The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Girl from Summer Hill // by Jude Deveraux

//published 2016//

I initially added this book to the list as a contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling, albeit a loose one.  Basic concept – Casey ends up playing Elizabeth in a local theater production of P&P, except her relationship with the guy playing Darcy is a lot like the one the original characters had.  I really liked the way that the chapter titles were listed as though they were part of a play (Act One, Scene Two), and reflected the fictional/P&P names of the characters (“Elizabeth Doesn’t Tempt Darcy”), even though their actual names weren’t anything like Elizabeth or Darcy.  I also appreciated that the characters were no unaware of how ridiculous it was that their lives were somewhat paralleling the original P&P story.

Actually, there were a lot of things to like about this book to start.  The characters were funny and friendly, the conversations pleasant, and there was a decent concept underneath of it all.  But in the end, I was just so frustrated with the incredibly choppiness of the story and the way the author kind of acted like we should already know a lot about these people.  For instance, Casey is staying in a house that was loaned to her by Kit, who is also directing the play – but we’re given no information about Kit or his relationship with Casey, which meant I was really confused when Kit immediately was interested in an older lady; at first I assumed that Kit must be close to Casey’s age, but it turns out that he’s a lot older than her – more of an uncle/father figure.

There was also this extremely weird thing where a bunch of the characters were half-siblings because their biological father was actually a sperm donor … but there is no explanation as to how all of these siblings actually found/met each other, and Casey’s relationship with her father is really ambiguous – like, are they friends?  It just made no sense and was never really explained.

I wondered for a while if some of these characters were in other of Deveraux’s books, because she has written a lot, but I couldn’t find any information supporting that; supposedly this book is the first in a new series.

There were a lot of random things that nagged at me.  It felt like who parts of this book had just been chopped out with no attempt to smooth the rough edges.  Consequently, everyone falling in love with everyone felt very sudden and kind of strange – especially when we jumped straight into snogging/sex.

And hello??  They get caught in the rain on the back of the estate and have to take shelter in this old shed where Darcy’s mum used to hang out when she was little and the blankets and pillows are still there from when it was her secret hideout literally 20 years or more ago – and that’s where they shag!?  All I could think was GROSS.  There is no way that those cushions weren’t full of all sorts of unsavory insects and rodents.  ICK.  This book was full of completely impractical stuff like that; there was absolutely no attempt to make any of this remotely realistic or believable.

Still, I was still fairly confident that this book was going to get a 3/5 for a decent effort (albeit with a lot of eye rolling) until it completely went off the rails at the end.  This is a BIG SPOILER (I mean, sort of… it’s not like we don’t know who the villain is from the very beginning, and since we all know the basic concept of P&P it’s not really a big surprise when “Wickham” absconds with “Lydia”…) but yeah so the Wickham character convinces Lydia to run away with him.  Lydia has told everyone she is 18, but it turns out that she’s actually only 15, just like Book Lydia, so it’s a big deal that he has run away with a minor, but instead of chasing after him, they come up with this convoluted plot to lure him back by presenting the upcoming play as a contest of acting ability between Wickham and Darcy.  (???!!!??!?!)  Despite the fact that Wickham has been portrayed as complete cad who will do whatever he can to satisfy his own selfish whims and has been known to accost/sexually harass/rape women in the past, no one seems overly concerned that he’s disappeared with a fifteen-year-old girl.  I mean, they’re upset, but I don’t think that “luring him back” is really the kind of option that law enforcement would agree to (or at least I hope not!  Good grief!).

So yes, the most ridiculous part is – it worked!  He just comes back with Lydia in tow!  And goes right to the theater to start acting in the play!  AND THEN instead of arresting him immediately, they convince the police that they should let the play go on because it’s for charity!?  Not only that – Lydia still plays her part!  No one bothers to, I don’t know, find out if she’s been raped?!  What!?

And then we get this write-up of the play, praising how “realistic” everyone was, etc., and it’s supposed to be this big thing where everyone acted so passionately… except then it concludes with the way the play will be running multiple times and people should go see it… and to myself I’m thinking… Except Wickham is gone and the play isn’t going to be that great because it will completely lack the emotional charge of that opening night…???

