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#TuesdayBookBlog I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George WB Scott (@GeorgeWBScott) For those who love storytelling and history alike #RBRT #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book from Rosie’s Book Review Team, and one I read based on Terry Tyler‘s recommendation. You can’t go wrong with that.

I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion
by George WB Scott

I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion by George WB Scott

Civil War Novel Sees Conflict Through New Eyes

“A deftly crafted, inherently engaging, and entertainingly riveting Civil War novel. Scott’s impressive flair for originality combined with an informative attention to historical detail, ‘I Jonathan, A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion’ is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition.” —Midwest Book Review

“Scott’s novel offers a spellbinding glimpse into Civil War Charleston, reminding us that the war touched those far removed from the battlefield.” —Caroline E. Janney, University of Virginia John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War and author of Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation

Civil War Novel about a young stranger from Boston marooned in Charleston just as the Civil War begins. His relationships with working men and women, slaves, merchants, planters, spies, inventors, soldiers, sweethearts and musicians tell the story of a dynamic culture undergoing its greatest challenge.

Jonathan’s adventures include the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the last great Charleston horse race, the Great Charleston Fire of 1861, the Battle of Secessionville, visits to the North Carolina mountain homes of wealthy Low Country planters, a run through the Federal Blockade, a visit to the raucous boomtowns of Nassau and Wilmington, battles of ironclads and monitors, the Battle of Battery Wagner (made famous in the movie ”Glory”) and an encounter with a Voo-Doo conjure man. His story documents the hopes and struggles of a young man making a new life in a strange land in a time of war and change.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GH3YPJ1/

Author George WB Scott

About the author:

George WB Scott was born in Stuart, Florida where he lived until he went to college in North Carolina. He graduated from Appalachian State University and went into television news in Tennessee. He is now an independent video producer and lives in Knoxville with his wife Mary Leidig.

His childhood memoir “Growing Up In Eden” explores experiences of his youth and of Martin County during the 1960s and 1970s. It includes more than a hundred photographs, mostly taken by the author just before the 2004 hurricanes, and has a CD with a screensaver of photographs and music by Gatlinburg acoustic guitarist Bill Mize.

In autumn of 2020 he will release his first novel, “I Jonathan, a Charleston Tale of the Rebellion.” More information is available on my blog at www.southernrocket.net/i-jonathan

https://www.amazon.com/George-WB-Scott/e/B089B7LM6H/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I chose this book after reading a review by a fellow member of Rosie’s team, and, as usual, she was right. This is a great book.

As I’ve done some times before, I recommend readers to check the additional content at the end of the book. The bibliography will be of great use to anybody thinking about studying the Civil War Era in the American South, particularly in South Carolina and Charleston, but, I especially enjoyed reading the author’s note and acknowledgments, as they give a very clear idea of the process of creation of this book, and of how many people contributed to the final result. Illuminating.

I will not rehash the description of the novel, because the information that accompanies it is detailed enough, in my opinion, but I thought I’d add a few comments about the way the story is told, and what it made me think of. This is a framed story (well, a double-framed story), as the Jonathan of the story passed away in the early 1940s, and the novel is the result of the narration of his life story to a great-grand-nephew who goes to visit him to participate in the celebration of his centenary. Realising that the story should be told, and it is unlikely that Jonathan will live much longer, he decides to write it all down. Then, it seems that this written second-hand account falls into the hands of the editor of a small publishing house specialising in historical books (and/or historical fiction) and they decide to publish it. This structure made me think of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and that wasn’t the only similarity (one only needs to think about a young man getting exposed to a completely different way of life, habits, and customs alien to him), although, of course, the anti-war sentiment also brought to my mind Apocalypse Now, Coppola’s film that adapts that novel to the Vietnam War setting. The fact that the novel —which for me has a lot in common with a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), as it focuses mostly on the early years of the character— is told by an old man recalling his early years, also reminded me of many classics, like Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Charlote Brönte’s Jane Eyre, or Herman Melville’s White Jacket, with the wonderful nuances of an old (or at least more mature) character looking back at his actions and recalling his feelings from youth, because there is always some nostalgia, but also reflection, self-deprecation, and even self-mockery at times. It is a way of telling a story that feels traditional but can work incredibly well, especially when the times have changed dramatically and so has the person. This is particularly well-done here, as Jonathan’s voice feels very real, his use of words and expressions of the period help give it authenticity, and his way of reporting other people’s stories and even episodes he never witnessed directly is engaging and endearing. So much for the advice to writers of always showing and never telling! In fact, Jonathan can make us feel as if we were there even when he is describing something somebody else narrated, but if you are totally opposed to telling, I’d recommend you check a sample of the novel before dismissing it. Oh, and before I forget, there are fragments of poems and songs peppered throughout the book as well (and the details of those are also provided at the back of the book).

