The Christmas Matchmaker by Laura Hile

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.

Fan art by Nadine C. Keels: not an official book cover

The Christmas Matchmaker by Laura Hile

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Yes, I used to steer clear of all literary retellings and fan fiction based on iconic classics that were done so well. Even so, I jumped in to read A Very Austen Christmas collection and found a favorite in it.

What do you get when you mix Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park for the lead-up to Christmastide? You get The Christmas Matchmaker by author Laura Hile.

Wow! I wasn’t expecting to like this Austen World mash-up so much, but I found the novella to be a refreshingly clever reimagining of paths for classic characters I know. (And, yes, you do have to know Austen’s original characters already to truly appreciate what this read means.)

It all started out nicely enough, and I expected mild entertainment, but once a certain mysterious relative and the touch of the fantastical came into play… And, my, I even had some real laughs here and there, and then a little conspiracy began to heat up, and…

Well! Suffice it to say I was in for some surprises. I’ve not tried many, but so far, this is the most I’ve ever enjoyed a tale based on Austen’s work.

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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!