So yes, a 2/5 in the end.  The whole thing with Wickham taking off with a young girl really bothered me (she didn’t actually get raped, by the way; she convinced Wickham that she was on her period, which apparently was enough to keep him away….  surrre it would be), especially when nobody acted like it was a big deal and that obviously Lydia was fine and would be able to do the play just like regular.  Combined with the overall choppiness, the lack of character background/connections, and the complete disconnect from any kind of reality, this book didn’t leave me with any desire to seek out more of Deveraux’s works.

#17 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Companion’s Secret // by Linda Thompson

//published 2015//

This Pride & Prejudice variation started with a lot of excitement, but ended up being just really bland.

Thompson ruthlessly kills off Elizabeth’s entire family (except for Jane, who visiting the Gardiners) in a terrible carriage accident in the first chapter.  Immediately, the heir to Longbourn shows up, except in this variation it isn’t the Mr. Collins we know, but that Mr. Collins’s father, who is a pretty terrible person.  The reader is not surprised to learn that he probably had a hand in creating the carriage accident.  He’s super creepy and everyone hates him, including his own son who doesn’t really like any of his dad’s plans but since his dad has always beaten him up when he disagrees, he pretty just goes along with everything.

Anyway, Mr. C Sr. wants Mr. C Jr. to marry Elizabeth.  Since she isn’t really into that idea, Sr. decides that Jr. will have to compromise her.  Elizabeth overhears them talking and discovers that she is supposed to receive an inheritance from her great aunt when she reaches her majority the following spring, which is what this is all about.  She also hears about the whole planned compromise thing, and then listens as Sr. laughs evilly whilst plotting her ultimate demise after he gets his hands on the inheritance.  Fearing for her life, she flees Longbourn in disguise, aided by the servants who all love her.  She coincidentally meets up with the Darcys at an inn, and what with one thing and another is hired as Georgiana’s companion.

While I didn’t dislike this variation, there was just no character development.  Elizabeth is absolutely perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Darcy is also perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Georgiana is quietly perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Guess who else is perfect?  Jane, Mr. Bingley, the Gardiners, all of the servants at Longbourn, Darcy’s entire family except for Lady Catherine, a random dressmaker in Lambton, and even Elizabeth’s horse.  Since all the good guys were already perfect, there wasn’t really any room for them to learn or grow.  The bad guys were all super bad (in this version, Collins Sr., Wickham, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine), so they didn’t really learn or grow either – they just got punished.

Thompson did a decent job making things seem plausible, even hiring Elizabeth at a random inn.  She stretches credulity but I still could get behind it.  I mean, who wouldn’t hire an angel if they stumbled across them?  And that’s basically Elizabeth’s character in this book.

The last 20% of the book was completely superfluous.  All of the main storylines are resolved, and Darcy and Elizabeth get married.  Except then all of the sudden we have this weird last bit where Lady Catherine shows up and causes trouble, but it felt really awkward, like this part was literally there just to make the story longer.  There were also some minor editing issues; the main one that aggravated me was that the author couldn’t seem to decide whether Bingley’s aunt in Yorkshire was named Agnes or Agatha.

All in all, a 3/5 for a story that wasn’t terrible, just very, very bland.

July Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

//published 1956//

Actually, I felt more than “meh” about this book – it was a delight, and an easy 4/5.  However, what can one say about Heyer’s work that hasn’t already been said?  The characters were lively and clever, the adventure took many hilarious twists, and there happy endings handed out all around.  Heyer is always so relaxing and pleasant – never any niggling doubts as to whether or not everything will end with sunshine and rainbows.  I really loved everyone in this book, and it had me snorting with laughter on more than one occasion.  It felt like the ending was a bit rushed/it would have been nice to see a little bit more of a love story between Gareth and Hester, but all in all this story was just super adorable and happy.

Also, it was #10 for #20BooksofSummer!

