I like a good historical novel as much as the next fellow. And Joseph Helgerson's Crows and Cards is a *great* historical novel. Young Zebulon Crabtree sets off in 1849 from the family farm in Illinois to learn a trade as a tanner, but never gets further than St. Louis - on the fabled Mississippi River. Along the way he encounters riverboat gamblers, Indian chiefs and princesses, a slave with a heart of gold, and a cast of other outré characters who teach him a few lessons about loyalty and life.
I think what I like best about this is the author's deft, writerly hand at setting. 1849 Missouri is right there in between every paragraph of this book, so real you could touch it - but it's never thrust in your face. And there's a neat glossary in the back that, along with the afterword, takes up about a quarter of the pages of the book.
This is billed as a "Young Adult" book, but I think that does it a disservice. Anyone could enjoy this novel, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a good Mark-Twain-style yarn. 5 unqualified stars.