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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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Résistance spy.

Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark…

Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner
Published March 14, 2017 by Berkley Books
Format: Netgalley e-book; 368 pages
Historical Fiction
Also By This Author: Secrets of a Charmed LifeA Fall of Marigolds
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

When I first heard about A Bridge Across the Ocean, I was not aware of the paranormal aspects. I thought it was going to be purely historical fiction; however, the fact that Brette is able to see and speak with ghosts did not make this story fantastical. Susan Meissner wrote it in a realistic way that blended well with the other story lines.

I was originally drawn towards this novel because of the cover. This ship on the front looks very similar to the Titanic, and I have been obsessed with the story and legacy of the Titanic since the third grade. This novel has nothing to do with the Titanic, though. It revolves around two women, from Germany and France, surrounding the WWII era. One of the women, Simone, is a subtle part of the Nazi Resistance in France while the other woman, Annaliese, is the unfortunate wife of a Nazi official. They meet aboard the RMS Queen Mary, while traveling to America after the war. Decades later, Brette crosses paths with both women while searching for a ghost on the now memorialized Queen Mary.

Honestly, I was more interested in the flashbacks of Simone and Annaliese’s lives before, during, and even after WWII than I was in Brette’s present day journey of self discovery. Some of the flashback scenes are hard to read, but that’s typical of wartime settings. Brette is a pretty mild character, while Simone and Annaliese have stronger personalities and act, rather than react, like Brette does. I feel that Brette only serves to reconcile Simone and Annaliese’s storylines, which is where the meat of the story takes place.

“Her life had morphed into an existence defined always by losses.”

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy historical fiction, especially WWII historical fiction.
…you like books that have twists and unexpected endings.
…you don’t mind reading books with multiple narrators.
…you can enjoy a book even if you connect more with the supporting characters than you do the main character.

Final Musings

“Love is always what you get to keep when someone you care about dies. You will always have that love.”

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.

Time’s Divide (The Chronos Files #3) by Rysa Walker

times-divide

The Cyrists are swiftly moving into position to begin the Culling, and Kate’s options are dwindling. With each jump to the past or the future, Kate may trigger a new timeline shift. Worse, the loyalties of those around her—including the allegiances of Kiernan and the Fifth Column, the shadowy group working with Kate—are increasingly unclear.

Kate will risk everything, including her life, to prevent the future her grandfather and the Cyrists have planned. But, when time runs out, it may take an even bigger sacrifice to protect the people she loves.

Time’s Divide (The Chronos Files #3) by Rysa Walker
Published October 20, 2015 by Skyscape
Format: Kindle e-book; 543 pages
Young Adult/Science Fiction/Historical Fiction
Also By This Author: TimeboundTime’s DivideThe Delphi Effect
Goodreads | AmazonAuthor’s Website

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

I’m a little upset with myself for not getting this review posted earlier, BUT can I just say that I finished Time’s Divide weeks ago and I’m still on a tiny bit of a book hangover from it? That’s how phenomenal this series was to me. I even finished this last book while I was at work (it was a slow day so I’m not that much of a slacker) and it took most of my self-control to hold back the tears that wanted to burst out of me.

I had guessed (or nearly guessed) halfway through the book how some of the major plot points were going to play out. Some of my suspicions were based on mild spoilers and others stemmed from some of the fears I had about how the story was going to end, and although I wished some thing had happened differently, I think Rysa Walker crafted a beautifully bittersweet ending and I am satisfied with how Kate’s journey played out.

I don’t know why this series seems to be so underrated. My local library doesn’t have any copies of the books and I couldn’t find physical copies in major bookstores (I haven’t checked local and used bookshops, yet). I wish more readers knew about the Timebound books because I truly think it’s the type of series that can draw anyone in. I got my husband hooked on the series and he even finished the last book before I did (maybe by a couple of hours, but still). And yes, he loves science fiction and time travel, but he’s also a 33 year old man reading a book from the point of view of a 17 year old high school girl. I guess that just shows how well-researched and creatively written Rysa Walker’s series is.

I don’t want to say too much and give away any unintentional spoilers, but I do want to say that seeing little glimpses of history and a possible dystopian future was really interesting. I’ve repeated it multiple times, but I love the idea of time traveling and being able to witness history first hand. At the end of Timebound, Time’s Edge, and Time’s Divide, Rysa Walker shares how factual the historical fiction parts of her books actually are. Kate and Kiernan visit so many different eras in history, and they encounter fictionalized versions of real people, such as Harry Houdini, and I was surprised to find that Walker didn’t really bend history too much; she basically just added her characters into the mix.

(I’m changing my typical “Read This Book if…” section to make it more holiday themed!)

“But there’s plenty of truth in fiction.”

Put This Series On Your Wish List if…

…you appreciate well-researched novels (especially historical fiction).
…you’re a fan of sci-fi and light fantasy, or you’re open to exploring a new genre!
…you prefer reading plot-driven stories with easily likable characters.

