We’re participating in the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop in honor of April Fool’s Day. It seems only fitting that we feature a novel for that giveaway that pulls the wool over on someone, doncha think? Well, the sisters in Sisters of Shiloh pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone in the Confederate Army. Bestselling author Kathy Hepinstall and her sister, historian Becky Hepinstall Hilliker, have joined forces to give us a look at two very different sisters during the Civil War. You may recall that we reviewed Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall a couple of years ago (link at the end of this review). It was such a well-written novel that it was a no brainer to choose Sisters of Shiloh. Family, love, war, dark secrets, hurt, and healing – and so much more. If you like historical fiction brought down to a very personal level, you won’t want to miss out on this book giveaway!
It’s 1855 and we’re in Winchester, Virginia. Fourteen-year-old Josephine and thirteen-year-old Libby love each other tremendously and they are about as different as sisters could be. Libby is the pretty, confident one, the one who all of the kids want to befriend. Josephine is the chip-toothed, more reclusive one who follows her younger sister around like a shadow. Libby makes everything wonderful and fun, and she is Josephine’s whole world.
Then a new family from Shiloh, near Fredericksburg, moves in next door. Their oldest son, Arden, and Libby are drawn to each other like flies to honey, and suddenly Josephine’s world begins to change. She can’t understand why Libby wants to spend more time with Arden than with her. Haven’t they always been inseparable? How could someone like Arden change that so quickly and so easily? Suddenly Josephine feels lonely because she has no clue how to be alone. She only knows who she is in relationship to Libby, and she flounders. But above all else, she feels the need to protect Libby – to keep her safe.
“’You spend so much time with him,’ she complained to Libby. ‘How about me? I thought I was your best friend.’
‘Don’t be silly. You can sit in the orchard with us any time.’
‘That was our orchard!’
‘Oh, Josephine. Orchards belong to everyone.’”
Needless to say, Josephine does not like Arden one bit. It’s not just because he seems to have stolen her sister. He’s also changing her, and he’s been kissing her. Josephine knows Libby is too young for those kinds of things. And there’s something cruel about Arden that he doesn’t show Libby, but he knows exactly what to say to hurt Josephine to the quick when Libby isn’t around. It’s a very effective technique that ensures she will give him a wide berth, which also means she won’t come around when he’s with Libby…and he’s with Libby almost all of the time.
“What Arden had done to Libby’s God made her [Josephine] resent him most. That deity, shaped and formed under the tutelage of her gentle father was a fair, benevolent God whose strict expectations regarding the Ten Commandments were tempered by an all-consuming adoration of all His children. Arden had darkened and narrowed the eyes of this God, added rage to His purpose and gave Him a taste for Yankee blood. His God – now her [Libby’s] God – was unloving and out for revenge.”
By the time Arden joins the Confederate Army in 1861, he and Libby are married and have been living on their own. She is now completely under the sway of his opinions and beliefs, rational or not, and will hear nothing bad against him. Josephine has given up on that front. Still, she loves her sister and wants her to be happy.
“Libby’s love for her husband had only deepened since his departure. Once, in late summer, when his brigade had bivouacked near Winchester, he had received a pass from his lieutenant and come to see her. Together they had gone back to the little house they had once shared as man and wife, bursting into it hurriedly, straight to the bedroom, where they made love…Arden’s clean-shaven face hovered above her, his eyes looking down, full of war fever and husband fever, and she felt terrified for a moment, that there was no Libby anymore, that she would collapse into his beliefs and his fervor and his boyhood and his birth. She loved him that much, in a way that made no space for herself…”
When a battle is fought outside of Winchester and Libby hears that Arden fought in it, she insists on going out onto the horrific remains of the battlefield to find him if he’s still there. Of course, she expects to find him injured but alive. Instead Josephine finds him, gut shot and dying but still conscious.
“’Arden,’ Libby whispered.
‘I’m sorry,’ Josephine said…
Libby returned her gaze to Arden, unable to believe the sight before her.
She ran her fingers through his hair, leaning down to kiss his face, his forehead and cheeks and brows. ‘Josephine, did he say anything?’
‘Nothing.’ Her older sister’s voice sounded strange, disembodied. As though this all was a dream from which only the trees would awaken.
‘Libby stroked her husband’s face. ‘But his body is still warm.’…’And, look, his blood is fresh!’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Josephine. ‘He was dead when I found him.’”
