Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review : Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

I really like Philip Reeve, but I have to admit when I picked up this book I wondered if I really wanted to slog through another retelling of the tale of King Arthur. Come on--hasn't it all been said before?
Reeve offers a different view of Arthur in his new book "Here Lies Arthur". Arthur is the Dux Bellorum, a petty warlord during the British Dark Ages. He is brutish and not very bright. The story is told by Gwyna, a young servant girl, whose village is sacked by Arthur's warband. She is rescued by Myrddin, Arthur's bard, who has her pose as the lady of the lake and then disguises her as a boy. Myrddin has no magic only stories. He is convinced Arthur is the one who will unite Britain and bring peace. So he spins his stories of Arthur's heroic exploits, like a modern day spin doctor. As puberty approaches Gwyna is forced to become a girl again. Myrddin places her in the household of Gwenhwfar, Arthur's wife. The story spins toward its inevitalble ending with the deaths of Arthur and Myrddin. Gwyna picks up Myrddin's harp and begins spinning her own tales of Arthur.
This is a very interesting take on the Arthurian legends and the power of story. This should definitely appeal to older teens.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Reviews: "I'll Pass for Your Comrade" and "Chasing Lincoln's Killer"

I needed a change from dead bodies and the frozen places. Two very interesting books about some lesser known aspects of the Civil War crossed my desk.

The fact that women disguised as men served in both the Union and Confederate armies is one of the best kept secrets of the Civil War. No one knows exactly how many women served because only a few women recorded their experiences. What prompted these women to defy social conventions and put their lives at risk by going to war?
Anita Silvey explores why these women fought, how they hid their identities, what their lives were like as soldiers and what happened to them after the war.
Jennie Hodges enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry as Pvt. D.J. Cashier. She served three years in the Union Army. After the war she lived as a man and her true identity was not discovered until 1911, when she was treated by a doctor for an injury.

Silvey includes first person accounts, maps and period photographs, as well as an index and bibliography. This is a fascinating account of a little known part of the
Civil War.
The other book I read was "Chasing Lincoln's Killer" by James Swanson.
This is a YA version of Swanson's bestselling book, "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer". Swanson is an engaging writer, making the events leading up to the assassination, the assassination itself and the 12 day manhunt read like a thrilling spy novel. He includes some interesting historical details, including photographic evidence that Booth and several of the co-conspirators were present at Lincoln's second inauguration. He also graphically describes the doctor's attempts to save Lincoln's life after the assassination (or at least to get the bullet out of his brain for historical posterity).
I found Swanson's switches in time and between what various participants were doing to be quite confusing in some places. Also, I would have liked to see some source notes, an index and bibliography. The map of Booth's escape route is at the end of the book, which is very unhelpful.