I have mentioned the anti-war theme of this novel. This is the strongest message, and the focus is on the American Civil War, although other wars are mentioned as well. It is true that due to the use of increasingly more sophisticated weapons (we all know wars tend to push research and industry forward if nothing else), the improvements in technology (the novel mentions ironclad vessels; an early version of a submarine; and one of Jonathan’s friends, Charles, is an inventor working on all kinds of long-distance weapons), and the length of the conflict, the death toll was very high, and all the more shocking because of that. But this is not an anti-South book, as the author explains. It is a book that paints a complex picture of what the United States South, South Carolina, and Charleston, in particular, were like in that era. Although many of the events narrated are episodes of the war, battles, or the destruction brought by it to the inhabitants of the city, there are also other moments that give an idea of what peace life must have been like: the last horse racing event before the war, several big parties in the city, how the business of importing luxury goods worked (and that gets more interesting as the war advances, including a visit to Nassau as well), the lives of freed black men and their participation in business and social life (down to having their own fire-brigade), musical entertainment (of the hand of Abe, a Jewish performer with an impossible love story), voodoo, the less savoury aspects of life, the different rhythm of life in the properties and plantations in the mountains and that of the big city, and much more. All together they create a sense of what life was like, probably more effectively because the story is narrated from an outsider’s perspective, but one who is accepted and adopted into that world.

Jonathan is a northerner who ends up, due to a conjunction of strange circumstances, stranded in Charleston, and rather than going back to Boston, where he feels there is nothing for him, he stays in the South, barely surviving, at first, but later getting to the point where others even think he was a hero of the war (on the Confederate side). Jonathan never fights, though, and he abhors slavery, although he comes to appreciate many things and people he meets through his adventures. He is a bit of a Hamlet, though. He is forever hesitant, wondering what he should do, avoiding direct conflict when he can, and although he dislikes some of the things he sees around him (especially slavery, although the bad aspects of slavery are only mentioned and never discussed in much detail. For example, he helps transport some slaves being sold when their owners decided to leave the Charleston area towards the end of the war; he takes a free black to help him, but never even gives a thought to liberating them, and we never hear their stories), he lets things happen or come to him, rather than stepping forward to meet any challenges or take any firm decisions. He discovers, a bit late, that if you wait too long, the decision can be taken off your hands for good. That does apply to his personal life as well, but I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers. He is very naïve when he arrives in Charleston and suffers a terrible loss and a disappointment, but he grows and matures, and even the character observes, quite late in the novel, that only four years have passed since his arrival, and it still feels like a lifetime. He can be witty and ready to play a prank as well, though, and there were events that reminded me of Mark Twain and some of his amusing tales as well.

Apart from Jonathan, who is at first lost, undecided, and passive, we meet a fascinating catalogue of characters during the novel: wealthy and high-class families, poor construction workers, freed black men happy with their lifestyle (and others not so happy), a slave that ends up in charge of the whole property (although still a slave), inventors, tragic romantic figures, true heroes, women hiding from a terrible fate, ship captains adept at avoiding a blockade, rogue deserters, nurses (Clare Barton makes a fleeting appearance), there are surreal moments brought on by a voodoo man, and even interesting animals (perhaps).

The writing, as I have mentioned, is compelling. It is one of those stories that would keep you sitting by the campsite long into the night, and by the time you checked your watch, you wouldn’t believe how long you’d spent there. Because although this is a fairly long book, and it can be meandering at times, there is magic in the images conjured up by Jonathan’s narration, the good ones (despite the dominance of the war episodes, there are beautiful moments as well), and especially some of the battles and the desolation brought to the people and the city (the description of the Battle of Battery Wagner, and yes, I do remember Glory, is unforgettable and one of the best depictions of the never-ending madness of war I’ve come across) that makes us keep turning the pages, hoping to know how it all ends (not the war, but the life), and at the same time wishing the story would keep going and we could carry on reading.

What happens after the war is given relatively little space in the book, although there are some surprises to come, some good and some open to interpretation (I am not sure I agree with the main character’s take on a late reveal about the fate of one of the characters, but you’ll have to read the novel to know what I am talking about), but overall, I thought the ending worked very well, and there is a very touching detail that I hadn’t paid much attention to and made me like the character even more.

