Guest Review: SCARECROW IN GRAY by Barry Yelton

Today’s guest review comes from author Mary Simonsen.  She has written a number of novels, including Searching for Pemberley and Anne Elliot, A New Beginning.

Please give her a warm welcome as she reviews Scarecrow in Gray by Barry Yelton.

The title of this novel, Scarecrow in Gray, refers to the soldiers of the Confederacy who are reduced to fighting in uniforms that are little more than rags.  Because there is so little food left in the bleak landscape of what was once the Confederate States of America, these undernourished men fight one hopeless battle after another in an unwinnable war, and their lack of food has given them the appearance of the scarecrows guarding their now abandoned farms.

This is the story of Francis Marion Yelton who did not go off to war.  The war reached into the distant mountains of North Carolina, carrying him away from his family and farm into the maelstrom of the last desperate months of the Civil War.  The author, a descendant of Francis Yelton, a private in a Confederate regiment, has expanded on family lore to tell the story of a man who probably realized the war was lost even before he arrived in training camp.

From the filth and tension of an Army camp to the terrors of Petersburg and the long hard road to Appomattox Courthouse, Barry Yelton recreates with measured prose the desperate battles of the closing months before the Confederate surrender in April 1865.  In the midst of unspeakable horrors, he keeps his character tethered to a saner world by frequent references to the natural beauty around him: “The night it was a vast obsidian dome infused with sparkling points of light.”

Although Mr. Yelton has the soul of a poet, his beautiful prose is not at the expense of detailed and horrific descriptions of the battlefield where brave, but outnumbered, Confederates await the next Yankee onslaught: “Then we heard it, the low roar of the blue ocean, coming out of the woods, then the pounding of thousands of horses’ hooves.”  Scarecrow in Gray is reminiscent of Cold Mountain and The Black Flower and is a compelling tale of one man’s attempt to do his duty while preserving his humanity.

Thanks, Mary. We appreciate your guest review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Review: THE CONFEDERATE WAR BONNET by Jack Shakely

Today’s guest review comes from author Mary Simonsen.  She has written a number of novels, including Searching for Pemberley and Anne Elliot, A New Beginning.

Please give her a warm welcome as she reviews The Confederate War Bonnet by Jack Shakely.

Jack Gaston, the son of a white mother and a Creek Indian, is as comfortable in the white world of Harvard University and St. Louis as he is in his father’s print shop in the Creek Nation, but his heart is Creek. The story opens in the office of Charles Eliot, Dean of Harvard College.  It is there that Jack learns that he has been elected by the Creek elders to the House of Warriors. The honor comes in the third year of the Civil War when the Northern Creeks are fighting for the Union and the Southern Creeks, Jack’s people, are fighting for the Confederacy. As Jack begins the long journey home, he tells his friend Jim Tom Nokose that, “When two elephants fight, regardless of which wins, the grass loses.”

Jack serves honorably as an officer in the Confederate Army before being seriously wounded. Back in the Creek Nation (now eastern Oklahoma), Jack and Jim Tom print a news sheet which contains the usual wartime propaganda. Because there is actually very little good news to report, Jack fills the empty space with the exploits of a Creek/Confederate warrior in the story of “The Confederate War Bonnet” which is modeled after the dime novels of the time. “The Confederate War Bonnet” is read by both armies, and the imaginary hero becomes so real in the eyes of the Union soldiers that he ends up with a price on his head.

Confederate War Bonnet explains why so many Indians chose to fight on the side of a government that supports slavery.  Twenty years earlier, Federal soldiers had forcibly removed the Five Civilized Tribes from their homes in the South. Thousands died on the Trail of Tears while walking to their new home in Oklahoma. So it is not that the Creeks are fighting “for” the Confederacy as much as they are fighting “against” the Federals.

