Snapshot (ARC) Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Title: House of Salt and Sorrows
Author: Erin A. Craig
Series: N/A
Pages: 426
Publisher: Delacorte
Release Date: August 6th 2019

*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

TW: mention of suicide, stillbirth

      “In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
      Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
      Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
      When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.”

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  • Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling – There are multiple Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White retellings, but I’ve always been partial to the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig’s interpretation of the tale is familiar enough for those who enjoy the original, but takes plenty of liberties that will keep readers on their toes.
  • The mysteryHouse of Salt and Sorrows is more plot-based than character-driven and while I usually gravitate toward the latter, I became really invested in the mystery surrounding the deaths of the Thaumas’s daughters.
  • Horror elements – I did not expect this one to get so dark, but the lead character Annaleigh has strange nightmares, is troubled by the chilling things her younger sister shares with her about their dead sisters, and eventually begins to see apparitions with nefarious intentions.
  • The world-building (for the most part) – While I would argue that the novel could have delved deeper when it came to world-building, there were several elements that I really enjoyed including the mythology of this world.

  • Character development – I really wanted to see the characters in the novel grow more, but it never really felt like any of them necessarily changed throughout the course of the novel.
  •  The first half – I ended up liking the second-half of the novel a whole lot more than the first. It’s not a slow start, but nothing in the first half made it stand out for me and I kept comparing it to the masterpiece that is Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, my personal favorite Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling.
  • Annaleigh’s romance arc – I go back and forth between whether I liked where the author took this storyline or whether it just fell flat for me. On one hand, it felt very fairytale-esque with Annaleigh’s first meeting her love interest and eventually finding out there’s more to him than meets the eye, but on the other hand, I’m not sure this part of his story completely made sense to the narrative.
  • Didn’t always feel consistent – I mentioned both the horror elements and the mythology of this world. The problem was these two didn’t always feel like they were part of the same world. With a few changes, I think this would have worked better as a horror novel rather than leaning into the fantastical aspects.


Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrow is a solid retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but it is the dark and morose elements rather than the fantastical that had me wishing it hadn’t tried so hard to straddle two genres.

★★★
(3/5)

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ARC Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: July 23rd 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
      The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
    Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
      In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.”

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With Gods of Jade and Shadow Silvia Morena-Garcia proves once again that she is a master at storytelling with this Mayan-inspired fantasy. In the dreary town of Uukumil in southern Mexico, Casiopea Tun toils away her youth, treated more as a servant than family to her affluent but ailing grandfather. The other members of her family look down upon her for her Indigenous heritage and those like her cousin Martín do not even consider her to be a real member of the Leyva family. Though she dreams of leaving and experiencing all the revels to be had during the 1920s, she has all but accepted this as her lot in life. Until one day when she opens a mysterious box, unleashing an imprisoned God and accidentally binding herself to him. Casiopea has no choice but to follow Hun-Kamé as he recovers missing pieces of himself hidden by his brother in a quest to regain the throne of Xibalba.

Moreno-Garcia draws from Mayan folklore to build the bones of Gods of Jade and Shadow. Hun-Kamé and his twin brother Vucub-Kamé have been locked in a battle of wills for centuries. The former was content to accept the Gods’ diminished role and growing indifference from mortals while Vucub-Kamé wishes to usher in a new era of adulation and sacrifice. The Gods’ power is irrevocably tied to the worship of mortals. Though they yield a great deal of influence, I found it really interesting that in this world mortals were given more freedom. Though a God cannot change fate, mortals have the autonomy to change their fate, making them unpredictable pieces in a game of chess.

Moreno-Garcia pays equal attention to both the mortal and immortal worlds. Readers are taken on a journey across Mexico and into the very heart of the Underworld known as Xibalba. Mexico City is both dazzling and overwhelming, having profited off the U.S.’s prohibition era. Here there is music and dancing and a celebration of life. Xibalba, though the land belongs to the dead, is subtle in its allure. Dangerous and misleading, but dark and mysterious. Through Hun-Kamé’s eyes, Casiopea begins to see that Xibalba is a place of beauty, despite its nefarious creatures, and a home to those who were born there.

Casiopea is a protagonist I grew fond of rather quickly. Though she longs for another life she isn’t consumed by her fantastical daydreams. She is too practical to drown in the sorrow of her insipid life. Though she has been treated as a servant and expects to give deference to the more prominent members of her family, Casiopea is stubborn and willful, defiant in the face of those with more power than her. This makes for an interesting dynamic with the haughty God Hun-Kamé, who expects obedience. Their bond chips away at Casiopea’s strength, but also makes Hun-Kamé more human with each passing day. Their relationship is slow to develop, subtle yet beautiful.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow is a quiet, yet intoxicating fantasy with delicate prose and a satisfyingly, yet bittersweet romance.

★★★★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
    Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
      As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.”

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Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns captivates with its luscious world-building, an exciting plot, and dynamic characters. Orphaned and left on the doorstep of the Great Library of Summershall, Elisabeth Scrivener grew up surrounded by a treasure trove of books. Elisabeth has worked hard to earn her place, apprenticing until she can convince the Director of the library that she is ready to become a warden, tasked with protecting both the library and the dangerous books they keep in their underground vaults. When Elisabeth happens upon a theft, she stumbles upon a scheme to rob the six Great Libraries and bring about a cataclysmic end. With no one to turn to, Elisabeth reaches out to the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his demon servant. A decision she may come to regret as she’s been taught that magic is inherently evil and those who practice it, while bound by the laws of the land, are capable of acts of great malevolence.

