This is going to be one of Those Recs, I think. I started writing it and then backspaced a couple of times already, because while the concept behind Civil War Life is good and I’d like to know more about the Hewitts, I’m a little doubtful about the execution.
TL;DR, I’m in two minds about CWL.
The cover is nice: soldiers wearing the Union uniforms, a setting that’s made clear from the get-go, my histolover heart is sold.
Now, on the actual story:
- The concept. I really, really like stories that take place during the 18th/19th centuries – Europe, America, Asia, it doen’t matter, any location will do – and it’s obvious that Judy put a lot of thought behind her characters. CWL is the third installment of A Plains Life series, but there’s plenty of reference or explanations throughout the book that following along is quite easy. To be honest, I’m sorry I coulnd’t read the other two before starting this one.
- No useless descriptions! Very few adverbs! Yessss, thank you so much for this, Judy!
- Also, there’s some pov switching here and there, but it’s small enough it goes almost unnoticed. The narrator is third omniscient – but hear me out: third omniscient done good. Not the ‘XXX does something and thinks blah blah blah, YYY thinks oh noes! and does this and that’ super-obtrusive switch that makes me headdesk every. single. time.
- Some characters are spot on. The subtle foreshadowing portrayed with Elizabeth? I love it. Jack’s determination to make a name for himself? Lydia’s strength and sweet attitude? Perfect.
- First and foremost, it’s too rushed. While some scenes are repeated at least thrice – Jack going to buy the cowhides, the Hewitts or Henrys helping fugitives out – a big part of the story feels a little, I don’t know, glossed over? Say, take the feast the Hewitts and the Frazers hold the evening before the men are supposed to go to war: half a page and it’s already over. Or the lack of transition between Billy leaving Rusty and rejoining his family for a meal. CWL would have benefited from a much slower, detailed pacing, I think.
- Typos. There are just too many scattered throughout the book, from Hewett to Hewitt, salves to slaves, Able to Abel and so on. Plus, a couple mistakes that really dropkicked me out of the mood while I was reading.
- Unbelievable dialogues. This goes hand in hand with the feeling of bidimensionality that some characters give out. Take Mark, Sarah, and Billy: they don’t just speak, they declare (or monologue) stuff like they were actors in front a public. Real dialogues are shorter, often they get interrupted and are less pompous. And real people aren’t inherent saints either. I’m still finding it hard to buy Billy’s reaction towards Rusty* or the way he decides to forgive Elizabeth in 1-2-3.
All in all, I’m giving CWL a 6.5/10, plus a small advice to Judy – as per her request at the end of the book: the plot is solid, you’ve got a great foundation! That’s good and yes, I’d like to see more of the Hewitts in the future. You didn’t mention any editor in your notes tho, and if that’s the case, maybe I would try and contact one. Editors can make a huge difference on the final product.
*with the caveat that I didn’t read the previous books.