Gift This Series to…

…a friend who would enjoy YA if it contained some heavy and serious situations.
…someone who likes fast-paced, high-risk adventure stories.
…anyone who enjoys watching sci-fi/fantasy/drama shows like Timeless and 11.22.63 and movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past.

“And one day, if I see your smile on her face, maybe that’ll keep me from feeling I’ve left a piece of my heart behind.”

Final Musings

These songs were playing in my mind quite frequently while I was reading the series. The John Newman song felt like a perfect end-credits song if Timebound is ever turned into a movie (it would be a fantastic movie).

  • Love Me Again by John Newman (Kate and Trent)
  • Silhouettes by Of Monsters and Men (Kiernan and Other-Kate)
  • Love Like This by Kodaline (Kiernan and Kate)

Playing the Part (A Class of Their Own #3) by Jen Turano

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Lucetta Plum is an actress on the rise in New York City, but is forced to abandon her starring role when a fan’s interest turns threatening. Lucinda’s widowed friend, Abigail Hart, is delighted at the opportunity to meddle in Lucetta’s life and promptly whisks her away to her grandson’s estate to hide out.

Bram Haverstein may appear to simply be a somewhat eccentric gentleman of means, but a mysterious career and a secret fascination with a certain actress mean there’s much more to him than society knows.

Lucetta, who has no interest in Abigail’s matchmaking machinations, has the best intentions of remaining cordial but coolly distant to Bram. But when she can’t ignore the strange and mysterious things going on in his house, it’ll take more than good intentions to keep her from trying to discover who Bram is behind the part he plays.

Playing the Part (A Class of Their Own #3) by Jen Turano
Published March 1, 2016 by Bethany House
Format: Netgalley e-book for review; 352 pages
Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction
Also By This Author: The Ladies of Distinction series
GoodreadsAmazon
My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts:

Playing the Part is the conclusion to Jen Turano’s A Class of Their Own series. I haven’t read the first two books, After a Fashion and In Good Company, but the author does a good job at filling new readers, like myself, in on previous plot lines that are important for Lucetta and Bram’s story.

I had previously read Gentleman of Her Dreams, a novella from Jen Turano’s Ladies of Distinction series, and I really enjoyed the humor of Turano’s writing as well as the stubbornness of the main character. I was really looking forward to experiencing that again with Playing the Part, but unfortunately my expectations must have been too high because I found myself not connecting with this novel as much as I wanted to. Lucetta is still a fierce and strong-minded heroine, and there are some funny scenes in Playing the Part, but overall I thought it was missing something to make it great.

I did enjoy the allusions to some of my favorite gothic literature. Classic gothic lit is one of my favorite genres, and it made me happy to read references to Edgar Allan Poe and Dracula (the love interest’s name is Bram, which I really loved!). Plus there’s also a dungeon and unexplained “hauntings” going on in Bram’s gothic castle, so if you’re like me you’ll probably enjoy those descriptions.

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy historical fiction.
…you’re a fan of classic gothic fiction including Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker (there are several references).
….you like reading clean romances that aren’t excessively religious.

Final Musings:

Although I didn’t love Playing the Part, I did enjoy it enough that I will probably read the first two books in the series sometime. Jen Turano is a fun writer who places her characters in entertaining situations. Her novels are great picks if you need a lighthearted historical romance to read.

Demelza (The Poldark Saga #2) by Winston Graham

Demelza

In the enchanting second novel in Winston Graham’s beloved Poldark series, Demelza Carne, an impoverished miner’s daughter Ross Poldark rescued from a fairground brawl, now happily finds herself his wife. But the events of these turbulent years test their marriage and their love. As Ross launches into a bitter struggle for the right of the mining communities, Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry (and her husband) place her in increasingly odd and embarrassing situations. When tragedy strikes and sows the seeds of an enduring rivalry between Ross and the powerful George Warleggan, will Demelza manage to bridge their differences before they destroy her and her husband’s chance at happiness?

Against the stunning backdrop of eighteenth century Cornwall, Demelza sweeps readers into one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Demelza (The Poldark Saga #2) by Winston Graham
Published 1946
Format: paperback; 432 pages
Classics/Historical Fiction/Romance
Also By This Author: Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1)Jeremy Poldark (The Poldark Saga #3), Marnie, Cordelia
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts:

It’s rare to enjoy a sequel more than the first book in a series, but as much as I loved Ross Poldark by Winston Graham, I was even more captivated by Demelza, the second part of the saga.

If you are familiar with the Poldark books or tv series, you probably love Demelza Carne/Poldark. How can anyone not love her? She has the classic rags-to-riches story and throughout the first two books in the series she quickly becomes the glue that binds the Poldark family together. Even the stauncher characters in the books lose their prejudice against Demelza’s lower class status when they meet her.

