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Adair was becoming reckless.  Where’s my father?  And you have to account for our horses, you have to write down what you took.

The soldiers to either side of her held on to her, and looked from her to the lieutenant colonel.

This state is under martial law, said Miller.  The Militia is here to enforce it.

Well, what is marshal’s law? said Adair.  You explain to me what marshal’s law is.

The U.S. Constitution is suspended, Miller said.  I am responsible for the security and peace of  this region.

I don’t know what you call peace, but you all beat up my father and took him away.  I may be confused about the term.

(from Enemy Women, page 52)

Enemy Women shows the chaos stirred up by the Civil War in southeastern Missouri through the eyes of 18-year-old Adair Colley.  Adair’s life is turned upside down when the Union Militia arrive at her family’s home in November 1864.  They beat and arrest Adair’s father, a justice of the peace, force her crippled brother to run off, steal her beloved horse, Whiskey, and force Adair and her two younger sisters to fend for themselves.  The militia sets the home on fire, and even though it is spared by the rain, Adair and her sisters can’t stay.  They set out on foot to Iron Mountain to inquire about their father, coming into contact with other refugees along the way.

When a lie is told about Adair’s loyalties, she is arrested and sent to a prison in St. Louis, where she meets Major Neumann of the Union Army, who is in charge of her case.  The two fall in love, and Neumann, who is being transferred out of the prison and into combat, wants to marry Adair after the war is over.  He urges her to escape and head toward her family home, and he will meet her there as soon as he can.

I read Enemy Women several years ago, and while I had forgotten all the details, I remember that I really liked it, which is why I recommended we read it for the War Through the Generations U.S. Civil War Challenge read-along.  Well, I think I’ve become a pickier reader since I started blogging because this time around, I had a hard time with this book.

I liked Adair’s spunk and even though she might not be representative of Southern women of the era, I admired her unwillingness to submit to mistreatment from the Union soldiers.  Even when Neumann was begging her to give him any tidbit of information so he could get her out of prison, Adair’s written “confessions” were humorous and had a fairy tale quality to them.  I even found their romance believable and loved reading their passionate conversations and humorous bantering.

However, much of the book focuses on Adair’s journey from the St. Louis prison back to her family home.  She’s sick and exhausted, and the story just plods along.  An exciting scene will pop up here and there, but for the most part, I was bored and just wanted to be finished with the book.  Even so, I didn’t hate the book.  Paulette Jiles’ writing comes alive in the few chapters that focus on Neumann, and I really enjoyed the scenes dealing with the skirmish he’s involved in as he’s joining up with his new unit.  But Neumann is scarcely seen in the last third of the book, and since I found him more interesting than Adair, I’m not surprised that the book lost steam for me.  The lack of quotation marks to distinguish the dialogue also made reading the book a chore.

While Enemy Women didn’t impress me, it did teach me about the Civil War in Missouri, especially through the inclusion of passages from historical documents at the beginning of every chapter.  Jiles also does a good job showing how hard it was for people to survive when the war is in their backyard.  Neighbors fought against and stole from one another, and people did things they normally wouldn’t do in order to survive.  Enemy Women might be worth checking out if you’re interested in Civil War novels and strong heroines, but readers shouldn’t expect a satisfying romance or a neatly tied-up ending.

Check out the read-along discussions on War Through the Generations (beware of spoilers!):

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

Disclosure: My copy of Enemy Women was a gift from a friend. 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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Mama and I were Southerners, but not Rebels.  We were for the Union, but not the Yankees.  You have to be from Maryland to understand it.  Mrs. Gruber was a Rebel, but we were invited because she and Mama had always been friends.  We were all still neighbors who’d known each other forever, and nobody knew yet how to draw the lines. 

(from Amelia’s War, page 1)

When I discovered that Amelia’s War took place in Hagerstown, Maryland, during the Civil War I knew I had to read it.  First, I’ve lived in Maryland since 2001 but have yet to really explore the state’s rich Civil War history.  Second, I’ve actually been to Hagerstown, and even though I saw signs for the Antietam battlefield, I was clueless about the town’s history.  Also, since I don’t know a whole lot about the Civil War, I’ve found that Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction for young readers provides enough of a historical background without overwhelming me with information about the various battles.

