Saturday, April 5, 2014

Surrender at Orchard Rest by Hope Denney

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
My Experience: C-
Synopsis:   Somerset Forrest, a former Civil War nurse, is expected to live up to the legacy of her mother's crumbling society family and restore them to their former prestige, but she yearns for independence. She's never gotten over Eric Rutherford, her first love who disappeared years before in the hills along the Chickamauga. As she struggles to find her place among a family all too adept at keeping secrets and tries to make peace with the past, her fiancĂ© Sawyer Russell reveals a secret that threatens the peace of Century Grove, Alabama.

I migrated from the Midwest to Alabama 17 years ago.  My mother's people are from Mississippi and she did not stint on our education regarding the War of Northern Aggression and Reconstruction.  As a home schooling parent, I've dug in to History aggressively.  It is not hard to imagine how excited I was when requested to review a book set in Reconstruction Alabama. It's a bold author that takes on the challenges of those times, especially in a romance, and the world needs more bold authors.

Somerset Forrest lost her fiancĂ© and best friend five years ago at Chickamauga.  She is trying to get on with her life, to accept her dreams must change, not die, and she's finally reaching out to another to do so.  But first there are sorrows and secrets to confront. Somerset doesn't know if she can do so until she does. This novel is about survival. Somerset is waking up in settled ashes and sifting through the burned timbers to find what's really left of the almost woman was refined and tempered while she was scrubbing, tending others and washing clothes. That the edges are still rough and the foundation a bit wobbly makes this woman someone I could relate to. On this level, Ms. Denney was very successful, she demonstrated the conflict of survivor's guilt that wavers and vacillates without beating the facts to death.

The secondary characters are well drawn and revealed in razor sharp glimpses as a means of understanding Somerset as well as the forces that will continue to form and change her.  Her description of Alabama barely does it justice, but I'm biased. It is neither over done nor neglected.  The narration was choppy in places and the use of "on Chickamauga" instead of "at Chickamauga" made me grind my teeth. I winced at several modern colloquialisms that would never be used in the time period (professional nursing program ... say waht?) but those things are hand waves for most of us.

That said, I was disappointed by the fact not one of the former slaves is described in this book - not physically and barely as a character of depth. There were eighty-two slaves before the war, now there are five hired hands. Not one of them is described as black, Negro, or even those historically offensive words: darkie or colored. No mention of what they wear, how their hair is styled, or their recorded age.  Perhaps it is historically accurate for the characters to ignore servants but Somerset delivers a moving testimony regarding these specific people to her cousin that demanded better of the "narration" for this book.  If you can write about the brutality of war, you can use the term Negro to describe a character, really, promise.

Overall, I liked this book. I found the story compelling and the plot character-centric enough to hold my interest. I hope this author continues to write ... after she does more research, finds a nit picking grammar Diva and masters the art of telling the background story once, possibly elaborating twice and then trusting the reader to remember what was said two chapters ago. I think this book was worth staying up until 2 a.m. reading. There is enough there to justify not only the time but hope for the future books from this author.

I recommend it with the following caution:  Many historical liberties were taken in this novel.

The most glaring example is the fact Birmingham, Alabama did not exist in 1868 Alabama.  The city was not named or chartered until 1871. The ability to take the railroad from a non-existent town to either Atlanta or Richmond is not questionable. Even if you pretend there was a railroad at non-existent Birmingham, the infrastructure was still in pieces, that is the tracks and depots were not there.  I will stop there and just say, there were other historical inaccuracies but it serves no purpose to itemize them in a review.

I will reiterate my opinion that Ms. Denney has potential to be a wonderful writer. I look forward to her books when she hones her craft to a smoother finish.

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