This was the most pleasant reading surprise I've had in a long time. Several things suggested this would be a less-than-stellar read: the cover, for o...moreThis was the most pleasant reading surprise I've had in a long time. Several things suggested this would be a less-than-stellar read: the cover, for one. Check out that naked chick writhing around while hubby and wifey share a chaste clinch in the background! And Frank Slaughter was a prolific (and I mean prolific) author whose name is never found in the hallways of classic American literature. So I was expecting a small tidbit of tawdry, pulpy trash with haphazard writing and zippo subtlety.
The setting is the South immediately after the war. Dr. Julian Chisholm returns to his plantation after the war and tries to find his way forward through the ruins of the ex-Confederacy. The chaos is exacerbated by the presence of the carpetbaggers, the Freedmens Bureau, and the rise of the KKK. With his wife as the guiding light, Chisholm Hundred is turned into what the New South should be, where ex-slaves work for hard money rather than crop shares, and the past is left far behind. But the Good Ole Boy Network has something to say about that...
I felt that the hero was rather feckless throughout. He was caught in the Old Ways, but recognized the rightness of his wife's vision for the plantation. He did stand by her, but he also ended up joining the Klan through peer pressure with the justification that since their mission was to "protect Confederate widows and orphans" they couldn't be all bad, right? Riiiiiiiight.... It takes him about 2 seconds to realize the nefarious doings that they're up to as an excuse to commit murder without consequences. He does stand up for himself and "resign," but as he soon finds out, you just can't "resign" from the Klan. But those small bursts of moral strength were outweighed by his moments of weakness, like when Lucy Sprague, his ex-sister-in-law, enters the scene and he can't keep his Little Doctor in his pants. (Since this was written in 1950, all of "those scenes" are of the fade-to-black variety.)
My favorite character by far was Jane Chisholm, his wife. She was a strong woman who had the firmest of convictions and such things as her marriage vows were secondary to creating a New South and fighting against the forces that tried to intimidate her. When Julian finally comes to after his catatonic phase, he learns that she has been managing the plantation, working in the fields alongside the ex-slaves, and staving off the ruin that has enveloped the surrounding plantations. She believes in the idea of paying ex-slaves to work and casting off all the Old Ways of doing plantation farming. She can handle a rifle as well as any man, and has the respect of the men working for her. But Julian, still a Southern Gentleman, doesn't cotton to this and demands that she needs to stay at the house and act like a proper lady. She basically says NUTS TO THAT. You see, she works for the Federal government as an agent, and it's part of her mission to re-build the South. We don't see her for large portions of the book (one separation is over 2 years), but she's always working in the background. It's her small regiment of armed men who haul Julian's ass out of the fire when he's running for his life from some angry Klan members. Jane's a badass, and I loved her.
What kept this book from getting the full 5-star treatment was the last 5 pages. OK, Frank Slaughter was a doctor, and this book had quite a few grisly surgical scenes. I can read about arteries gushing blood, punctured lungs, and exposed muscle fibers in great detail. But what I can't handle is a birthing scene. I so did not need to read about the gelatinous placenta bulging out through the Cesarian incision. Blaaaaaaaahhhh.......
So if you're a tougher-skinned reader who doesn't mind a couple n-words and having a hero wearing the Klan nightshirt, this is quite the enjoyable read.(less)
Copy received through Goodreads First Reads (I don't know if there's a protocol for First Reads Reviews - "If you can't say something nice..." - but I'...moreCopy received through Goodreads First Reads (I don't know if there's a protocol for First Reads Reviews - "If you can't say something nice..." - but I'm reviewing this like I would any other book I bought.)
I was very happy when I won a copy of this book through the giveaway! The basic plot intrigued me - a girl dressing as a boy because that is the only way she can escape the rigidly defined 19th century gender roles and fight in the Civil War. Having a tomboy main character really clicked with me.
However I admit to subsequent trepidation when I saw the Bible quote from the publishers on the copyright page. Wait - is this Christian fiction? To answer: it might be, but because the God Stuff wasn't overbearing and was worked into dialogue (rather than angsty navel-gazing) it seemed to be more historical window-dressing than soapboxy preachiness. So that was a relief. Well done.
For a debut novel, I was impressed with the overall quality. There were a few spots of rough writing that required 2-3 readings due to awkward sentence structure. The attention to historical detail was clear and it felt like I had been transported to that time. There were a few rather grisly scenes - horses being torn in half by cannonfire, amputations, etc. - which I appreciated because I don't think any story of the Civil War (or any war, for that matter) should be clean and bloodless.
I started out liking Jana. She was a headstrong girl who knew what she wanted. But then.... enter Keeley Cassidy, handsome Irish soldier who makes Jana's disguised ladybits tingle and quiver. At that point she wants Keeley to "know her as a woman" and her life goal becomes marriage and pumping out little Keeleys. Her appeal as a strong character died for me and the more mannish Leanne/Leander with her tobacco-chewing and fist-swinging became much more interesting.
Throughout the narrative it felt like this book was trying to teach something, such as moral behavior and history. At times it didn't feel very realistic, since farm girl Jana seemed to have a 21st century grasp of the economic and social issues surrounding the Civil War. She and her family believe in equal rights for blacks; Keeley is amendable to her going on the lecture circuit for female suffrage, and so on. Those instances pulled me out of the narrative. Since I don't usually read YA lit, I don't know if this lack of subtlety is usual in this genre.
So, 3.5 stars but rounding down to 3. The cop-out of Jana's strong character becoming the typical girly-girl who only wants hubby and babies after meeting McDreamy (and delivering a baby) really disappointed me.(less)
It took me months to finish this book (look at the size!) but never has such a long grueling read been so enjoyable or satisfying. This is probably th...moreIt took me months to finish this book (look at the size!) but never has such a long grueling read been so enjoyable or satisfying. This is probably the best historical novel I've ever read about the Civil War era (not ready to say "ever" because... Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series). I would love to pick this up again (I normally don't re-read books - I have too many on the TBR already). It's THAT good. When I do decide to take this epic journey again, I'll write a more thorough review. The memory is hazy except for the awesomeness.(less)