Amelia’s War opens in August 1861 and is told from the first person point of view of 11-year-old Amelia Grafton, whose father is the town treasurer and runs a general store in town and whose grandmother works with the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.  After a young man entering the Confederate Army is shot to death in nearby Williamsport as he fled the farewell tea party attended by Amelia and her mother, Amelia tells what she saw to the owner of the Hagerstown Mail, and he writes a front-page editorial that points an angry finger at the Yankees.  The owner of the newspaper — who also is the father of Amelia’s close friend, Josh — is sent to prison because of his “Southern leanings,” which ultimately lead to the destruction of his printing press and his flight from town.  The whole incident makes Amelia feel awful.  She wanted to take a stand and do something for the war effort, but she didn’t want to leave Josh alone in the newspaper office fending for himself without a parent around to care for him.

Hagerstown is in a state of confusion.  While Maryland is officially part of the Union, its residents are divided on the matter, and some, like the Graftons, support the Union but realize that it’s not a black-and-white issue.  Amelia’s mother, for instance, will feed and bandage any soldier who needs help, whether Union or Confederate, but things get complicated when General Lee and his Rebel troops sweep into town, forcing Amelia’s father into hiding due to his Union sympathies, getting her younger brother, Sky, excited about the soldiers and the war, and angering her older brother, Wes, into action.

As the years of the war pass, Amelia sees the people around her taking part in the war effort, but she sits on the sidelines.  She has lots of opinions about the war and wants them to be valued even if she is a girl, but she refuses to take part in any war-related activity after what happened to Josh’s father and the role she played in the situation.  She sees Wes go to war, Josh print news stories to bring the truth to the people, her mother help the wounded, and Wes’s girlfriend, Jinny, outwardly oppose the presence of Lee’s troops in Hagerstown.  Amelia begins to wonder when it will become her war.

“You’re a woman, Jinny.  Nobody expects it of you.”

“I expect it of myself.  The war has hurt us bad.  My pa has to hide up in the mountain.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, I have to do something.  Sooner or later, we all have to.”  She stared at me with an unblinking gaze.

I flushed.  “I suppose you’re saying that on my account.  Because I haven’t made it my war.”

“Just saying it.  No cause to take on.  It isn’t your time yet, that’s all.”

“And what if I never think it’s my time?  What then?”

“It will be,” she said softly.  “When the time comes, you’ll know it.”  (page 133)

Rinaldi had me hooked from the first page.  She tends to write strong female characters who are flawed but have the right intentions, and that describes Amelia perfectly.  She’s got spunk, but she’s a little insecure about her place in the war.  And Rinaldi brings the Civil War to life, showing how chaotic it was to not know from one day to the next whether the town was under the control of the Union or the Confederacy and how neighbors turned on one another due to the politics of the war.  It’s hard for Amelia to ignore the war when the soldiers come marching in and gunfire and hand-to-hand combat occur in the town square; the war is literally on her doorstep.

Amelia’s War packs a lot of information into less than 300 pages, but Rinaldi is great when it comes to pacing the plot, generating tension, and doling out information without overwhelming readers — which is helpful because the book is geared toward 10- to 14-year-olds, but even adults like me who don’t know a lot about the war will be entertained and informed.  Rinaldi covers everything from the ransom of Hagerstown in July 1864, the plight of former slaves, how young women fought as soldiers, the harsh conditions endured by the worn-down soldiers, and women’s rights to the difficulty of staying neutral when war rages all around you and how important it is to stick by your friends even when you don’t see eye to eye on certain things like war.  An author’s note at the end of the book helps readers separate the fact from the fiction.

