Book Review: Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

Author: Natasha Bowen
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: November 2, 2021
Print Length: 336

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of Skin of the Sea on!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Official Synopsis
A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.

Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata–a mermaid–collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi goes against an ancient decree and does the unthinkable–she saves his life. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy the gods.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . .

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she fails, she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

My Review
This is yet another book that book Twitter inspired me to read soon after its publication. Not to mention the cover is absolutely gorgeous!

Skin of the Sea incorporates various African mythologies of Mami Wata (Mother of Water), who is often thought of as a single entity, though the name is also applied to other African water spirits and deities (Author’s Note, p. 304). The Mami Wata in this tale collect the souls of those who pass at sea so that those souls can rest at home. Many of the souls that Simidele (Simi) and the other Mami Wata find belong to those who passed away on and were then thrown overboard from European captors’ ships. To provide some historical context, Bowen explains that Skin of the Sea occurs during the mid-15th century, during which the Portuguese abducted West Africans for enslavement.

When Simi finds the body of a boy just thrown from a ship, she doesn’t expect him to still be alive. She makes a split second decision to save his life, even though this means revealing herself to a human. Unbeknownst to Simi, this breaks a decree where deities can’t directly intervene in the lives or deaths of humans. And so Simi must journey to Olodumare, the Supreme Creator, to beg forgiveness. Along the way she helps Kola, the boy she rescued, return home so that he can fulfill a familial duty. They realize that their goals share a commonality, and so they find themselves working together to save the fate of the world.

I really enjoy fairytale retellings and the incorporation of mythology into a story. I’m familiar with the western version of mermaids and sirens, but reading about the Mami Wata was entirely new to me. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about West African Mami Wata mythology beyond what I read in Skin of the Sea. However, I appreciated the introduction to another culture’s interpretation of mermaid folklore. I also recognize that I haven’t read a lot of fantasy books set on the African continent; in fact, I think this is my first. So I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the landscape and Kola’s home community, settings which were also new to me.

Bowen did a wonderful job capturing and holding my attention from the first lines of the book. The writing is descriptive, but doesn’t bog the reader down with too many details. I also thought Bowen did a great job with imagery, particularly in the first chapter. English was never my favorite class in school (I hated analyzing things to pieces); so if an author can get me to notice imagery, hats off to you.

With respect to critiques, I have two small ones. The miscommunication (or lack thereof) trope is the device to spark the journey. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it mildly annoying when a main character isn’t told the full story about who they or what their duties are, so the end up breaking a rule. Then again, if there’s proper communication, would some adventures even exist? My other critique is a little bit more spoiler-y, so stop here if you don’t want spoilers. I felt like the chemistry between Simi and Kola needed more development. I expected them to eventually kiss (and they do), but the escalation/tension was almost nonexistent, in my opinion. For those who aren’t fans of fantasy romance, know that their relationship development is not the focus of this book.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Skin of the Sea. It was a great book with which to close out 2021. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, whenever it comes out. There’s even a sneak peak at the next book in the back of Skin of the Sea.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: enslavement, blood, death, attempted suicide
Reading format: Library hardback

2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge: 10 Shout Outs

In an effort to support and promote book bloggers further in 2022, Pages Unbound is hosting a (very casual) “Support Book Bloggers” Challenge. The idea is simple: we will work together to read blog posts, share them, comment on them, and boost book bloggers in other ways. To learn more about the challenge and the 12 prompts involved, visit the original post here. (The above banner was created by Pages Unbound.)

I think this is a brilliant idea. Perhaps I’m even more enthusiastic about it because I’m a relatively new book blogger. It’s also a great way to learn of other great book reviewers out there. I’m looking forward to boosting others and finding some new blogs to follow this year!

If you decide to join in on the fun, the social media hashtag to use is #BookBloggerSupport22.

Without further ado, keep reading for my responses to the prompt I chose for January.


The shout out can be as a blog post on your blog, a list on Twitter, or any other ways you want to show them support.

  1. Biblio Nerd Reflections
  2. itsKoo Reviews
  3. Frappes and Fiction
  4. Ally Writes Things
  5. Book Nook Reviews
  6. Realms of My Mind
  7. Aquavenatus
  8. Behind the Pages
  9. Will Read for Booze
  10. One Book More

Please share with me the links to bloggers you’ve enjoyed reading so that I can discover more in our #bookblogger community!

WWW Wednesday: January 26, 2022

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme revived and hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The idea is to answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses.

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading: Right now I’m reading an ARC via NetGalley of Castle in their Bones by Laura Sebastian. Apparently this has been sitting in my NG queue for a little while. I didn’t realize it’s by the same author who wrote Half Sick of Shadows, which I loved. This hits bookstores on February 1. I’ll probably finish it by then, but I don’t think I’ll be able to write my review and post it on the blog by that date.

