Friday, January 31, 2014

"To Whisper Her Name" by Tamera Alexander - a beautiful, indulgent read

To Whisper Her Name (Belle Meade Plantation, #1)In To Whisper Her Name, the first of her Belle Meade Plantation series, Tamera Alexander writes a beautiful novel on overcoming fears and growing strong in the Lord.  Widow to an abusive husband and traitor to the South, Olivia Aberdeen has no option but to trespass on the hospitality of the Hardings of Belle Meade until she is married off again to secure financial gain for her guardians.  Ridley Cooper, a South Carolina man, fought for the Union and is on his way out to homestead in Colorado, but before he goes he wants to learn how to handle horses like the horse whisperer Robert Green - head hostler of Belle Meade plantation - does.  The two end up working together, he as foreman and she in charge of ordering goods for the entire farming operation, but no one but Bob Green knows of Ridley's allegiances, least of all Olivia, who hopes to remarry a well-respected Southern man when the time comes.

I love long books - and this one is nearly 500 pages - as there is so much time to develop characters, plot, setting, etcetera.  Perhaps the story moves more slowly, but it feels so much richer. There is time to establish the characters' personalities and struggles, time to grow gradually so that it's realistic, not just BAM they have an epitome and change.  There is time to win the reader over, even if one of the characters is not likeable in the beginning.

Honestly, I am frustrated with Ridley's arrogance and impatience when he first begins training with Uncle Bob.  The chip on his shoulder turns me off, and his impatience hits close to home.  However, while he never loses his boldness, the arrogant edge is smoothed off, and impatience no longer cripples him.  I might still question his tact, but we're none of us perfect, even at the end of a romance novel.  Olivia has nearly the opposite problem - free thinking, hopes, dreams, preferences - it has all been beaten out of her so many times that she struggles to step outside absolute propriety or even voice an opinion slightly contrary to the others.  Like the horses she so fears, she shies away people again and again until they have finally earned her trust.  As she is given more responsibilities and opportunities to fight her fears, she blossoms into a confident young woman who is able to make her own choices. 

Compared to other books, not a lot of excitement happens, but it does not need so much either.  The point of the plot is not a dangerous mission or thrilling adventure; it is journey toward healing and growing into a child of Christ - more into the person they are beneath the hurts and shame.  The descriptions of Belle Meade firmly establish the setting, as it is clear the author has been there and done her research.  This is my favorite of Alexander's books.  5 out of 5 stars.

On her website, Tamera Alexander lots of great information on Belle Meade in the form of a number of video clips - a trailer for the book, a vignette on the head hostler Bob Green, the history of thoroughbreds in the area and Belle Meade's role, footage of the old Harding cabin, views of inside the mansion, and the tracing of the bloodlines of a number of Kentucky Derby winners back to Belle Meade.  See:

Belle Meade Plantation
1. To Whisper Her Name
2. To Win Her Favor 
2.5 "To Mend a Dream" (part of the novella collection Among the Fair Magnolias)
3. To Wager Her Heart 

Belmont Mansion (Related to the Belle Meade Plantation novels)
1. A Lasting Impression
2. A Beauty So Rare
3. A Note Yet Unsung

Carnton Mansion
0.5: "Christmas at Carnton" (novella)

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