Sunlight & Shadow by Cameron Dokey

//published 2004//

I really liked Dokey’s fairy tale retellings (this is the third I’ve read).  This story moved right along.  It was a little weird because Dokey used five first-person perspectives, and never told us who we were jumping to next, you just kind of had to read a few sentences and figure it out.  This felt weird at first, but once I got into the groove, it worked completely.  The voices were actually really, really similar, though, so it was mostly the actual circumstances that indicated who was doing the talking.

In her afterword, Dokey said that this book was actually inspired by the story from one of Mozart’s operas, which I found entertaining.  It has a very mythological flavor, since the main character (Mina) is the daughter of the Queen of Night and the Mage of Day.  The story is not just about Mina finding true love (which of course she does), but about the balance between light and darkness.  As always, Dokey has a slim thread of thoughtfulness running throughout a story that appears to be all fluff and lightheartedness, leaving me thinking about it a bit after I’ve finished.

An easy 3.5/5 and a very pleasant read, as well as being #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams

In this Pride & Prejudice variation, shortly after the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bennett finds out that he doesn’t have much longer to live.  He regrets wasting time and money, and decides to do the best that he can to make up for it.  He makes a bunch of rules for the girls, including sending Lydia back to the schoolroom, and gives them actual lessons to do, which feels a little bit weird since Jane and Elizabeth are in their 20’s.  Mr. Bennett is also determined that if any eligible suitors come asking, he will marry the girls off, as long as it doesn’t seem like the guy is a total jerk.  So at Hunsford, Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and Mr. Bennett says yes.

All in all, this was actually a really pleasant P&P variation.  It was definitely PG13 – a lot of innuendo and discussions, but nothing explicit.  It was also quite refreshing that there were no ridiculous villains.  However, it did feel like only Elizabeth was doing the changing.  In the original, both Darcy and Elizabeth realize their shortcomings, but in this version, Darcy didn’t really seem to have any.  Towards the end, he is really insulting towards the Gardiners when he meets them for the first time.  Elizabeth takes him to task and Darcy apologizes, but he never interacts with them again in the story, so it didn’t necessarily come through that he really felt remorseful about the situation.

Still, a pleasant story and an easy way to spend an afternoon.  3.5/5.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

Burnett is another one of those authors whose two most famous books – The Secret Garden and A Little Princess – were childhood favorites (that I still love today), but somehow I’ve never really checked to see if she wrote anything else.  So I added The Making of a Marchioness, along with its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst to my 20 Books of Summer list.

This was a pleasant read, but was almost like an outline of a book rather than a full-length story.  It’s only around 180 pages with large print, so more of a novella.  Still, the main character, Emily, was rather adorable, even though she was almost absurdly nice.  Through a series of events she gets invited to a country house party (mainly so she can do a bunch of errands for the hostess) and ends up marrying the most eligible bachelor there.

However, there really isn’t much of a love story.  Walderhurst admires her from afar, but during his proposal, he says that he “must marry, and I like you better than any woman I have ever known.  … I am a selfish man, and I want an unselfish woman.”  It doesn’t seem particularly romantic that he’s marrying her because she won’t make very many demands on his time or purse, but overall he seems like a fine fellow, so I actually did end the book believing that they would deal well together.  A 3/5 and I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Also, #15 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Tottering TBR // Episode XVII

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

So this was a pretty good week on the blog overall.  I’ve been really focused on getting reviews done in a timely manner.  This week was also incredibly rainy weather, so I had more time for reading than I sometimes do in the summer.  Next week looks fabulous – sunny and dry – so I probably won’t get as much reading in…  fence-painting calls!