The Civil War not only divided the country, but it also divided the people, pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.  It affected both men and women, young and old.  Amelia’s War emphasizes that young people can make a big difference and that history is full of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.  Rinaldi takes these lessons and transforms them into a thought-provoking story that exemplifies middle-grade historical fiction at its finest.  Best of all, Rinaldi knows that younger readers want stories with some substance and that they can handle tough subjects like war, and she crafts them in a way that appeals to readers of all ages.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon

Disclosure: I borrowed Amelia’s War from my 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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I felt horrified.  I was looking right at the dark side of my moon now and I knew it.  But I was not afraid.  There are times you must look at it, stare it down, know what it consists of, know what you are capable of, and face it.

(from Juliet’s Moon, page 226)

Ann Rinaldi has reinforced my love of middle-grade historical fiction with Juliet’s Moon, a fictionalized account of Quantrill’s Raiders and the Grand Avenue prison collapse in Kansas City during the U.S. Civil War in 1863.  Rinaldi tells the story through the eyes of Juliet Bradshaw, a 12-year-old girl who in the prologue witnesses the Yankees burning down her family’s home and shooting her father dead.  The Bradshaw family is targeted by the Yankees because Juliet’s older brother, Seth, now her guardian, is a high-ranking member of a group of renegade Confederate bushwhackers led by William Clarke Quantrill.

Shortly after she is rescued by Seth and brought to the home of his intended, Martha Anderson, sister to Bill (later “Bloody Bill”) Anderson, Juliet and the Anderson sisters are arrested by the Yankees and taken to a prison in a dilapidated building in Kansas City.  They are accompanied by Sue Mundy, the only female member of Quantrill’s Raiders who fascinates the Yankees despite secretly being a young man.  Juliet has long been in awe of Sue Mundy, and the two become friends, which will help them both in the long run.

After Juliet and Martha narrowly escape death when the prison collapses, her world is really turned upside down, and she endures even more hardships than can be expected of most 12-year-olds.  But Juliet is a survivor, a sassy girl with more gumption than women three or four times her age.  Her strong will is something her brother admires, but it also causes him much grief, especially when he needs to keep her identity as Seth Bradshaw’s sister a secret.  Of course, Juliet manages time and again to show her independent spirit, and her relationship with Seth is marked both by tension and intense love.

Rinaldi really brings the tensions between the Confederates and the Yankees at the Missouri-Kansas border to life.  She doesn’t write overly graphic scenes, but she doesn’t sugarcoat the tragedies of war either.  The reality is that war affects kids and adults alike, and Rinaldi emphasizes that in Juliet’s Moon, along with the fact that children can be just as strong as adults in times of great hardship.

I admit that I don’t know as much about the Civil War as I should, so Rinaldi taught me a lot about life during that era.  While the Bradshaws were fictional characters, she includes real-life figures in Juliet’s Moon: William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, Sue Mundy, and even Jesse James.  The prison collapse really happened, as did the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, by Quantrill’s men in retaliation for the deaths of their loved ones.  Juliet’s Moon would be a good introduction for young readers to life during the Civil War.  I’m sure young girls especially would find much to like about Juliet, including her strength and quick thinking, along with the fact that Rinaldi shows her making impetuous decisions like most girls that age.  Even adults can enjoy the book, as evidenced by the fact that I plowed through the 250 pages in about a day.  Above all, Juliet’s Moon shows that both sides in a war commit atrocities, and that while war changes everyone, some use their newfound knowledge to exact revenge and some use it to survive.

Disclosure: I borrowed Juliet’s Moon 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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Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks
Rating: ★★★★★

Darcy relaxed a bit.  “The old Thompson place?”  She answered with a nod.  “You’re one of Tom Bennet’s daughters?  I was told he had a herd of them.”  Almost immediately he recognized how his choice of words could be considered an insult, but it was too late.

The girl’s voice was ice cold.  “Tom Bennet is indeed my father, sir, and I thank you for your kind observations about my family.  Now, if you’ll pardon me.”  She pulled her reins to return from whence she came, only to be halted by Darcy’s words.

“I’ll escort you back to the ford, miss, if you don’t mind.”

She looked over her shoulder at him.  “I do mind.  You’ve made it clear that I’m not welcomed here, and I can see myself home.  Good day.”

