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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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!

 

Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi

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.

Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

While the Union and the Confederacy are warring against each other in America, President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. But Texans keep their enslaved laborers from hearing about it, a fact that will impact Luli Holcomb and the sister she never thought of as a slave in Come Juneteenth by author Ann Rinaldi.

Back in my teens, other novels by this author matured and sharpened my taste for historical fiction, especially concerning American history. So I decided to check this book out after finding it some weeks ago.

Knowing the kind of hard-hitting and poignant young adult stories Rinaldi can deliver, I probably should have been better prepared emotionally for this story of injustice, violence, and human relationships. Although my interest in the read waned here and there, the parts that got me, got me.

Now, it’s important to know this isn’t a story told from the perspective of Black characters, and it isn’t about a big Juneteenth celebration. Nor is it a simplistic, romantic painting of the Civil War and Reconstruction that depicts all white Yankees as completely good and noble and all white Southerners as completely wicked and backward. Rather, it’s a story of flawed human beings and what happens when you have to face where you, and other people in the place you fondly call home, have been profoundly wrong.

This is a tragic novel. Still, it has glimmers of hope for healing and learning from the past.

 

Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi

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.

Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Harriet Hemings loves her life at Monticello, where the former president Thomas Jefferson is head of the plantation. Although Harriet calls Jefferson “Master,” she’s never felt the reality of her enslavement, and rumor has it that she and her siblings are the master’s mulatto children. Now the impending choice of whether or not to leave her home forever to live life as a free woman is breaking Harriet’s heart in Wolf by the Ears by author Ann Rinaldi.

I was thirteen or so the first time I read this YA novel. It was quite the experience for me, getting me to chew on layered concepts that were still new to me at the time, such as the practice of some light-skinned people of color passing for white.

I’ll admit my youth and the newness of it all for me back then had me more entranced (so to speak) than I was this time. While I still think it’s a fairly rich work of historical fiction, I now recognize that I don’t have much reason to like the heroine. She can be pretty childish and melodramatic, with tears coming to her eyes so frequently that it becomes tiring.

While the story sometimes feels like a drawn-out walk to the inevitable, with characters repeating the same sentiments over again, the ironies make the read worth it. The pain comes across well, but the tough, complex ironies of it all are where the story still gets me.

And it ultimately gives me hope. Indeed, the ironic “wolf” situation seemed so impossible to people back then. But time has shown us we didn’t need that unjust wolf after all.

Can’t let today’s wolves stop us from envisioning a better future and fighting for it in whatever ways we can.