Tag Archives: adult fiction

For Jane Austen Fans: A Few Thoughts on Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

I recently took a little trip to the beach, which of course meant I got to read a little more in a short period of time than normal. One of these books, which I read from start to finish in a single day was Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. This book has been on my radar for a while now since I’ve listened to Kowal on the Writing Excuses podcast, but when Charlene fangirled over the entire Glamourist Histories series, it piqued my interest even more.

Things I loved…

It reads like Jane Austen… but more accessible.

If you know me, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of Jane Austen’s stories, but I do struggle with her writing style (which is 99% due to the time period she lived in). This is like reading about Jane Austen’s time period and with her stories’ sensibilities with modern accessibility, while staying true to Austen’s tone. Plus magic.

The main character, Jane.

I really liked Jane a lot. She’s smart, great at glamour (referring to magic, not putting together her look, though that can be part of it), and is just a good person. She cares about the friends and family in her life so genuinely but she isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right, even if that means it might temporarily hurt someone she cares about. Her relationship with her sister Melody is a big focus in the story, and while I don’t know anything about having a sister ten years younger than me, I felt the up’s and down’s of their relationship seemed realistic; they care for each other but the age difference (and other general differences) do cause friction between them. And any time Jane feels this friction, she hopes to fix it.

The other characters… even when they drove me a little crazy.

Akin to the characterization in Jane Austen’s books, Kowal’s MC Jane is the most sane person around (well, in addition to her father and misunderstood love interest). Jane’s mother is so much a Mrs. Bennett, and then of course there were the uppity gossips, people with tragic pasts that blinded them to sense, etc. Yet despite the fact they aren’t the best people and are very much based off of Jane Austen character archetypes, I still found them well-rounded and interesting to read about.

On the flipside…

The romance read like Jane Austen… meaning a little too downplayed.

The romance just felt a smidge rushed. The characters vaguely know each other the entire book, but by the end they’re married. When Vincent proposes to Jane, they have barely had a civil conversation. Now, Jane does make the statement that because she knows his art/glamour she essentially knows him, which I get, but I still think maybe they could have had a short courtship or at least one semi-romantic moment together before I could fully buy that they were ready for marriage like a week later. I do like them together and think it plays out nicely, but I needed just a *little* bit more!

The action seemed… uncharacteristic?

Since everything else felt so much like Jane Austen, even the magic somehow fit in nicely, I was a little shocked by the crazy action-packed ending that didn’t feel very Regency-era to me. Yes, duels were a thing back then, but it still felt a little out of left field for me, most particularly the threats that are lobbed at Jane by the Willoughby-esque character.

Moments that were unresolved or TOO resolved.

Now I’m getting nit-picky and these shouldn’t really hinder anyone’s enjoyment of the book, but I felt like mentioning them. There are two things that stand out to me as unresolved: one was a very minor thematic element and the other is the title. Let me tackle the latter first: I have no idea why this book is titled Shades of Milk and Honey and it bothers me. I like to feel like I caught the title’s reference, even if the exact words aren’t in the story, but I’m clueless on this one. Also, there is this minor element of the story where Mr. Ellsworth is requesting Jane wear certain things, but I never saw an explanation as to why he requested those certain things. Maybe it was just the general sentiment to catch a husband, but I expected that the requests were specific for a reason but I never understand why.

On the other end of the spectrum, the ending was way too specific and resolved. I’m sure this book was sold as a standlone with series potential and Kowal wanted her readers to be assured of the happily ever after, but even if I didn’t know there were four more books I think I still would have been like, “OK, I don’t need to know about Melody’s wedding AND the Ellsworth grandchildren AND Jane + Vincent in their old age.” All this is only a few paragraphs, but I would have preferred the book simply resolve with knowing Jane and Vincent got married and were going to travel to do glamour work, the end. Then I can draw my own conclusions or read on.

Read this if…

You’re looking for a good adult fiction read.

You’re a fan of Jane Austen stories. 

You’re a fan of a little magic in the everyday.

I highly recommend Shades of Milk and Honey!

If you’ve read Shades of Milk and Honey, what are your thoughts?

Review: The Distant Hours

I would have never picked up The Distant Hours on my own, but when someone loaned it to me, I thought I should give it a shot. Thankfully, it was a pleasant surprise.

Note: It’s been long enough ago since I read this that I am not sure if I can remember enough to write a full-fledged review, so I will just be elaborating upon the notes I jotted down shortly after finishing the book.


Incredibly layered and rich in story-telling: This book is like Code Name Verity on crack in terms of layers. I’m really impressed with all the storylines and characters Morton had to keep straight in order to successfully weave everything together so seamlessly!

Several fascinating mysteries, secrets, and connections: This is really just a further elaboration of the first point. There is so much going on, in the past, in the story’s present, interweaving between events and characters and secrets that get revealed at various points in the story to various characters.

Loved the castle setting: When I started this book, I was in the mood for reading something with a fantasy or fairy-tale feel, which I wasn’t expecting to get from this, but the castle setting that part of this book takes place at gave some of that feel without it being completely otherworldly.

Usually enjoyed going back and forth between the past and present narratives: The fun thing about this book is we get two narratives in one really, one from the past and one of the “present” (it’s the early 1990s, but it is the present for the narrator). However, at some point I did get a little tired of so much back and forth, especially when the narrative shifted just as something really exciting was happening in the current narrative.

(Sorta vaguely spoilery) So incredibly tragic for the sisters – thankfully there is more hope for Edie and her mom: This story doesn’t end happily for everyone, but there is some hope in the end.

Never felt super connected to the characters: I can’t complain about the characters. They were all incredibly distinct, three-dimensional, and interesting, but I think in part because of how much “book time” is spread out among them, I never felt a real connection with any one of them. Just when I was relating with Edie or Saffie, I was switched to another character, and then I didn’t necessarily get the feeling back when I returned to that other character.

Felt too long at times: This book is 562 pages long, and I honestly felt it. As someone who reads YA fiction primarily, I don’t read many books over 400 pages, and when I do, the pacing is usually fast and helps me get through the book quickly. It took me a long time to read this book and after a while, it started to wear on me a little. I was interested in everything going on, but couldn’t it just go a little faster? Thankfully, when it did start to feel a little draggy to me, something would usually spark my interest again for a little while longer.

Raymond Blythe was a terrible father: Seriously. This is a case of someone trying but failing miserably.

Never really understood what “the distant hours” means: There were several references to some song or poem that Edie’s mom told her about that mentioned “the distant hours,” and it gets mentioned in reference to the castle, but I never understood what the heck it actually meant. (If anyone can explain it, I would appreciate it.)

Overall, it was a very good read that I would recommend to those who enjoy stories with mysteries, secrets, and who have an interest in how the past and present can be linked.


Advisory content: Some sexual content and references (nothing graphic) and some mild language. 

Have you read The Distant Hours? What are your thoughts?