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Archive for the ‘read in 2011’ Category

[This review was originally featured on AustenBlog]

At last she forced herself to tune in to the play; just as well Three Sisters was one where she could instantly pick up the thread.  She’d almost grown up with it, intrigued by the title as well as her mother’s passion for Chekhov.  When she was young, she couldn’t make much sense of it; but by her twenties, she’d come to understand it only too well — and, instead of identifying with only one sister, she found traces of herself in each of them.  Like Olga, she was practical and conscientious.  Like Irina, she was idealistic about finding true love — but, ultimately, resigned to a life without it.  And like Masha she’s fallen for someone at eighteen…

(from Persuade Me, page 263)

Persuade Me, the second book in Juliet Archer’s Darcy & Friends series, is a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with lots of regret and resentment but also much humor and romance. Dr. Rick Wentworth is a marine biologist who returns to England to promote his book, Sex in the Sea, which, along with his striking good looks, has turned him into a celebrity. Rick has never forgotten the woman who broke his heart 10 years ago, and all of the anger and hurt is churned up when their paths cross. Anna Elliot, a professor of Russian literature at a college in Bath, never stopped loving Rick, and she regrets allowing her family to end their relationship.

Instead of confronting the past, Rick gets involved with Lou Musgrove, and Anna can do nothing more than sit and watch the two of them flirt. Meanwhile, Anna catches the eyes of both Rick’s friend and wannabe poet, James, and an old family friend and slimeball, William Elliot-Dunne, who ended a relationship with Anna’s sister, Lisa, to run off with a rich divorcee from Texas. Rick and Anna’s interactions are tinged with pain and jealousy, and of course, misunderstandings abound.

Once I started Persuade Me, I had a hard time putting it down. I loved Archer’s easy writing style and her appreciation of Austen’s humor when it comes to exaggerated secondary characters, especially in transforming Anne Elliot’s hypochondriac sister, Mary Musgrove, into Anna’s alcoholic sister, Mona, and Mrs. Clay into Cleopatra, a masseuse with a phony French accent. I also enjoyed how she lets readers into the heads of both Anna and Rick, though knowing the innermost thoughts of both lessened the excitement a little bit.

I must admit I am always thrilled to see a variation that takes on an Austen novel other than Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Mr. Darcy will be happy to know that he introduces the novel by describing how he and Georgiana met Rick, though these few pages have absolutely nothing to do with the book — except for the fact that it is part of the “Darcy & Friends” series, and a friendship must somehow be forged.

Archer does a wonderful job adapting Persuasion for a contemporary audience while staying true to Austen’s story of second chances. Her ability to add a modern flair to every event that transpires in Persuasion exemplifies the timelessness of Austen’s novels.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Persuade Me from the author for review on AustenBlog. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Unknowingly, she sank to her knees.  But before she was there a minute a soldier came by.  “Get on with you, lad.  You can’t stop now.  Keep on.  It’s only twenty-two miles to Alexandria.”

He helped her to her feet.

As he did, Sarah saw that his blouse was shot away and his shoulder had a gaping wound.  She felt ashamed.  She should have been helping him.  She went on.

(from Girl in Blue, page 88)

I’m glad I saved Girl in Blue for my last book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge because Ann Rinaldi brings to life two women featured in another book I read for the challenge, Petticoat Spies by Peggy Caravantes — Rose Greenhow and Sarah Emma Edmonds.  Rinaldi tells the story of a fictional Sarah Louisa Wheelock, a teenager longing to escape her family’s Michigan farm and her abusive father.  Sarah expertly rides horses and can shoot a gun to put food on the table, so it’s not surprising that she resists her father’s efforts to marry her off to a widower who is just as bad as her father and merely wants her to care for his children.

