The Light of the Midnight Stars | Review // A gorgeous fairy tale read! *Updated*

Greetings readers!

Update May 8th, 2021: It has come to my attention that author Rena Rossner, has been silent in light of the oppression Palestinians are facing at the hands of the Israeli state sanctioned violence. There are also several tweets in which the author misrepresents the relationships between Israelis and Palestinians for a manuscript wish list during heightened times of violence. I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t do thorough research beforehand and apologize for my ignorance when I initially published this review. What is going on is an extreme violation of human rights, and for this author to live in the same place where this is happening and stay silent about it is appalling.

I encourage you to learn more about what is happening in Palestine and support the Palestinian community in any means you can. For resources to educate yourself please visit @theimeu and Free Palestine Carrd, to donate please refer to this thread of organizations.

I will leave my review for accountability purposes, but moving forward I will not be further endorsing this book/author.


Have you ever experienced a reading moment where you read an author’s debut book and you love it so much that you HAVE to read everything else that they put out? Yes.

Well that is exactly what happened with me and Rena Rossner. After falling in love with The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I was so excited to find out she was releasing another historical fantasy book based in Jewish folklore!

May is Jewish Heritage Month and Rena’s books are definitely deserving of your attention!

Many thanks to HBG Canada for providing me with an ARC!

The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner

The Light of the Midnight Stars

Pub Date: April 13th, 2021
Publisher: Redhook

An evocative combination of fantasy, history, and Jewish folklore, The Light of the Midnight Stars is fairytale-inspired novel from the author of The Sisters of the Winter Wood.

Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.

When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice – and change the future of their family forever.


The Likes…

I was promised a fairy tale like feel and I got exactly that. This book was incredibly magical in that atmospheric way where every turn of page just ups the enchantment! But like any good fairy tale it was both warm and enticing but dark and dangerous in the corners. I really enjoyed how the historical setting and mythology worked together to create this beautiful story about family and faith.

As for the characters, I am always a sucker for a trio of sisters! Woohoo! And I am glad to report that I liked these sisters very much! Obviously I attached myself to the youngest (how could I not) but all in all I really enjoyed how sisterhood was portrayed in this book. It is not always sunshine and rainbows. There are some bumpy roads and distances to bridge even between the closest of sisters. I liked that they each had a distinct personality, a distinct voice and individual story line that still blended so well with the others. I was a little wary about how young they were, but I had to constantly remind myself that the time period this book was set in had young girls living very different experiences.

The story itself was nicely done. The first half is very different from the second half for *reasons* and I just really liked seeing how the events changed these characters! There were so many instances where the themes of love and grief were intertwined. Finding love after a first is so hard and letting it go is even harder. The plot is really multiple stories in one, or rather one story that then splits off into different directions but collectively united under the threat of this looming darkness that they must face off together. There was lots of intensity and some mystery to be had and for history-lovers they might find something extra fun to love by connecting this book to reality!

I could tell Rena did her research even before I read the author’s note. There is so much history, folklore and tradition in this book to take in. This combination really sets the tone for this book as wonder. There is a lot to be said about the Jewish way of life in this time period which anchors the story in a distinct tradition and experience. There are so many journeys and hardships that this family endures throughout the book, but it does have that touch of wonder woven throughout. It’s a dark fairy tale no doubt, but there is a light up ahead that you chase as you read on and it is quite intriguing!

I’m so happy Rena included poetry that was reminiscent her storytelling in Sisters and ahhh it just made reading so much more exciting and suspenseful! This book in general is gorgeously written and phrased. It is very image-provoking and full of symbolism that I think was perfectly evoked on the cover! There is an elegance to it that weaves in history, magic and languages! I am someone who loves a good glossary so I was living for this (again!)

And here we find some questionable items…

Okay, I liked the emphasis of storytelling. There is something very meta in finding stories told with stories told with stories. There is a depth in this form of narrative. But damn the stories within the story in this book were very elaborate and stylized, and if I am being honest I am pretty sure some metaphors just went way over my head. I would get stuck trying to figure out what was the point about this story since I could figure others out with not much trouble. It was beautiful yes, but sometimes a little distracting.

And while I liked the diverging storylines, sometimes I had trouble wrapping my head around things. This reading definitely requires lots of focus to be able to keep track of who is who, who is doing what and why and where in the world it is taking place.

So why don’t I love this book as much as I loved Sisters? I think it boils down to the fact that I wanted a more exciting confrontation between the sisters and the Black mist. To be honest, the ending left me hanging. I had so much anticipation, but no closure really. Like there is more to tell, more I want to know. It ended very abruptly and quietly. And it is very much possible that this was the intention of the novel. Has this darkness truly been defeated? No. (It’s a metaphor for anti-Semitism so I believe that this unfinished feeling I feel is what I am supposed to be feeling) It was nonetheless a very subdued ending. There was lots of build up and tiny sparks, but no burning in the end.

