Book Review Going Home: A Novel of the Civil War

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Harms88

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Going Home: A Novel of the Civil War is a bestselling novel by James D. Shipman. The novel is a fictionalized account of the life of James Forscythe, the Civil War veteran ancestor of the author.

I think a better title of this novel would be: Going Home: The Oppression Olympics of an Irish Lad.

This book is divided into two time periods. The first is the weeks directly after James Forsycthe is wounded on January 1, 1865 in the trenches in Petersburg. It specifically focuses on the "love affair" of his nurse and doctor, all that happens while he is comatose and they perform new controversial procedures on him to keep him alive after getting a chest wound. The "Love Affair" is in parenthesis because it never actually happened.

The second part is his life leading up to the moment of his wounding. A life that basically starts when his parents basically sell him due to his drunk father wracking up gambling debt while on the ship to America.

While the writing is ok, there's what I feel are a ton of problems with how this story is structured. For the first half of the book, the story jumps back and forth from 1865 to his growing up. But it isn't done evenly. One chapter will be in the present. Two or three will be in the past. Two will be set in the present. One will be set in the past. One will be set in the present, four in the past.

At roughly the midpoint, this format is completely abandoned to focus exclusively on our main characters past, clear up to his wounding and shooting past it to post-Petersburg. So why wasn't this book set chronological to begin with is not clear.

The characters are all two-dimensional. If there is any change to a character it's contrived and unnatural.

Our main character? He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke. Doesn't lose his temper except when it's justified. He works 16 hour days without complaint, gives generously even when he has nothing to give. Even when he does something that could be considered criminal, it's because other people have driven him to it. He's thrifty, everything he touch blooms, even in the height of the war people flock to him because of his magical touch.

Yet despite all this, nothing good happens to him. People always take advantage of him, his wife is a spoiled bear that spends all his hard saved money. People force him to work for free for years and years on end.

In essence, his only flaw has nothing to do with him. His flaw is other people. This book is a reason why I think people maybe shouldn't be the one to write the stories of their ancestors, because they idolize them to the point that they're unrealistic perfect.

The book is also exhaustantingly repetitive. The same plot points keep being repeated. The exact same sentences and lines are again and again repeated ad nauseum.

Yes, yes, I know: "You don't love me! You don't take care of me!" I get it: "He's a good man. It's not his fault. It's the drink. He's sick!" How many times do you need to remind me: "I'm a recent widow and he's a married man. He's not for you. This is the greatest of sins!"

Frankly, I have no idea how this book ever became a best seller.

I'd give it 2 out of 5.
 
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Harms88

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Being generous there eh, @Harms88?
Lubliner.
The reason it gets a 2 is that it's a true story and I'm sure most of this happened, just more reasonably in real life and it does stop jumping back and forth in the timeline, making the second half more concise. Beyond that, yeah.......

Problem is though, there aren't too many really good historical fiction novels set in the Civil War. They usually range from "Terrible" to "Ok".
 
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Lubliner

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The reason it gets a 2 is that it's a true story and I'm sure most of this happened, just more reasonably in real life and it does stop jumping back and forth in the timeline, making the second half more concise. Beyond that, yeah.......

Problem is though, there aren't too many really good historical fiction novels set in the Civil War. They usually range from "Terrible" to "Ok".
Have you heard of 'D. L. Carey', has two books, "Distant Drums" and "Rise Defiant"? Here is a mom and pop interview with them, worth checking out. Books are at 11:09 into video.
.
Lubliner.
 

Harms88

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Have you heard of 'D. L. Carey', has two books, "Distant Drums" and "Rise Defiant"? Here is a mom and pop interview with them, worth checking out. Books are at 11:09 into video.
.
Lubliner.
Haven't heard of them previously, I'll check them out.

As a kid, I obviously read as many fiction books as I could. Books like Johnny Skedaddle, Mr. Lincoln's Drummer, Across Five April's, Rifles for Watie and so forth. I remember than as being good, but I wonder if they hold up if I was to read them as an adult.

