Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Brothers: One North, One South by David

Two Brothers: One North, One South
By David H. Jones
Copyright 2008
Staghorn Press - Historical Fiction
317 pages, incl. appendix
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? I was offered the opportunity to read it for a book tour and jumped at the chance, due to my newfound interest in the Civil War.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Two Brothers is a fictional story based on the lives of real characters. The emphasis is on the story of William and Clifton Prentiss from Maryland, who ended up on opposing sides of the Civil War -- William a Confederate and Clifton an officer for the Union. Walt Whitman befriended the mortally injured William as he lay dying in the same hospital where brother Clifton's wounds were being tended. After William's death, the elder Prentiss brothers join Walt Whitman at Clifton's bedside as Whitman describes the tales William shared during his dying days. Interspersed within the narration of William's experiences are the stories of several women who worked tirelessly to help supply the Maryland Battalion of Confederates with arms, uniforms, flags, mail from home and other essentials, often risking their own lives in the process.

What did you like most about the book? As in the case of any historical fiction, I enjoyed the learning process. There are many, many details about the Civil War to absorb and I've only recently come to understand why people dedicate decades to the study of the war and its players. I particularly enjoyed finding out that Maryland was a state with divided loyalties -- occupied by the Union but with many citizens who had ties to Virginia and thought of themselves as Southern. For some reason, I've always thought of Maryland as patently northern. Probably because it looks like it's way up on the map, from my angle (way down here in the Deep South).

Is there anything you didn't like about the book or topic? I found the prose rather heavy; it read more like non-fiction than fiction in that the characters, in their dialogue, spoke as if they were reciting details from a textbook. In particular, each character was at first identified by his or her entire name and title, regardless of how long it was (J.E.B. Stuart, for example as Colonel James Ewell Brown Stuart) and then often still abbreviated with a middle initial. All of the characters knew names, dates, places . . . things I would not presume that everyone could spit out at a dinner party. At one point in time, an important female character was rattling on about certain events and I thought in reality I could imagine someone walking up to her and saying, "Hetty, dear, you're being tiresome."

What did you think of the characters? In spite of their dialogue, I found that I cared about them and particularly enjoyed reading the little stories within their story, details that I presume the author mined from letters, news articles and other historical documents.

Just an aside: My own ancestry includes a set of brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. They lived in Missouri and, if memory serves me, I believe they were twins. Someday, I hope to dig through my mother's geneological treasures to locate the details.

In general: The use of too much historical detail is common amongst less experienced authors and I got the impression that was the problem with this book. I kept muttering, "Back story! Back story!" when it became overwhelming. If you can handle the fact that the characters are rather wooden because of overdone historical detail, it's worth reading for the information. I don't know how it would appear to those who have researched the Civil War and are already familiar with such detail.

Recommended? With reservations. I had difficulty finishing the book because I got bogged down by all those lengthy names and the dry dialogue. I would call it an average read -- not my favorite Civil War read, thus far, but I think it has its merits. There are certainly some exciting moments.

Cover thoughts: Love the cover, with half of a Confederate uniform and half Union. It tells you exactly what the story is about, as does the title. Also, the book is printed on good quality paper and has a nice, shiny cloth cover beneath the jacket -- with silver lettering and two flags on the spine. It's a really pretty book.


  1. Thanks for the review. This one is on my TBR and I have entered giveaways for it. It's good to be forwarned about the details that distract from the story. I'll keep that in mind.

  2. Teddy Rose,

    I think once I adjusted to the author's style things improved. Definitely distracting, but not a book I'd tell you to skip, by any means. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Anonymous6:34 AM

    Thanks for the review. I don't think this is the book for me if it reads like nonfiction.

  4. Ms. Onion,

    There are some exciting moments, but it is a bit on the dry side.

  5. I love historical fiction! I think I will add this to my TBR. Thanks!

  6. Jessica,

    Me, too. :) Hope you enjoy it!

  7. Thank you for the review! I really would have been tempted to pick up this book, due to my new fascination with the subject as well. But I think I'll skip it. I don't mind having "to work" through my non-fiction, but I like my fiction to feel a bit easier to get through (if that makes any sense at all).
    That's funny about Maryland. Being a northerner, I've always viewed Maryland as a southern state...maybe because of the Mason-Dixon line(?).

