Reviews: House of Salt and Sorrows/Christmas at Wickly

What fun it is in this modern era when there are so many wonderful retellings of the old fairy tales. These books are a treat to read, though sometimes they miss the mark. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig has so much going for it, and although I really enjoyed it, I’m not sure I recommend it. The story has a maritime setting on a series of islands, the salt, the sea, etc., but it didn’t really become nautical in the sense of being really firmly set in a world of ships and sailing. The twelve girls are all daughters of a wealthy landowner/governer of the island chain and have little to do with actual sailing trips, fishing, and the like. It could have gone much farther in the world of the sea, and also the quasi-Greek mythological religion the world follows. Still, what was there was adequate for the story. Our heroine is one of the 12 sisters. She’s in the middle and her name is Annaleigh.

Twelve main characters plus any additional ones are tough to keep track of, but in this tale, four of the sisters are already dead at the beginning of the story. Wisely the author groups the rest of the sisters, making them easier to remember. The story has a lot of stops and starts and never really flowed well, but the ghostly figures in the beginning didn’t prepare me for the end. Although the story ended happy, the incident in the lighthouse was just…icky, for lack of a better word. Icky, and for no apparent reason. There was just a lot of gore and grossness at the end, which ended up being too much for me. The actual adaptation of the Grimm tale was mostly in the latter half, and it was when their father finally made the wager that whoever figured out the mystery of how his daughters wore out their shoes every night would gain his estate, that I realized how uneven the story was.

Where it went wrong was the world building, something I, too, have trouble with. The stuff on their immediate region was good, but a full description of the world was lacking, or perhaps it was too blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. The ickiness related to one of the deities in another province who was not detailed nearly enough, and that’s why it just doesn’t fit at the end. Also, I expected fairies in the story, that is, I expected them to be the villains, and was disappointed in that.

All in all it’s an adequate retelling, but it could have been so much more. I did enjoy the use of Fisher, but I also didn’t think the character really got his due, either. The romantic hero was very appealing, but we didn’t get to know him that well. Fairy tales are hard to retell in some ways, because they are short and often have very blank characters. Sometime this bleeds into the longer adaptations. Also the dancing was severely lacking. I wanted more time at the balls and there just seemed to be a lot of Annaleigh thinking, which is of course what young women often do, but it doesn’t drive stories along very well.

Craig did a good job of portraying an estate constantly in mourning. The behaviors of many characters can be excused largely due to the tragedies they’ve experienced, so it’s not a wonder in that sense that it takes people a long time to realize something is amiss. The ultimate villain at the end…meh. I suppose the lesson is you never get what you want no matter how clever a deal you make, especially if it’s a deal with a devil. Not a bad story, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and I’ve read a better adaptation of the fairy tale at some point in my life and hopefully one of these days I’ll remember the title.

A Regency Romance Review

Continuing with the A Regency Holiday book of five Regency romances, story four was actually quite good. I wish it was a longer story. Judith Nelson is the writer, and was excited to find that one of her longer novels was in the surprise bag I bought last summer. Christmas at Wickly stars the Earl of Wickham, who is in his thirties, and a twenty-eight year old heroine who believes herself firmly on the shelf. She’s not wrong, in that day and age women often married in their late teens, but Miss Worthington lives fully up to her name and her humor and capableness convince the earl that she’s the one for him. All this is planned in advance by a wily grandma who wants to see their family’s inheritance continue and not go on to lesser family members. In her eyes, it is essential the earl marry and start having children as soon as possible. She’s not wrong, but I’m also glad that she wants him to truly be in love.

The romance is quiet, just two people spending a lot of time together and falling in love while doing it. Somehow the love surprises both sexes and Nelson makes it exciting to both of them, as well as sweet to read. They are both total dorks and also snobs after a fashion. It will be great to see what she does with a longer story. The story outlines four key points for a good match: Humor, companionship, similar perspectives and/or temperament, and time together to make the relationship happen. As Wickham dismisses the other, younger women one by one, I just think of Austen’s Mr. Knightley proclaiming that “men of sense don’t want silly wives.” In this story, that’s true, although our hero quite sillily makes a habit of stealing mistletoe so he’s not forced to kiss anyone under it. It’s hard to imagine societal rules so strict one couldn’t refuse a kiss, but I suppose if a gentleman is faced with having to refuse a lady, he would just rather avoid the situation altogether. And that’s rather gentlemanly of him, even if it also makes him silly.

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