Sarah is meant for bigger and better things, and with her mother’s help, she escapes to her aunt’s shop in Flint.  Excitement erupts as war brews between the North and the South, and it is in the midst of this chaos that she does some serious thinking about her future.  She knows she can never return home, so she uses her strength to her advantage, dresses as a young man, and joins the army.  Sarah holds her own through the long marches in ill-fitting shoes in the heat, and unlike many men, she manages to survive the First Battle of Bull Run.  But Sarah sees and does things in battle that will change her forever.

It’s not long before some officers learn of Sarah’s true identity, and at this point, the novel takes an abrupt turn.  Sarah is recruited by Allen Pinkerton’s Union Intelligence Service and becomes a spy.  She is sent to the Washington, D.C., home of known Confederate spy Rose Greenhow, who is under house arrest.  Acting as a maid to Rose and her young daughter, Sarah is tasked with finding out how Rose continues to deliver information to the Confederates.  Sarah soon learns that being a spy is both exhilarating and tricky when she develops feelings for Rose’s daughter and Lieutenant Sheldon, one of the guards who often flirts with Rose.

Girl in Blue is loosely based on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds in that Sarah Wheelock escapes an abusive home and an arranged marriage, joins the army, and ultimately serves as a spy.  Edmonds became “Franklin Thompson,” while Rinaldi’s Sarah becomes entangled in the web woven by Rose Greenhow.

Once again, Rinaldi makes history exciting for adults and children alike and has created a strong female character in Sarah.  Sarah is forced to make decisions that no adult should have to, and in choosing freedom, she must leave behind her beloved mother and siblings forever.  But Sarah doesn’t merely run away; she chooses to serve her country, which is an admirable thing to do, never mind the fact that she went against society’s expectations and proved that women can indeed do a “man’s job.”  At the same time, Sarah is a typical teenage girl, overcome with emotion and unsure of herself at times, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

My only complaint with the book is that it seems to end too soon.  Rinaldi spends a lot of time on Sarah’s army service and her work in the camp hospital when the real focus of the novel is her time as a spy.  Sure, her success at disguise is crucial to securing a job with Pinkerton, but I wish Rinaldi would have spent less time on Sarah’s job at camp and more time resolving certain issues related to her confusion about how to handle relationships when she’s told that she can’t trust anyone.

Despite my feelings that the ending was a bit rushed and not as fleshed out it could have been, I still enjoyed Girl in Blue.  It’s an exciting novel that puts a young woman on the front lines.  Through Sarah, Rinaldi puts a face on war and shows that even heroes are scared during their bravest moments.

Disclosure: I borrowed Girl in Blue from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I read 103 books in 2011, down from 116 in 2010, but I went through a bit of a reading slump during and after my July vacation.  Still, I’m happy with the books I read last year, and that’s all that matters.  I wanted to highlight the best books I read last year, and I managed to narrow down my favorites to 10.  Nearly all of them are historical fiction and set during World War II.  That wasn’t intentional, but it certainly doesn’t surprise me.  These are the books that are still with me, months or weeks after reading them.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

(from my review) “The Lost Wife emphasizes the difficult decisions people in love are forced to make during times of war and chaos and how true love lives on even when all hope has been lost.  There are scenes of tenderness, agony, and despair, and yet because Richman begins the story at the end, there is still hope.  I didn’t want to put the book down because it was so good, but at some points, it hurt too much to continue so I had to lay it down for a bit.  I cried several times while reading The Lost Wife, but to be so affected by an author’s writing and to fall so in love with the characters are, to me, signs of a fantastic book.”

The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones

(from my review) “Jones does a great job enabling readers to feel the tension that built up in Germany prior to WWII, and showing the lasting effects on one family made it all the more heartbreaking.  Though the impact of power on art and the passion for preserving creativity are at the forefront, The Woman Who Heard Color is also a story about relationships and how sometimes history conceals the truth.  The Woman Who Heard Color is a must-read for fans of historical fiction set during WWII and for those who are as passionate about art as its main character.”