Added to the General TBR:

One book that I had on the Nonfiction TBR turned out to actually be a novel, so it got flipped to this list.  Three views also tempted me this week:

  • Rose said that she’s a happier person from reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.  I’m pretty positive that I started to read another of Jonasson’s books with a ridiculously long title (The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) but didn’t finish it for some reason… but I can’t remember what I didn’t like, so I think this book deserves a chance.
  • While Waste of Space by Gina Damico doesn’t necessarily sound like “my” kind of book, I was still attracted to Stephanie’s review – she said that it’s a humorous story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which sounds like a nice change of pace from a lot of YA.
  • Finally, Lynne’s review of The Birdwatcher by William Shaw hooked me from her quote of the book’s first paragraph:  “There were two reasons why William South did not want to be on the murder team.  The first was that it was October.  The migrating birds had begun arriving on the coast.  The second was that, though nobody knew, he was a murderer himself.”  Carol also reviewed this book last month before I was back on the Tottering TBR schedule, and I honestly thought I had added it then… but apparently I overlooked it!

Off the General TBR:

Actually, I didn’t do too badly this week!  I reviewed three books – Woman With a Gun by Phillip Margolin (fantastic), Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (depressing), and The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (engaging but ultimately underwhelming).  I also wrote two minireviews that will be published sometime this month, but came off the TBR when the reviews were written (Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer and Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey).  So – a grand total of five off!

Total for the General TBR:  785 – DOWN one!!!

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Two free Kindle books this week.  I have got to get that under control.  Although since I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite on Prime Day, it probably won’t happen any time soon, if I’m honest.

Off the Personal TBR:

Two reviews this week – Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (alright, but nothing I’m holding onto, so it’s actually off the list and off the shelves!) and a biography – Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution by Nardi Reeder Campion.  I also wrote one minireview that will be published later this month – a Kindle Pride & Prejudice variation (no, I do not have a problem, thank you) – Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams.  So – three off!

Total for the Personal TBR:  593 – DOWN one!!!

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Total for the Series TBR:  No change this week – nothing added, and I’m not currently reading a series.  So holding steady at 222.

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Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No change here either – steady at 102.

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Added to the Nonfiction TBR:  

Nothing!

Off the Nonfiction TBR:

Like I said, one book I had on here turned out to be a novel – Gettysburg, 1913 by Alan Simon, so it was moved off this list.  I also removed a book about healthy eating that didn’t actually sound like it would be useful after all.  So – two off.

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  79 – DOWN two!

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Grand Total for the Week:  Six added but TEN off – I am down a net of four books!  DEFINITE progress!  At this rate, I may only be 107 when I get through all these books.  ;-)

The Silent Sister // by Diane Chamberlain

//published 2014//

I had some mixed feelings about this book.  It kept me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it, but a few different things made me uncomfortable during the story, and I found the ending to be unsatisfactory.  In the end, I think it has to go as a 3/5.  I don’t particularly recommend it, and it’s the sort of book that made me feel that while I wouldn’t avoid Chamberlain’s books in the future, I’m not anxious to seek them out, either.

The story mostly centers around Riley, aged 25, whose father has just passed away.  Riley has returned home to go through his house (her mother passed away just after her senior year of high school) and get it ready to sell.  Riley loved her father and had a good relationship with him, so she’s quite devastated by his sudden death, and that’s amplified by the way that she feels that she is all alone in the world – her older sister committed suicide when Riley was only two, and Riley’s older brother, Danny, suffers from severe PSTD that leaves him unreliable and unpredictable.  He also harbors deep resentment towards their parents (which Riley doesn’t understand) and is completely disinterested in cleaning out the house or reliving memories of any kind.

As the tale unwinds, Riley begins to discover that her dad was actually keeping quite a few secrets, including a major one about her sister.  At this point, the story also begins to give us Lisa’s story from twenty years earlier.

This is a well-written and engaging narrative.  Riley uses the first person for her sections, past tense.  She is likable and kind and very lonely.  Lisa’s section are in third person, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a very relatable character.  I was really hooked into this story from the very beginning.

However, there were several things that gave me unease.  One of the biggest is when Lisa meets Celia.  After spending the evening together, Celia stays the night (romantically) – despite the fact that they had only met that day AND until she met Celia, Lisa didn’t realize she was gay.  It seemed kind of ridiculous and unhealthy for Lisa to immediately get in bed with someone on such short acquaintance, especially when she hasn’t actually sorted through her sexual orientation??  Of course it all works out and they stay together forever because that’s what always happens when you hop in bed with someone you’ve only known about eight hours.  This situation became even more disturbing when more details about Lisa’s childhood were revealed.

