To Win Her Favor

To Win Her FavorTo Win her Favor by Tamera Alexander
Series: Belle Meade Plantation
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Zondervan on May 19, 2015
Pages: 352

 

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Maggie Linden and Cullen McGrath face internal and external dilemmas that make finding their dreams and making peace with the past more difficult than ever before. Life in Nashville is tumultuous after the War Between the States: prejudice runs rampant between Southerners and newcomers, between whites and blacks, between the wealthy and the poor. Cullen McGrath, an exiled Irishman, comes to Nashville to make a new life for himself after a horse-racing scandal runs him out of England. He finds refuge at Linden Downs, a run-down farm home to Maggie Linden, a proper Southern lady in name but not execution. To keep her dreams of racing her beloved thoroughbred alive, Maggie agrees to marry Cullen for financial security. Prejudice and fear make putting Belle on the track much harder than it should be, though, and despite fierce determination on both their parts, Cullen and Maggie’s dreams may not come true.

To Win Her Favor is precisely what I expect of any Alexander novel, and I will whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian historical fiction.

Tamera Alexander is a staple in Christian fiction for good reason: her novels are superbly written, deeply developed, and richly researched so that the reader is fully immersed in the story. I’ve been a fan of Tamera Alexander’s work since I started reading Christian fiction five years ago. To Win Her Favor is precisely what I expect of any Alexander novel, and I will whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian historical fiction. Continuing on her Belle Meade Plantation series, To Win Her Favor is a must-read for those who have read the author’s other novels in that series or in the Belmont Mansion series, which ties into its sister series of stories (the characters inter-mingle between series). Topics of racial tension, horse racing, Antebellum history, and, of course, romance, make To Win Her Favor a winner of a book in all aspects.

As she continues her Belle Meade series, these topics become ever-more present and handled so well as to deepen the emotional response to America’s history.

Alexander has always been an author unafraid of broaching tough topics in her novels. As she continues her Belle Meade series, these topics become ever-more present and handled so well as to deepen the emotional response to America’s history. To Win Her Favor covers tension over race, immigrant status, and wealth. Tension over race frequently is taught to children in school, but for all my years of education I never understood the complexity of this subject until reading Alexander’s novels in the Belle Meade Plantation series. She discusses the tensions intricately and honestly—including using terms that make most cringe—and yet still manages to convey every character—white or black, American or immigrant—with respect and dignity. Alexander’s characters are open about their beliefs, whether we would see them as right or wrong, and through watching their interactions and mindsets change, readers are able to grasp the foundations upon which many of our beliefs stand. I have a better understanding of my country’s background after reading To Win Her Favor, for which I am so grateful to this author.

Their dispositions create a pull of passion versus pragmatism that drives the novel so much so that I did not want to stop reading.

The romance in To Win Her Favor forms the backbone of this novel upon which those tensions and history are supported. Cullen McGrath and Maggie Linden are about as different as two characters in a romance can be. Cullen is mature, wise, and patient, while Maggie is stubborn, impulsive, and emotional. Their dispositions create a pull of passion versus pragmatism that drives the novel so much so that I did not want to stop reading. At times it seems utterly impossible that these two could make their marriage of convenience work, but nevertheless I wanted to see them together because the respect for each other that comes out of their time together makes you wish for a happy ever after.

Words and descriptions that are more vivid of what happens between a man and woman in marriage behind closed doors could make some readers uncomfortable.

To Win Her Favor is an inspirational Christian fiction novel, and while all the scenes are clean Alexander did put more steam into this story than in her previous books. Words and descriptions that are more vivid of what happens between a man and woman in marriage behind closed doors could make some readers uncomfortable. I, personally, was not bothered at all by Alexander’s language and descriptions. Despite the more colorful scenes, there is nothing inappropriate in To Win Her Favor. Alexander writes for adults, and her language and writing reflect the maturity of her intended audience. I actually found this kind of writing more appealing because it felt like a novel for adults. So often the writing level of novels can cross between adults and YA because authors are afraid of offending CBA readers. I appreciated Alexander taking the extra step to have her writing demonstrate that adult Christian fiction readers understand the love between a man and a woman without the language being inappropriate.

To Win Her Favor is a five-star novel in my bookshelf, and I recommend this story to anyone who enjoys historical romance.