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

(from my review) “Between Shades of Gray was sad and heartbreaking, but at the same time, I couldn’t put it down.  I finished this 344-page book in about a day.  When I wasn’t reading, the story and the characters were with me…and about a week after finishing the book, they still are.  I’ve read dozens of World War II books over the past couple of years, but none dealt with the Lithuanian deportations.  The thousands and thousands of deportees who survived were forced to keep the trials they endured at the hands of the NKVD a secret long after the war, given that Lithuania remained under Soviet control until the 1990s, but Between Shades of Gray gives them a voice and aims to ensure we never forget.”

Small Wars by Sadie Jones

(from my review) “Small Wars is a powerful book about the impact of war on the individual and on relationships, how a sense of honor and right and wrong can eat away at the soul, and how traumatizing experiences can cause people to turn away from those they love.  The novel is sometimes quiet and sometimes exciting, and because I knew nothing about Cyprus and the war over unification with Greece when I picked it up, I found it hard to put down.

Jones writes with a tenderness for her characters and their marriage, without assigning blame.  It’s the same when it comes to the skirmishes between the British and the Cypriot terrorists.  Jones doesn’t choose sides but shows the good and the evil in both.  Small Wars is about the small battles played out between nations, between soldiers, between spouses, and inside ourselves.”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

(from my review) “The Night Circus is a book to be savored.  Morgenstern’s descriptions of the circus are so vivid and detailed that you almost feel as if you are part of all the excitement, and you will finish the book wishing and hoping that it will spring up in a field nearby so you can enjoy the sights and smells for real.  In fact, the circus is so brilliantly painted and feels so alive within the pages of the book that it almost becomes the main character.  The other characters, the creators of the circus, its performers, and its ardent followers, are just as interesting, and even thought they aren’t so developed that you know everything about them, you still feel like you know them enough.”

When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg

(from my review) “In When We Danced on Water, Evan Fallenberg covers so much ground and takes readers on a whirlwind journey, but the book is written so beautifully and reads so easily that they won’t realize the enormity of it all until they turn the last page.  When I reached the end, I just had to sit still and contemplate its depth and breadth.  When We Danced on Water is a novel about passion and art, love and obsession, war and survival, and how the hurts in our past don’t have to dictate our future.”

Far to Go by Alison Pick

(from my review) “Pick’s writing is tight, beautifully conveying emotion in few words.  I became so involved in the lives of her characters, and as I watched their world fall apart, I felt a deep sadness in my chest.  It’s amazing how writing can hit you so hard, but even though Far to Go is fiction, I kept thinking about all the Jewish families who actually lived through what the Bauers and Marta experienced — people losing their family businesses, being forced to choose whether to keep their children close or send them away, not knowing who to trust.

Far to Go is a powerful novel about a painful part of our world’s history.  It’s about loyalty and family, love and loss, betrayal and guilt.  It’s about how a single action can change everything.  Most importantly, it’s about remembering and makes you wonder how many survivors of the Holocaust — especially children — had to piece together the story of their families and even their own existence before the war from letters and scant memories.”

Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

(from my review) “Displaced Persons is a quiet novel about the long-term affects of the Holocaust.  It is not a light novel, but there are periods of light when you think the characters will be okay.  It’s a book that really gets you thinking about survival — how the Jews survived the horrors of World War II only to face more years of struggle and hardship; how they were threatened and forced to leave when they returned to their former homes hoping to find something left; how they continued to live in overcrowded conditions in the refugee camps; and how those who moved to Israel were called “the weak of the diaspora, Old Jews, the ones who let themselves be slaughtered for fear of fighting” (page 214).

This was a very emotional read, one that made me sad and angry, one that kept me blabbing to my husband about the unfairness of it all.  But then I reread the passage I included at the beginning of this review and recognized the beauty of the characters’ survival.  Displaced Persons touches upon ordinary people who will never know the paths they would have taken in life had war not taken its toll, and rather than thinking of the survivors as a nameless and faceless group, Schwarz personalizes the survivor experience through characters both brave and haunting.”

