A House Divided by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella

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.

A House Divided by Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Prince Sergei returns from war in the Balkans to St. Petersburg, jaded, restless, and perplexed about life and his place in it. He can make no immediate plans about a possible future with Anna, the peasant woman he loves. And Anna’s disillusioned and grieved brother, Paul, is heading down the precarious path of an angry revolutionary in A House Divided by authors Michael Phillips and Judith Pella.

In my review of the first book in this series, I mentioned that the landscape is ripe for revolution. This second book agrees with me.

It wasn’t long before I became thoroughly absorbed in the novel. The politics, the intrigue, the corruption, the forging of relationships and alliances, the heightening rumble of unrest and the blasts of violence—so much happening for this longtime lover of historical fiction to take in.

Yet, as with the previous book, there were many places where this novel’s style got to me. The narrator sometimes spells out too much, leaving no room for nuance or trust in the reader’s perception. The overabundance of italics and exclamation points makes for narration that seems to be shouting when there’s no need, and it gives the dialogue an overdramatic feel, making the characters harder to take seriously.

Katrina and Anna (among other characters, though not all of them) usually feel more like stereotypical caricatures than real people. On account of the awkward and sometimes rushed romantic development, I couldn’t find any of the romance satisfying. At this point in the series, I’m more interested in the events than I’m really into most of the characters those events involve.

Maybe someone present or yet to appear in the series will eventually grow on me though, as I do plan to read at least one more of these novels. The up-close unfolding of the historical side of it all has me hooked.


Here’s my review of Book One in The Russians series, The Crown and the Crucible.


Arts, Sports, Entertainment, and a World in Crisis Mode

I’ve written before about people deeming the work of others to be unimportant, particularly when it comes to people who work in different areas of entertainment. It seems the coronavirus pandemic has led to a new wave of finger-pointing regarding whose work matters, whose work doesn’t, and how this time of quarantining proves afresh that overpaid pro athletes and movie stars and the like are useless when the rubber meets the road.

Now, this post isn’t to raise a debate about how much money entertainers should or shouldn’t make.

Still, that doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of folks who enjoy the entertainment that athletes and actors provide willingly pay for that entertainment all the time. There’d be little money invested or made in professional sports and motion pictures and such if paying fans and audiences didn’t exist or weren’t interested.

Anyway, yeah, “your work doesn’t matter” finger-pointing hits a nerve in me, maybe more so because I’m an author. It seems plenty of people think of artists and writers as folks whose work isn’t all that necessary, and perhaps that way of thinking will continue right through this time when people are staying at home more than usual and watching more movies and TV series and reading more books—entertainment that wouldn’t exist without “useless” artists and writers.


Well. When it comes to professional athletes, I don’t think the fact that many of them can’t presently engage in their work (the entertaining parts of the work that audiences see, anyway) means the athletes are useless any more than the fact that stage actors and artists who can’t presently engage in their work means those actors and artists are useless. The work required in arts and entertainment is hard, made even harder when your upcoming events are canceled and many ticket-holders understandably want their money back.

Again, I’m not judging how valuable entertainment is, monetary wise, or how much audiences should or shouldn’t pay for it. But I don’t think a temporary world crisis/survival mode that forces technical designations of Essential and Nonessential jobs means: “Anyone whose work isn’t listed as one of these Essential jobs is a useless worker.” Not at all.

And while I in no way mean to minimize the seriousness of an international pandemic, it doesn’t mean I think times of crisis are the only times that truly matter. There’d be little reason to get through a crisis if there wasn’t a preferable quality of life waiting on the other side of it.

What we do on the other side indeed matters, including the places and times when people gather together to work, to play, and to worship. To sing and dance and go to the movies. To go to school, to go to the library, or to go out to shop and eat together. To see stage plays, to attend concerts, to high-five and holler at sporting events, to be delighted and awed at the ballet. To go visit friends and family.

It’s all a part of life. Basic survival is super-important, yes, but that’s not all there is to living well. Not by a long shot.

So. Instead of using this time to put down all the Nonessential and “useless” workers out there, we’d be wise to let this experience remind us that it takes all kinds of work in the world to add to our overall quality of life—to make life not only worth surviving through but more worth living.


Just Before Dawn by Jessica Marie Holt

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.

Just Before Dawn: A Short Story by Jessica Marie Holt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Jesse and Grace’s happy marriage shifted when tragedy struck, and positive news might not bring an easy fix for the couple in Just Before Dawn by author Jessica Marie Holt.

This makes the sixth work of short fiction I’ve enjoyed by this author so far. While I found this one labeled as a short story, I’d say it’s a novelette at least.

And it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, given that I didn’t read the blurb beforehand. Although Grace graces the book cover of the edition I got, the story comes from Jesse’s point of view, and it takes a real, pretty nuanced look at depression without being too dismal a read. It has a smidgen of humor and some sweet moments, but it isn’t sugary, and I must say I even found it slightly disturbing at times, which works in favor of the plot.

Now, there’s one character I never fully made heads or tails of, and I think some rushed development in a key area didn’t serve that character well. Also, a few punctuation errors were a bit distracting here and there, particularly some extra quotation marks popping up in the wrong spots.

Nevertheless, this was a satisfying read overall, and it’ll be nice to see what happens in the sequel. (I won’t be reading that blurb beforehand either.)


The Unsung Legacies Series


Enthroned by K.M. Shea

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.

Enthroned by K.M. Shea

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

The young man who would have been King Arthur runs off with a shepherdess before Britt Arthurs is yanked from the 21st century and lands back in medieval times, where she easily pulls a sword from a stone and is informed by the wizard Merlin that she will be crowned the new King of Britain in Enthroned by author K.M. Shea.

Though I didn’t read the book blurb thoroughly beforehand, I was intrigued by this YA fantasy series the minute I realized it’s called King Arthur and Her Knights. A nice twist from the get-go! There’s some comedy and also some medieval violence woven into this magical adventure, and I was interested enough to read the novella through.

However, I would have needed more character development to truly care about the story’s people, and I didn’t find a compelling “why” behind it all to make the plot impactful. I didn’t feel that much after finishing the book, and although it is in no way unreadable, it could have used another round of editing, particularly to catch the recurring errors in dialogue and punctuation.

While I may not continue this series, I do think I’ll try something newer by this author sometime.


King Arthur and Her Knights Series