In Ross Poldark, Demelza first learns to become a servant, then Ross’s wife, then a lady of Nampara, and then a members of the extended Poldark family. In this second book we see even more of Demelza as she becomes a mother and an active member of the Cornwall community.

Demelza is a much darker novel than its predecessor. We see several feuds and tragedies unfold through Demelza’s eyes, the majority of which have detrimental consequences that remain unresolved at the end of the novel. Because Demelza has such a deep heart, reading this book through her point of view makes the story deeper and more emotional riveting.

“They are all sentimentalists at heart, the Poldarks.”

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy historical fiction.
…you’re interested in classics that revolve around technology (i.e. mining).
…you love paring books with film or tv adaptations (this is not the first–or last–time that I have raved about the current Poldark series).
…you’re looking for a book that will make you feel everything deeply.

“Everything at the moment, my dear, no doubt seem disgusting. I know the mood too well. But being in that mood, Ross, is like bing out in the frost. If we do not keep on the move we shall perish.”

Final Musings:

BBC recently wrapped up filming for the second season of Poldark, and since I don’t plan on reading the third book, Jeremy Poldark, until after the season ends, I have no ideaa what’s in store! Normally I would read the book first, but so far I’ve enjoyed seeing the perspectives of the show creators before I can compare their adaptation to the book.

Here’s a clip from season 2 of Poldark, which follows the plot events of Demelza. Currently the entire collection of aired episodes is available to watch on Amazon Prime. I kind of feel like rematching it after finishing this book :)

Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1) by Winston Graham

Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his family and his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers that his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth, having believed Ross dead, is now engaged to his cousin. Ross must start over, building a completely new path for his life, one that takes him in exciting and unexpected directions.

Thus begins an intricately plotted story spanning loves, lives, and generations. The Poldark series is the masterwork of Winston Graham, who evoked the period and people like only he could, and created a world of rich and poor, loss and love, that readers will not soon forget.

Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1) by Winston Graham
Published 1945
Format: paperback; 314 pages
Classics/Historical Fiction/Romance
Also By This Author: Demelza (The Poldark Saga #2)Jeremy Poldark (The Poldark Saga #3), MarnieThe Walking Stick
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts:

Very rarely do I invest myself into epic family sagas. I usually lose interest or grow tired of the drama along the way. There have been exceptions, however (e.g. The Anne of Green Gables series), and Poldark has the potential to be one of them.

Needing a new period drama to watch now that Downton Abbey has finished, I stumbled upon BBC’s adaptation of Poldark and FELL IN LOVE! I hadn’t even watched half of the first episode before I was recommending the show to friends. In two days I binge watched all 8 episodes of season 1 (thanks, Amazon Prime!) and immediately picked up the first book from my local library and devoured it in a few days.

Ross Poldark begins with a war veteran returning home to discover that everyone believed him to be dead, his father has died and his inheritance is in near ruins, and the woman he loves is engaged to his cousin. Ross essentially has to start his life over from scratch, but with his determination, his wit, and through the help of two extraordinary women, his cousin, Verity, and his kitchen maid, Demelza, he beings to find hope and happiness again.

I love that this series begins with a protagonist who has already lost everything. It’s a welcomed change from the typical novel that starts off with everything going well for the main character for a chapter or two. I appreciated Winston Graham’s ability to skip over that unnecessary suspense and immerse the reader immediately into Ross Poldark’s despair. It makes the novel so much more intriguing.

It only took me a few chapters to fall in love with the characters. Ross is kind and compassionate, but like Heathcliff he has his demons that earn him sympathy from the reader. Verity is the selfless and loyal friend whom you can always depend upon, but she has her own heartbreaking past that she’s suffering from. Jud and Prudie offer some hilarious comic relief. And Demelza shows subtle courage in the face of adversity. She is the harbinger of hope and redemption for several of the other characters.

Read This Book If…

…you love investing yourself in long family sagas.
…you enjoy reading historical fiction that portrays the differences between different socioeconomic classes.
…you savor epic love stories.
…you’re a fan of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Game of Thrones, or Outlander. Poldark has similar themes, characters, and motifs.

Final Musings

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 I discovered Poldark by watching the current BBC television adaptation. Season 1 premiered last year and it covers the first two books in the series: Ross Poldark and Demelza. Here’s a trailer!!

They just finished filming Season 2, and it’s supposed to premiere in the fall in the UK…which means us Americans will have to wait nearly a year to see it! I’m going to break a rule I generally always follow. I’m going to watch Season 2 before I read ahead in the books. Normally I’m a huge advocator for “Read the book first,” but I want to keep the suspense of the show and I also know that, as a book purist, if an adaptation doesn’t stay true to the original story, I’m less likely to enjoy it UNLESS I watch it before I read the book.

But this means I can read the next book because Season 1 of the show already covered those events :)

Who else is excited for Season 2 of Poldark?!