Rogerson proved what a great world builder she was in her debut An Enchantment of Ravens. In her sophomore novel she once again impresses. Every setting is vividly drawn from the Gothic and ominous library vaults to the enchanting and mysterious Thorn Manor. Even the small glimpses we get of the Otherworld feel fully formed, readers peeking into a universe whole and dark, yet undeniably alluring. Booklovers will be in rapture of Rogerson’s magical world, where books speak and have mercurial personalities. The most dangerous whisper words of temptation, taking in the weak-minded and manipulating them. Dark sorcery of the past gifted the world with grimoires, but produced grotesque tomes made from human parts. And when one of these books is damaged, it sets free a monster capable of killing all in its path.

Though Elisabeth has grown up surrounded by all the knowledge books contain, her world is very small. She learns that not everything is black and white. That it is not magic that can corrupt, but greed and power. She’s a brave heroine with just the right amount of recklessness, making you cheer, but also keeping you on the edge of your seat. Nathaniel makes the perfect love interest, he is mysterious but sardonic enough not to come across as too rigid. Much of who he is has been defined by the mistakes of his ancestors, making him a reluctant ally. Elisabeth becomes a catalyst for change in him, forcing him to finally confront the nightmares of his past. Nathaniel is also bisexual, which is something I still find really refreshing since male bisexual characters as so rare. Sorcery of Thorns also has a great pair of minor characters. Katrien, Elisabeth’s best friend, though she doesn’t get a lot of page time, is her equal in curiosity and propensity for trouble. I wouldn’t mind a companion novel devoted to her. But it’s Nathaniel’s demon servant Silas who stole my entire heart. He has been more of a friend and caretaker to Nathaniel, though it goes completely against his nature to care. He is complicated and dangerous and yet still comes across as the kindest of all the characters.

Sorcery of Thorns is a lush fantasy which will cast a spell on readers and its surprisingly unrelenting action scenes will have you racing to the end.

★★★★★
(5/5)

ARC Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

Title: Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Author: Nina Moreno
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 14th 2019

      “Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.
      But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
      As her college decision looms, Rosa collides-literally-with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?”

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Nina Moreno’s debut, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, perfectly blends romance and family in a coming of age story infused with heart and magic. In the small town of Port Coral, people have always whispered about the Santos women. How Milagro came from Cuba with a newborn babe and a face full of grief, having lost her husband at sea. The babe in turn grew up, fell in love with a sailor and he too was swept away, leaving a young Liliana heartbroken and pregnant. Rosa grew up hearing how the Santos women are cursed by the sea, how it takes from them the ones they love too much. As Rosa grapples with impending decisions about her future, her mother and grandmother’s grief continues to press in on her. And if Rosa isn’t careful, a new resident to Port Coral, a boy with a boat and a quiet smile, could once again spell tragedy for the Santos women.

Moreno does so many things well in her debut. Not only do her characters feel real, but the town of Port Coral feels like a living breathing world. It’s easy to fall in love with this town’s sights, sounds, and smells. From Mimi’s home, Rosa’s grandmother, to the town’s marina, every place feels like it could and does exist in the real world. Moreno first and foremost most builds this small town around its people. As Rosa navigates her hometown, readers are introduces to a myriad of locals, each bringing something unique to the narrative and forming the personality of Port Coral. I loved every single minor character in this one from the viejitos who make it their mission to spread chisme around town to the Peñas, Rosa’s best friend’s family, who own the local bodega, a place where people and food come together and which feels like the heart of Port Coral.

Much of the novel explores people’s ties to their homeland. For Mimi, Cuba is a part of her past. Having left during a time of political upheaval, so many of her memories of it are tied to traumatic events. For Rosa, Cuba is a safe she doesn’t know the combination to, but which holds the answers to who she is. Rosa is a product of diaspora, stuck between two worlds and not knowing if she is enough for either. So much of Rosa’s plans are tied up in Cuba, as she longs for the home she’s never known but one that feels etched onto her bones. To Rosa, Cuba is the key to healing her family, to mending the ties between daughter and mother. It’s a link to her past as well as who she will be in the future, but it’s never felt quite within her grasp like it does when she is presented with an opportunity to study in Havana.

I really loved exploring the mother-daughter relationships in this novel. Liliana has been dealing with her grief by constantly moving, leaving Rosa to be raised by her mother. Every interaction between Liliana and Mimi is filled with tension. Grief, resentment, disappointed are present in every word they exchange. Rosa is caught in the middle, between a woman she is too afraid to ask to stay and one she is too afraid to disappoint. Navigating this family isn’t easy when there are wounds in their pasts that each are too afraid to revisit. Family traumas have been swept under the rug, keeping the pain too raw and too fresh, even decades later.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is one of those rare novels that breaks your heart and begins to heal it all within the same chapter. Its emphasis on family, friendship, and community coupled with a touch of brujería, makes it one of the most touching and magical reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of picking up.

★★★★★

(5/5)