Showing posts with label revolutionary war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label revolutionary war. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough


Title: 1776
Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 24, 2005
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

America's most acclaimed historian presents the intricate story of the year of the birth of the United States of America. 1776 tells two gripping stories: how a group of squabbling, disparate colonies became the United States, and how the British Empire tried to stop them. A story with a cast of amazing characters from George III to George Washington, to soldiers and their families, this exhilarating book is one of the great pieces of historical narrative. 

My Review:

When I was in high school, history was not my favorite subject.  I was more of a science girl, actually.  (A close second: English.  Because READ ALL THE THINGS!)  I got high grades in history, but more because I was very good at memorizing things than because I had any actual interest in it.  I scored a 2 (out of 5) on the AP US History exam, if that gives you any frame of reference.

However, part of me always felt like I should have more interest in history...I mean, it gives us a better understanding of ourselves, doesn't it?  It's important to know from whence we came, yes?  But it was so DRY.  How could I care more about a subject that put me straight to sleep?  Where could I find a history book that would change my tune?

I heard about David McCullough several years ago, and thought that maybe his work could be the ticket.  As a historian, his books are well-researched and extremely detailed, but he also adds more of a human element to his analysis.  This sounded like it would work better for me, but I was still nervous--hence the five-ish years that this book has been on my shelf, untouched.

Thanks to Nonfiction November, I decided that it was time to dive in, and as you may have expected, my initial inclinations were correct.  Despite its high level of detail and dense text, I was engaged with this book from beginning to end.

This book is not, as I had previously thought, a history of the entire American Revolution.  It is, as I should have maybe guessed from the title, specifically focused on the events that took place in 1776 (and a little bit of 1775, for background purposes).  Once I figured that out, I thought, cool, I will get to read about how the Americans won the Revolutionary War!  And then I realized, nope, the war didn't actually end until 1783.  (Reminder: score of 2 on the AP US History test.)

In fact, 1776, despite the whole Declaration of Independence thing, was not a real banner year for Team America.  We lost a lot of battles.  Like, A LOT.  George Washington made a whole slew of bad decisions for the army.  Yet, by the end of the year, things had started to take a little swing--just enough to bring the tide back in our direction.  McCullough describes all this at great length, but rather than just a dull list of dates and places, he provides insight into the hows and whys of each event.  What was Washington thinking in the days before the Battle of Brooklyn?  Who were his most trusted allies?  What were the British expecting of the Americans before each battle--and how were they getting that intelligence?  Who was a raging drunkard, or a traitor, or a dirty coward?  These are all the intriguing little details that may have made history class more fun for me back in the day.  Plus, he tells it from both sides (British and American), so you get a fuller view of the tense situation as it continued to develop.

That's not to say that this book will be for everyone.  You do have to have some interest in the finer particulars of US history if you want to enjoy this book, otherwise you will get bogged down in the density of the text.  But if you're looking for a piece of historical nonfiction that will both educate and entertain you, 1776 is a wonderful start.  I will absolutely be checking out McCullough's backlist for more brain food!

Have you read any of McCullough's work?  Are there any other historian authors out there whose books you've enjoyed?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard



Welcome to the next stop on the review tour for The Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard.

Title: The Midwife's Revolt
Author: Jodi Daynard
Publisher: Opossum Press
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Source: e-copy received from Novel Publicity tours for an honest review

Book Description:
The Midwife’s Revolt takes the reader on a journey to the founding days of America. It follows one woman’s path, Lizzie Boylston, from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams and midwifery, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. A novel rich in historical detail, The Midwife’s Revolt opens a window onto the real lives of colonial women.

Jodi Daynard’s historical fiction The Midwife’s Revolt has eared a 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon and praise from libraries, historical associations and is even featured at The Museum of the American Revolution.