Throughout the novel, we learn about Jack Gaston who maintained his dignity while fighting for a lost cause, provided for his people who were on the verge of starvation, and wrote letters to leaders in Washington asking that the Creeks be recognized as a sovereign nation. This last service landed him in a Federal prison on Governor’s Island in New York.

Jack Shakely, who is of Creek descent, has no axe to grind, and his portrayal of Jack Gaston shows that. The story is a positive one told with grace and humor, but it also strikes the right chord when the hardships of war descend upon the Creek Nation. Although a historical novel, the characters are based on real people who barely survived the clash of armies in the War Between the States.

This book is an important re-creation of events that occurred in a theater of war that few people know or care about. But they should care because this is where the grass lost.

Thanks, Mary. We appreciate your guest review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Review: THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly

Today’s guest review comes from author Mary Simonsen.  She has written a number of novels, including Searching for Pemberley and Anne Elliot, A New Beginning.

Please give her a warm welcome as she reviews The Black Echo by Michael Connelly, which follows Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch as he uncovers who killed fellow Vietnam “tunnel rat” Billy Meadows.

It is in The Black Echo that we are first introduced to Hieronymus Bosch, a LAPD homicide cop. Harry is unpopular in the squad room, but he doesn’t care. His loyalty is to the murder victim, and nothing and no one stands in his way of bringing killers to justice. The son of an alcoholic mother, whose murder remains unsolved, a veteran of Los Angeles’s foster care system, and a survivor of the Viet Nam war, he dons a hard shell to protect him from the realities of his past and the ugliness of the present.

The Black Echo is only the first of a dozen books featuring Harry Bosch, and these mysteries are gritty, well plotted, and intense. But it is in this first of the series that we see how the Viet Nam War lives in his subconscious. His attention to detail, knowing what was around the corner in those dark labyrinths, and believing only what his senses revealed was what allowed him to survive the tunnels of Viet Nam, and he brings those survival skills to his job in solving murders.

This novel weaves numerous details of the Viet Nam War into its story and shows us how great an impact that unpopular war had on those who fought it. Michael Connelly is a superb story teller, and once you meet Harry, you will want to read the entire series. But part of your understanding of his character depends on your knowing what it was like to fight in a war that was already lost before Harry Bosch ever arrived in Southeast Asia.

Thanks, Mary. We appreciate your guest review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.

Guest Review: GOING AFTER CACCIATO by Tim O’Brien

Mary Simonsen, author of Searching for Pemberley and The Second Date, recently submitted a review for our 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  Please give her a warm welcome as she reviews Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

In its simplest form, Going After Cacciato is about a soldier who goes AWOL during the Vietnam War and the squad that is sent out into the jungles and rice paddies to bring him back. After that, there is nothing simple about this book because Paul Berlin, the leader of the squad, and his men are told that Cacciato is headed for Paris.

The story moves back and forth between the real and the fantastic. When Berlin is in the observation post, the story describes past events that Berlin has seen. His fellow soldiers die in rice paddies or while clearing tunnels where the Viet Cong are waiting for them. But then there are the fantasy chapters in which Berlin’s squad is on the trail of Cacciato as he leads them to Paris, freedom, and a sane world.

The story takes place in 1968, the year of the Tet offensive, when the United States was taken by surprise with attacks on Hue and Saigon by the combined forces of the Viet Cong, who used guerilla tactics, and regular army forces from North Vietnam, and which exposed the weakness of using a traditional military strategy in guerilla warfare. It was the year that people at home started to ask the question, “What are we doing there?”

Going After Cacciato is a brilliant novel about young Americans who were asked to fight in a war where “Victory” was an ill-defined concept and against an enemy who moved freely among you during the day and tried to kill you at night. No place was safe; there was no “behind the lines.” For some, the only way to escape the madness was to withdraw into a world of fantasy, very much like Alice in Wonderland and her rabbit hole, and to follow one soldier all the way from Vietnam to Paris.

Thanks, Mary. We appreciate your guest review.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

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