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

(from my review) “The Last Brother reads like poetry, and I’m convinced that nothing was lost in translation because the words just flow beautifully. Appanah pulls readers into the scene so that they can feel the dirt crusted on the skin of the villagers and the fear before the torrential rain that will soon become mudslides. They can feel the innocence of childhood friendship and the sorrow and guilt that Raj has carried with him for 60 years.

Appanah barely scratches the surface of the Holocaust, as Raj understandably has no idea that a war has been raging around the world. Readers will understand David’s story even when Raj doesn’t, and although David’s suffering is not talked about in the open, his story is still moving and heart-breaking. The Last Brother is a novel about innocence lost, how friendship can change our lives forever, and how stories can help us heal wounds that have festered for decades.”

The Katyn Order by Douglas W. Jacobson

(from my review) “Jacobson obviously did his homework, infusing The Katyn Order with fascinating historical details and describing in detail well-known landmarks in Warsaw, Krakow, and Berlin and how they fared after the war. He does a wonderful job showing how personal losses and participation in combat affect the characters and how the desire for revenge drives them to commit acts they never would have dreamed of during peacetime. The horrors of combat — particularly the atrocities committed by the SS and NKVD against both Polish civilians and the AK fighters — are emphasized in much detail (though not too graphic), which creates much tension and excitement during the battle scenes. By focusing on a small group of people, whether a mother and child hiding in a cellar, helpless patients in a makeshift hospital, or brave AK fighters not much older than my 10-year-old daughter, Jacobson personalizes the experience of hundreds of thousands of people during the war and drives home the point that the SS and the NKVD were ruthless killers and that war is heartbreaking and senseless.”

The 2011 Honorable Mentions:

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston — A feast for the eyes!

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman — A novel that drives home the point that soldiers aren’t the only ones traumatized by war.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney — A far-fetched but captivating WWII adventure that is all about the storytelling.

The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi — A touching pre-Civil War novel about a broken girl who learns about love and hope after witnessing the horrors of slavery.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell — A novel that is both heart-breaking and hopeful, sad and hilarious, and sprinkled with fun characters.

What are your favorite books from last year?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Aunt Susan Elizabeth used to say there was something in all of us that delighted in bullying those lower in the social order of things.  And that was what made slavery so easy for the white folks to practice.

My father said fear is what made it easy to practice.  That down in the Deep South there were places where the blacks outnumbered the whites.  And the whites had to keep them under control.

Both reasons frightened me.  Because whatever my reason was, I was good at it.

(from The Ever-After Bird, page 61)

Yesterday I said Come Juneteenth was my favorite of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels; then I read The Ever-After Bird, which is just as good, if not better.  I read The Ever-After Bird in just a couple of hours, and it blew me away.  Rinaldi based this book on Dr. Alexander Ross, a Canadian physician and renowned ornithologist who sketched birds on the Southern plantations and also was involved in the Underground Railroad.  Because little is known about Ross, much of The Ever-After Bird is fiction, but her version of the doctor is both charming and captivating.

The Ever-After Bird is set in 1851, more than 10 years before the start of the American Civil War, but Rinaldi does a wonderful job showing the horrors of slavery, the persistence of the Abolitionists, and how they both paved the way for war.  CeCe is a 13-year-old girl living in Pennsylvania on the Maryland border wondering why her father felt the need to help raggedy slaves on their way to freedom when he couldn’t treat his own daughter with kindness.  After he is killed by angry plantation owners looking for their runaway slaves, CeCe is left in the care of her Uncle Alex, a doctor and an ornithologist with a kind smile but pain in his eyes.

He proposes to take CeCe with him and his assistant, a former slave turned college student named Earline, on a trip to visit various plantations in Georgia on a search for the scarlet ibis, called the Ever-After Bird by slaves who believed that if they saw it, they would be free ever-after.  CeCe and Earline are unable to see beyond their past hurts to understand one another, and therefore, they are constantly mean to each other.