“A charming, unexpected, and decidedly different view of the Revolutionary War.”
—Publishers Weekly

“This humorous, exciting and touching story retells the familiar saga of the Revolutionary War in a stunning new way that feels fresh and alive.”
—Kirkus Reviews


My Review:
I used to read a LOT of historical fiction--I got especially hooked on the Tudors a few years ago, but after a while I felt a little burnt out in that genre.  However, lately I've been hankering to get back into it, and when I saw The Midwife's Revolt offered as a Novel Publicity tour, I couldn't resist.

This was a new foray for me in historical fiction, because I've never read anything in that genre focusing on the Revolutionary War.  This time period has always been interesting for me though, because I grew up right down the street from a Revolutionary War battlefield (where the Battle of Groton Heights was fought in Connecticut).  Also (coincidentally enough), last weekend my husband, Small Fry, and I discovered the Saratoga National Battlefield not a far drive from our house--and the Battle of Freeman's Farm (located there) is actually mentioned in The Midwife's Revolt!  So I was pretty fascinated by all the real-life history around me as I read this novel.
Saratoga National Battlefield (photo courtesy saratoga.com)
(And you're thinking, okay, great Kel, what about the book?)

The Midwife's Revolt does precisely what you want a historical fiction novel to do--it leaves you wondering where the fact ends and the fiction begins.  The protagonist, Lizzie Boylston, is surrounded by notable figures of the Revolution that you will surely recognize--John Adams, George Washington, Abigail Adams, etc.  The novel's central focus is on Lizzie and her personal journey throughout the war, but her interactions with these famous patriots lends the strong historical background that gives this novel its strength.  As a reader, I was constantly wondering how much of Lizzie's story (and the stories of those around her) were true, which kept me on my toes and wanting to turn the page.  (I won't spoil it for you, but rest assured that Daynard does make some notes at the end to let you know what was fact, and what was fiction.  Some of it is quite surprising!)

The storyline is complex; Lizzie goes through a lot in the many years that the novel covers, so it's quite epic in scope.  Despite this complexity, the novel never loses its feel of historical accuracy.  It's clear that Daynard did meticulous research to make sure that the book was fitting for the political and social customs of the period.  At times I will say it felt a little "textbookish"...there was so much historical detail, sometimes not interspersed with much personal dialogue, that it occasionally toed the line towards feeling like a nonfiction article.  This also led to the characters sometimes seeming a little flat, as it felt like they were trying too hard to be historically "true".  However, the movement of the plot always eventually got back on track, and Lizzie's story shone through.

Overall, I think The Midwife's Revolt is a good choice if you're looking for a historical fiction fix--especially if you have particular interest in the Revolutionary War.  History buffs will be impressed, and fiction fiends will enjoy the mysteries that Lizzie uncovers, as well as her personal struggles as a woman attempting to help the Rebel cause.  Lizzie certainly has a force of passion that makes her a unique character for this time period, and that alone should be a draw for many readers.

About the Author: Jodi Daynard is a writer of fiction, essays, and criticism. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times Book Review, The Village Voice, The Paris Review, Agni, New England Review and in several anthologies. She is the author of The Place Within: Portraits of the American Landscape by 20 Contemporary Writers (W. W. Norton). Ms. Daynard’s essays have been nominated for several prizes and mentioned in Best American Essays. She has taught writing at Harvard University, M.I.T., and in the MFA program at Emerson College, and served for seven years as Fiction Editor at Boston Review. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, The National Women’s Book Association, and the Author’s Guild. The Midwife’s Revolt is her first novel.

Prizes! Who doesn’t love awesome book themed gifts?  Jodi is offering A Kindle Fire to one reader as well as a Artemis Cameo Necklace, an American Flag Folk Art and a $25 Amazon Gift Card.  All you have to do is leave a comment and enter the Rafflecopter (below).  Of course, there are plenty of other ways to enter to win just by helping spread the word about The Midwife’s Revolt.

a Rafflecopter giveaway The Tour: Follow along and read more reviews of The Midwife’s Revolt.  You can see the full list of participating reviews HERE.
 
Imagination Designs