Come on out to my front porch with me, grab a glass of lemonade or swee’tea (because of course that’s how we say it down here), and practice your best southern drawl. You may want a fan of some sort too because it’s hotter than blue blazes. If right about now, you’re wondering what’s gotten into me… we’re talking about FOUR Southern love stories today, and I want to make sure y’all are properly in the mood 🙂
In Among the Fair Magnolias, award-winning authors Dorothy Love, Tamera Alexander, Elizabeth Musser, and Shelley Gray come together to create four separate stories set during the turbulent years surrounding the War Between The States. “Four Southern women – their destinies forged by birth and heritage – face nearly impossible choices on their journeys in life… and in love.”
“A Heart So True” by Dorothy Love peeks in at the summer homes on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, one of the author’s self-proclaimed favorite places on earth. The last time Abigail Clayton spoke to Dr. Wade Bennett, an argument and his career separated them for months. In his absence, Abigail’s father is pushing a marriage/business merger between her and Charles Kittridge, a distant cousin. Torn between family duty and heart’s desires as War looms, what decision will Abby make?
Tamera Alexander revisits the world of her latest novel in her contribution to this collection – “To Mend a Dream”. Readers of To Win Her Favor will remember Savannah Darby, Maggie’s friend who along with her two remaining siblings was forced out of her Nashville ancestral home in the financial aftermath of the Civil War. At one point, she and Maggie try unsuccessfully to re-enter the house to find a box her father supposedly secreted away during the war. In “To Mend a Dream”, Savannah gets the opportunity she’s been waiting for when she takes a job helping the new owner’s fiancee redecorate. As she furtively searches for the box, she finds herself more and more drawn to Aidan Bedford. Is she imagining the interest in his eyes, and what will happen if he ever finds out her real identity?
In “Love Beyond Limits”, Elizabeth Musser paints a picture of a troubled antebellum Georgia and a young woman fighting both a forbidden love and a dangerous enemy. Emily Derracott passionately believes in the rights of the freedmen. Not everyone in Wilkes County, Georgia, agrees with her however – including, it seems, her childhood friend and would-be fiance Thomas McGinnis. With the Klan rising up and destroying the dreams and the lives of people she cares about, Emily’s strong convictions become dangerous to her relationships and even to her safety. She would be sealing her fate – and maybe someone else’s – for sure if anyone knew about the secret love she harbors in her heart.
The final novella in this collection, “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Shelley Gray, focuses on Russell Champion, a character who has previously appeared in two of her western novels. Seven years ago, Russell did the unthinkable to prevent the unthinkable. He’s been suffering for it ever since. Now he’s returned to his Texas hometown in hopes of making amends with the two women who betrayed him that day. But considering his mother’s frail health and his true love’s new suitor, is he already too late?
As is often the case with novella collections, I liked a couple of the stories more than the other two. But all four novellas are shining examples of the tremendous talent belonging to these authors. In fact, each of these stories could easily have been the foundation for its own novel, and I found myself greedily wanting them to be.
“A Heart So True” felt to me like I was dropped in the middle of an ongoing story… which is fine, except that I wasn’t. At least not as far as the main characters were concerned. I needed more backstory to embrace the hero and heroine as a couple, and while we were told some of their history I didn’t really “feel” it. There were many scenes with her friends that I thought could have been used to focus on the couple instead. That said, the story was so well-written and the characters so engaging that I wanted to hop the nearest ferry and invite myself to the barbecue! And that day the main characters spent together in the city? Oh be still my heart – so bittersweet!
I had been waiting the most anxiously for “To Mend a Dream” after being so intrigued by the glimpse I received of Savannah’s story in To Win Her Favor. As usual, Tamera Alexander did not in any way disappoint. The pace, the characters, the romance, the plot – all elements were so solidly executed that I forgot I was reading a novella. My only clue was the fact that it ended far sooner than I liked!
When it came to “Love Beyond Limits”, I didn’t know which hero to root for, and maybe that was intentional. The antebellum South was a period of difficult choices, of polarizing decisions. The love in Emily’s heart raised those stakes a thousandfold. I found myself wondering how many people found themselves in similarly agonizing situations and were forced to calmly accept the fate that society had prescribed. While the romantic angle to the story may have been dissatisfying at times, I thought the historical portrait Musser painted – and the implications in today’s unsettled times – were eye-opening. This story, maybe more than any of the others, will stick with me for a long time.
“An Outlaw’s Heart” was one of those stories that played out like an old Western movie – with heart. Nora’s sweet spirit and Russell’s sincerity appealed to everything I adore about this time period. Add in the bad guy and the townsfolk and you have a formula that rings true every time! (The people of the town really made this story for me.) Shelley Gray always always writes with such heart that you can’t help but be drawn to her characters, and I think that’s why readers of her other western novels wanted Russell to have his own time in the spotlight.
You can’t go wrong with these four outstanding authors at the helm. I’m sure that like me you will have your own favorite (and least favorite) story of the bunch, but each novella is still in a class even above some full-length novels I’ve read. If you love antebellum settings and stories about women caught between two choices, this is a great anthology for you to grab!
I give Among the Fair Magnolias 4 out of 5 stars! Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/1Igkc7H
(I received copies of the book from the publisher via Litfuse and Netgalley in exchange for only my honest review.)
Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of numerous books including A Lasting Impression and The Inheritance. Tamera is a two-time Christy Award winner, two-time RITA winner, and a recipient of the prestigious Library Journal Award. A native of west Tennessee. website, Twitter,Facebook
Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. website,Twitter, Facebook
Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list.website, Twitter, Facebook
Elizabeth Musser, a native of Atlanta, Georgia now living in France, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ For over 25 years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in mission work with International Teams. website,Twitter, Facebook