shades of milk and honey (+ giveaway)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 |

I found myself proclaiming to my friends that I’d found ‘the perfect book’ yesterday. I didn’t mean that it was THE perfect book for all time and all people. I did mean that I’d found the book that feels as if it was written expressly for me, because it fits my tastes perfectly. And luckily for the rest of you, it’s also well-written, so there’s a chance that you’ll find it just as enchanting as I did.

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right – and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if she had lived in a world where magic worked.

Kowal employs lyrical prose that engages all the senses. I could smell, taste, hear and see the living art contained in her work. Simply put, it is beautiful.

Reviewers are correct in that the setting of Shades of Milk and Honey corresponds to an observation of manners that Austen also featured in her work. It isn’t actually Austen, obviously. It won’t read the same way. But that doesn’t mean that Shades won’t please some Austen fans – it will. It’s reminiscent of Georgette Heyer as well, featuring an elegance of language and phrasing that reminds one of the brilliance of early 20th century minds (and the superiority of their educations).

It is not perfect – no. I don’t want to give anyone such an exalted view that they are let down when they read it for themselves. There are certain plot elements and characters that Austen readers will recognize straight off. But coming to the book as I did from the extremely high praise and recommendation of Elitist Book Reviews (whose taste I trust in almost all matters), I expected beauty, cleverness, and a certain luminous quality. I got all that and more. I felt sublimely entertained and edified at the same time. I feasted my senses and nourished my soul.

But there we go again into sacred territory. Let me explain: it’s perhaps not that it’s SO wonderful, but that it fed two very important parts of me, and a fiction book hasn’t done that in a long time. I’ve most probably been reading the wrong things, or expecting that edification is only the provenance of non-fiction. But it seems to me that good books, really good ones in both an ethical and literary sense, aren’t popular anymore. Modern reads always seem to have something to dissuade me: too much sex, too much violence, a credo or character that I can’t respect. This book skipped the objectionable, but held my interest. It taught me something, but didn’t feel like anything beyond a beautiful pastime while I read it. It was like a well-loved Alcott or L.M. Montgomery tale, without the obvious moralizing.

Oh, and it is so gorgeous! I have cover love to the nth degree, but the words inside and the book design itself…all conspire to make this one of the most beautiful and subtle and yet wonderful things I’ve seen in…ever. The only way I could have loved it more is if there were actual gilded edges. And I’m kind of glad there weren’t, just so that I won’t feel too precious about lending it out. Because this IS the sort of book I will evangelize for without any qualms.

Recommended for: historical fiction and subtle fantasy fans, Regency-era devotees, readers who view Austen as the comfort food of the book world, and anyone looking for a beautiful read with strong art overtones and a classic feel.


I'm giving away two copies of this book, because I loved it, and I want other people to love it too. Also, when I tried to buy it at Borders I found that they’re not carrying it in stores. Travesty! UPDATE: Author Mary Robinette Kowal is completely awesome and is sending SIGNED bookplates for each winner. Hurrah!

To enter:

Leave a comment on this post with a word or phrase that makes you think of milk or honey. Synonyms, colors, associations, whatever you want – write it down!

Please include a method of contact. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on September 15 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winners via email.

Good luck!


Tales of Whimsy said...

Ooooooooooooo cooool!
I will have to check this out.
(not an entry)

Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

Oh brilliant review! I so want to read this one, so please enter me :)

When I think of milk and honey, I think of sweet and email is iswimforocean(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you!

Sullivan McPig said...

Sounds like a nice read.
When thinking of Milk and Honey strangely enough the thing that first comes to mind is the song 'Earth (Gaia)' by the Orb.
don't ask me why as there's no Milk and honey in it, but wine, but I think it's the biblical connection.

danya said...

Oh I love the Regency era, and when you add magic to that...this one sounds awesome! Thanks for the review :)

Amy (ArtsyBookishGal) said... the first thing that comes to mind is "A land flowing with milk and honey" from the Old Testament description of the Promised Land.