–Marisa


Maggie Linden knows she will never race her mare, Bourbon Belle, but she is still determined that her horse will become a champion in the annual Drayton Stakes at Nashville’s racetrack – the richest race run in America. Not only will this prove that Bourbon Belle can take top purse, it will also save Lindon Downs, Maggie’s home, from being sold at auction to the highest bidder. To give her this chance, Maggie’s father, aging and in ill health, yet full of wisdom, makes a deal with Irish-born Cullen McGrath. His agreement includes a singularly troubling stipulation – Maggie and Cullen must marry. After a horse racing scandal nearly ruined him, Cullen comes to Nashville to make a fresh start, hope to buy his own land and develop a thriving farm. He is determined to stay far away from thoroughbred racing, but starting over proves harder than he imagined when Maggie and her love of racing are part of the bargain he knows better than to accept but finds impossible to refuse.

Despite the strange situation that brings them together, Maggie and Cullen realize they need each other, but their stubbornness and past wounds – and even more so the escalating violence from a secret society responsible for lynchings and raids on Linden Downs – work to keep them from achieving their dreams and building a new life together.

To Win Her Favor is a gorgeous story; the setting, the characters, the historical detail and the romance are all woven together effortlessly

There are a handful of authors that I trust completely when it comes to historical romance, and Tamera Alexander quickly became one of them. To Win Her Favor is a gorgeous story; the setting, the characters, the historical detail and the romance are all woven together effortlessly. I typically enjoy marriage of convenience stories, but Tamera brings a richness and depth to this oft-used storyline that makes it fresh and new. The heightened tension in the romantic relationship as well as the plot keeps this from being a run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience story. Tamera’s impeccable grip on creating memorable settings, characters and plot lines made this novel take on a cinematic quality in my mind.

Set during in 1869 Nashville, racial tensions are rife; prominent Nashville families have been destroyed by war, and free blacks, as well as those of other nationalities, must deal with often dangerous prejudices. The racial tensions of the time are so evident; the injustice of it is well-written into the story. I loved the realizations that even Maggie herself comes; somewhat prickly, yet extremely loyal once her “favor” is won, she doesn’t realize how naïve she has been until she meets Cullen. Confronting her prejudices against the Irish in turn makes her confront her ideas about the former slaves that still live at Linden Downs, people that she loves and cares for deeply.

Though at first Maggie seemed to be another “sweet” female lead, I soon found her to be refreshingly honest and realistic.

Though at first Maggie seemed to be another “sweet” female lead, I soon found her to be refreshingly honest and realistic. She does not take life quietly, but rather wants her views and opinions to be respected, and even if not followed, at least listened to and valued. I loved interactions between her and Cullen, who proves to be a man of honesty and integrity. Cullen and Maggie are written in such a realistic way that this book had me turning the pages and unwilling to set it aside for very long. As a couple they have to face huge challenges – financial strife, personal attacks, destruction of their land and their own personal and spiritual trials. The faith aspect of the story is woven so well within these events and the conversations between the characters that it never once felt out of place and is very uplifting and encouraging.

The romance between Maggie and Cullen is realistic, and while some readers have felt that it pushes the envelope, I found it to be a beautiful, tender depiction of marital love. I think it serves as a reminder that just because a novel is classified as Christian fiction, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate for all ages. While not all readers may find it to their liking, the novel is not marketed toward teens or young adults, and, in my opinion, never crosses the line from intimate to explicit. I absolutely loved the tasteful way that Tamera wrote the sweet scenes that depict Maggie and Cullen working through their emotional hurdles to find their way together as a couple.

I also think it worth mentioning that the secondary characters are wonderful and greatly add to the story. Ennis and his family, especially little Kizzy, who quickly captured my heart, bring into harsh light the racial discriminations of the time, as well as provide characters that are full of depth. Gilbert Linden, Maggie’s father, is that dear voice of wisdom; though they didn’t always understand his decisions, they trusted that he had their best interest at heart. Maggie’s best friend Savannah Darby has a story that appears to be just as poignant and captivating as Maggie’s. Their realistic friendship adds yet another layer to the story, and I was happy to find out that Savannah’s full story will be told in a novella to release in July.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, this was a gem of story for me.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, this was a gem of story for me. Though I haven’t read the majority of her novels, thus far, Tamera has never failed to deliver a high quality story. The rich historical details, realistic characterization, tender romance and well-drawn plot make To Win Her Favor my favorite of Tamera’s novels I’ve read so far and a favorite of 2015.

–Beth

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