To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation #3) by Tamera Alexander

With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society’s expectations must work together to achieve their dreams—provided that the truth doesn’t tear them apart first. 

Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father’s name. One man holds the key to Sy’s success—General William Giles Harding of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks. Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville’s society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he’s found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison’s fiancee—and what has broken her heart. 

Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen’s university in the United States. But family—and Nashville society—do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both. Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy’s roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor? 

Set against the real history of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation and the original Fisk University Jubilee Singers ensemble, To Wager Her Heart is a stirring love story about seeking justice and restoring honor at a time in history when both were tenuous and hard-won.

To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation #3) by Tamera Alexander
Published August 8, 2017 by Zondervan
Christian Fiction / Historical Fiction / Romance
Format: e-book from Netgalley for review; 384 pages
Also By This Author: To Whisper Her NameTo Win Her Favor
GoodreadsAuthor’s Website

My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts:

I’ve been a faithful fan of Tamera Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series since I read the first installment in early 2013. The first two novels, To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor, were very enjoyable and captivating reads for me. I remember loving the romances in both of them, and the storylines were suspenseful and conjured up empathy in me for the prejudices and racial tensions of post-Civil War America.

To Wager Her Heart, the third and, I’m assuming, final novel in the Belle Meade Plantation series was a disappointing read for me. My expectations were high after thoroughly enjoying and appreciating the first two novels. In To Wager Her Heart, I felt that the emotion Tamera Alexander’s writing normally invokes was watered down and not as intense as I remember it being in To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor.

The beginning of this novel pulled me in right away. There is a fair amount of tension and uncertainty with regards to our two main characters’ journeys, but by the middle of the novel the story starts to lag. One thing in particular that threw me off about the middle act of the novel is that the conflict our hero, Sy Rutledge, faces is glossed over and practically wrapped up entirely too quickly.

The novel’s ending was somewhat satisfying, with a realistic amount of loose ends remaining, but overall the book lacks a crucial amount of suspense. I didn’t feel particularly connected to Sy or our heroine, Alexandra, and I even felt that their romance, which began as a promising conflict in the story, blossomed unrealistically too quick and therefore didn’t feel as deep or anchored as the romances in the earlier novels.

I must say that a major reason why I admire Tamera Alexander as an author is because of the amount of research she does. Apart from this series, I haven’t read any of her other books, but Belle Meade and many of characters we meet in these books are real. At the end of each book she gives a brief history of the plantation, the family and workers who lived on it, and the surrounding town. As an aspiring historical fiction writer myself, I appreciate how she crafts her own story around real people and real events.

Read This Book If…

…you’ve read and enjoyed To Whisper Her Name of To Win Her Favor (although these books can be read as standalones, some minor characters are present throughout the entire series).
…you are a fan of historical fiction.
…you love Christian fiction novels.
…you are looking for an inspirational romance.

“Some memories, they never leave a person. But that don’t mean you gotta stay stuck back there with ’em.”

Final Musings:

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of this novel, but believe me, if I had really not liked it, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. To Wager Her Heart managed to keep my attention until the end, while many other books I’ve reviewed have not. I must credit Tamera Alexander’s writing style and the setting of this novel, because, as I’ve already mentioned at least once, I was really intrigued by the true life historical aspects of Belle Meade Plantation and Nashville in the late 1800s. I still look forward to reading more of Tamera Alexander’s novels in the future, and I know that will also include rereads of To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor.

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No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

no-other-will-do

Men are optional. That’s the credo Emma Chandler’s suffragette aunts preached and why she started a successful women’s colony in Harper’s Station, Texas. But when an unknown assailant tries repeatedly to drive them out, Emma admits they might need a man after all. A man who can fight–and she knows just the one.

Malachi Shaw finally earned the respect he craved by becoming an explosives expert for the railroad. Yet when Emma’s plea arrives, he bolts to Harper’s Station to repay the girl who once saved his life. Only she’s not a girl any longer. She’s a woman with a mind of her own and a smile that makes a man imagine a future he doesn’t deserve.

As the danger intensifies, old feelings grow and deepen, but Emma and Mal will need more than love to survive.

No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer
Published June 7, 2016 by Bethany House
Format: Netgalley e-book; 384 pages
Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction
Also By This Author: Short-Straw BrideTo Win Her Heart
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts

Once again, Karen Witemeyer has created wholesome and endearing characters that inspire readers. Emma Chandler is an 19th century female banker with a heart for broken women who need a second chance at life. When someone starts threatening the lives of the women in her care, Emma turns to one of her oldest friends, Malachi Shaw, a timid dynamite expert with a protective streak, to help protect her women’s colony.

One of my favorite parts about No Other Will Do is Malachi’s career in 19th century explosives. I know in the grand scheme of the novel, this character description is only slightly relevant to the plot line, but I still thought it was remarkably interesting. I also appreciated how Malachi’s career choice contrasted with his quieter and hesitantly expressive personality.