Recently Finished: The last book I finished is To Bleed A Crystal Bloom by Sarah A. Parker. It’s not the first “dark fantasy” I’ve read, but it’s certainly the darkest. I loved it. Right before that I finished Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, which is a YA “meet cute” type romance. I wrote my reviews for both of these books, but just need to decide when to put them in the blog queue.

Reading Next: I’m either going to keep reading The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney, or start The Broken Heart of Arelium by Alex Robins. The latter is for a blog tour with The Write Reads, so keep an eye out for my review next month.

Book Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Author: Sosuke Natsukawa
Publisher: HarperVia
Publish Date: December 7, 2021
Print Length: 208

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Cat Who Saved Books on!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Official Synopsis
From the #1 bestselling author in Japan comes a celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heartwarming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and the cat and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, the cat and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter . . .

An enthralling tale of books, first love, fantasy, and an unusual friendship with a talking cat, The Cat Who Saved Books is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper.

Translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai.

My Review
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. The publisher indicated that this e-proof was made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs and reminded readers that changes may be made prior to publication. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

You know, it’s really nice when a book lives up to its synopsis. I read a few last year where that wasn’t quite the case, so it set me up for some disappointment and confusion. Since the summary speaks for itself, I’ll jump right into my impressions.

Rintaro is a self-described hikikomori, or someone who prefers social isolation. Since his grandfather died, he burrows more into this way of living. The adventures on which he embarks with a talking cat serve as a way to engage him in problem-solving and decision-making. But, more than that, I couldn’t help but wonder if this book is a quiet commentary on the enjoyment of reading and the publishing industry.

On their first journey, Rintaro meets a man who reads every book he can get his hands on. This man views the number of books read as a status and power symbol, putting them on display for all to see how much he’s read. The second man Rintaro encounters literally trims down books to their essence to help people read more books in a shorter amount of time. And the third man Rintaro meets only cares about and publishes books, or book formulas, that he knows will fly right off the shelves. Rintaro must convince them that these ways of thinking don’t do justice by the books or for the readers.

This is an interesting way of presenting how it can feel like current society’s group thought is to just keep running, just keep comparing yourself to others, and go with the status quo. Rintaro is the person who encourages these men (and the reader) to take a step back, to enjoy a story for all of what it is. In reality, the number of books you can read doesn’t mean you’re better than someone else. Take the time to enjoy the full story and don’t worry about how fast you can read a book. And if what’s popular isn’t your cup of tea, then there are plenty of new and old stories from which to choose; what you read doesn’t have to fall into a current bestseller category.

The outcome of each adventure is more or less predictable, and the plot isn’t complicated. But hopefully this story will make you stop and think for a minute about its larger meaning. The characters are a little flat and not super memorable, but it’s not off-putting. It’s a calm, easy read–a nice palate cleanser, if you will, if you’re coming off reading several books in a row from the same genre.

Rating: 3.5/5
Content warnings: mention of family member death, kidnapping
Reading format: Kindle e-book

First Lines Fridays: January 21, 2022

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  The rules are as follows:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

The full-bellied moon casts a silver sheen across Vateshram Forest, the shadows stark against their illuminated backdrop.

My horse gallops around the deeper pockets of black, weaving a path between ancient trees, breaths labored, ears pinned back. Every now and again, he tosses his head in defiance.

I steal a look behind, making sure I’m not being followed.

Do you know what book this is?

Still guessing?

Well, the book reveal is…

Surprise! It’s definitely not one I mentioned in my last WWW Wednesday post! Mood reader, through and through!

To Bleed a Crystal Bloom by Sarah A. Parker

From Amazon:

“What a pretty flower to keep locked in a big, rocky tower.”

Nineteen years ago, I was plucked from the heart of a bloody massacre that spared nobody else.

Small. Fragile.
An enigma.

Now ward to a powerful High Master who knows too much and says too little, I lead a simple life, never straying from the confines of an imaginary line I’ve drawn around the castle grounds.
Stay within. Never leave.
Out there, the monsters lurk. Inside, I’m safe … though at a cost far greater than the blood I drip into a goblet daily.
Toxic, unreciprocated love for a man who’s utterly unavailable.

My savior. My protector.
My almost executioner.

I can’t help but be enamored with the arcane man who holds the power to pull my roots from the ground.

When voracious beasts spill across the land and threaten to fray the fabric of my tailored existence, the petals of reality will peel back to reveal an ugly truth. But in a castle puddled with secrets, none are greater than the one I’ve kept from myself.

No tower is tall enough to protect me from the horror that tore my life to shreds.

To Bleed a Crystal Bloom is a dark Rapunzel reimagining full of immersive imagery and breathtaking angst. A unique new fantasy series perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer L. Armentrout, guaranteed to grip you from the very first page.