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.

 

Travail and Triumph 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.

Travail and Triumph by Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

In 1880, Russia yet rumbles with unrest and rebellious underground plans to overthrow the tsar. Amid the turmoil, the saga of two families—the aristocratic house of Fedorcenko and the peasant Burenin family—continues in Travail and Triumph by authors Michael Phillips and Judith Pella.

Travail and triumph are right, although considering the novel’s length and the time it commits to each, it’s super-heavy on the travail (close to a Shakespearean dramatic tragedy level in key respects) and ultra-light on the triumph.

There’s still much along the lines of melodramatic caricature in the characterizations, from overdone sweetness in one to overdone evilness in others, along with an overuse of exclamation points at times, which can make the dialogue and narration hard to take seriously. Due to the redundancy and the tale often idling in different characters’ bleak ruminations and circumstances, I feel this same story could have been told in significantly fewer pages without losing anything fresh or crucial.

Yet, while the storytelling style isn’t my favorite, I’ve gotten used to it enough to roll with it for the sake of the aspects that have me all in: the locations, the time period, and the historical context and events. Moreover, despite the characterizations, the personal events involving the cast have kept me intrigued. Perhaps with continued development, a character or two might grow on me yet.

After this is where Phillips bows out and Pella takes over the series solo for the last four novels. I’m interested in seeing what she does with it.

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

 

War of Hearts by Annette Lyon

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.

War of Hearts by Annette Lyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

In December 1939, Anna’s career in journalism gives her the opportunity to cover the Winter War in Finland. The last thing she expects is to find that Pete, the man who recently broke her heart, is also in Finland, assigned to be her photographer. And the non-combat area they’ve been sent to soon becomes a dangerous battle zone in War of Hearts by author Annette Lyon.

Yes, it was the cover of this novella that drew me to it, what with its soft but striking, creamy glow of frosty winter light in the snowy woods, and the appearance of the woman giving it its historical feel. The typography and gently faded flourishes around the title are lovely, too.

The war-related parts are what I liked best about the read. In contrast to its soft-looking cover, the story contains descriptions of some of the ugly, violent, tragic aspects of war. The romance wasn’t my favorite, feeling a little clichéd, redundant, and not the most natural. Also, while the romantic side of the story gets its conclusion, the aspects of the war and the hero’s and heroine’s careers rather seem to be left hanging in the end.

Still, the brief snapshots of history in this story were worthwhile for this historical fiction enthusiast.

 

True: A Contemporary Retelling of Rahab by S.E. Clancy

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.

True: A Contemporary Retelling of Rahab by S.E. Clancy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

An enemy army is set to attack True’s city, but because she harbors two of the enemy’s spies, there may be a way for True to save herself and her family when destruction comes in True: A Contemporary Retelling of Rahab by author S.E. Clancy.

Indeed, I think it’s best to be familiar with the biblical story of the prostitute Rahab and the city of Jericho when you read this novella. I skipped the book blurb beforehand but was pulled right in by the cover, stunning in its clear and simple understatement of emotion. A calm, a peace, before a coming storm.

The heroine herself is an effectively understated one in this story of dreams, pain, family, and war. It’s real and raw without being showy about it, and it has moments of atmospheric beauty and characters who are imperfect and natural.

Now, I would have liked to see more to the explanation about the enemy army. They’ve been going around doing a lot of killing, apparently with the sanction of their God, and now they’re about to kill off the people in True’s city. Is that just how it is, and it’s okay? Why or why not? The “why” would be a crucial something to wrestle with in a contemporary war story.

No, this isn’t a fairy tale with a carefree wrap-up. The ending leaves plenty to the imagination while still giving enough of a conclusion to satisfy. A novella that’s worth the read.