While on the plantations, Uncle Alex plans to talk to the slaves, give them directions to safe houses on the Underground Railroad, and provide them with a little money.  However, he needs to keep up appearances so that they don’t get caught, and Earline must play the role of slave, not assistant.  CeCe finds that it is easy to treat Earline badly, but then she witnesses some things on the plantations that cause her to rethink everything she’s believed in and realize that her previous stance that people should just be allowed to live how they want to live without interference may not be the best way after all.

The Ever-After Bird is the first Rinaldi novel that I’ve read so far that doesn’t gloss over the issue of slavery.  Many of the characters I’ve encountered so far in her novels are Southern, daughters of slave owners who insist that their families treat their slaves kindly and that their slaves are content in their place in society.  I understand that’s the character’s point of view based on her situation in life, but it felt to me that the reality was barely visible.  However, I excused it because slavery wasn’t the main theme in those novels.

Here, Rinaldi doesn’t sugar-coat slavery.  Female slaves are attacked by their masters and their masters’ sons, but because the book is intended for younger readers, there are no graphic scenes, just mentions of such treatment.  Slaves are used in scientific experiments, they live in crowded conditions where illness is rampant, and they are whipped.  These scenes are necessary for CeCe’s evolution from a young girl broken by guilt and abuse and blind to the mistreatment of others to a young woman who learns about love, kindness, and friendship from Uncle Alex and Earline.  Rinaldi makes it easy for readers to feel CeCe’s pain and understand why she acted the way she did.  I loved Uncle Alex; he understood CeCe because he’d been raised by her father, his older brother.  He knew what CeCe needed, to be loved and feel loved, and he took on the role of “daddy-uncle” with a tenderness that melted my heart.

The Ever-After Bird had me on the edge of my seat.  The tension built as the trio went from one plantation to another, and the cruelty they witnessed intensified.  Rinaldi brilliantly balances the harsh images with more tender ones.  It is a powerful and emotional novel, but it is also sweet and heartwarming.  Definitely not one to be missed.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Ever-After Bird from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Was it right?  We didn’t discuss it.  Did they suspect?  They had no outside information, not even in the slave grapevine, because Pa forbade the visiting back and forth to other plantations, even by men or women who had wives or husbands there.  And they had Sam the overseer’s cooperation.

We became a country unto ourselves.  Did it matter? we asked ourselves.  Who would be hurt with a couple more months in bondage?

I am sure God has that question written down in a dark book in gold print somewhere.

(from Come Juneteenth, page 89)

I’ve read several of Ann Rinaldi’s middle grade and young adult historical novels this year, and so far, Come Juneteenth is my favorite.  In the Author’s Note, Rinaldi says these characters haunted her and that she’s most fond of them, and her love for them shines through in this book — the only one of her novels that has made me tear up.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863, but in Texas, the slaves were not told they were free until more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, which is known to this day as Juneteenth.  Come Juneteenth is Rinaldi’s attempt to determine exactly why and how the Texas plantation owners kept the slaves’ freedom a secret until the Union Army rolled in.  Was it because Texas wasn’t part of the States?  Was it because the plantation owners were afraid their slaves would walk away and leave them scrambling to find workers to take over their tasks?  Were they afraid of an uprising?

Rinaldi personalizes this historical event by focusing on the Holcomb family, mainly Luli, her older brother, Gabe, and her “almost” sister, Rose, or Sis Goose.  Sis Goose was born to a slave and a white steamship captain and given to Luli’s Aunt Sophie, a witch of a woman who’s always trying to turn Sis Goose into a servant and threatening to sell her.  As an infant, Sis Goose took to Luli’s mother, so the Holcomb family raised her as their own and never treated her as a slave.  Three years older than Luli, they grew up together as sisters, getting into trouble together, laughing, and trading secrets.  However, as teenagers, their relationship changes when Luli realizes that Gabe and Sis Goose are in love.