I was also a smidge offended by the fact that, of course, the traditional, conservative church was the home of a bunch of hypocritical self-centered people who “push away” people going through a crisis; while the church that is “open and affirming” to gay people are the ones who are so supportive and loving to everyone, no matter what!  I’m sorry, but believing that homosexuality isn’t Scriptural doesn’t automatically mean that I hate gay people or that I’m unwilling to help out people who are going through a dark time in their life.  This wasn’t a huge part of this book by any means, but it was a completely unnecessary dig.

It also seemed really weird to me that part of Riley’s back story was that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years – because he had never divorced his wife?!?!?  That seemed unnecessarily wrong, and it honestly changed my perspective of who Riley was as a person.  Like wow, she’s just been an adulterer for two years??  That seems… disturbing?

The rest of my angst I’ll put below the cut as they involve spoilers.  This wasn’t a terrible book by any means.  I really was very engaged with the story and anxious to find out how it ended.  But I felt like justice was not served by the conclusion and it left me feeling rather angry, this concept that this person “deserves” a good life, rather than deserving what they earned through their actions.  So yes, a 3/5.  And for a more positive review, be sure to check out Carol’s thoughts, which first led me to this book!

Also – #14 for #20BooksofSummer!

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Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution // by Nardi Reeder Campion

//published 1961//

This is an older biography of Patrick Henry (1961), with target audience of middle school/junior high.  Overall, this was a really excellent read, with plenty of details about Henry’s life and career, but not too overwhelming.  It’s written to engage younger readers, so there is some dialogue and little anecdotes along the way, but most of these stories added to the character development of Henry, helping us to see what shaped him throughout his younger years and even as an adult.

It’s been a while since I studied this era of American history, so my memories of Henry were a bit vague, other than attributing his famous cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death!”  Reading this book made me want to learn more about this fascinating man – poorly educated, more comfortable in the wilderness than anywhere else, a failure at so many careers, a self-made lawyer, a man who lived his religious beliefs, a non-drinker, father of seventeen children, the first governor of Virginia, and a passionate advocate of personal freedom and the equality of all men.

Campion did a really wonderful job of putting Henry in his time period as well.  For instance, the topic of slavery is touched on a few times – something that Henry struggled with, but was more or less resigned to, a product not just of his time, but of time immortal, as there have always been slaves throughout the history of mankind.  (Which obviously does not justify it, but I think sometimes people get really hung up on the concept that the founding fathers could fight so passionately for their freedom while ignoring the fact that so many people were enslaved.  A terrible thing, yes, but not as hypocritical as we may believe at this time.  There has been slavery throughout every time of recorded history, and are still slaves even today; I think it is rather unfair to expect those founding fathers to not only set up the world’s first democracy from scratch, but to also expect them to reject a concept ingrained in humanity for thousands of years, as though their failure on that point means that everything else they did was worthless.  But I digress.)

While Henry was initially friends with Thomas Jefferson, their relationship soured over the years, and Campion also weaves that story throughout the book, helping the reader to see how this breakdown could have occurred.  And while Henry was a passionate speech-maker, he was no writer, which means that much of our perspective of Henry as a person is through people who, at the time, were writers… like Thomas Jefferson.  While Campion never comes across as defending Henry, she does remind the reader that historians are people, too, who have personal opinions and beliefs, so when someone like Jefferson says that Henry was “avaricious and rotten-hearted,” he may not have been completely objective.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am interested to read more about Henry’s life.  Campion’s description of the build-up to Henry’s greatest speech genuinely gave me chills.  I wished that I could have learned a little more about his  home life (with seventeen children, it seems like there would be scope for something interesting there!), and I also think that a more in-depth biography would have more information about Henry’s negative views on the Constitution (which Henry believed was basically worthless without a Bill of Rights to accompany it).

All in all, Firebrand of the Revolution was a great place to start – enough to give me a good overview of Henry’s life and leave me interested to learn more.  5/5 and recommended.