Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near To You Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published: January 28, 2014
ISBN: 9780804137720
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

My Thoughts:
My friends, it is books like I Shall Be Near To You that made me a reader.

It is no secret that I love historical fiction and it had been a while since I read anything set during the Civil War, so it was with a shrug of my shoulders and a, "what the heck" that I took this one on.  I'm almost ashamed to admit that was my initial reaction because this book completely blew me out of the water.

The idea of a woman fighting as a man seems almost exotic to readers, but as is said in the summary, there were over 250 documented accounts of this happening during the Civil War (so much for those who say women aren't fit for combat).  I have read other such stories, but they've always had this sort of "hero complex."  You know--amazing woman fights stereotypes to fight for her country and become a hero...blah blah blah.  I'm not discounting that, but all the stories with this subject that I had read were pretty much the same thing.

This book, however, is different.  Rosetta does not don the life of Ross Stone for any lofty nationalistic reason,  Instead, she joins to be with her husband--who joined up to earn the money for the two of them to start a new life in the west.  Both Rosetta and Jeremiah are characters I could really sink my teeth into.  As the book begins, Rosetta lives in a world where she doesn't feel she belongs.  With Jeremiah, she finds the "home" she has always wanted, but he's soon gone and she's thrust into a situation worse than before she married him.  While I can't imagine ever facing the horrors of war, I never once questioned Rosetta's choice to do so.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, has to fight between want he feels is best for his wife and letting her choose her own path.  I really can't think of another character in this situation written as well as Jeremiah.

Throughout the book, McCabe shows the horror of war--not graphically, but in the emotional reactions of Rosetta and her fellow soldiers.  While there is some battle descriptions (McCabe could not have written this book without them), there is also a deep sense of humanity.  Among the soldiers, we see--in addition to the husband and wife of Jeremiah and Rosetta--fathers and sons, brothers, friends.  My favorite secondary character was Will, a young soldier with his own burden, but also a deep faith and great compassion.

This is also the story of a marriage.  To say that Rosetta and Jeremiah are facing some stressful situations is an understatement.  While there is a beautiful sense of romance, this is not a "romantic" book.  Instead, it is an illustration of true love and devotion--something that the saccharine "romance" label cannot capture.

I'll admit that I sobbed at several points in this book and I'm tearing up just writing this review.  I know there are still a few more months left before I can really make this declaration, but I have a feeling that this will end up being my best read of the year.

Just. Read. This. Book.  Okay?

About the Author:
Erin studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.  (Website) (Facebook) (Twitter) (Pinterest)

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want a second opinion?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour (links go to the blog, not the specific review):

Tuesday, September 2nd: Reading and Eating
Wednesday, September 3rd: Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 4th: Under a Gray Sky
Monday, September 8th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, September 8th: Daily Mayo
Tuesday, September 9th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, September 12th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, September 15th: Books on the Table
Monday, September 15th:  Life is Story
Tuesday, September 16th: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 17th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, September 18th: 100 Pages a Day…. Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Friday, September 19th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, September 22nd: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, September 23rd: History From a Woman’s Perspective
Wedesday, September 24th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, September 25th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 29th: Must. Read. Faster

I Shall Be Near to You
by Erin Lindsay Mccabe

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