Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Of Blood and Brothers - E. Michael Helms

Summary:  In the spring of 1927, ambitious cub reporter Calvin Hogue covers a family reunion in the Florida Panhandle. He learns two Malburn brothers fought on opposing sides during the Civil War, and encourages them to tell their stories. Before the night is over, Calvin realizes he has a far greater story than a run-of-the-mill family reunion.

Thus begins the first of many sessions with the Malburn brothers. The saga unfolds in their own words with wit, wisdom and sometimes, sadness. Before long the brothers are confronting troubled pasts and conjuring up ghosts laid buried throughout the long post-war years. Calvin is swept along by the harrowing eyewitness account of our nation’s most trying era, through bloody battles, personal trials and losses, and the mutual love of a beautiful young woman.

Book One follows the exploits of Daniel Malburn and the 6th FL Infantry through the battles of Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge. While working at the salt works along St. Andrew Bay, Elijah is taken prisoner by Union forces. Faced with imprisonment, he reluctantly chooses to join the 2nd US FL Cavalry as a scout, only to learn he must lead a destructive raid on the Econfina Valley—his lifelong home.

Book Two, the sequel to Of Blood and Brothers, will be released in March of 2014. The story of the Malburn brothers, Daniel and Elijah, picks up where Book One in the series ends. The South surrenders, but the peace is far from won. Trouble stalks the Malburns in post-war Florida. Amid the violent days of Reconstruction, Daniel and Elijah face continuing conflict, family turmoil and heart-wrenching tragedy as they struggle toward a hard-earned and costly reconciliation. (Image and summary taken from goodreads.com.  I was provided a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  Opinions are, as always, all my own.)

My Review:  I'm fascinated by the Civil War era - I think that it's safe to say I'm not in a "phase", I'm just fascinated.  I had ancestors that fought on either side of the war, but not from the same family.  Helms has done an amazing job telling the story of two brothers forced onto different sides.  

The story jumps between three different points of view: Calvin - a young, well-educated, Yankee newspaperman working for his uncle in the South, Daniel - the older brother fighting for the South, and Elijah - Daniel's younger brother who finds himself fighting for the North.  Calvin, fascinated by the family dynamic, convinces his uncle to let him run a series of articles from both brothers' points of view.  I think it's one of the more tricky styles of writing to jump between points of view, but Helms does it beautifully.  Each character has a distinct voice and personality.

The story is also compelling.  Most of my Civil War readings have focused on the bigger battles up North, but Of Blood and Brothers deals with Tennessee - a new territory for me.  But Helms really has done a great job bringing dusty names and places to life.  I worried about the characters (even the secondary ones) while I wasn't reading, and am anxious to get my hands on book two!

My Rating:  Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The protagonists are three young men.  There is a little innuendo.  There are also some pretty graphic battle scenes.

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