Amy S.
artsyrockerchick at aim dot com

Scoot said...

When I think of Milk and Honey I think of a lotion I have. Yum. I love that scent. So soothing.

Thanks for the chance to win!


Kemendraugh said...

When I think of milk and honey, I remember waking up from nightmares when I was little and my mom making me warm sweetened milk. It's so calm and comforting :)

Anonymous said...

gold. I think gold. rich,smooth, and fascinating. I look forward to you sharing your new found gold with me, and perhaps will both find it to be a treasure.
-MsTyraM (twitter)

Galena said...

My association: bubble baths, for some reason. I do not know why.


Lisa Dullard said...

I've been reading a lot of positive things about this book recently, so I'd love a chance to win a copy.

A nice steaming hot cuppa tea is what I think of when I hear Milk and Honey. In fact, I think I'll go make some now. :)


Lisa M. Collins said...

Hot dark roast coffee + milk & honey!

Christine said...

Hmm... whenever I think of milk, I get an image of the caramel color it makes when I pour it into my tea.

The books sounds lovely! Thanks for doing this. :)

Anonymous said...

Milk and Honey... makes me think of Winnie the Pooh.

Deanna Garza

Clare said...

I think of caramel, for some reason- the color combination.

This sounds fantastic- it's been on my list ever since I heard of it, and I'm glad you absolutely adored it.

The Literary Omnivore
clareamcbride AT gmail DOT com

Polter-Cow said...

Milk and honey make me think of soap, honestly, because of the milk and honey soap I saw at Paxton Gate one day.

poltrcow at comcast dot net

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

Lemon tea -- because lemon tea with lots of honey is what I drink for a sore throat.

Giada M. said...

Milk and honey makes me think of crepes! :Q_

Thank you for ths awesome giveaway! :)

Giada M.

fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

Corey McKinnon said...

Milk and honey makes me think of shampoo, because of some old TV ads.

cmckinnon at gmail dot com

Vidisha said...

Sweet....and yummy lol


Darlyn said...

That sounds interesting!Enter me too please!

darlyn225 at gmail dot com

Ginny Larsen said...

wow, this sounds like an awesome book! totally great review as well :D

i think of honey nut cheerios when i think of milk and honey. i guess i'm the 'literal' type!

thanks for the chance to win ;)

larsenvt (AT) gmail (DOT) com

kiaras said...

Milk and honey reminds me of the hand soap I buy for our bathroom. But I buy it because it is a yummy smell that somehow evokes both comfort and sensuality. And I hope that's something we can say about this book as well. :)

Unknown said...

Milk and Honey to me represent sweet decadence.

Mav (dot) Weirdo {at} gmail

Caitrin said...

Awesome giveaway *crosses fingers!*

When I think of milk and honey, I think of a hot cup of milk with honey and cinnamon late at night while reading.

liathiano AT gmail DOT com

Liviania said...

Tea - particularly black or green tea, at midnight with my flatmate.

Borders is really annoying me with the books they aren't carrying. I adore Mary Robinette Kowal - she was one of the first authors I reviewed on my blog. Her novel debut deserves better.

inbedwithbooks AT yahoo DOT com

Liviania said...

Tea - particularly black or green tea, at midnight with my flatmate.

Borders is really annoying me with the books they aren't carrying. I adore Mary Robinette Kowal - she was one of the first authors I reviewed on my blog. Her novel debut deserves better.

inbedwithbooks AT yahoo DOT com

Nolly said...

When I hear "milk and honey", I think of the Old Testament description of the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

I can be reached at nolly1(at)cox(dot)net

Pamela Dodd said...

Milk, that which is necessary in the beginning for nurishment and growth. Honey, that little sweetness that makes all the milk easier to swallow.

ladybard at sbcglobal dot net

Linda said...

A big glass of cold milk at bedtime (it's HOT where I live; you don't want hot milk).