I would recommend this book to anybody interested in historical fiction set around the American Civil War, how it affected the South, South Carolina, and Charleston in particular. It offers an interesting perspective, friendly towards some aspects of southern culture, but critical of others. The main character is not a standard hero (rather the opposite for much of the novel), and he spends a lot of time listening to others as well, incorporating their stories into his. Perhaps I missed more of an insight into the minds of the female characters (they are interesting, strong, and stoic, but we hear very little directly from them), and I have mentioned some other minor issues before. Overall, though, this is a great novel, and one that I am sure will make many readers grab their history books and learn more about the period. I look forward to seeing what this author, new to me, will publish in the future.

In case you want to read a bit more about the author’s thoughts on his own book, you can check his own review on Goodreads, here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3802842066

Thanks to Rosie, to Terry, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling. 

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#Bookreviews Two romances: NO PLACE LIKE YOU by Emma Douglas and A WEDDING AT TWO LOVE LANE by Kieran Kramer (@KieranKramer) (@StMartinsPress)

Hi all:

I must confess that my list of books is an avalanche, rather than a list at the moment. I have a long list of books from NetGalley pending reviews (and quite a few independent as well, and I intend to read them all) and I am grateful for reminders of the dates of publication of books. And as both romances are from the same publisher, I thought I’d share both of them together.

 

No Place Like You by Emma Douglas
No Place Like You by Emma Douglas

No Place Like You: A Cloud Bay Novel by Emma Douglas

In Emma Douglas’ new novel, No Place Like You, home—the island village of Cloud Bay—is where the heart is. . .

Leah Santelli always knew that Zach Harper, son of a rock legend and her best friend’s brother, was painfully out of reach. Then, on the night of her eighteenth birthday, Leah shocked herself by asking for—and receiving—the gift she wanted: one night of passion with Zach before he left town to pursue his rock star dreams. Now, years later, Zach is back in Cloud Bay to record his first solo album. His return could also be Leah’s big chance to step up her own music career. But getting the producing credit she needs means spending long hours with Zach in the recording studio…and falling back into the habit of longing for him, for better or worse.

Zach used to believe that a man must put his past behind him. But coming back home for Cloud Bay’s famed music festival has allowed him to finally make amends with his family and, much to his surprise, reunite with Leah. He might have left her once but now it seems he can’t stay away. Trouble is, even though the heat between them burns hotter than ever, Leah has old wounds in need of healing before she can give Zach a real chance. Can he find a way to convince her that they can make more than just great music together—and that she’s the one that he wants for all time?

https://www.amazon.com/No-Place-Like-You-Cloud-ebook/dp/B071HT66KL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Place-Like-You-Cloud-ebook/dp/B071HT66KL/

Author Emma Douglas
Author Emma Douglas

About the author:

Emma Douglas has read like a wild thing since she was small. She discovered romance novels at an age that way probably way too young but she survived unscathed. When she realized you could make up stories as well as read them, she started taking notes about what the characters wandering through her head were telling her and then, eventually, books happened. Before the books happened she did the usual things (was a band geek (and a geek generally), had crushes on rock stars and fictional characters, spent chunks of her summers on an island beach, got a degree in something sensible that doesn’t involve writing about kissing, became a black belt in internet procrastination, fell down the rabbit-hole of craft, traveled a bit, indulged her love of baked goods, got bossed around by cats, began a quest for the perfect margarita, and napped to recover from all of the above. She still does most of that plus the writing thing from a tiny house in Melbourne Australia which her feline overlords have kindly agreed to share with her.

https://www.amazon.com/Emma-Douglas/e/B06WGRYQ84/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Although I am not a big reader of romance, this novel is an example of what I think is a subgenre of it, the romance that takes place in the world of music and musicians. The setting of the novel is a small imaginary American island called Cloud Bay, off the coast of California, best known for a music festival and for being home to the musicians of a well-known band and their families. Grey Harper, the singer and leader of the band, passed away a few years back, and his family members and associates have been keeping the music festival and the studio going, quite successfully, but although the business is going well, their personal lives have seen a fair amount of turmoil.

The story centres on the second generation of the family, on Zach, Grey’s son, and Leah, a good friend of his sister Faith, and daughter of the sound engineer of the band. She also does sound engineering and producing now, and has had a crush on Zach since they were teenagers, and they have a bit of a history together. Their professional and personal lives get entangled in a way that seems impossible to avoid in Cloud Bay, and no matter how determined they are not to allow things to get complicated, they do.

