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.

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

 

In the Shadow of Lions by Ginger Garrett

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.

In the Shadow of Lions: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Ginger Garrett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Henry VIII is on the throne, and a mysterious book is wreaking havoc in Europe and the Church. Two women, Rose and Anne, and their guardian angels are steeped in the midst of this momentous unrest…In the Shadow of Lions by author Ginger Garrett.

While perhaps anyone familiar with today’s historical fiction can tell who the woman on the book cover is with one glance, and this first novel in the Chronicles of the Scribe series is called “A novel of Anne Boleyn,” I wouldn’t call it that. Although she is a key player in this story, Anne isn’t exactly set up as the key player.

This tale with bold supernatural elements casts Anne in a rather different light than is usual for her in popular culture. But even with her devoutness in this account, she isn’t a perfect saint who knows it all, and this isn’t a sweet novel. Though sensual at times, it isn’t romantic. It’s gruesome and tragic, a depiction of a hellish period in Christendom.

I’ll admit I nearly gave up on this book after the first third of it, as I felt it spent too long speaking in riddles, and the choppy development made it hard for me to get a good grip on and to feel for the characters, who are each in some kind of agony. For all their belief in a Prince of Peace, no one is at peace here.

Still, novels that are so marinated in historical flavor are hard for me to turn down, and I do enjoy this author’s deft, sharp, ironic style, even when it’s haunting. Sometimes I do need something on the darker side, and while it isn’t pretty, much of this novel’s relevance is in its illustration of how ugly and base “the faith” can become in the hands of self-serving people.

So much religion. So much “holiness.” So much judgment. So much profession of Christ accompanied by little to no real love.

Have we or have we not learned from history?

______________

Chronicles of the Scribe Series

 

A Plan for Everything by Beverly Varnado

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 from the publisher for an honest review.

A Plan for Everything by Beverly Varnado

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Connie keeps her life sorted and scheduled with a meticulous agenda, including her plans to expand her coffee and ice cream shop into a catering business. But when a stranger comes to town to open a competing business, it could spell professional disaster for Connie in A Plan for Everything by author Beverly Varnado.

The vibrant blue and blend of the businesslike and small-town feel of the book cover drew me to this ChristFic novel I found categorized as a romance, but I wouldn’t call it that. In a romance novel, the romantic relationship is the story, while everything else is secondary. If the story could still be strong without the romantic element, or the major conflict/challenge of the plot could still work out if the main characters were just friends, it’s not really a romance.

Because Connie’s career and her fixated dependency on planning everything are the crux of the plot, I’d call this women’s fiction.

While the read didn’t give me the best sense of romantic chemistry, the small-town vibe, the friendships, and the power of “doing unto others” make quite an impact. The emotional development is a little thin and rushed at times, and the story could have used more subtlety—”showing” instead of “telling” as much—but the serious turns in the plot are compelling.

Other fans of contemporary stories of faith in practical life should enjoy this novel.

 

Do “Free” Books Stop Me from Buying Higher-Priced Books?

Firstly, as I share my thoughts here as both an author and a reader, be aware that “free” is in quotation marks in the title of this blog post because there isn’t really a such thing as a free book. Even if a reader isn’t taking money out of pocket for the chance to read a book, there were still costs involved with producing that book and making it available to the public. Somebody had to pay those costs.

Secondly, I’m writing this post because I know that fellow authors (particularly independent authors) sometimes suspect or assert that giving away ebooks at a $0.00 price at retailers devalues books. “Readers are starting to think that books aren’t worth anything, but I work too hard on my writing to just give it away for nothing.”

As an author, I so get it. I work incredibly hard at what I do. Still, I personally can’t think of a $0.00 price on a book of mine as a devaluation or an insult. If I did, I’d have to see all prices on all of my books as insults. Even if I were to charge 30 bucks per copy for my ebooks and I never gave any away, a “$30.00” sticker wouldn’t truly reflect what that writing cost me in practical sacrifices as well as the blood, sweat, and tears—the heart and soul—I put into my work.