Kinda like you have that TV show you liked as a kid and thought was amazing. But then you watch it as an adult and go, "Wow.....no wonder my parents never watched them with me."
 

Cavalier

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@Harms88 "Terrible to ok". That sums it up well. In all my years of looking I have never found a Civil war novel I really liked. I wasn't crazy about Killer Angels, (I thought the movie was better than the book, myself). I gave it up after that.

John
 
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Lubliner

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@Harms88 "Terrible to ok". That sums it up well. In all my years of looking I have never found a Civil war novel I really liked. I wasn't crazy about Killer Angels, (I thought the movie was better than the book, myself). I gave it up after that.

John
There is one called 'Confederates' that I began that was a bit beyond the high school pail. Unfortunately, I have a tendency on fiction to attempt identification with characters. Always looking for the 'real thing' and dismissing the story-line, it results in analyzing style, or motivation, and never allows me the acceptance for what it really is, a story-line. We all have different reasons for reading certain works, and some can be depressing, such as 'Andersonville'. When the reality of the slaughter was brought to life by photographic studies by Frassanito I was physically sickened by exposure to the carnage in detail. So, finding a suitable read afterward in a similar vein can be a challenge.
Lubliner.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Unfortunately, I have a tendency on fiction to attempt identification with characters. Always looking for the 'real thing' and dismissing the story-line, it results in analyzing style, or motivation, and never allows me the acceptance for what it really is, a story-line.
I have to say, a book worth reading is always going to engage the reader in a manner where there will be no 'attempt' to identify with the characters ... it will happen naturally as they are drawn into the story. That is what a good writer generates ... an ability for the reader to become so absorbed in the characters and story they don't see themselves as being 'separate' from it. I guess that is the 'real thing' you are talking about here, where a story line can't be dismissed because it has drawn the reader in so thoroughly, to the point they forget it is a story after becoming so emotionally invested. No doubt the book mentioned failed to generate this kind of investment on your part @Harms88 due to the way it was written. I suppose the writer just wanted to get the family story out there, and it does sound like an interesting one, without necessarily having the skills to do so ... at least in the sense of making it readable to a wider audience.
 
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Harms88

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@Harms88 "Terrible to ok". That sums it up well. In all my years of looking I have never found a Civil war novel I really liked. I wasn't crazy about Killer Angels, (I thought the movie was better than the book, myself). I gave it up after that.

John
I actually was talking about this book and movie with a coworker last night, comparing it to the Hunger Games of all things. The focus was on why Jennifer Lawrence plays the main character as basically an emotionless drone. In the books, we discover a lot about why the character is the way she is because of her inner dialogue, something that they couldn't translate to the films. Lawrence plays the character exactly the way she's described.

My coworker said, "You really can't put inner thoughts into movies."

I replied, "Ever seen Gettysburg? The book it's based on is mostly inner monologues and they worked around that. By making the entire script spoken monologues."

There is one called 'Confederates' that I began that was a bit beyond the high school pail. Unfortunately, I have a tendency on fiction to attempt identification with characters. Always looking for the 'real thing' and dismissing the story-line, it results in analyzing style, or motivation, and never allows me the acceptance for what it really is, a story-line. We all have different reasons for reading certain works, and some can be depressing, such as 'Andersonville'. When the reality of the slaughter was brought to life by photographic studies by Frassanito I was physically sickened by exposure to the carnage in detail. So, finding a suitable read afterward in a similar vein can be a challenge.
Lubliner.
That's the reason we who grew up with Harry Potter keep going back to the books. I've read each book multiple times, but book 1, I read 6 times the first month I discovered it, read the book once each time a new book would be released and since The Deathly Hallows, I've read the whole series (which without saying means book 1) two times (besides the time that the book was released).

So I've read the book 15 times. It's not the most times I've read a franchise; LOTR has it at 18. But the characters are exactly that, they are written so you can identify with them. They aren't perfect and it's something I've done with every book I've written and published myself. I never make perfect characters.

