The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“You are so unimaginative!… You judge the tale finished while the best has yet to be told.”

Those are two of my favorite lines from the classic, Christmas-Carol-esque tale The Christmas Angel by author Abbie Farwell Brown. Here we find a bitter, lonely old woman occupying herself on Christmas Eve with earnest tasks: burning toys in her fireplace and conducting covert little experiments on the public to prove to herself that the Christmas spirit is a humbug.

Oh, I didn’t eat it up quite like the Dickens classic this fantastical work resembles in different ways, but I still found it worth the time. I got a little nervous at the appearance of two Jewish boys in the story, wondering how the author would handle them in this tale from 1910—and a Christmas tale at that. But I breathed easier after while. What’s more, my heart nodded in agreement with one character’s sentiments about people who supposedly know so much better than others and wind up miserable.

This old-fashioned read is a fairy tale, but its messages ring true, and not just for Christmas.

 

Petrified Flowers by Joiya Morrison-Efemini

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

Petrified Flowers by Joiya Morrison-Efemini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

A devastating tragedy takes teenaged Iris and her five younger sisters away from their middle-class life and to a place that leaves them staring over at advantages they’re barred from. But the sisters, especially the two oldest, are in for more they’ll have to learn—some of it the hard way—to bloom as they’re meant to in Petrified Flowers by author Joiya Morrison-Efemini.

It wasn’t until I’d already decided to read this young adult novel that I found out it’s a novel-in-verse. This author writes with the deft and nuanced hand of a true poet and novelist combined, illustrating through selective, lyrical language how verbosity isn’t required to tell a deep, complex, and hard-hitting story.

Through a cast of convincingly flawed characters, this novel addresses so much, whether for extended or brief moments: joy, grief, race, privilege, poverty, murder, rape, faith, hope, love, redemption. I was awed here, cut to the core there, and in for some surprises. I love it when I don’t foresee a story’s every twist and turn from a mile away.

And even as a longtime ChristFic fan, I’ll admit this book has more Bible-y and salvation-talk than I usually go for in fiction. But the author is indeed a storyteller, and I wasn’t made to feel like the story became a prop for a sermon. The spiritual content and context fits the plot and characters well.

Now, the book has a few minor errors in grammar unrelated to artistic license, and the way the story eventually ties up so much becomes fairy-tale-ish. Also, I wonder what message the book may send to some readers about money, and how they might feel if they’re truly without certain advantages or opportunities. However, the story does speak to the impact of self-sabotage, to either missing or recognizing and accepting one’s blessings, and it conveys that even a life of faith won’t be a cakewalk exempt from pain.

Whether readers are within or past their YA stage of life, many would do well to read this poignant, sobering, beautiful, brilliantly written novel.

 

Phoebe’s Secret: Phoebe’s First Mystery by Sydney Tooman Betts

I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received an advance reading copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Phoebe’s Secret: Phoebe’s First Mystery by Sydney Tooman Betts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: In April of 1843, Phoebe’s family hears about a murder while they are traveling to their new home in the Shenandoah Valley. They arrive to learn the victim attended the church her father has agreed to pastor and the crime took place on a leading church member’s plantation.

Eager to make new friends, Phoebe forms a unique relationship that propels her into the middle of the mystery, and she begins to question several acquaintances’ motives. Will she uncover their secrets before the plantation owner’s charming son discovers hers?

My endorsement: This first historical mystery from Sydney Tooman Betts is at once intriguing and thought-provoking, featuring a principled, compassionate, and curious young heroine. I’m already anxious for the continuation of the series!

 

A Dream within a Dream by Mike Nappa and Melissa Kosci

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

A Dream within a Dream by Mike Nappa

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Private investigator Trudi Coffey is held up at gunpoint by a young man demanding her help. The man goes by the name “Dream,” he’s suffering from acute anxiety and memory loss, and the Boston mob is hunting him down as the key to lead them to artwork once stolen in a historic heist in A Dream within a Dream by authors Mike Nappa and Melissa Kosci.

I knew going in that this is the third book in the Coffey & Hill series of investigation thrillers, and no, I didn’t read the two books before this one. But I don’t mind jumping into a series late and backtracking to the earlier books later if I enjoy the book I jumped in on.

This novel includes important backstory that helped me to get a feel for the two main characters, Trudi and her…friend, Samuel Hill. However, while the basis of the plot intrigued me, I found the read to be rather slow. Also, with so many vague and spotty moments surrounding Dream, I often felt like my intrigue didn’t have a satisfying place to land, and my interest waned.

A lot of the chapters end on cliffhangers, an effective contributing factor that kept me holding on through more than half the novel. However, not enough in between the cliffhangers sufficiently gripped me to hold on through the rest of the next half, so I decided not to continue.

The novel is well-written, and other readers unfamiliar with the series may enjoy it just fine. Still, I think this story may be much better for Coffey & Hill fans who already know Trudi and Samuel and may therefore already have a deeper interest in finding out what happens to the characters.

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Coffey & Hill Series