The author manages to create a good sense of place and of the strange and slightly incestuous relationships that happen in such a setting, where everybody knows everybody and nobody can step outside of the house without somebody knowing about it. Nothing is private and the actions of one person have far-reaching consequences. I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between the female friends (Faith and Leah in particular) and the wedding preparations (Leah is due to get married after the festival, at the end of the summer), as their friendship is portrayed in an easy and natural way and the way they support and care for each other is heart-warming and feels real. Those and other elements of the novel reminded me of a chick-flick (there are plenty of cakes, pastry, and ice-creams as well) but the fact that half of the story is told from the point of view of Zach gives it a different emphasis.

As for the romance, although both of the characters are gorgeous, as is to be expected, this is not a love-at-first-sight story, as Leah and Zach know each other and have a bit of a history (however brief) together. I found it interesting that their behaviour at times goes counter to the traditionally expected male and female roles, as Leah is the one to initiate their relationship (both in the past and now), and she is the one to suggest a no-strings-attached sexual relationship, while he initially resists (although his resistance doesn’t last long). I don’t think you need to be an eager reader of romance novels to suspect how things are going to go from the beginning, and although there are some twists and turns, there are no major surprises. There is sex, but it is not very explicit (described in a lyrical and poetic manner), and although I do not like erotica or sex scenes, as I feel they slow the action, I don’t think many readers would feel offended by it (but I would not class it as “sweet” or “clean” either). The ending… I think romance readers will enjoy it, and there is a hook to keep people coming to read the next novel, although it is a side-story not directly related to the romance.

The story is told in the third-person from the alternating points of view of Leah and Zach. This is not always separated into chapters, but the transitions are clear and not confusing. As mentioned above, the division between the characters is not down to standard gender roles, and they both seem to behave more in keeping with their characters and their history (that we get snippets of thanks to their conversations and memories throughout the book) than with traditional male or female roles. There is a moment of crisis towards the end of the book, and I felt that the novel’s pace grew faster at that point, while until then it had moved steadily. I realised later that this is the third book in the series (for some reason I thought it was the first) so I am not sure how well it fits in with the whole series, although I had no difficulty following the novel (but I imagine the background story would increase the expectations and enjoyment). I must admit that I did not think there was much depth to the characters and they seemed to act younger than they were (Leah had been married, and Mina, Zach and Leah’s sister, is a widow), but perhaps they have developed slowly and it is unfair to judge them by the events in a single book. Leah is a fairly rounded and sympathetic character, and I felt she behaved in a consistent manner, although I was not as convinced about Zach, who has much to atone for.

The music business background will be of interest to those who enjoy that genre, and the descriptions of the way the characters feel about music are inspiring, but it is not as detailed or technical as to interfere with the enjoyment of readers of other types of romance.

In sum, a romance set in the background of the rock music business and in a lovely setting, which will be enjoyed by lovers of the genre and followers of the series, but with few surprises for the rest of readers.

And…

A Wedding at Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer
A Wedding at Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer

A Wedding At Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer

Never say never when it comes to love.

Greer Jones has made a real name for herself at the elegant matchmaking agency Two Love Lane. For a lot of reasons―including a past engagement she broke off―practical tech expert Greer is more interested in the business of love than the experience of it, but she can’t help but covet a gorgeous wedding gown that’s the prize in an upcoming cocktail-party contest. In a moment of brazen inspiration, Greer asks a handsome Brit she’s only just met to accompany her to the party. He agrees―and Greer believes her date is a starving artist. Little does she know the truth. . .

Ford Smith, as he calls himself, is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. Fresh off a breakup with a money-grubbing siren who deceived him all the way to the altar, Ford has no desire to fall in love―especially with Greer who, like the desired wedding gown, is beautiful but only skin-deep. But soon Ford realizes that there’s more to Greer than meets the eye. Her professionalism is matched only by her passion for life and love. .and, best of all, she has no idea that he’s to the manor born. Could it be that true love is priceless after all?

https://www.amazon.com/Wedding-At-Two-Love-Lane/dp/1250111064/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wedding-Two-Love-Lane/dp/1250111064/

Author Kieran Kramer
Author Kieran Kramer

About the author:

USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former journalist and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. She’s a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.

UNUSUAL FACTS (From the author’s blog)

~I’m a $34,000 winner on The Wheel of Fortune. A decade before that, I won on Family Feud. Yes, I kissed Richard Dawson. He was a real sweetheart!

~I ran with the bulls at Pamplona in Spain, one of the craziest and most exciting things I’ve ever done.

~I scooped The New York Times from my computer at home as a freelance journalist for The Charlotte Observer by accidentally inciting a feud between John Rosemond, family psychologist, and parenting expert, and the renowned pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, over the topic of potty training; the story was picked up by The New York Times and Dr. Dean Edell of talk radio fame.

~I spent my entire junior year in college at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, where I pulled pints of ale as a barmaid at the university pub and listened to bagpipes a lot from my dorm window.