(from Pemberley Ranch, pages 23-24 in the ARC)

Now that I’ve read so many retellings of and sequels to Jane Austen’s novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, I’m worried that I’m going to tire of the books that have become my guilty pleasure.  I just love revisiting Austen’s characters — although these books will never outshine the originals — and the more unique, the better.

Pemberley Ranch is the first Austen retelling I’ve encountered that is written by a man, and that alone grabbed my attention.  Jack Caldwell takes the basics of Pride and Prejudice — the misunderstandings of a stubborn young woman and an arrogant young man from two different worlds who find themselves unexpectedly attracted to one another — and makes the story his own.

Set just after the Civil War, Will Darcy is a Confederate officer who returns to Texas to run the family cattle ranch and care for his younger sister, Gaby.  Beth Bennet’s family — father Tom, mother Fanny, and sisters Jane, Mary, Kathy, and Lily — leave Meryton, Ohio, for a farm in Rosings, Texas.  Beth and Will’s first meeting is less than pleasant, with Beth caught riding her horse on Pemberley land, and it doesn’t help that carpetbagger and scoundrel George Whitehead, a friend of the Bennet family, has nothing but rotten things to say about Will.

Stories about the Wild West aren’t usually my thing, but Pemberley Ranch was a book I just could not put down.  Using only the barest skeleton of Pride and Prejudice, Caldwell builds a story with romance, murder, unscrupulous business dealings, post-war Union vs. Confederate tension, segregation, and the lingering horrors and loss of war.  I found Caldwell’s rewriting of Austen’s characters to be especially interesting, with Mr. Collins turned into banker Billy Collins, Bingley into a doctor, George Wickham into deed recorder George Whitehead, Col. Fitzwilliam into Pemberley ranch hand Fitz, Lady Catherine into the ruthless ranch owner Cate Burroughs, and Charlotte Lucas into the daughter of the sheriff.  Caldwell also pays homage to other Austen heroes, with characters named Henry Tilney, Edmund Bertram, and Mr. Knightly, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pemberley Ranch is an engaging read on its own, and I forgot early on that I was reading a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  But I must admit it was fun to picture Mr. Darcy as a handsome cowboy with a twang and to see all the shady characters in Austen’s novel portrayed as being truly evil.  Caldwell does an admirable job balancing the lightness of the romance with the darkness of dirty deeds in a small town.  You definitely don’t need to have read or even loved Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Pemberley Ranch, and while most people will read it because its an Austen reimagining, Caldwell should get some credit for being a talented storyteller in his own right.

Disclosure: I received Pemberley Ranch from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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We come home tired.  We come home hungry, but Bobby, Sue, and me, Ella May, got more work to do after supper.

We got to listen.

(from The Listeners)

The Listeners is a picture book depicting the lives of slaves, in particular three children who, after a hard day of work, go to the main house, hide under the open window, and listen to the conversations of the master and mistress of the plantation.  They listen for anything that might be important to the slaves, such as the arrival of a new boss or the sale of a particular slave, which could mean harsher working conditions or that a family would be separated.

Gloria Whelan brings one aspect of slavery to life in a way that is easy for children to grasp.  She explains the hard work the slaves are forced to perform and how they had no say in what happened to themselves or their families without detailing the beatings and other hardships that slaves endured at the hands of their masters.  Whelan shows how slave families did their best to stick together and help one another, and how their faith in God helped them survive.  And the illustrations by Mike Benny are dark hued, complementing this dark page in our nation’s history.

By telling the story from the point of view of a child, Whelan helps spark a discussion among parents and children, who will see sharp differences between their lives and the lives of the book’s characters.  I read this book with The Girl (age 9), and she told me what she’d learned so far about slavery.  We talked about how unfair and even dangerous it is to look at people differently based on the color of their skin, social class, religious beliefs, etc.  The role of the listeners was new to us both, and the courage of these children fascinated us.  The Listeners is an amazing story that can teach both children and adults about a chapter in history that must be discussed but never repeated.

Disclosure:  We won a copy of The Listeners in a blog giveaway. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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