Emma, on the other hand, is inspiring in her own sense. She’s brave, strong-minded, and incredibly compassionate. When the odds are stacked against her, she still manages to overcome every challenge, even when she’s struggling with her own doubts and failures.

Although I’d categorize No Other Will Do as an inspirational novel, it also features some darker scenes and depictions. Harper’s Station is a refuge for battered and abused women, but Karen Witemeyer is able to blend the harsher depictions of domestic abuse with compassionate characters who impart healing and hope.

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy historical fiction set in the American west.
…you’re looking for an uplifting novel to start the year off with.
…you appreciate themes of feminism and redemption.
…you’re interested in well-researched 19th century life (including insight into the life of a dynamite expert).

Final Musings

I can’t believe that Karen Witemeyer has been one of my favorite authors for four years now and I haven’t written a single review for her on my blog yet! I know I’ve recommended and gushed about her books plenty of times, but I’m happy I finally got around to putting together a formal review. If you think you’d be interested in Karen Witemeyer’s other novels, I’d strongly recommend Short-Straw Bride and To Win Her Heart.

To Win Her Favor (Belle Meade Plantation #2) by Tamera Alexander

To Win Her Favor

A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who can help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing for good.

An Irish-born son far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and start a farm, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the annual Peyton Stakes at Nashville’s racetrack––the richest race run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance, and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder, Maggie’s father––aging, yet wily as ever––makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail––Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.

Cullen and Maggie need each other in order to achieve their dreams. But their stubborn, wounded hearts––and the escalating violence from a “secret society” responsible for lynchings and midnight raids––may prove too much for even two determined souls.

To Win Her Favor (Belle Meade Plantation #2) by Tamera Alexander
Published May 12, 2015 by Zondervan
Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: e-book from Netgalley for review; 352 pages
Also By This Author: To Whisper Her Name (Belle Meade Plantation #1)To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation #3)The Inheritance
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts:

[Disclaimer: To Win Her Favor is technically the sequel to To Whisper Her Name, but you can read it as a stand-alone. There are a few returning characters, but Tamera Alexander reintroduces them nicely.]

This book is intense. I was actually a little shocked at how intense it was. To Win Her Favor takes place in post-Civil War Tennessee, where racial tensions and prejudices towards outsiders are high. Within the first couple of chapters a hate crime (a murder, actually) is committed and it was really heart-wrenching and scary. It’s not the only attack in the book, so if you’re the type of reader who is easily upset by this type of violence, you may not enjoy this book. In my opinion, however, these depictions mirror real life events, even things that happen today, and it is pretty eye-opening to the hatred minorities are attacked with every day. I appreciated the darkness Tamera Alexander weaves into To Win Her Favor because it gave me a greater sympathy to the xenophobia and racism that’s sickeningly prevalent in our world today.

Another shocking aspect about this book is the romance. For a Christian historical fiction novel, I found it unusually racy. I read Alexander’s prequel to To Win Her Favor and I don’t remember it being this intimate, but Cullen and Maggie, the characters in this novel, are married, which is probably why the author elaborated as much as she did. I wasn’t particularly bothered by it, but if you read a lot of Christian fiction you might find Tamera Alexander’s descriptions too much.

Aside from the violence and the intimacy in this novel, the characters were really fun! Maggie is a spitfire–it must come with the name ;)–and Cullen is a stubborn Irishman, so there were plenty of smiles and laughs coming from me while reading their bantering. Also, Tamera Alexander’s descriptions are so vivid and it was easy for me to imagine the Linden Downs farm in my own imagination. I would love to visit Tennessee again someday and scout out the real life mansions and plantations Tamera Alexander based her books off of.

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy books about the post-Civil War South.
…you like horses and enjoy reading about horse training and racing (not gambling).
…you appreciate books that aren’t afraid to touch on sensitive subject matter, specifically violent hate crimes. (Side note: I don’t believe the author uses hate crimes for entertainment, but instead to discourage prejudice and racism)
…you’re looking for a book that will make you swoon.

“The time is coming, Mr. McGrath, and in fact is already upon us, when a man will have to boldly stand for what he believes, or everything he holds dear will be taken from him. And from those he loves.”

Final Musings:

To Win Her Favor is an excellently written novel about post-Civil War Tennessee and what it means to overcome hatred, violence, and fear in the face of adversity. I really enjoyed reading about Maggie, Cullen, Kizzy and her parents and all of the other characters living at Linden Downs but I was especially impressed by how much this novel made me think and feel about those around me who are suffering in real life. This is definitely a book that will be sticking with me, mentally and emotionally, for a while.

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund

loveunexpected

All she’s ever wanted was a home. But stranded at Presque Isle port after their steamboat sank, Emma Chambers and her brother, Ryan, couldn’t be farther away from security. While Ryan at least can find work, Emma can’t even find a place to stay. An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper, who recently lost his wife and is struggling to raise his young son, arrives in town. A traveling preacher believes they might be the answer to each others’ problems, and after a hasty marriage, Emma is headed back to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger.

