The Holiday Calendar (2018)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films 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 Holiday Calendar (2018) from Netflix
Rated TV-G. 
Drama, Christmas, Romance, African American Actors
My rating: ★★★1/2

Description (from Netflix): A talented photographer stuck in a dead-end job inherits an antique Advent calendar that may be predicting the future—and pointing her toward love.

My thoughts: Here we have a story that’s warm, lighthearted, and magical with no big surprises, and yet the path to the ending isn’t a straight shot.

Some biggish plot points are kind of rushed, though. And I’d personally go for a milder but natural story climax over cases like the one here, where in the effort to create necessary conflict for a turning point later, the conflict goes too overboard to really match the characters in question. You don’t have to take it that far, all of a sudden, to make a conflict work.

Nevertheless, this flick is plenty Christmassy without being too corny, with friendship, family, career dreams—and romance, of course. (Romance with a little more comfort than chemistry, but that’s okay. It’s still sweet.)

Oh, and the clips of characters in this Netflix movie watching Netflix movies? So obvious a thing to put in there. Too easy. But I got a kick out of it anyway.

__________

 

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.

 

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.