ARC Reviews, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Book Review: In the Light of What We See by Sarah Painter


I admit it.  I requested this one based purely off the stunning cover.  I have no shame, but do I have regret?  Maybe a little.  Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this book for superficial reasons, it did not come through for me.


inthelightAuthor: Sarah Painter

Genre: Historical Fiction • Paranormal • Magic Realism

Version: eBook

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Source: NetGalley


Book Description.jpeg

Brighton, 1938: Grace Kemp is pushed away by the family she has shamed. Rejected and afraid, she begins a new life as a nurse. But danger stalks the hospital too, and she’ll need to be on her guard to avoid falling into familiar traps. And then there are the things she sees…Strange portents that have a way of becoming real.
Eighty years later, Mina Morgan is brought to the same hospital after a near-fatal car crash. She is in terrible pain but recalls nothing. She’s not even sure whom to trust. Mina too sees things that others cannot, but now, in hospital, her visions are clearer than ever…
Two women, separated by decades, are drawn together by a shared space and a common need to salvage their lives.


MyThoughts.jpegI contemplated DNFing this book a few different times, but since I was given a copy for review, I felt I needed to press on.  While I think the writing was decent and the concepts within this book had potential, the execution of the story was a bit of a mess.

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What didn’t work for me…

The two separate storylines did not particularly work well together, making this book feel disjointed.  Why did they not work together?  There was no connection between the two storylines except an insignificant one… the fact that both stories take place years apart in the same hospital.  The end.  I kept waiting for the big reveal of how Mina and Grace would be connected, but the end of the book came without any type of link between them.  What was the reasoning behind the dual storylines if there was no significant connection between the characters?  Did I miss something?

I strongly disliked the main character in the present timeline, Mina.  She did get slightly better as the book progressed, but only slightly.  My aversion to her in the beginning actually made it really hard for me to want to pick this book up.  I know that authors will often write characters who are more self absorbed or egocentric characters in the beginning to then develop that character to show a tremendous amount of personal growth, but that doesn’t really happen here.  Mina sort of realizes she was a horrible person pre-accident, but aside from befriending a coworker the had previously ignored, Mina didn’t go through any real personal development.   Was the author was attempting to write an “unreliable narrator” here?  I didn’t get that vibe…  Whatever the case, Mina didn’t really have any redeemable qualities.

Despite the unlikeable main character in the story taking place in the present, I preferred this story to the one taking place in the past.  Actually, I think Mina’s story would have worked quite well as a thriller in and of itself without Grace’s story…. This was probably my favorite aspect to this book, the “thriller elements” occurring in Mina’s story.  I really liked how the reader knows the big mystery surrounding Mina’s accident in the beginning while watching Mina try and sort things out.  It really added to the tension as I often felt compelled to warn Mina.


Grace, the main character in the past timeline, is a more likeable character than Mina, however she wasn’t exactly developed which made her feel flat.  Grace’s story overall felt a little busy and underdeveloped.  It felt like one bad thing after the other.  I think this is mainly due to the fact that Mina’s story takes up a good chunk of the book, so there was not enough attention given to Grace’s plotline.

Another aspect that didn’t work for me in this one was the paranormal/supernatural elements.   Could they have worked? Yes, BUT there was no point to them… they didn’t really enhance the story in any way.  The randomness of these elements made the story feel a bit odd to me.  I am all for some magic realism, but it has to be well done and make sense within the story.  InTheLightofWhatWeSee

To sum up what didn’t work for me:

• no distinct connection between the two storylines/characters

• paranormal/supernatural elements felt odd and didn’t work well within the context of the story

• Mina was hard to connect with and didn’t have any redeeming qualities

• Needed more development in Grace’s storyline



5-Star Rating System

*Big thanks to Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author.jpeg

Sarah Painter writes contemporary fiction with a touch of magic.
Her debut novel, The Language of Spells, became a Kindle bestseller. The follow-up, The Secrets of Ghosts and a prequel novella, The Garden of Magic, are available now.
Sarah lives in rural Scotland with her family and Zelda Kitzgerald, a grey tabby who likes to sit on her hands while she types.
She drinks too much tea, loves the work of Joss Whedon, and is the proud owner of a writing shed.

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16 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Light of What We See by Sarah Painter”

  1. Oh hai. I’ve missed you and your lovely reviews. 😉

    I really appreciate this review, Amanda. I know first hand how hard it can be to write a less than stellar review for a book you requested to review! It’s challenging. But your open and frank comments bring to a light a lot of things I would also probably find problematic. I get incredibly frustrated with tenuously connected ideas/concepts/characters; particularly when there isn’t a lot of strong character development! I don’t know if I could honestly enjoy a book without much character development. But, I often do get past unlikable protagonists.

    I’m impressed you didn’t DNF. I probably would have. Is the only reason you kept going was because this was an ARC?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mentioned this in a previous reply to you, but I dread writing negative reviews. I hate sounding “harsh” but I aside from the “thriller elements” there wasn’t very much that I liked about this one unfortunately. I’ve been putting off these negative reviews because I dread them so much, but unfortunately they are just part of the game.

      I struggle with DNFing books in general because I’m always wondering if I will miss out on something? What if it drastically changes at the 50% mark?! In the last two years I’ve DNFed maybe one book? It doesn’t happen often, even if I contemplate it lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha. I completely understand the “What if it drastically changes at the 50% mark!?” feeling– I think the reason I’ve started to do more DNF’ing lately is that I have a HUGE TBR which is constantly intimidating me. There are books I’ve DNF’ed which I know I’ll return to some day, but many of them I just walk away from. I respect the urge to keep reading– I just know I couldn’t do it. 😀


  2. I love the picture of you with the breakfast tray! I’ve tried to take a couple of cute book pictures before, but it’s way harder than I thought. Firstly, none of my stuff matches. Okay, that’s the big one. I don’t even just mean color wise. It’s more like how expensive those items look and if they are at the same level of cost. Otherwise, everything looks tacky. And possibly upcycled.

    I don’t know about you, but I feel like I read at least one review per day of a book with two timelines. Why is this the hot new thing right now?? Personally, I have it because the author asks you to juggle the norms, customs, and beliefs of two distinct time periods. Homie don’t play that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have no idea how much I appreciate that!!! Taking pictures for my blog posts is WAY more complicated and time intensive than I ever would have thought! I spent one day this week just taking pictures, and it was exhausting! Plus it is so hard to come up with fresh new ideas… so thank you so much for saying that 🙂

      The dual timelines thing is definitely very popular with HF these days. I think it can be very hard to pull off… I almost always prefer one timeline to the other, generally the one in the past. I think it is a risky move. It can pay off, or it can ruin the book…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! And I think the dual timeline can be risky, too. The only time I like it is to show the present in which Something Is Happening and then going back to show how we got there.


  3. This is a fantastic review! I love your ability to express your concerns and discovered flaws without tearing the book or author down. I read so many “aggressive” reviews that feel like attacks. I am honestly tired of seeing that approach. This was so insightful and enjoyable. with that said, point for the cover, but yeah, I will pass. Also love the photo Amanda ❤


  4. Oh – I have to say I understand your feelings at the beginning of this post – I wanted to request books based on their covers for so many times ahah, but it’s not necessarily a good move.
    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t love this book so much. The synopsis sounded promising, with the two timelines, but it seems like a missed opportunity that they didn’t connect in the end? That’s a bit of a shame :/ Also, I’m sorry about the lack of character development and connection – I always have a hard time loving a book when I just don’t really enjoy or get the main character here.
    That was a lovely review, though, as always, Amanda! ❤


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