House of Salt and Sorrow

By: Erin Craig

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. 

I am so drawn to tragic stories set on or by the sea. As a child, I fell in love with the original story of The Little Mermaid. Her fate, so painful, really ignited in my heart of love stories like this. When I first came upon this book, I didn’t know it was retelling. I often say I’m not a fan of them but…well…maybe I am! 

This book has a little bit of everything I love in it; set by the sea, princesses and fairy tales, a touch of Greek mythology, ghosts, mysteries and a magic curse. I picked it up and was hard pressed to put it down (stupid real life! stupid job!) but I did. All in all, it only took three days to read so it’s a fast read. There’s no slow moments in this story. 

Now, the original story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses was a bit of a snore fest, to be honest. It was a delightful surprise to see the author embellish and twist this into something gothic and ghostly while keeping the thread of the original story intact. 

There are some notable themes here. Probably the most obvious one is grief. The book opens to the funeral of Eulalie, the latest sister to die. The main character, Annaleigh, struggles to process the losses of all her sisters throughout the book. Her grief deepens as she comes to believe foul play took her sisters and not fate. We feel Annaleigh’s loss and heartbreak quite keenly, especially when two more sisters are lost later on in the book.

It was quite a challenge to keep all the characters organized in my brain. The author helps by breaking up the sisters a bit, having the “triplets” of Rosalie, Lenore and Ligeia and then the “graces” of Verity, Mercy and Honor. Between the girls and so many other supporting characters, I would suggest reading this with a notebook to help keep everyone straight. However, each character stands on their own, having their own voice, so to speak. I enjoyed and felt attached to them all. 

There is a love interest for Annaleigh and by the climax of the story, we question whether or not he is real as Annaleigh realizes she’s been tricked and played with by the evil Kosamaras, the harbinger of Madness. Cassius plays the part of the love interest nicely without distracting from the main story or taking over and becoming the hero. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it was a little predictable in places and while the love interest didn’t take away from the story in any way, it really didn’t add a whole lot to it. The world building was incredible and the setting was beautifully written. The characters were believable and relatable without them being too much out of their own time or element. The gothic, ghostly elements were all there for me to make this a great read on a chilly, rainy night. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and a great introduction to this author. I look forward to reading more by Erin Craig. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Bookbinder’s Daughter

By Jessica Thorne

When Sophie is offered a job at the Ayredale Library – the finest collection of rare books in the world, and the last place her bookbinder mother was seen when Sophie was just a teenager – she leaps at the chance. 

Taking in the endless shelves of antique books, the soaring stained-glass windows, and the grand sweeping staircase, usually shy Sophie feels strangely at home, and is welcomed by her eccentric fellow binders. But why is the Keeper of the Library so reluctant to speak about Sophie’s mother? And why is Sophie the only person who can read the strange spells in the oldest books on display, written in a forgotten language nobody else understands?

The mysteries of the library only deepen when Sophie stumbles upon an elaborately carved door. The pattern exactly matches the pendant her mother left behind years ago, engraved with a delicate leaf. As the door swings open at her touch, Sophie gasps at the incredible sight: an enormous tree, impossibly growing higher than the library itself, its gently falling golden leaves somehow resembling the pages of a book. Amidst their rustling, Sophie hears a familiar whisper…

‘There you are, my Sophie. I knew you’d come back for me.’

There are several things to love about this book. 

First, the language used is intricate, delicate and beautiful. Jessica Thorne has a such a mastery over vocabulary which she uses skillfully and without alienating her reader with a lot of “high-falooty mambo jumbo”. It’s simply exquisite. She uses words like a carver would use their tools to carefully craft a world-behind-the-world creating such detail and a stunning backdrop for this story. I fell in love with the library as though it was a living, breathing entity. Due to this, it can take a while for the actual story to unfold however, if you just stay with it, it’ll be worth it!

Next, the story itself. The idea of books and magic housed under the roof of a library isn’t one unfamilier to us readers. Books are magic, transporting, creating, and allowing escape from our everyday lives – even if we’re escaping to live the everyday life of a book character. We meet it, crave it and thrill to it as we let the magic of a good book envelope us and take us where the author wants us to go. Outside of God and all I feel and know through my faith, books are literally the next best ‘high’ one can get. 

I always love when an inanimate object suddenly becomes a character. There are two of those in this book; one is the library and one is the tree. They both have words, feelings, personalities and ebb and flow with the heroine flawlessly as she seeks out their secrets and unravels their mysteries. The library moans and groans under threat of evil. The tree dispels its leaves which, in turn, become pages for the bookbinder to create into a book. 

There’s a nice symbiotic relationship here as the library cannot survive without the tree, which gives of itself to the library yet the tree cannot exist without the library; the library is its home. 

The main character of Sophie is lost, alone and confused and all for the right reasons, having survived an emotionally abusive relationship and much loss. She flees to be with an estranged uncle as she takes on a job as the bookbinder at Ayredale’s library. She meets up with friends, old and new. There is a love interest in the form of Will and we struggle along with her to find out his connection to the library. 

There is an evil presence and I often found myself wondering who were the good guys and who were the bag guys with the exception of Sophie, our heroine. There is a nice character development as we watch Sophie’s internal struggle to find out what happened to her mom but also to free herself from the bondage of her abusive relationship. 

Lastly, I love that this story is almost told like a bit of folklore. It’s like a story you’d tell your kids at night, around a fire while sipping hot chocolate. It’s simply lovely! 

My rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