Friday, November 13, 2009

Review for A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

I have not had the benefit of reading Daisy Chain, the first book in the Defiance, Texas trilogy, but even so, the unique story of Emory Chance and her lost daughter captivated me. DeMuth’s prose sang with a casual ease that was so easy to plunge into, evoking the conflicted world of a drug addicted woman full of regrets. Emory’s worst mistakes and secrets unfold in a sympathetic glimpse into generational dysfunction, somehow escaping the tendency of some self-indulgent tales from the sordid. What emerges is a survivor—a resourceful and cagey woman—who trusts naught but hard work and harder play to get through life’s relentless pain and loneliness.

Emory is set on a collision course with redemption. God directs Hixon Jones, a handyman and modern-day Hosea, to repeatedly intervene between her and disaster. Reminiscent of Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, this story of a man’s commitment to a troubled soul inspires the very best of both human nature and divine. Hixon’s devotion likens to Christ’s sacrifice for a world polluted by sin and its consequences, triumphing in a poignant and surprising conclusion.

Human fallibility, back-lit by a gentle, pursuing light, guides this utterly honest tale. Stark and beautiful at once, the imagery and the emotion of A Slow Burn will leave a lasting impression.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Elmira, Civil War Death Camp

Late in the Civil War, prisoner-of-war camp populations had burgeoned to overcrowding on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Rather than engage in prisoner exchange, US Secretary of War Edwin Stanton approved a new camp for construction. Elmira, New York was chosen as the site both for its rail connections and abundance of food and lumber. Some argue that its loyal republican constituency made it a prime location to conduct a retaliation for Andersonville.

Barracks No. 3 of the US military training rendezvous already located in Elmira was cleared and reinforced in the summer of 1864. Thirty acres along the Chemung River were enclosed with eight-foot stockade, several forty-foot-long wooden barracks were added, plus a mess hall and bakery. By July, the camp opened its double doors on Water Street near Hoffman and Foster Streets to accommodate 5,000 captured Confederates, most of whom were Point Lookout transfers.

Within mere weeks, the camp swelled to nearly 10,000 men. The overcrowding was dealt with by adding another couple of barracks, and a tent village along the eastern end of camp near the river. Food supplies were cut, the most blatantly deliberate act being perfectly good beef being deemed ‘inferior’, and then sold at a profit to Elmira citizens, rather than nourishing the enemy. Rations consisted of watery broth with a bean or two, and a crust of bread, twice a day for each prisoner.

As the poor sanitation caught up to the sheer numbers, the drinking water became polluted. Water wells were ridiculously close to the latrines, and the engineers’ shoddy efforts to fix the situation came months after outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, pneumonia, small pox and typhoid launched the death rates to 24%, the highest of any camp in the Civil War.

The men relegated in tents were exposed to one of the harshest winters in decades. With meager supplies such as a lack of blankets and new clothes, no new undergarments, and thin canvas walls to house four to six soldiers, it seems miraculous that more didn’t freeze to the ground. Even those in the barracks had little reprieve. Limited coal and wood for the stoves meant frigid air temperatures even under a roof. Green wood used in the construction of the barracks led to gaps and warps where the drafts would blow in unabated.

For these miseries and many untold, the prisoners took to calling the camp Hellmira. Over three thousand soldiers succumbed to the deplorable conditions, most buried at Woodlawn National Cemetery by a former slave named John W. Jones.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review for A Blue and Gray Christmas

Four novellas, one seriously cool book. Okay, I admit I am a Civil War buff, BIG TIME, but that can actually play against a CW book if the research is sketchy or the characters not authentic or the plots, implausible. I was thrilled to see none of these pitfalls stuck me in this collection. In fact, I learned a few things, and enjoyed every moment of class.

In Lauralee Bliss’s Till Death Do Us Part, Seth Madison and Leah Woods must survive the invasion and ensuing battle of Fredericksburg before they can pursue their plans to wed on the New Year. Bliss does a superb job of showing a first-hand look at the disruption and chaos of civilian life under enemy assault. Her descriptions were rich and three-dimensional. Her characters’ emotions put me there, hiding from the Yankees, or complying with them under duress. She kept me reading to find out how this couple overcomes. Great kick-off to the collection.

Courage of the Heart, by Tamela Hancock Murray, switched sides of the war, with a Union-sympathizing West Virginia couple, Arabella Lambert and Barry Birch. Their betrothal is curtailed by her father, since Barry refuses to fight the Confederates for the cause. Arabella’s loyalty in faith in him resonated with me. Barry’s pacifist principles set him apart as a truly unique character. Sweet romance prevails.

Nestled like a gem in the middle of the collection was my personal favorite, Shelter in the Storm by Carrie Turansky. I am a sucker for wounded-soldier-meets-nurse plots. I wrote one myself. But this had several qualities that set it apart from the average Florence Nightingale tale. James Galloway hails from Bristol, England, a sketch artist for Harper’s Weekly. The refined heroine, Rachel Thornton, has this wonderfully real relationship with her vivacious and impulsive younger sister who thinks nothing of blurting questions of the wounded stranger. Turansky’s prose is lovely, her characters are of real flesh and blood, and her setting captivated me--Nashville 1864. A great little love story.

Finally, Vickie McDonough brings the collection to a wonderful finale with Beloved Enemy. It is hard to decide favorites, since this was as powerful in story and prose as the previous selection. In many ways, this hero was my favorite for his complexity and conflicted emotions. This novella offers a big story in a little package—Chris Haley’s recovery from the physical and spiritual wounds of war kept me turning pages. A tender man at heart, shown with interactions with the heroine’s baby boy, he must learn forgiveness before his budding romance can bloom with sweet and faithful southern-born Hannah McIntosh. Delicious internal conflict and chemistry, from start to finish.

A Blue and Gray Christmas has more vibrant color than its title suggests. This collection is sure to add a swag of red romance and golden ambiance to your holiday reading.