Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Hardcover, Ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.
In a war that pitted brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.
Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.
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Josephine and her younger sister Libby have always had a strong bond. Josephine fills the caretaker role for Libby, nursing her when she falls ill and watching over her as a new neighbor boy, Arden comes into her life and steals her away. Libby and Arden get married right before the Civil War breaks out. Arden decides to join the Confederate Army in Stonewall's Brigade for the Southern cause with a fierce hatred of the Yankees in his heart. When the sisters find Arden dead after the battle in Sharpsburg, Libby looses herself in grief and madness and decides to avenge Arden by killing 21 Union soldiers, one for every year of Arden's life. To do this, Libby cuts her hair, binds her chest and dons Arden's old clothes. Libby feels she must continue to protect her sister and does the same. Now Thomas and Joseph, they set off to join the Confederate Army. Once accepted into the brigade, Libby quickly shifts into her alter-ego with her sights set on the kill while Josephine quietly falls for another soldier.
I am drawn in by books about women in battle in our history. Sisters of Shiloh brought me into the Civil War through the unique lens of sisterhood, grief and protection. From the first lines of this book I was taken in by the powerful, dreamlike and haunting writing. The contrast of the two sisters along with their dedication to one another was amazing to me. Josephine and Libby were distinct and motivated by different circumstances. Libby was hardened on the outside, but falling apart mentally with the ghost of Arden haunting her and pushing her to kill. Josephine was softer, more reserved, waiting to find love from a man, but determined to see her sister through the war. The time that the sisters spent in camp and in battle was the most interesting to me; these scenes were gritty, real and emotional. The other soldiers in the camp added diversity and a lot of personality in their interactions with Libby and Josephine as Thomas and Joseph. I loved Joseph and Wesley's relationship as well as Floyd's relationship with the boys in the camp. The addition of Les Miserables as reading material in the camp and a way to keep spirits up was really interesting as well. I do wish the ending was a little more concrete, especially with Wesley and Josephine.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Kathy Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. Kathy is the best selling author of The House of Gentle Men, The Absence of Nectar and Blue Asylum She is an award-winning creative director and advertising writer. She currently resides in Santa Barbara, California with her husband. Visit Kathy’s Blog.
Becky Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. She holds a degree in History from the University of Texas in Austin, and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband, a Navy pilot, and their four children.