Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in April 2016 Part III . . .

What I Read in April 2016 Part III . . .

Like a River: A Civil War NovelLike a River: A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman--Young Adult Historical Fiction

Leander Jordan desperately wants his father to see him as a man. Being the youngest and small boned isn't easy on a fifteen-year-old boy, especially with a big brother like Nate who can do anything. Leander is resentful when Nate and his best friend Given McGlade declare their intentions of enlisting in the Civil War. Leander wishes he could go and impress Giv's sister Lila, who has always been Leander's best friend. If Leander can prove he's a man to his family, then Lila will see him as a man too and one day they'll marry. A devastating accident makes Nate unable to enlist and Leander insists on taking his place. He's eager to prove himself, but it's difficult when the men continually make fun of his small size. Given is the only one who sticks up for him. Another accident sends Leander to a hospital where he meets Paul Settles, a patient who works at the hospital while waiting for his Pa to recover from illness. Paul is even smaller than Leander but proves to be an excellent nurse. Leander soon discovers Paul's secret but knows how to keep quiet. He hopes Paul will stick around and help him with the difficult task of facing his family, but scared Paul runs off while Leander is sleeping. Paul has a huge secret he must protect at any cost, even after he is captured and sent to Andersonville prison, the most notorious of all Civil War prisons. Despite the hellish conditions, Paul is determined to survive and care for his mates any way he can. He receives kind assistance from a large, blond soldier. Can Paul hang on until the prisoners can be exchanged or the war ends? Will he ever see his friend Leander again?

The dust jacket description was a bit misleading. I expected a dual narrative with secrets being revealed at the end. The story opens with Leander but he is not the main character. Paul is the main character and most of the book is set in Andersonville prison. The two characters meet too early in the novel and their stories don't intersect again until the last page. Most of the story belongs to Paul and his friend in Andersonville. The plot relies on a few coincidences that seem too coincidental to feel real. The quick ending was not satisfactory for me.

Being a Civil War scholar, I am aware of the realities of the war and the horrors of Andersonville. Nothing that happened in this novel was new or surprising for me. I also knew about the Sultana and was willing the characters NOT to get on the boat and NOT to go stay on the boiler deck. This book is NOT for middle grades readers 9-12. It's really a young adult novel to be read by readers who can handle the horrors of life at a Civil War prison camp. (There's also some ogling of naked girls and some violence).

I couldn't really connect to either of the main characters. I felt a little sorry for them and I cared a little for Paul. I was rooting for Paul to survive against the odds but I preferred the older men in the prison. I liked Paul's shelter-mates. They seemed like decent men. I especially liked the one who carried a photo of his daughter. I also liked Paul's large friend. He seemed like a really kind and caring man and like Paul, I kept expecting something to happen. I felt a lot of Paul's apprehension when his friend became ill and was interested in the nursing aspect of the plot. Back in Ohio, I wanted more of Leander and Lila. I wanted to know why he loved her. She seemed like a spoiled, selfish kind of girl to me. She was also a tease. An epilogue showing what happens next would also have been nice.

On the plus side, some of the prose was simply poetic : [Leander] had always liked listening to Ma and Pa's conversations, which flowed like a river. Their words, like streams and rain and runoff, added to the conversation and carried it far from where it began. Sometimes their words meandered slowly, sometimes built to a torrent, but they always traveled together - until Nate's announcement dropped into their river of words like a huge tree, its trunk and branches refusing to let the flow continue." (14)

This book is for older teen readers who may not have the ability to read at grade level, and have some knowledge of the Civil War.

Double DeceptionDouble Deception by Maria Greene--Regency Romance

Eric Ramsdell is reduced to having tea in public with his grandmama after a scandal makes him persona non grata in polite society. A chance encounter locking eyes with a beautiful woman changes his life forever. When he finds the woman's diary, he can't resist reading what she wrote. He's outraged at her scathing comments about men and feels the need to write back. This starts a correspondence between the two unknowns that leads Eric down the path of changing his behavior to accept the inevitable - that true love does exist! Lenore Andrews, a young widow, is devastated to discover the loss of her diary. She's outraged at the shocking things her unknown correspondent has to say. She's devastated at the betrayal of her late husband and though she enjoys her independence and isn't eager to give it up, she hopes to find love again. When her friend Sir Charles Minion introduces her to "Eric Ramsey," Lenore thinks she's found a friend and Eric knows there's something more between them, but if she discovers the shocking double deception he is perpetuating, she will never forgive him. Will he ever achieve happiness with his true love?

The plot of this story is different. It's unusual because the hero and heroine become pen-pals of a sort and also because of the hero's backstory. Most of the book is from Eric's point-of-view. My rating was brought down by the ridiculous ending that would never hold up in court. It was just a bit too easy and convenient to be believable. Also, the story is a bit darker than I normally prefer. My biggest complaint is the love story. There's a few scenes of passionate kissing, the first of which happens early on. I felt the quick falling in love and misunderstanding dragged the story a bit in the middle. However, the plot was interesting enough to keep reading late into the night to find out how these two lovers would come together in the end. I also wanted an answer to the murder mystery. The ending was a bit too simple and rushed for me.

The characters are very well drawn. Eric's character development is especially excellent. He starts off as a typical rakehell but since the death of his friend Cedric, he has sobered up considerably. He's in limbo- of polite society but not in it. He's content with learning to run his estate but longs for something more. When he meets Lenore, he feels an instant connection. I'm not a fan of love at first sight and didn't quite get the attraction to Lenore. They do become friends but they're friends + kissing benefits and I thought that the story could have built up to that a little more slowly and a bit better. I really felt for Eric though. His correspondence and attempt to understand women's minds would make any heroine swoon! Lenore was a bit difficult to like as a Regency heroine. I admired her independence and her attitude but she just didn't really understand the rules of Regency society. She was too modern to be fully believable. Her brother Edward, a man the reader will love to hate, is actually in the right here. He knows the rules and how to play by them while Lenore shuns propriety.

The secondary characters are also enjoyable. I liked Sir Charles. He's sweet and friendly, like Mr. Bingley but his romance subplot was so tedious. Davinia is a bimbo, a word I don't toss around lightly. She's spoiled and headstrong and can't hold an intelligent conversation, not does she want to. Her chief aim in life is to be admired. Belinda, Lenore's unhappily married friend, is a better 19th century heroine. She knows the rules of polite society and tries to follow them. She's torn between duty and friendship and longs for love. Her revelations were surprising and made me feel very bad for her. The villain is quite an interesting character. His motivation was rather weak though. I felt like the reader was missing out on something, perhaps in another novel, that led to Cedric's death.

If you're looking for a Regency that's a little different and a little less "light, bright and sparkling" you should try this one. I don't regret the 25 cents I spent at the library book sale!

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