Honor means a lot to Gabe, and when he joins the Confederate Army and is sent to fight the Native Americans, he is haunted by the images of the women and children that died at his hands.  He means to marry Sis Goose, but she says she must be free first.  However, when a former slave arrives at the ranch and tells the Holcombs that the slaves have been freed, he is given payment for his silence and sent on his way.  Luli’s brothers insist that she must not let the news slip, not even to Sis Goose.  Gabe is torn throughout the book between his love for Sis Goose and his decision to keep her freedom a secret, his love for Luli and his need to discipline her, his duty to his country and his belief that the country should be united, and his belief that his family treated their slaves well and the realization that slavery in any form is wrong.

With her father near death and the Union Army taking over the plantation house, Luli’s life is in chaos.  When Sis Goose finds out that her family has hidden the fact that she has long been free, the consequences bring the Holcombs to their knees.  How can a family torn apart by war and lies ever be reassembled?

Come Juneteenth is a fast-paced novel that grabbed my attention right from the start.  Why are Luli and Gabe making their way across the prairie in search of a young woman they both love?  Why did they have to conceal Sis Goose’s freedom, when she loved them and wasn’t likely to leave?  The answers to these questions pulled at my heart, and Rinaldi doesn’t pave the way for a happy ending this time…but that’s what makes this book so good.  The characters are so flawed, yet so easy to love:  Gabe with his sense of honor, his tenderness and affection for Luli, his loyalty and love for Sis Goose; Luli, the sassy, trouble-making girl who can shoot a gun and ride a horse and has nothing but good intentions; and Sis Goose, whose brokenness hit me hard in the gut.  I can see why Rinaldi had a hard time leaving these characters behind.

Rinaldi never fails to inform me about historical events that I didn’t learn in school.  I knew nothing about Texas during the Civil War and had never heard about Juneteenth until reading this book.  That’s why I insist that Rinaldi’s novels are perfect for adults and younger readers alike.  Come Juneteenth has a little something for everyone:  war, romance, action, family secrets, complicated sibling relationships, tragedy, and redemption.  Highly recommended, but keep the tissues handy.

Disclosure: I borrowed Come Juneteenth from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Here is a man [Matthew Brady] who has seized the moment, and I admire him very much.  He was at Fort Sumter to take pictures three days after the evacuation of the Union garrison.  This will be a war of photographs, he says.  His aim is to place these photographs in front of the people so they do not become complacent about the killing.  He says he aims to photograph dead bodies.  Well, I suppose he has a point.  If people actually see what is being done, they won’t be so eager to have parades and military celebrations in honor of the war.

(from Sarah’s Ground, page 123)

Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation and family home of George Washington, was the only neutral ground during the American Civil War.  I had the pleasure of touring the home and the grounds more than a decade ago, so it was interesting to read about the home when it was being restored and war was being waged all around it.  Sarah’s Ground is based on the true story of Sarah Tracy, a young woman from New York who took a job at the estate as a caretaker of sorts.  Ann Rinaldi used historical information in Sarah’s letters to Miss Cunningham of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in writing the book, but Rinaldi imagined much of Sarah’s story because her journals and other papers from her years at Mount Vernon were destroyed after the war when her home near Fairfax burned.

Sarah has just completed her schooling at the Troy Female Seminary when she gets the job as Mount Vernon’s caretaker in 1861.  She will be working alongside Miss Cunningham, mostly writing letters, raising money, and bringing back some of the home’s original furnishings.  One of the area’s most eligible bachelors, Upton Herbert, is also in residence, and he is overseeing the restoration of the home, Washington’s tomb, and the grounds.  He longs to join the war effort, but he promised Miss Cunningham that he wouldn’t, that his job at Mount Vernon was just as important.

Sarah is the youngest child in her family.  Her parents are older, and she was mainly raised by her siblings.  She views accepting the job as a rebellion of sorts; she’s sick of being sent away to stay with friends of the family in hopes of finding a husband.  However, she worries that Miss Cunningham will find out about her little lie — that she’s only 18, not 22, like she said when applying for the job.