But nothing in her wandering life has prepared her for suddenly being asked to raise a child and keep a house. Struggling at every turn, Emma also suspects Patrick may be keeping something hidden from her. In town she hears whispers about strange circumstances surrounding his previous wife’s death, and it seems as though Emma’s answered prayer for a home and family may actually be something much more dangerous.

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund
Published November 25, 2014 by Bethany House Publishers
Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction/Romance
Format: e-book from Netgalley for review; 353 pages
Also By This Author: The Preacher’s Bride, The Doctor’s Lady
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts:

I actually read this book back in February and I hate that it’s taken me so long to publish this review! Love Unexpected is the second Jody Hedlund book I’ve read (the first being The Doctor’s Lady), and I genuinely enjoyed it. The characters were easy to sympathize with; Emma is desperate to find a home while Patrick is a widower needing someone to care for his son. Their relationship stems from convenience and practicality, but it develops into much more than that as they help each other emotionally and spiritually.

There is tons of drama in this novel, and it’s a little racy as well, especially for Christian fiction. But the characters have real qualities and are each longing for purpose, love, and redemption.

Read This Book If:

…you love stories about redemption.
…you enjoy books that take place by the sea (Patrick is a lighthouse keeper and it consumes most of his time), especially historical fiction.
…you appreciate characters with real struggles and flaws.
…you like reading books about second chances and fresh starts.

“God’s already let go of your past. He doesn’t remember it. He doesn’t count it against you. Now it’s time for you to let go, too.”

Final Musings:

As far as Christian Fiction goes, this book was a little racier than most. But if you enjoy romances that are grounded in faith and you don’t blush too easily, Love Unexpected is an enjoyable novel that will warm your heart.

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings

amostinconvenientmarriage

“Sometimes the best gifts aren’t convenient at the time.”

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings
Published December 2, 2014 by Bethany House Publishers
Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction/Romance
Format: e-book; 337 pages
Also By This Author: A Match Made in Texas, Ladies of Caldwell County series
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis

Having fled a difficult home life, Civil War nurse Abigail Stuart feels like her only friend in the world is sweet but gravely wounded patient Jeremiah Calhoun. Fearing he won’t survive, the Confederate soldier’s last wish is that Abigail look after his sickly sister at home. Marry him, return to his horse farm, and it’ll be hers.

Left with few choices, Abigail takes him up on his offer and moves to Missouri after his death, but just as the family learns to accept her, the real Jeremiah Calhoun appears–puzzled to find a confounding woman posing as his wife. Jeremiah is determined to have his life back to how it was before the war, but his own wounds limit what he can do on his own. Still not fully convinced Abigail isn’t duping him, he’s left with no choice but to let the woman stay and help–not admitting to himself she may provide the healing his entire family needs.

Thoughts

I’ve mentioned this before, but I love reading Christian historical fiction novels during the wintertime. Maybe because they’re perfect for reading during Christmas break: quick reads with happy endings and heartfelt morals. A Most Inconvenient Marriage was a great choice for me to read last weekend. I was happily surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel because sometimes this genre can be a bit cheesy and unrealistic. However, Regina Jennings does a fantastic job at making her characters very real. They are not perfect; they have tempers and make poor choices and have a hard time seeing what’s right in front of them. But they are also entertaining, and there were several scenes in this book that had me laughing out loud or covering my face out of embarrassment for the characters (like I said, they sometimes make poor, but funny choices).

This novel takes place at the end of the Civil War. Abigail was a nurse serving the Union Army, and her patient Jeremiah Calhoun, was a wounded Confederate Soldier, who was forced to join the war not to defend slavery but to protect his family and property. The central conflict in this novel occurs when Jeremiah suddenly shows up alive and slightly crippled, leaving a mystery surrounding the identity of Abigail’s deceased patient.

This novel deals with themes of prejudice and forgiveness, themes that can be applied to current events happening in our society today. One of my favorite values I took away from this novel is that, as a community, everybody relies on everybody else. Sometimes they don’t have a choice about being dependent on others, but everyone has a choice on how they treat their neighbors. The characters in A Most Inconvenient Marriage have to overcome their bitterness, their prejudices, and their pride in order to solve the conflicts that are assaulting their community. I love seeing characters overcome their faults as a collective community rather than autonomous individuals.

Read This Book If…:

…you enjoy historical fiction with religious references.
…you’re intrigued by issues of prejudices and civil unrest.
…you’re drawn to books about characters with real faults who make realistic mistakes.
…you’re a romantic at heart (let’s face it, this book is mainly a romance)!

Final Musings

I’ve previously only read a novella by Regina Jennings (An Unforeseen Match, one of four stories in A Match Made in Texas), but I really enjoyed this full length novel a lot more, perhaps because she was able to develop her characters more deeply. This novel takes place over a span of several months, so no one falls in love within a few days or weeks even, and the characters take a realistically long time to overcome their faults. As I’ve often felt with other historical romances, I expected this book to be filled with cheesy clichés, but it wasn’t.

If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming historical romance set in Post-Civil War America, I highly recommend A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed :)