I had not read Tamera Alexander before, but I have seen her blog posts at Inspired By Life..and Fiction, where ten or so inspirational fiction writers post regularly. So when one of her books happened to come up on an Audible sale, I got it.
To Whisper Her Name is set in the historic Belle Meade plantation near Nashville, TN, just after the end of the Civil War. Though the war has ended, thoughts and feeling for the most part have not changed. Olivia Aberdeen’s husband, Charles, had been a cruel man who was found to be a cheat and a traitor to the South and was violently killed by a mob in Nashville. People assumed Olivia was in on his schemes, and though she is not harmed physically, she is looked down on in society. Her husband’s brother takes over all her husband’s assets and sends her away. She has no living family members left and nowhere to go until Elizabeth Harding, her mother’s closest friend, invites her to live with her family at Belle Meade. Elizabeth’s husband, William Giles Harding, had been a general during the war and owned a thoroughbred farm that, though suffering financially after the war, was holding its own.
The same day Olivia arrives at Belle Meade, a stranger does as well: Ridley Cooper wants to travel west to start a new life in the Colorado Territory. But before he goes, he wants to learn how to handle horses the way Belle Meade’s head hostler, Bob Green, does, so he travels to Belle Meade to seek a temporary job. What no one except Bob knows is that Ridley, though from South Carolina, had fought for the Union because he was against slavery. At that time in history, his life would likely have been forfeit in the South if anyone found out, so he tries to keep a low profile.
Olivia and Ridley happen to meet under untoward circumstances on their first day at Belle Meade, and at first she is only aggravated by him. But over time their circumstances keep pushing them together, and they find things to appreciate about each other as they each grow in character and faith.
I very much enjoyed the consideration of what life would have been like in the South just after the Civil War and how changes were beginning to be implemented, slowly and with resistance at first. I had not known when I first listened to the book that Belle Meade was a real place and the Hardings were real historical people. Unfortunately the audio book did not include any preface or afterward the author may have had in the print book. Living in the Knoxville area now, I also enjoyed the descriptions of East Tennessee.
Though in the end I enjoyed the story, I have to admit this book reinforced to me why I don’t usually read “romance novels,” even Christian ones. It is hard to find a novel without some romance in it, and I don’t mind that as long as it fits within the plot and the basic story is good. But I don’t often read stories where the romance is the main plot. I hadn’t realized there was a distinction between romance and women’s fiction until reading this post, but after reading it, a light bulb came on in my brain, and I realized that’s the difference, and that I am definitely more comfortable with women’s fiction in general. I do enjoy hearing how couples (even fictional ones) come to love each other, but in a romance novel, there seems to be an excess of emphasis on the physical – how they feel when they touch, accidentally or on purpose, how his breath smells and how warm it is, how muscular he is, his appreciation of her various physical assets, etc., etc. There wasn’t anything explicit in this book — though there may have been a couple of instances of suggestiveness, depending on how one read the scene — but there was just so much of the “mushy stuff.” I know to a certain extent that’s normal when people are falling in love, but still…not something I want to spend much time reading. At a number of places in the book, I felt like I probably would not read another Alexander book, but then towards the end I was enjoying the rest of the story so much that I thought I probably would. I especially like that her Belmont Mansion series is based on another historical home and personality, so I may give the first of those a try.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)