper is a wonderful writer. She’s also a musician, which gives her writing a rhythmic and lyrical feel that I love. Hooper also excludes quotation marks in her dialogue, which adds to the magical realism feel of the book.

Overall, this is a quietly powerful book. At its core, it’s about both a physical and an emotional journey through the Canadian landscape and the characters’ pasts. It explores war, family, and farming, with a talking coyote thrown in there for good measure. If you love magical realism, lyrical, poetic writing, and character-driven stories, I highly recommend it!

VERDICT: 5 stars

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Choosing a Book to Read Tomorrow

Alexis: Hi, everyone!

I’m trying to choose between these three books to read tomorrow. I’m just not sure what I’m in the mood for.

If anyone’s wondering, I’m thankful that Anna left most of the books she accumulated while living in NYC at home, so I have a lot of books to choose from!

I hope you all have had a great and productive Monday. Goodnight!

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This is a beautifully written, important book that deserves more attention. When Mary was eight, she killed the baby that she and her mom were babysitting…allegedly. After she’s released from jail as a teenager, Mary lives in a group home where she is harassed endlessly by the other girls. Meanwhile, she can’t remember what happened that night that baby Alyssa died- the night that landed her in jail for years.

This book is about a lot of things. It’s about a mother’s responsibility to her child, it’s about the corrupt prison system and the state, it’s about the mistreatment of blacks in the justice system. I loved Mary as a character who wants to take the SAT and go to college, who loves her mother and finds the strength in her to trust those trying to help her despite everything that’s happened to her.

Sometimes I find it hard to connect with YA because it can be superficial. This is not the case at all with Allegedly. Mary is a character in a position where she can’t even attend high school or afford an SAT prep book. It’s a perspective I’m not used to reading in YA. This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening read that I recommend to everybody.

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VERDICT: 5 stars

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“‘It’s not fair. People claim to know you through the things you’ve done, and not by sitting down and listening to you speak for yourself. No matter how much you try to live a godly life, if you make a mistake in this valley, it’s never forgotten. No matter if you tried to do what was best.’”

Burial Rites is historical fiction and follows Iceland’s last execution of Agnes Magnúsdóttir in 1829. Agnes has been convincted of murdering two men and is sentenced to death. While she awaits her execution, she is sent to work on an isolated family farm. Agnes has an unexpected effect on the family while she stays.

Burial Rites is very dark, but beautifully and hauntingly written. I’ve never read anything set in Iceland before, and enjoyed learning about the area and time period. This is different from a lot that I’ve read recently because from the beginning, you know what’s going to happen—Agnes is going to die. The real tension in the book is between the family, servants, and priest on the farm where Agnes resides as she awaits her impending death. There’s also the mystery of what happened that night of the two murders, and what Agnes’s role in the deaths really was.

The characters make the story. Agnes’s backstory is heartbreaking and makes her feel real. Kent made me feel sympathy for Agnes despite her murder charge.  

There are a lot of questions in this book of justice and right versus wrong. Who gets to decide when someone deserves to die? Are some people’s words more valuable than others? This can be read as an examination of the death penalty in its most ancient and barbaric forms.

Religion’s role in justice is also a prevailing theme of the book, and something I found interesting. Agnes is assigned a priest to help her find achieve absolution with God before she is executed. Agnes resists by not repenting and, slowly, begins talking as an equal with the priest. Something Agnes repeatedly questions is why she has to ask for forgiveness to a God who is allowing her to be executed.

I love historical fiction that shows the discrepancies in class, and there is a very clear class divide in this era of Iceland. Agnes is not only a murderer, but a servant accused of killing her master, which adds a level of certain guilt in the rest of society’s eyes. When she first arrives at the farm, the entire family is disgusted by her. Agnes is gradually accepted by the family despite her class and status as a convicted criminal.  

Definitely check out this fantastic debut!

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica

Anna: This month, my fiancé and I read Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. This is the first in a new noir series about Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger in East Texas. Darren’s job is on the line when he is sent to the rural town of Lark to investigate the murder of two people, a black lawyer and Chicago-resident Michael Wright, and a local white woman named Missy Dale. The people of Lark are frustratingly secretive. To further complicate things for Darren, Michael’s wife, Randie, is already trying to find out what happened to her husband.