Sarah soon shows her spunk.  She responds to criticisms of the restoration project, kicks Washington’s relative out of the home, and questions whether the servants — descendents of Washington’s slaves — are free and insists that they be paid — all during her first day on the job.  On trips to Washington, D.C., to procure supplies, Sarah presses General McClellan and even President Lincoln for the necessary passes for her and the servants.  She makes soldiers wear shawls to cover their uniforms when visiting Washington’s tomb, entertains Napoleon, and refuses to give Mrs. Lincoln a tour for fear that she would be viewed as taking sides in the war.  When Miss Cunningham must return to South Carolina to care for her ill mother, Sarah is left alone with Upton — which is okay because he’s a true Southern gentleman — until her flirty and obnoxious friend, Mary, arrives and creates waves.

Sarah’s Ground is an interesting novel (intended for younger readers but enjoyable to all) about Sarah Tracy’s efforts to create an island of neutrality in the midst of a very divisive war.  I liked Sarah and Upton, and I enjoyed watching their relationship grow in a very caring, innocent way.  Even though much of the story is fiction, I think Rinaldi did a good job making Sarah strong, likable, and true to the women of the era.  Although there isn’t much plot, Sarah’s Ground is a nice, quiet novel that introduces readers to a little known event in our nation’s history, the preservation of Mount Vernon and how it survived the Civil War.

Disclosure: I borrowed Sarah’s Ground from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The American Civil War is not the only war in which women played an active role, but that doesn’t make the stories of these brave women any less interesting.  These women are to be admired for their courage and their willingness to put their lives on the line for their beliefs, regardless of which side they took in the fighting.  In Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War, Peggy Caravantes tells the stories of three Confederate spies and three Union spies, six ordinary women whose lives were forever changed by war.  These women were young and old, married and unmarried, mothers, actresses, nurses, from both prominent and unknown families.

Elizabeth Van Lew lived in the most stately mansion in Richmond and was the daughter of a slave owner, but her views changed after attending school in Philadelphia.  She hid Union soldiers in her attic and carried letters to and from Union prisoners in food trays.  When her father died, she freed her family’s slaves, purchased their children, and freed them as well.  Many of these former slaves acted as her agents.

Sarah Emma Edmonds ran away from her abusive father and eventually became a Federal field nurse.  Her body was muscled from working the family farm, and she was manly in appearance, which made it possible for her to become “Frank Thompson” and gather information from the rebels that she passed on to the Union.  She put her life on the line many times, even disguising herself as a slave and having to perform back-breaking work until she could escape.

Belle Boyd was a determined, fearless young woman who spied for the Confederacy.  When she was 17 years old, the Yankees began looting houses in her town, and they made their way to the Boyd home because it was known that she hung rebel flags in her room.  When her mother was roughed up by a Yankee sergeant for resisting the raising of the Union flag over their home, Belle shot and killed the sergeant.  She was arrested and imprisoned several times, and she supported herself and her children after the war by transforming her memoirs into a stage act.

Caravantes brings these women to life in Petticoat Spies.  The book is comprised of six chapters, giving each woman their own chapter and making it easier for readers to follow their stories.  She provides a lot of information about each woman, from their childhood before the war to how they fared after their spying careers ended.  Caravantes enables readers to really get to know these women as people and as spies.  Not every woman had a happy ending, of course.  Some did not live to see the end of the war, some were recognized and honored for their service, and some found themselves penniless.

The Girl (age 11) and I both enjoyed Petticoat Spies.  Caravantes provides historical details in an interesting fashion, and The Girl listened attentively while I read the book aloud.  These women sacrificed a lot to smuggle information; one was abandoned by the man she loved, one was sentenced to death and fell into a depression after narrowly escaping the gallows, and many were separated from their families.  But these women were brave through it all, not letting fear and the prospect of capture deter them.  The Girl and I talked about whether we would have done what they did in their circumstances, and we’re not so sure.  Petticoat Spies is a short exploration of how some women endured the war and fought on their own terms, and it gets you thinking about the many other women who were just as brave but whose stories have been lost over the years.

Disclosure: We borrowed Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War from our local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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