Also there was a death that hmm did not sit well with me, but who am I to say whether a death is merited or not?


Overall this book is gorgeously written, filled with stunning imagery and wordplay that brings forth an elaborate and intricately woven tale of sisterhood, grief and destiny. While it could get a little convoluted at times, these characters and their hopes, dreams and fears will keep you hooked no matter what!

Rating: 3.75/5 Stars

Recommend?: Yes! We all need some elaborate dark fairy tales to fill our days!

Let me know what you think! Have you read this? Are you looking forward to reading it? What are some of your favourite fairy tales, dark or otherwise?

Happy reading!

~ Rendz

The Sisters of the Winter Wood | Review // A 5 STAR PHENOMENAL READ

Greetings readers!

This book has been sitting on my bedside table since before it was released. Just letting you know how long I have been putting it off. I’ve been putting it on my TBRs every month ever since, but finally–finally–I was able to get to it and I only have one word to describe it.

Glorious.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

The Sisters of the Winter Wood
via Goodreads

Pub Date: Sept 25th, 2018
Publisher: Redhook
Price: $35.50 CAD
Goodreads

Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.


Buy It!

Chapters Indigo | Amazon CA


*Review copy provided by HBG Canada!*

The Likes 

These two amazingly complex sisters.

Liba and Laya are phenomenal characters. PHENOMENAL. Almost polar opposites but with so much heart. I have to say, I was so impressed by them.

Liba is the older sister and was the more protective, motherly type. She is stubborn though, she has so much heart, she is curious, timid, thoughtful and dedicated to her family and faith. I definitely saw myself in her a bit even though I am not the oldest child of my sisters hehehe. But I truly did love her.

Laya is definitely an interesting character too! She is definitely more spunky with her curiosity. I was yelling at her a lot throughout the whole book too, but I definitely understood where she was coming from. Her need for adventure and freedom is very understandable and I am truly impressed with her bravery.

They’re both definitely flawed, Liba is controlling and Laya is selfish, but they would literally go to the ends of the world for each other and that is what I loved reading about.

I loved the switching between prose and verse.

It fit this story perfectly. Liba’s POV is written in prose and the full sentence structure worked with her thirst for knowledge and her desire for a well-structured, safe life. In contrast, Laya is just as wild as the verse used to present her voice. It is free, blunt, cut off in different places. I loved it. It also made this read go by fasssttt. And let me tell you I flew through this book.

I loved the folklore.

I have not read Goblin Market by Christna Rossetti, but I definitely can see where it might have influenced this book. It had such a curious and odd magic. It was incredibly beautiful and yet totally haunting. Very haunting. It was seriously incredible, I had stars in my eyes the whole time I was reading.

It also held a hefty amount of Jewish folklore and mythology. I have pretty much no experience with this, so it was my first exposure to this kind of story telling and I can say that it was incredibly interesting. The people and the forest had such a magic to them…it was wonderful!

Plus I have a newfound appreciation for bears and swans. 

I loved the drama and suspense.

I read this book in two nights. That’s how fast it goes because it is so engrossing. Every chapter amps up the stakes, the drama, the INTENSITY. The backstory of this novel had me y e l l i n g!!! I tried my best to pace myself to really soak it in but ahhh I couldn’t. I DEVOURED this book. Utterly and completely swallowed. AND YOU KNOW WHAT. I STILL SAVORED EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER.

I loved the family dynamics and community complexities. 

As a Jewish family in a mixed community (some Jew, some not) we definitely got to see a lot of the complexities that come with a life in these groups. All come with their prejudices and it just goes to show that no community can ever truly be perfect no matter how much we try and its okay so long as we continue to recognize and strive to fix our wrongs. The novel takes place around the early 1900s and the author included actual anti-Semetic events that happened in history. But she also included some Jewish legends that I thought were really interesting, especially the dancing bear men! I think it enriched the historical aspects of this story and brought awareness to events probably none of us have heard of.

I loved the languages!

Three languages were used by the characters. Yiddish, Hebrew and some Ukranian. Now imagine me, not knowing any of these languages while reading this book. I had to flip to the glossary quite a few times, but thankfully it is beautifully organized and I had a wonderful time learning new words. I’m not sure this is a pro for many, but I am a language student so it’s a pro for me!

The Questionable

Nope.


Overall, I am still shaken by this novel. As soon as I finished I wanted to read it again, so you know that is always a good sign. I feel like I want a sequel, but I know it doesn’t need it. It is a perfect whole and the wanting I have just goes to show how amazing this author and this book truly is.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars 

Recommend?: YES. YES. YES. 

Let me know what you think! Have you read this one? Are you looking forward to reading it? What cultural folklore would you love to see represented in books?

Happy reading!

~ Rendz

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