Bluebird, Bluebird is about race, family, and justice. While I found all the topics important and the plot okay, I wasn’t thrilled by the writing style, which is why I ultimately gave the book three stars. Most of the characters felt glaringly one dimensional, especially the women.

The weakest character is Lisa. Not only is she extremely one dimensional and mostly nonexistent, but she’s the stereotypical “wife”. She’s mad at Darren because he just wants to ”roam” and live his life and she just wants him to come home and be safe. Um, no. I know this takes place in the south, but still. You’d think a man wrote this.


This use of recall and memory also made it hard to care about some of the secondary characters like Joe and Joe Junior. The reader never sees them, and their stories are told in such an indirect way that I found it hard to care.

The writing in general is super tell-y. I felt I was being alternately spoon fed and smacked over the head while being told, “this is what this means!” I would have liked to draw these conclusions myself.

One of my huge pet peeves in books is when a twin dies and the other twin is dating the dead twin’s former lover. Ahem, J.K. Rowling, I’m looking at you. As a twin, this is super annoying because TWINS AREN’T INTERCHANGEABLE. In this book, Darren’s twin uncles, William and Clayton, raised him. His Uncle William is dead, and William’s wife Naomi is dating Clayton now. I hate this.

Here are some things I did like:

The discussion of race relationships and how the justice system treats black people unfairly.

The fact that Randie and Darren didn’t fall in love. I would have just stopped reading then and there if that happened.

That Darren had noticed the tree in his yard where Mack had buried the gun, but left it alone. I think that was a great twist and a clever way to end the book and say that justice is complicated.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

#tbt- Kindred by Octavia Butler

Alexis:

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take some time to talk about an important writer.

Last year, I read Kindred by Octavia Butler, the pioneer of African-American women science fiction writers.

Kindred deals with a smorgasbord of hard topics: slavery, racism, rape, and death. Butler utilizes time travel in order to explore the ancestors of Dana, the main character, who were slaves in the American South. The result is a harrowing read that explores the horrors of slavery and the interconnection of past and present.

If you’re looking for a good read to finish out the month of February, check it out!

 

Review: In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Alexis: Read 2/1/19

In the Midst of Winter is a story of grief, guilt, and love. The book focuses on three main characters: Lucia, a lecturer from Chile; Richard, a professor; and Evelyn, a caregiver from Guatemala. Half of the book is set in 2016, explaining how the three characters meet and become involved in each other’s lives, while the other half explores their complicated, and often depressing, pasts.

I adored the first half of the book, which opens on Lucia’s life in New York City during a snowstorm. It’s such a promising premise. As the reader, you are immediately thrown into the minds of Lucia and Richard, and I enjoyed reading about their contrasting personalities. I love that Lucia has a bug-eyed old Chihuahua, while Richard has four cats that he simply calls one through four in Portuguese. Though I found Evelyn’s life and story interesting, I felt like her dedicated chapters didn’t reveal her character or thoughts as well as Lucia’s and Richard’s.

As usual with Allende’s writing, I love her descriptions in this book and I think they serve the story and the characters well. I also enjoyed reading about the tumultuous histories of Chile and Guatemala, as well as Richard’s time in Brazil.

This book went in a different direction than I expected, however. The morbid reason the three characters go on a journey together works at first, but I found that it didn’t work the further I got in the story. I correctly guessed the twist towards the end. When I finished the book, I was left underwhelmed. It addresses such deep and interesting histories and emotions, yet it ends on an almost “oh, well!” and weirdly cheery note, which dragged down my review.

VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 books

Alexis’ Library Haul

Alexis:

Library haul time! These are some of my most anticipated reads on my #tbr list.

  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Anna and I went to a coffee shop and got some work and writing done today. And then we went to Ulta, my second favorite store after Barnes and Noble.

I’m starting with In the Midst of Winter since it’s currently 28 degrees outside and dropping! I’ve always loved Isabel Allende’s writing style and I’m enjoying the beginning of the book.