I can be reached at

Allison B. said...

I love fantasy and Jane Austen! I'd love to read this book. When I think of milk and honey, I think of that sweet smell of creamed honey on toast.

My email:

Alyce said...

I'll definitely keep an eye out for this one if I don't win, after reading such a great recommendation.

First thing to come to mind - cookies! :)

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Kristen M. said...

The first word that came to mind was "creamy" -- I guess I'm thinking of whole milk!

And this sounds like a wonderful book that I will add to my reading list!

Sharli said...

Thanks for the book recommendation!

First thing that comes to mind: Caramel. I guess because of the color and the texture.

entrelibros_blog at

Anonymous said...

In a word, rich. (One of my favorite breakfasts is goat cheese and honey on a whole wheat English muffin. Mmmm...)

jeff5 at stehman dot com

Ruth said...

Milk and honey me think of smooth, sweet, slippery, and even sensuality.

Aisle B said...

Putting my name in for the infinite hat... lady karma come and roll the dice my way... At the same time sending out positive karma to the others since it's always going to help to send luck out to all.
Method of contact email :

A bientot & ciao!

PK Reeves

Kim said...

Thanks for going on and on about it :) I'm adding it to "the list". Milk and Honey? Adding sweetness to everyday life.

kimbaldwin74 at

Joanna said...

Cool thanks!!!


Peaceful Reader said...

Honey Ice Cream and thanks to the beautiful bee I would love to win this delicious book.

mcmholt at gmail dot com

James Marie said...

Makes me think of cinnamon and baklava. Yummy!

Pink Panther said...

Winnie the Pooh, cow, bees... they all make me think of milk/honey. :)
You can reach me at

linz said...

When I hear Oreo, I think of milk. They are the perfect pair.

Great review and thanks for the contest!


Aik said...

I think of Burt's Bees whenever I think of honey.

aikychien at yahoo dot com

Alessandra said...

First thing that comes to mind: yummy! Also, drinking milk with honey is a sort of granny's remedy against cough. It works a little and tastes a lot better than cough drops.


Deb Anderson said...

"...the milk of human kindness..." which is what I'll experience if I win a copy of this book! I'm definitely a Janeite and read anything I can get my hands on that even remotely resembles the world in which she wrote.

Unknown said...

When I think of milk and honey, I think soothing.

Llehn said...

When I think of honey I think of glorious amber sweetness.


Hope Evey said...

The word "Sweet" reminds me of milk, and honey, and the author. She's such a lovely, gracious woman!

I can be reached at hopeevey at yahoo dot com :)

Thanks for a lovely give-away!

buddyt said...

First thing that came to mind with the phrase "milk and honey" was the Promised land as described in the bible and then straight after that I decided to go and have a bowl of corn flakes with milk and honey.

So I did (but it was still morning).

Thanks for the giveaway.

Carol T

buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

Mystica said...

Vanilla ice cream with honey and nuts! a very popular Sri Lankan desert!


kaolin fire said...

something that makes me think of milk and honey? skin--and the cover. ;) Sounds intriguing, would love to read it.


Anonymous said...

when I think of milk and honey I think of tea. I'd probably be adding that to my cup. Along with eating some scones, and sandwiches. :)

sensitivemuse at gmail dot com

Joseph Giddings said...

Enter me! (nightfang at gmail dot com)

Natalie said...

Milk and honey makes me think of a delightful cup of chai tea. It's just not complete without the milk and honey.

thefuzzyslug at gmail dot com

Unknown said...

I think of what a sunset would taste like if such a thing could be tasted.


Tina said...

I loved that you mentioned Georgette Heyer in your post, so now I have to read this book.
Chai lattes make me think of milk and honey. Chai tea, steamed milk and sweet, syrupy honey. Mmm.
And also body cream. I wore this one kind of milk and honey body lotion until the scent was discontinued.
Thanks for the chance to win!
melodiousrevelry (at) gmail (dot) com

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