Pardon my gushing, but I loved this novel set in Post Civil War Tennessee. Ridley Adam Cooper and Olivia Aberdeen captured my attention from the start and the rest of the characters did not disappoint! The author's ability to draw me in and keep me reading was superb, especially for a slow moving, detailed novel. Many times while reading, I imagined myself to be at Belle Meade in the middle of the story. Can't wait for the next book in this series.
Others have given a good description of the book, so I will not bore you with my attempt. If you appreciate detailed historical fiction with a multitude of characters dealing with hardships and emotional angst, I think you will find this novel by Tamera Alexander splendid.
Olivia is a widow of the worst kind in the city of Nashville following the Civil War that divided a great nation. Her husband, Charles Aberdeen is a traitor to the South, and Olivia is forced to live with the repercussions of his actions when the townspeople murder him and leave her completely destitute in the world. Having nowhere else to go, she packs up and heads for Belle Meade Plantation. Her mother's best friend, Elizabeth Harding welcomes her with open arms, even though the General reluctantly extends his generosity to the shamed widow.
Ridley Cooper made a difficult choice when as a son of the South, he donned the blue uniform of the Federal Army. Shunned by his family for the impossible choice he had to make, he is left with nothing after the war sweeps away everybody he loves. Determined to learn the skills of Belle Meade's horse trainer, he seeks a measure of peace for himself and desperately wants a new life out west. But the dangerous secrets he harbors threaten his plans for the future, namely, a certain widow. Will Olivia be able to accept who he is and where he is going? Or will the shadows of the past blind them both to the future that may await them?
Facing a book this size was a little daunting. But the more I read, the more I was immensely grateful that the author took the time to bestow us with such a stunning story of betrayal, faith, hope, and ultimately, love. I have read many a story of the aftermath following the Civil War. But this novel was a treasure to read, and breathtakingly accurate in its depiction of historical detail. I enjoyed every second I spent with this book. The characters will draw you to the story, and the plot keeps your mind in Alexander's re-telling of the past even when you don't have the book in your hands.
A copy of this book was provided for free from Zondervan Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
The setting for this novel is an absolutely breathtaking plantation just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The time is spring 1866, shortly after the Civil War. However, as we know from history, the states were far from united at this point with bitterness and hatred abounding on both sides of the conflict. Belle Meade is the name of the plantation and it surely is a "beautiful meadow" as aptly described by the author.
Ridley Cooper is still dealing with guilt from the war. He is from South Carolina, but fought for the Union. His father disowned him and cursed him on his deathbed with Ridley there to witness it. His two brothers fought for the Confederacy and both died in the war. Ridley knows he wouldn't have chosen a different side, but he is still haunted by the cost to him and his family. He arrives at Belle Meade with a plan to quickly learn the horse training business, and then head out to the Colorado Territory to improve land he has bought. He only plans to stay for a couple of months, and then move on. To get a job here he must keep his military service for the Union a secret as the owner of Belle Meade was a general for the Confederacy and is very much against anything "northern". Ridley soon learns there is a lot more to horses than he thought. He also begins to understand his wooing of his skittish horse is a lot like wooing a certain skittish woman, Mrs. Olivia Aberdeen. He must earn her trust, but how can he do so when he is hiding part of his identity?
Olivia Aberdeen is a young widow, who married a truly deceitful and abusive man. He cheated southerners who were trying to rebuild their homes and as a result met a very public and violent end. Most of the townspeople think Olivia knew what her husband was doing so they revile her as well. She has no money, no home and no plans to support herself after her brother-in-law kicks her out of her home. She writes to her mother's best friend, trying to obtain the position of housekeeper. She is accepted and leaves for Belle Meade. Olivia has always been deathly afraid of horses as she had an accident when she was young involving a horse, so she is very nervous arriving at a horse farm. She would be happy to never marry again, but knows that she is too young and will be married off as soon as her period of mourning is over. She meets Ridley and finds him attractive, but keeps her distance.
The story drags and not a lot happens. I've read all of this author's other books and found them to be really good and entertaining, but this one I struggled with. The detailed descriptions of the scenery and horses are wonderful, but I thought the romance dragged on too slowly. I also really enjoyed the character of Uncle Bob_what a wise man! I'll be looking for her next book and plan to read it. Hopefully, it will be on par with her previous books.
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 the characters are 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, not 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 that of 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 or danger 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.
About a year and a half ago, through an offer to participate in a blog tour, I was introduced to Tamera Alexander's writing, and I'm so, so glad I was!
To Whisper Her Name is another awesome southern historical novel. Once again, Tamera does a fantastic job of mixing historical events, locations, and characters with fiction and crafting a beautiful story that grips you from the very first page and holds you to the very end. I could almost see, hear, and feel the people, the horses, and the grounds of Belle Meade Plantation as Olivia and Ridley dealt with their pasts and dared to dream of the future. The characters, from Confederate General William Giles Harding, to Uncle Bob, Jedediah, and the other freed slaves at Belle Meade, came alive on the pages and ga
ve a very authentic feel to the story. The research Tamera has done is evident and helps to transport you to the setting rich in actual history.
If you've had the pleasure of reading Tamera's first Belmont Mansion novel -- A Lasting Impression -- you will recognize the mention of Adelicia Acklen. These two books are set in the same time period, just miles apart from each other near Nashville, Tennessee.
If you enjoy great post-Civil-war era fiction, or if you're a fan of well-written Christian fiction in general, check out To Whisper Her Name. It's a little longer than many novels on the market now, but it is worth every page.