Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tour Book Review: To Wager Her Heart, by Tamera Alexander

To Wager Her Heart
(Belle Meade Plantation, Book 3)
Tamera Alexander 
Trade Paperback, 384 pages
August 8, 2017
Christian Fiction, Diverse Reads,
Historical Fiction

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
fiancé — 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 her 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.

I received an ARC from TLC Book Tours in 
exchange for an honest review. And I was 
honestly very happy with this novel!

This novel goes beyond the category of "historical romance", as it delves into deeper issues relevant not only to the time period featured, but also to our present time. I would thus prefer to categorize it as "historical fiction" with romance included.

The backdrop of To Wager Her Heart is Nashville, Tennessee, in the early 1870s. The country is still recovering from the Civil War, and this is very evident in several passages in the novel.

I was delighted to find that Fisk University is a real institution of higher learning. This was where the main female protagonist, Alexandra Jamison, decided to teach. This university was founded in 1866 as a school for newly freed slaves. It was later expanded into a university. There was also a real singing group named the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, which was comprised of very talented singers from the Fisk student body. They are mentioned in the book, too. These details were obviously meticulously researched by the author, and give this novel a ring of authenticity.

The characters in this novel are vividly drawn, and one actually feels their emotions, confronting their own personal challenges right along with them. 

Alexandra Jamison is a truly remarkable character. She's not only a very kind, loving person, but a very determined one, as well. Her passion for teaching is wonderful, as is her compassion and understanding toward the freedmen and freedwomen. She stands for them with every fiber of her being. 

In order to be able to work as a teacher at Fisk University, she has had to defy her father's attempts to marry her off to a man twice her age. Alexandra has a dream, and she will not be deterred from it. This dream was planted by her idealistic fiancé, David Thompson, who tragically died in the train accident that also took the lives of many freed people, along with that of Sylas Rutledge's father.

This brings me to Sylas, the main male character, and Alexandra's love interest. I don't think I've met such a sweet, kind man in romantic fiction before! His empathy and kindness toward Alexandra were a total delight to read about! He showed no trace of controlling behavior, and always had nothing but respect for Alexandra. Far from attempting to deter her from pursuing her dreams -- which included obtaining a university degree -- he wholeheartedly supported them, encouraging her to work toward her goals, interested only in her happiness. Sy is a truly nice guy. He and Alexandra are absolutely PERFECT for each other!

The main plot hinges on the train accident. Sy is convinced that his father, an expert engineer, could not have caused it, precisely because of his years of experience and expertise. So he begins to investigate, doing his utmost to uncover evidence that will clear his father's name. Naturally, Alexandra is antagonistic toward him when she first learns who he is, although later, as she slowly gets to know him, she realizes that he is actually a profoundly good man. 

Seamlessly woven into the main plot is the story of Fisk University and its students. The school is based on Christian principles, and this is very evident in the deep faith of its students and faculty. Alexandra is hired by George L. White, the university's treasurer, a very kind, empathetic man who actually bends the school's rules in order to give her a job as a teacher. This character was a real historical figure. He was in fact in charge of the Jubilee Singers as they toured the U.S. and Europe, raising money for the university. 

In real life, as well as in the novel, White worked tirelessly on behalf of the university, even sometimes risking his life on behalf of the Jubilee Singers in order to make sure they had proper accommodations as they toured through several states. Although he was a secondary character in this novel, his benevolent influence on the events and other characters is one of the story elements that makes this novel rise above the typical historical romance.

Another "secondary" character that makes this novel special, and is no less important than White, is Ella Sheppard. She, too, was a real historical figure. She was actually a member of the original Jubilee Singers, and her story is particularly poignant. In the novel, she and Alexandra share a room at the university, and become good friends. In the novel as well as in real life, Sheppard was a teacher at Fisk, although the novel does not mention the subject she taught, which was music. According to the African-American Registry, "Sheppard became the music teacher at Fisk University; the only Black staff member at the school before 1875." You can access this article HERE.

While researching Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers, I came across a very interesting detail. Alexandra's last name is "Jamison", and, in real life, one of Fisk's notable alumni is Judith Ann Jamison. Born in 1943, she is a renowned African-American dancer and choreographer, as well as the Artistic Director of the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater. I wonder whether the author of this novel was aware of this, and purposely chose the last name "Jamison" for her main female character. If so, then KUDOS to her!

Another great secondary character was the (unfortunately) fictional Vinson, who works for Sy. What a WONDERFUL, big, and big-hearted guy! I greatly enjoyed reading about how he first met Sy, as a young boy. They immediately became friends, and, even though Sy is Vinson's boss, they relate to each other as equals. 

There are quite a few other memorable secondary characters in this novel, such as Uncle Bob, who works for General Harding, Melba, a servant at Alexandra's home, and Philip Paul Bliss, a missionary who wrote beautiful hymns, as well. Bliss was also a real-life figure. He was a composer, conductor, and a Gospel singer, as well as a writer of hymns. Some of his better-known ones are "Almost Persuaded", "Hallelujah! What A Savior", and "It Is Well With My Soul'". 

