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.

 

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.)

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The Unsung Legacies Series

 

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?

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Chronicles of the Scribe Series

 

Zia by Scott O’Dell

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.

Zia by Scott O’Dell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fourteen-year-old Zia has known for years about her aunt Karana, who was once left behind and has been living alone out on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Zia is determined to go out and find her aunt and bring her back to live with other Indians in Zia by author Scott O’Dell.

Because I just revisited Island of the Blue Dolphins and only learned a few days ago of this novel following it, I was curious to find out what the story of Karana’s niece is all about. However, I think it was only the glimpse into an unjust part of history that kept me interested in this second book: the depiction of people being forced to live and work at Christian missions as if for the sake of their souls.

I can appreciate an understated writing style, but I’m finding that a plot itself really has to engross me (like in Sing Down the Moon) in order for this particular author’s style not to be dull to me. Some parts of this story that got my attention came to anticlimactic ends, and it often felt like the plot didn’t really have anywhere it needed to go. Although the children’s classic that precedes this book isn’t a personal favorite of mine, I do have respect for the heroine Karana, and though her appearance in this book is relatively brief, I suspect that a lot of people who love her story in the earlier book will find her role in this one to be a regretful, unsatisfying, and likely unnecessary addendum.

I don’t know if I’ll try this author again in the future, but I’m not sorry I indulged my curiosity about this sequel.

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Here’s my review of Island of the Blue Dolphins.