Arden’s death sends Libby over the edge into deep grief and a rage-fueled madness. She believes Arden’s ghost is visiting her and telling her what to do. She is determined to avenge Arden and to kill as many Yankees as possible, at least twenty one – one for every year of his life. To do that, she begins to plot how to get into the war. She practices men’s mannerisms, finds men’s clothes and is determined to become a Confederate soldier. She’s surprised at how quickly she becomes adept at portraying a man.
When Josephine learns of Libby’s wild plan, she tries unsuccessfully to dissuade her. When she realizes her sister is going to do this no matter what, she insists on joining Libby in an attempt to keep her safe. And so they become Joseph and Thomas. Josephine has no interest in killing anyone on either side, and she certainly doesn’t want to fight in a war, but she will do whatever it takes to keep her sister safe until she can come to her senses. She owes her at least that much after all.
What will become of these two sisters when they successfully join the Confederate Army? Can they keep up the illusion while living so closely with men in such hard conditions? What will they discover about themselves and each other? Can Josephine keep Libby safe from herself, her fellow soldiers, and the soldiers she’s determined to kill? What kind of choices will each sister have to make and how will those choices shape them and decide their fates?
You may have already guessed that Josephine is the reluctant heroine of this tale. She’s got a strength even she doesn’t realize and an iron determination to do what’s right. She’s kind, caring, and has an almost bottomless capacity for love. And then there’s Libby, to whom everything came so easily as a child and who was also so easily led astray from all she originally believed in. In my eyes, Arden is a classic con man and narcissist – bent on absolute control. He found easy prey in Libby and, unfortunately, even his death does not release her from his grip because she keeps seeing and hearing his ghost. And what’s up with his death? What is Josephine not telling Libby about Arden’s death and what will Arden’s ghost tell Libby about his death?
The Hepinstall sisters have written a powerful, heart-wrenching novel in Sisters of Shiloh; however, it’s also touching, beautiful, and an amazing read. I knew there were women who posed as men during the Civil War but, although I had a vague idea, the depths of what they had to go through to pull off their subterfuge did not dawn on this 21st century woman until I read this novel. This is a tale about strength of characters, love, revenge, betrayal, and healing – yes, there is healing. And it contains at least one mystery too. What more could you want? I predict that historical fiction fans and women’s fiction fans will be happy campers with this one! I know I was!
Excerpts from an Interview with the Authors:
Q: Is the novel based on the story of real life sisters?
Becky’s Answer: There are around 400 documented cases of women fighting as men in the Civil War – a statistic that is staggering when you consider the times in which they lived. In learning about some of these women, we discovered that their reasons for fighting were just as varied as their male counterparts. Some followed a loved one, some dreamed of adventure, some sought vengeance, and some felt it their patriotic duty.
Kathy’s Answer: We took aspects of some of the actual women soldiers and wove them into our characters. So although the two sisters are fictional, we believe the spirit of these real-life women lives in the narrative.
Q: What was it like to write a novel as sisters, about sisters?
Kathy’s Answer: We found the process very seamless. We were both inspired by the stories and found that we had a similar perspective on plot points and characters, although Becky did passionately argue for the life of one character I wanted to kill off.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Kathy’s Answer: That the love of sisters is stronger than war, madness, and death.
Q: Is there anything that we haven’t covered here that you’d like to bring attention to?
Kathy’s Answer: Just that what attracted us to this novel is that it is not simply about war. It is a murder mystery, a ghost story, a tale of madness, and a love story.
Becky’s Answer: And it is a tale of discovering what cause in life is truly worth dying for.
Can’t wait to read it?
Sisters of Shiloh was published on March 3, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks).
I’d love to get your comments on Sisters of Shiloh, Kathy Hepinstall or her other work, Becky Hepinstall Hilliker, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall.
If you like this review, please contribute to our Reviewers’ Caffeine Fund in the left column. Just a cup a day, that’s all we ask.
One lucky reader will win a finished hardcover copy of Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy Hepinstall & Becky Hepinstall Hilliker!
1) The deadline for entries is Tuesday night, 4/7/2015, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
2) This giveaway is open to entries with U.S. mailing addresses only because we do not ship books outside of the U.S.
3) You must be at least 15 years old to enter this giveaway.
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7) That’s it – it’s a very easy giveaway, so have fun and best of luck!
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