To Win Her Favor (2015) by Tamera Alexander is the second novel in the Belle Meade Plantation series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is 352 pages in length. With a full-time job and a fantastic five-year old at home, this novel took me three days to read. I give this novel 5 STARS. This story is a Christian Historical Romance.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
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 Drayton 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.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story! As is the case with all Alexander novels, the writing is superb and the historical details are well researched. This story is a fast-paced, action-filled page turner. And, the characters are so well-crafted. This novel also includes character cameos from the Belmont Mansion series, which I thought was really cool.
Maggie’s father, Gilbert Linden, owns Linden Downs, but only until it is sold at auction. With the Civil War having taken its toll on the South, and carpetbaggers sweeping in from the North taking advantage of the misfortunes of others, Linden Downs is among the many homes, plantations, and farms financially suffering. Maggie owns Bourbon Belle, a gorgeous thoroughbred. She is convinced that if she enters Belle in the upcoming race she will win the purse and Linden Downs will be saved. Things do not go according to Maggie’s plans, and Linden Downs is still set to be auctioned off. Enter Cullen McGrath. Cullen is an Irishman determined to purchase land and farm for the rest of his life. He especially hopes he never has to partake in anything having to deal with thoroughbreds ever again. He goes to Gilbert Linden to see if a sale can be made prior to Linden Downs going to auction. They strike a deal, and Cullen is now not only the owner of Linden Downs, but he finds himself married to Maggie. Not exactly what he had planned, but Cullen is determined to make Linden Downs great again and be a good husband to Maggie.
God has thoroughly blessed me. I married my husband after a two-year courtship. He asked me to marry him and I said, “Yes!” It was my choice. I didn’t have to marry for financial reasons or out of necessity. I got to marry because I fell in love. I can’t even imagine marrying a man out of necessity. But, as Ms. Alexander explains in her “A Note from the Author” chapter, marriages of convenience were regular occurrences in the 1800s especially after the Civil War. I immediately felt for Maggie and Cullen. Neither one of them necessarily wanted to marry the other, but necessity drew them together. And, the relationship progresses so realistically. As a married woman, there are days where I feel my husband and I are two steps forward, and then I turn around and we are four steps back. This is how it goes when humans are in a committed relationship. Maggie is at first distrustful of Cullen, and Cullen is at first super cautious with his new bride. Over the course of the story, they seem to make small strides to making their marriage real, but then setbacks occur and they are right back to square one. The passion, respect, and love that does grow between the couple is so realistic, and I truly appreciate that about this novel. Never at any point in their story does the relationship between Maggie and Cullen feel fake or saccharine.
One aspect that I truly appreciated in this novel is the attention to the social issues of the late 1800s in the American South. I’ve taken many history classes in my lifetime, so I know that time period was exceptionally rough for African Americans, foreigners, people from the North, women, etc. But reading about this time from a boring textbook never quite allowed me to understand the emotional, physical, and mental upheaval of the time. Ms. Alexander does an amazing job in this novel of making the reader feel what it would feel like to be hated simply because of the color or your skin, your accent, or your geographical birth place. The hate that pours off of the villain and some of the townsfolk is truly astounding. There are moments in this novel that made me angry. How anyone can claim to love Jesus and sit in church on Sunday, yet be perfectly willing and able to string a man up in a tree and watch him hang to death is flabbergasting to me. I appreciate that Ms. Alexander refused to sugarcoat history in her book. Yes, it adds to the tension of the plot, but it also allows me to reevaluate myself. It’s very easy for me to get angry at people from the past, but am I being self-righteous? Am I loving people no matter what…even that guy who cut me off on the freeway? Am I being like Jesus, or like the villain from this novel? Am I claiming to love, but actually hating? I absolutely LOVE when a novel gets me reevaluating my walk with Christ. This novel did this for me in spades!
This story is fantastic. I was definitely sad to reach the last page. BUT, book three in the series is due out soon: August 8th!!! I have the great fortune of being part of Ms. Alexander’s book launch team for To Wager Her Heart, so as soon as I get my copy of the book I will devour it and post my thoughts. If you have not yet read To Win Her Favor, I highly recommend that you do. You will not regret the decision to read this book!