It’s not up to a reader to pay a monetary price equivalent to the value of my heart, my soul, and my life experience. That would be impossible. But my very heart, soul, and life aren’t for sale anyway. I’m selling books, and once I put a book on the market, it’s a product for consumers. Putting monetary prices on products is a practice of business, not sentiment.

When I hear authors say that giving away free books is an overall bad idea, the discussions sound as if the practice of giving away books started with indie authors and the digital age. Yet, while a digital book is indeed a relatively new medium for reading, free books aren’t a new thing, and they certainly aren’t the original invention of today’s indie authors (many to most who haven’t been in publishing more than a decade or two yet, I figure).

Traditional publishers have been giving away free copies of books for a long time, including in the form of the thousands of advance reader copies (ARCs) they’ll print up for an upcoming release in the hopes of garnering some early reviews and endorsements for the book. I myself get free books from traditional publishers all the time, whether they’re ARCs, or finished copies for review, or books I’ve won in publisher giveaways, or books I’ve earned through publisher reward points, or books I’ve borrowed from the library.

YES, public libraries with free checkouts still exist!

Sometimes traditional publishers even give away piles of free copies of a new book just to get the buzz going about it among readers. I first learned about this type of guerrilla marketing when I was pretty fresh out of high school, years before I became an author. A couple of times since then, publishers I’ve reviewed for have sent me and a lot of other folks some free extra books in the mail. New releases, no strings attached—read them if you want, pass them on to friends, or whatever. Whoo!

And I’m talking about free copies of paperbacks and hardbacks from publishers. Yes, I also receive some free ebooks from traditional publishers now, including through free ebook promotions they have at retailers just like indie authors do. But publishers didn’t start by giving away ebooks. They’ve been giving away print books since well before many of today’s indies even had a serious thought about getting into publishing.

Digital publishing hasn’t created free books, but it’s added some new methods and changed the level on which free books can now be distributed.

Sure, running promotions for free ebooks doesn’t yield the same results for a lot of authors as it did earlier in the indie game, but markets change as they begin to mature. A lot of readers who used to grab up every free ebook in sight (because Free Ebook Grabbing was the new thing they could suddenly do) have since become more selective about the free ebooks they’ll download. And some readers are shopping less while they work through the ebooks they already have, discovering which authors they like and weeding out freebies they once snatched up in a hurry but now realize they have no real interest in reading.

In general, it takes a little time for an authors’ new, true fans to emerge after they’ve gotten some reading done.

So. Does downloading or otherwise borrowing books stop this reader (me) from buying higher-priced books? Nope! Real book shoppers like me find that, just like back in the olden days, plenty of books we really want, we have to buy. Or request our local libraries to purchase them. Or we let our loved ones give us bookstore gift cards for Christmas. That kind of olden-day stuff.

But instead of only having the option to buy ONE new $10, $15, or $25 book, reading it once or twice, and then cycling back to read some of our older books again while we’re waiting to save up or receive more book money to spend (like we did back in the good ol’ olden days), we now can get 3, 5, or 8 new ebooks for the same money if we want, plus pick up some freebies and inexpensive books to try new authors and genres we never would have tried in the past when our 10, 15, or 25 precious dollars would only afford us one new book.

Ebooks and the rise of independent publishing have given us more options. Exploring our options takes time, and while exploring, when we read something we find worthwhile, we put that author on our list and come back shopping for that author later.

Granted, I’m no market expert, and I’m not speaking for absolutely all readers and authors. Readers have different wants and habits, and different strategies work for different authors. If an author decides as a strategy or on principle never to give away any of their books for $0.00 to consumers, I respect their decision.

Still, giving away samples and free products isn’t a new concept or practice in business, and I do my share of research. The information I find, including these results from a survey I recently took part in, tends to show that most authors who make a living or otherwise substantial income from their books (evidently reaching good numbers of readers with their work) are authors who not only sell books but who also give away free copies.

Hence, in the bigger picture beyond that strategic $0.00 price on a book, those hardworking authors aren’t giving their writing away for nothing.

In my case, I’d rather have my writing reach as many insatiable book lovers as possible than for fewer people to ever read my writing while I’m holding on to a “heart and soul” principle that no monetary price could satisfy anyway.

That’s me. 🙂