And how could I fail to mention Duke, Sy's faithful foxhound? He and his master have been inseparable since Sy rescued him, when he was just a puppy.

This novel is full of true Christian love. The only judgmental characters are those who show their prejudice against the Jubilee Singers as they go from city to city, giving concerts. White, Ella Sheppard, and Alexandra, to mention just a few of the characters, live out their faith through a staunch trust in God, in the goodness of His ways. Even Sy, who would not be expected to be the spiritual sort, has a firm belief in the Almighty. This was such a beautiful thing to read about! Even non-Christian readers, I'm sure, will appreciate the way these people exemplified the values they believed in.

Although I greatly enjoyed this story, I must say that race relations in this novel initially struck me as a bit unrealistic. True, there were some whites, like George White himself, who were sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans at the time. I wondered, however, whether there were any real friendships between whites and African-Americans during this time period, such as the one between Ella and Alexandra.

With this in mind, I Googled race relations at the time in Tennessee, and discovered that there had been a race riot in Memphis in 1866. This riot later came to be known as The Memphis Massacre. Paradoxically, Tennessee had extended voting rights to African-American men in 1867, and the city was a haven for freed people during the Civil War. Memphis also had a very diverse population during and after the Civil War years. Still, it was a fact that "....politicians prioritized peace with ex-Confederates over justice for African-Americans". (Source: Civil Rights Laws Don't Always Stop Racism, an online article from The Atlantic)

As the story swept me along, though, I came to just accept that there WERE, indeed, beautiful friendships between whites and African-Americans, although these were entirely fictional, and took place within the setting of the novel. I would hope that there were also such friendships in real life at the time. 

The romance between Sy and Alexandra is such a beautiful, gentle tale, and is so nicely woven into the inspiring story of Fisk University, I could not help but end up loving this novel, in spite of my initial misgivings. Both Sy and Alexandra have major losses to deal with, yet, they are also willing to open themselves to love again. And they are both idealistic, admirable characters. Their story is tinged with sadness, but at the same time, lined with joy. And the backdrop of the beautiful Belle Meade Plantation, contrasted with the hardships of the freedmen, provides some vividly poignant contrasts.

Tamera Alexander just keeps the reader turning pages, leading from one event to the other, and before you know it, you've fallen in love with the characters, with the inspiring story of their successes and failures, their love for each other, and the way they held fast to their faith in the face of all obstacles. 

I would highly recommend To Wager Her Heart to all who enjoy not only Christian Fiction, but also to all lovers of historical and romance fiction. This is a story that will long stay with you, and definitely one that you will most likely want to read again!


Purchase Links

These are the two previous novels 
in this GREAT series!!

Tamera Alexander is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous books, including A Lasting Impression, A Note Yet Unsung, To Whisper Her Name, and To Wager Her Heart
Her richly-drawn characters and thought-provoking plots have earned her devoted readers worldwide, as well as multiple industry awards.

These awards include the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Bookseller’s Best Award, and being listed among Publishers Weekly and Library Journal’s Top Inspirational Fiction, among others.
Tamera's books have been translated into numerous languages. She's toured Germany and The Netherlands meeting readers, and cherishes those connections.

She and her husband live in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from the Southern mansions that serve as the backdrop for six of her award-winning novels.


To access the complete tour schedule, just click on the button below!


  1. Superb review Maria.

    This does indeed sound like it transcends what people call the Romance genre.
    So much of this book sounds appealing.

    The issue of friendships between African Americans and whites in this era is interesting. I am sure such relationships existed, but I would guess that they were rare. I know there are a lot of African American writers such as Booker T. Washington who wrote about their experiences during this era. I bet that there are a lot of insights into this issue in those narratives. I really need to read some of those books.

    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks so much for the good word!! <3 :)

      I was totally and pleasantly surprised that this book had more depth than the typical historical romance novel. That's why I would say it falls more into the category of historical fiction, with some romance included.

      Like you, I would think that such friendships did, in fact, exist, but they must have been rare, as you've stated. Also like you, I need to read books by writers such as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois, in order to get glimpses of this era from African-Americans who actually lived through it. I agree that these writers must have made mention of this in their works.

      This book has made me very curious about Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers, so I'm going to do more research on this topic. Perhaps there are other books -- nonfiction ones -- about this.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!! <3 :)

  2. Thanks for such a thorough review for the tour! This sounds like a book I could recommend to quite a few people.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. Hi, Heather!

      You're very welcome!! You should DEFINITELY recommend this book to whoever you know! It's a GREAT read!!

      You're very welcome for my participation in the tour, as well! I really enjoyed reading and reviewing "To Wager Her Heart", and plan on reading the other books in this series!!

      Thanks for the nice comment!! <3 :)


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