I have to say, a book worth reading is always going to engage the reader in a manner where there will be no 'attempt' to identify with the characters ... it will happen naturally as they are drawn into the story. That is what a good writer generates ... an ability for the reader to become so absorbed in the characters and story they don't see themselves as being 'separate' from it. I guess that is the 'real thing' you are talking about here, where a story line can't be dismissed because it has drawn the reader in so thoroughly, to the point they forget it is a story because they have become emotionally invested. No doubt the book mentioned failed to generate this kind of investment on your part @Harms88 due to the way it was written. I suppose the writer just wanted to get the family story out there, and it does sound like an interesting one, without necessarily having the skills to do so ... at least in the sense of making it readable to a wider audience.
I was 15 when I first read Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Sure, the book is really nothing more than a rewrite of Star Wars and as an adult I question a lot of his choices with writing. But, I loved his writing and he's the reason I started writing books. When I was 25 I got to meet him at Comic Con, and the guy is genuinely a good guy. When I got into line to get my books signed (which you can see stacked in front of him) he was scheduled to sign for only half an hour. But when he learned just how many people there were, he wouldn't leave until every person got their autographs from him.

Adam Comic-Con.jpg


When I got to him and after some preliminary discussion, I said, "You know, you're the reason I've started writing and publishing books. I've actually published a few fantasy ones."

He replies, "Oh yeah? How's that going?"

Me: "Well, not too great. There haven't been too many sales and the reviews are mediocre at best."

Him: "Would you like a piece of advice from someone whose sold a lot of copies of their book?" Of course I was eager to hear his advice. "Never read reviews. They have a way of dragging you down. Just write what you want to write, publish what you want to publish and don't listen to the opinions of others."

I have blatantly ignored that advice. I get where he is coming from, but it's clear that following his advice is one of the worst things you can do (anyone who read the finale of his series knows that). One of the books I've written Desert Eagles is about an alternative invasion of Parthia by Crassus. It got lambasted in the reviews for having weak characters and many people stated that they had really hoped that I would have written about how the Romans in my time-line were going to deal with water issues in the desert and how supplies were going to work. So, I took it down after a month, waited a year to go back to the story, really overhauled it and fixed much of the issues and made a superior book all around.

So, the lessons I've learned as an author through trial and error is that: one dimensional characters are frowned upon, things need to make sense within the logic of your story, never settle on the first draft, get someone not family and not a friend who will read your story and give you pointers on how to fix it.

In essence, everything that I think our dear author Shipman ignored. Which is sad because there is a good story to be had, and just a little bit of changes could have bumped it up to a 4 out of 5.
 
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Cavalier

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@Harms88 Well it seems I am substantially older than most of you guys. Your comparing novels to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, which I have never read, (not intending to be critical of those books, just an observation on a generational difference), and I am comparing them to Hornblower and Bolitho, which a lot of you have probably never read.

I really enjoyed the Flashman books. There wasn't much military detail but they were entertaining.

I want to read a Civil war novel that nails the tactical military details on the head and has characters who are more than just Hollywood cutouts of heros and villains.

John
 

Cavalry Charger

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I actually was talking about this book and movie with a coworker last night, comparing it to the Hunger Games of all things. The focus was on why Jennifer Lawrence plays the main character as basically an emotionless drone. In the books, we discover a lot about why the character is the way she is because of her inner dialogue, something that they couldn't translate to the films. Lawrence plays the character exactly the way she's described.
Ha! I think we would disagree on the Hunger Games which is my favorite movie/book franchise. Katniss Everdeen is far from an 'emotionless' character, but, I don't have time for the discussion now :running: I'd suggest your friend just didn't identify with her/her story.
 

Harms88

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Ha! I think we would disagree on the Hunger Games which is my favorite movie/book franchise. Katniss Everdeen is far from an 'emotionless' character, but, I don't have time for the discussion now :running: I'd suggest your friend just didn't identify with her/her story.
And that's what we were talking about! Because most of her emotions are under the surface but she's learned how to suppress emotions. Movies generally can't explore the inner struggle in most people and Lawrence, (besides learning the art of phoning in performances), only could show the characters outward stoic appearance.