~I grew up one of seven kids on Johns Island, a rural sea island near Charleston, SC, and helped build my family’s log home. I also played in the pluff mud, sat on docks daydreaming, rode below the bowsprit on my parents’ sailboat and watched dolphins swim mere feet away, and in general, lived an idyllic Lowcountry life.

~A certified English teacher, I subbed regularly at the local high school while writing my first book, When Harry Met Molly. I love teenagers because they’re so misunderstood.

~I’ve been married for twenty-eight years to a great guy named Chuck, a Commander in the US Navy Reserves, and we have three kind, musically-inclined kids, all of whom have been brought up on the Beatles as the family’s go-to band.

~I’m obsessed with almost every Real Housewives franchise, and of course, I love Southern Charm, even though almost no one on the show is from Charleston. I appeared with my daughter in one episode at a ball.

~I’m in my second year of a full-time, on-campus MFA in Creative Writing program at The College of Charleston. I’m loving being a student again with all the twenty-somethings! This semester, one of my classes is on Oscar Wilde–how I love that guy. It’s a true joy and privilege to be learning…don’t ever stop, ladies and gents! Keep challenging yourselves!

~I’ve occasionally rescued vulnerable cats and dogs and gotten them safely situated…I seem to stumble into those situations. It’s a never-ending problem, isn’t it? I think the most good I can do is take care of my own pets well. I love our two tabby cats, Benny and Joon, so much that my kids call me a crazy cat lady, and our sweet old black lab mix, Striker, is my constant companion.

https://kierankramer.com/

My review:

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Although this is book two in The Two Love Lane series (a series about the owners of a matchmaking agency), I have not read the first one and can confirm it can be enjoyed as a standalone read, although I’m sure that knowing the set-up and the characters would add to the reading experience.

I don’t want to discuss in too much detail the plot, as the description introduces the main characters and some of the main themes. There is  a contest for a wedding dress, that ends up becoming a reality show, an English baron (quite a few of the reviewers have commented that considering his father and his older brother are alive and well, that does not make sense), a nasty store owner and his side-kick who become the villains of the piece (well, perhaps), several side-plots (a designer with an interesting idea and a hidden love story, the background stories of both protagonists and their families, the stories of the other couples involved in the contest, and  a big win at the TV quiz show The Price Is Right), and Charleston. The Charleston of the book is a genteel and lovely place, full of great restaurants, fascinating shops, and lively characters. It is also a welcoming place where people from all over are made to feel at home, and where everybody feels inspired.

Many of the usual tropes and themes of romantic novels are at play here, and also quite a few typical of chick-lit. Greer is alone and very good at finding love for others but not so good at getting finding her own. She is obsessed with creating the perfect wedding, not only for her clients but for herself, and has been collecting wedding scrapbooks since she was a child. Although she is supposed to be the logical one in charge of the technical side of things at the agency and the ever important algorithms, she plunges head first into crazy situations and keeps denying what is plain to see. We have an English nobleman, who is, of course, very attractive and also a talented painter, but needs a muse to find his true art. He’s been jilted at the altar but still offers to play Greer’s fake partner. We have pretend relationships, secrets, will they won’t they, not quite love-at-first-sight, but close enough, and a good cast of secondary characters that all sound interesting enough in their own right (Personally, I’d love to hear more about Miss Thing). Ah, and donuts, cakes, wonderful wedding dresses, intrigue, and misunderstandings galore. There are plenty of fun moments, some sad ones, and some inspiring ones (I was particularly interested in Ford’s struggle to connect with his art), and the book is an easy and light read, although I agree with some reviewers that it tries to pack so many things in that at times it feels too busy, and some of the side-stories deserve more time and development than what they get.

The characters are likable enough (I’ve never been obsessed about weddings, but quite liked Greer’s idea of entering the contest as a single participant), and although the novel stretches our suspension of disbelief on occasions, I don’t think it goes beyond genre expectations. The writing is fluid, with nice local touches and British expressions, and includes descriptions that put readers right in the middle of the action, without overdoing it.

After spending a fair amount of time with the characters, the ending felt a bit rushed, and I agree with reviewers that felt there should have been another chapter to clarify matters (I think we all felt as if they had banged the door on our faces), although perhaps the author has something up her sleeve and it has something to do with the next book. (Let me clarify. It does not end up on a cliff-hanger, but we miss the big event, perhaps because after talking about it so much, it could never have lived up to everyone’s expectations).

A light and fun read, recommended if you need an injection of sun and romance, in a great setting, with many secondary stories to keep you occupied if you easily get bored.

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and both authors, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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