  8. Debi,

    I know exactly what you mean. I thought it was a bit of a trudge and I like my fiction to flow. Now, there are exceptions. A Dickens is worth the work, IMHO.

    We were just talking about the fact that none of us know where the Mason-Dixon line is. How embarrassing. But, it wasn't important to Oklahomans, you see . . .

  9. If I ever get in a mood to read Civil War stories again I'll make sure to pick this up.

  10. Tink,

    I'm on kind of a Civil War binge, as much as that's possible for me (I'm an ADD reader -- I'm all over the place). Very fun. You should go for it. Now, someday I've really got to read Gone With the Wind. I can't believe I still haven't read it.

  11. You really should read it! I'd like to re-read it one day...

  12. I really like the cover and will keep this one in mind. Thanks for the review!

  13. Anonymous6:52 AM

    You've triggered a memory of a book about the Civil War in MO... I'll have to dig and get back to you if I can find it.

  14. I think you should for sure learn about your own history and write your own book about brothers and the Civil War. That would be great!

  15. Tink,

    I know. One of my friends once told me, "It's wrong to live in the South and not read GWTW." But, she's a romance writer and she considers it one of the top romances ever written, so . . . kind of biased, I think. :)


    It does have a great cover, doesn't it?


    Do share if you find it!


    I hope to get my mom's papers in order, someday. They're at my sister's house, though, and they're a disaster. She's got all the family photos (except for two albums I brought home to rephotograph) and all of my mother's geneology notes -- about 4 boxes worth of notes. It's going to take some serious sorting to figure things out.

  16. Man! It seems like there has been a plethora of Civil War books published this year! Maybe that's normal, but I haven't been aware of it until recently. Considering I have 3 Civil War books waiting to be read right now, I think I'll have to keep this on a list, but wait for a while to read it.

  17. Laura,

    It sure seems like a trend to me, but maybe we're just paying attention because we've been in the mood to read about the Civil War. Hard to say. I have three more Civil War books to read, too. I'm enjoying them. Even with its flaws, I thought this one got better as I got into it.

  18. Eeeks--sounds like a disappointment. It is too bad that this one was so stiff because the premise is fascinating--especially because such things did happen. Dig dig, Bookfool, and report back to us what you find out about your ancestors!!

  19. Trish,

    That's what drew me to the book -- the fact that I know it's something that really happened. There are quite a few really positive reviews, out there, so I'd advise reading a few more.

    First, I have to get those papers away from my sister . . . and I don't actually speak to her unless I have to, so that's not going to be easy. LOL

  20. Anonymous1:16 AM

    Thank you so much for hosting "Two Brothers: One North, One South" on your blog for the TLC Book Tour. I enjoyed reading your review and the responding comments. One of your visitors wondered about the number of Civil War books being released . . . it could have something to do with the approaching sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. However, that wasn't my motivation. I discovered the story of the Prentiss brothers while researching the Civil War regiments of my ancestors and was fascinated by the story that was revealed during three years of research. Thanks again for hosting "Two Brothers" on your blog.


    David H. Jones

  21. Anonymous1:35 AM

    I don't know yet, if I would like this book. I have not read any Novellas with Civil War as the back-drop. I would love to start though.

    Can u recommend any book [ that;s easy to find :) not released this year - coz i can't afford to get them :) ] Thanks :)

  22. David,

    Thank you for dropping by! I had no idea there was a major Civil War Birthday coming up; thanks for mentioning that. I know from past experience as a writer that publishing tends to be trend-oriented, so maybe the coming sesquicentennial has something to do with the trend, in this case.

    The case of the Prentiss brothers is fascinating and so sad. I don't know what became of the two brothers in my ancestry who fought against each other, but I hope to find out someday.


    I've only recently begun to read Civil War books and most of them have been new or relatively new titles. If you're looking for something you can easily find at an inexpensive price, I'd shoot for Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (neither of which I've read). They're both older titles that you should be able to find used.

  23. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Thanks Girl. Books noted :)

  24. You're welcome, Veens!


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