(Personally, not a fan of the movies myself. Maybe it's just the contrarian in me but as soon as movies get unbridled praise like HG did, I'm automatically more skeptical and critical of the films. Haven't the read the books myself but I've listened to enough reviews of the books that I know they sound superior).

Gettysburg's problem is that it probably wouldn't have had much a film if they didn't give the Killer Angels characters the almost word-for-word verbatim inner monologues they have out loud.
 
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Harms88

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@Harms88 Well it seems I am substantially older than most of you guys. Your comparing novels to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, which I have never read, (not intending to be critical of those books, just an observation on a generational difference), and I am comparing them to Hornblower and Bolitho, which a lot of you have probably never read.

I really enjoyed the Flashman books. There wasn't much military detail but they were entertaining.

I want to read a Civil war novel that nails the tactical military details on the head and has characters who are more than just Hollywood cutouts of heros and villains.

John
Well, LOTR came out in the 50's, only the movies are newer. Which ironically I don't much care for them as they aren't that faithful to the themes and characters of the books. So unless you were born during like WWI, not that big of a generational difference.:smile:

One trope I found that as an adult I don't care for, is the main character has a regimental commander who hates them so completely that the character is constantly trying to get killed by their commander. A trope that found its way into Going Home.

Yes, soldiers and commanders might have had at times less than cordial relations, but it was rare for them to try killing each other. Although IIRC, the commander of Harper's Ferry got shot after the surrender and it's generally believed the surrendered Union Garrison were the ones.
 

Cavalier

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@Harms88 Shows you what I know. I had no idea Lord of the Rings was that old. I was born during WWll so I guess I should have been aware of that. I understand there are a couple of new civil war novels that might hold some promise. I will have to give one a try and hope for the best.

So many historical novels seem to have a gimmick like the one you mention above. I don't understand why authors feel the need to invent situations like that.

Thanks for your responce, John
 
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luinrina

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I want to read a Civil war novel that nails the tactical military details on the head and has characters who are more than just Hollywood cutouts of heros and villains.
Give Ralph Peters a try. His characters are nicely fleshed out, and he's not going for the brass but rank and file too. There's also some tactic details. Amazon offers previews; just read one of these, like from Cain at Gettysburg for example, and see if it's to your liking. :smile:
 

Cavalry Charger

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And that's what we were talking about! Because most of her emotions are under the surface but she's learned how to suppress emotions. Movies generally can't explore the inner struggle in most people and Lawrence, (besides learning the art of phoning in performances), only could show the characters outward stoic appearance.
Katniss Everdeen definitely had to put on a 'brave face'. Volunteering for her sister was hardly an 'emotionless' moment for her. Nor was her reaction to the death of Rue. Responding to her sense of exposure when Peeta admits to having a crush on her from way back on live television is another moment where she doesn't hold back. I did not feel in the least that Jennifer Lawrence 'phoned in' her performances in these movies and I could go on and on about the more emotional scenes. In fact, I posted a video in the Fave Songs thread over in Campfire Chat for Valentine's day with clips from the second film 'Catching Fire'. You'll see some of the more emotional moments there. And I couldn't imagine anyone other than JLaw playing the part of Katniss Everdeen.

Movies have to find a way to expose the inner struggle and no doubt this doesn't always translate easily onto film. It is also up to the audience to pick up the nuances, and not everyone is very adept at that. So, the book might be the better option for those people.

Anyway, each to their own as they say!
 
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Lubliner

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Ok. I just thought of one I can throw out there. "The Curse of Cain" by J. Mark Powell. Set on the premise that the confederate Government knew of Booth's plan, Davis instructs a secret agent to find Booth first to abort the assassination. It is not so far-fetched as some may first believe, and has a tense ending.
Lubliner.

The Curse of Cain | J. Mark Powell | Macmillan

us.macmillan.com/books/9781466820579​
 
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