It’s 1861, and eighteen year old Cassie runs away from home to avoid the loathsome marriage her drunkard father has arranged for her against her will. With few options open to her and a fervent desire to hide somewhere her father cannot find her, she joins the Union Army—disguising herself as a man. At first an engrossing and action-packed story, Where Dandelions Bloom by Tara Johnson unfortunately seems to completely lose steam about half-way through, letting loose its grip on the suspense and character development it was building up to that point. Notably, Cassie’s secret identity is discovered by a handsome young photographer, and rather than build slowly on the relationship between the two, the author focuses in on their relationship and the story devolves into near-constant romantic drama. I ultimately lost interest completely around the same time phrases like “It was all he could do not to sweep her up in his arms and cradle her like a wounded kitten” started popping up, which seemed jarring against the raw backdrop of the American Civil War. Somehow I find it hard to believe that in the midst of such a bloody war the main characters would act and think the way Johnson renders them.
It’s 1861, (sound familiar?) and Canadian Sarah Emma Edmonds, who went by Emma, was making a living in the United States. Having run away from her birthplace and her abusive father–who had set up an arranged marriage for her–Emma disguised herself as a man, selling Bibles door-to-door. Moved for the Union cause, Emma managed to enlist under her alias of “Franklin Thompson.” Emma nursed wounded soldiers and buried the dead; later she was assigned the task of regimental mail carrier (which was more dangerous than it sounds, as carriers were prone to being ambushed!). Emma’s true story, unfortunately, has ballooned almost to mythical grounds today because of an at least partly fictionalized “memoir” she wrote called Nurse and Spyin the Union Army. In it, she recounts stories of espionage, such as infiltrating a confederate fort disguised as a black man (having used silver nitrate to blacken her face and skin). That said, a serious study of Civil War intelligence by Edwin Fishel notes that both “Emma’s name and alias are missing from Pinkerton’s [head of the Union Intelligence Service] roster of agents; no information attributed to her is found in the thousand pages of Pinkerton reports in the McClellan Papers.” As a fellow soldier’s diary mentions “Franklin” to have been present in camp during the time frame she claimed to have been serving as a spy, it’s more than dubious that she was ever involved in espionage, but unfortunately her memoir is often taken as gospel to this day, despite being riddled with errors. If you want to read the rest of Fishel’s notes about Emma, or are interested in military intelligence of the Civil War, you might enjoy his book, The Secret War for the Union. Whatever the case may be with regard to Emma’s later adventures, she served for two years before deserting (she insisted that she left for fear of being discovered after she contracted malaria), but returned as herself (in woman’s garb) and continued helping the cause as a nurse for the U.S. Christian Commission. I’ve left out many details, so feel free to google up one of the many articles about Emma’s life–though in my opinion facts drawn from her memoir should be taken with a grain of salt.
Tara Johnson has confirmed that Emma was the inspiration for Where Dandelions Bloom. While I may not care for her twist on the true tale, I’m grateful to her for drawing my attention to Edmonds’ singular and eventful life… it’s certainly a unique piece of the patchwork of American history.
One of the “hardships” (if you can call it that) of being a book reviewer is that sometimes there are books that you just don’t… like. Or worse, that you kind of liked but mostly didn’t. Or liked a lot except for that one thing you hated! Somewhere in my mind are make-believe bookshelves labeled “I don’t hate this but I don’t like it enough to give it three stars”, and those shelves frustrate me to no end.
I finished a book back in August called That Certain Summer by Irene Hannon, and it wasn’t to my taste. To its credit, it held my interest long enough for me to want to read it all the way through. Some things about it were refreshing; one of the main characters had a teenage daughter, and it was nice to see life from the perspective of a mom. There was also a praiseworthy pro-life plot. Characters had some realistic problems to overcome, such as trying to lose weight and live more healthfully or the devastating loss of a lifelong occupation.
That said, the book– particularly the romance– fell short for me. Some of it was just corny (E.g. the scene where the only seat that can be found is an outside bench covered almost entirely in tree sap. The two love interests have no option but to sit extremely close together on the clean end ( ’cause ya know you can’t sit in the grass, or find a chair, or go to your car, or anything) while the dialogue was often wooden. Part of the problem may have been that the story was split up between four point-of-views, and three of those four characters had issues that could have justified an entire book of their own to expand upon and deal with. Instead, their stories were rushed through and wrapped up far too conveniently. There were a few sketchy theological moments (seems as if hiring an unbeliever to be your church worship/music director would be a bad idea? Maybe it’s just me?)
I’d like to give Irene Hannon another chance; I’ve heard she
also wrote some suspense, and I wonder if that might be her strong suit. Do you
have any recommendations for me? Thanks for checking in on the blog!
I told you all a while back that I meant to make an effort to read new genres, hoping to appeal to a variety of reading tastes. The line-up of historical fiction reviews lately attests to the lack of success I’ve had so far! Here are two books I’ve tried recently and just couldn’t finish.
First off–the book I was so certain I would love–The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart. Promising an interesting plot (a man wakes up with no memory of where he’s been for months and discovers he’s a new person, free of the anger he used to struggle with) in a more uncommon genre (speculative Christian fiction), I was all set to gobble this story up. Disappointingly, several contradictions of the book either frustrated or offended me. A Christian character pours out prayers and then only four pages later seemingly takes God’s name in vain. Rubart’s earlier book Rooms (which I enjoyed) had some very allegorical/ spiritual elements, but this story went so far with them that it felt mystic and new age. Here’s an excerpt that should make clear what I mean: Continue reading “A Few Fiction Flops”→
An imagining of the life of Pharaoh’s daughter, fearful that Anubis-the god of the afterlife- may try to take her at any moment. Ties in with 1 Chronicles 4:18, which names a daughter of Pharaoh who marries into the tribe of Judah.
A very intriguing idea for a novel but in my opinion not well executed. I feel some Bible passages are interpreted strangely; for example, in Exodus 2:9-10 Pharaoh’s daughter instructs Jochebed to take Moses (in my Bible the wording is take this child away) but this novel has Jochebed and Moses live with pharaoh’s daughter in her chambers for years. Apart from this, some fictional elements rubbed me the wrong way. At one point a Jew proposes marriage to a woman while his previous wife is still lying dead, not even buried yet, in the house. The timing as written seemed very contrived and unnecessary to me.
Overall the novel treated the Biblical events and characters with reverence, and there were some beautiful messages woven in (my favorite was an overarching arc about one character’s names and how they define her– eventually culminating in her receiving the name Bithiah, which means daughter of God). I still believe this author has promise and I would be interested to see what else she has to offer– with the right plot I think she could go far. –2/5 stars
Thoughts? Disagree? Ready for a full review? Sutter’s Cross, coming up! Thank you so much, friends!