To Wager Her Heart (2017) by Tamera Alexander is the third book in her Belle Meade Plantation series, and is due out on August 8, 2017. This book comes in all forms including eBook, and is 384 pages in length. With a full-time job and a rambunctious five-year old at home, this novel took me three days to read. As part of Ms. Alexander’s book launch team, I did receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy from Zondervan. In no way has this influenced my opinions of the story. All opinions expressed in this review are mine. I give this novel 5+ STARS. This novel is a Christian Historical Romance.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
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?
Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn’t count on is having to wager her heart to do it.
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 is a story that will stick with me long after I’ve finish reading, especially because it is a book that held a mirror up to me and allowed me to see the spots in my heart that may need correcting. I love when a book is more than just a good romance! This book is well written, engrossing, and eye-opening. I love all of Ms. Alexander’s novels, but this may be my favorite.
The main characters in this novel are Alexandra and Sylas. Alexandra is a woman with her own plan for her life, much to the dismay of her rather rigid father. Sylas is a roughened Westerner from the mining towns of Colorado who has come to Tennessee to secure a railroad bid so he can continue building up his railroad company, but he really has come seeking answers about a train accident that cost his beloved father’s life. Both Alexandra and Sylas are well-written, well-rounded characters. Who you meet at the beginning of the novel is not who you see by the end of the book. Both characters mature through their pain to become very good people. The relationship between Alexandra and Sylas felt authentic. There are some initial “get away from me” vibes at the beginning when Alexandra realizes who Sylas’s father is, but that slowly changes into a genuine friendship that becomes something even more.
My heart hurts hard in matters of social injustice. I hate it so much when people are treated meanly because of race, sex, age, etc. I hate that hate seems to win so much in our world. I am so grateful for a God who loves and forgives more than we ever deserve, and I know God’s got a really good plan for the future, but some days I can’t even listen to the news because there is just so much hate it hurts me and I wonder how God can just let the meanness happen. There are moments in this novel when the reader sees baseless hatred. Ms. Alexander does not paint a false front on the historical setting of her novel, and I appreciate this so much. In this book, many people are mean towards African Americans simply because of the color of their skin. People are mean towards the whites who aimed to help the African Americans get on their feet after slavery ended. People are mean because a girl wants to rise above the station a man thinks she should stay in. It was hard for me to read about Alexandra getting verbally beat up by her father and neighbors for standing up for and doing what she thought was right.
I found myself having a visceral reaction to all this baseless hate and ignorance and ugliness in the novel, and asked myself, “How can these people have been so cruel and ugly?” At that moment, BAM!, I ran into a metaphorical mirror with the following quote:
“How very little a person knew about someone simply from looking at them. Yet how much people decided about others at a single glance” (299).
After I plummeted from my prideful, “I would never have behaved that way” high-horse, I thought about my drive into work this morning. My drive to work takes five minutes. Can you really make a mistake that needs God’s forgiveness in just a five-minute drive? If you are me, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” I hate driving. As my husband can attest to, I get snarky and mean. I am guilty of doing exactly what the quote above implies — I judge based on a look, an action, a word, or, in my case, the lack of a blinker or by being cut off on my way to work. I realized today that I am guilty of being just as mean as the characters in Ms. Alexander’s novel were towards Alexandra and the students at Fisk University. Quite a humbling and sobering moment for me, and I am grateful for this novel having brought me to this moment so I can go to Jesus and ask for the forgiveness I so desperately need.
This novel is so much more than a simple romance novel. It is a story about overcoming fear, about trusting God to lead us on our individual journeys, about giving people a chance, and about learning how to face hate in a gracious manner. The research for this book is flawless. The romance is lovely. I am truly sad that my time with this novel has come to an end. This is a book that has truly found its way into my heart!