Review: Dreams of Savannah by Roseanna M. White
Guess what today is!
Today is the release day of Dreams of Savannah, and I'm super psyched to share with y'all this fabulous book! I had a time getting to read DOS this last month--I'd hoped to read the NetGalley copy on my Kindle (which I was just handed down from my grandfather), but the 10-year-old e-reader wouldn't work right, so I had to wait for my paperback copy to arrive in the mail. It came on Christmas Eve, just in time for me to read it after the holidays and get my review out for release day!
I'd first like to introduce this book to you, before we jump into the review.
Cordelia Owens can weave a dream around anything and is well used to winning the hearts of everyone in Savannah with her whimsy. Even when she receives word that her sweetheart has been lost during a raid on a Yankee vessel, she clings to hope and comes up with many a romantic tale of his eventual homecoming to reassure his mother and sister.
But Phineas Dunn finds nothing redemptive in the first horrors of war. Struggling for months to make it home alive, he returns to Savannah injured and cynical, and all too sure that he is not the hero Cordelia seems determined to make him.
As the War Between the States rages ever nearer and Savannah’s slaves start sneaking away to the islands off the coast to join the Yankees, both Phin and Cordelia get caught up in questions they never thought they’d have to ask–questions that threaten the very dreams of a future they’d cherished.
Roseanna M. White is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels that span several continents and thousands of years. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to find their way into her books…to offset her real life, which is blessedly ordinary. You can learn more about her and her stories at www.RoseannaMWhite.com.
Those who have enjoyed authors like Jody Hedlund, Jocelyn Greene, Tracie Peterson, Tamara Alexander, Siri Mitchell, Laura Frantz, Julie Lessman, and Beth White will ADORE Roseanna M. White's Christian historical romance. And if you love Gone with the Wind (just like me), then it's a guarantee that you'll at least like Dreams of Savannah. I'd go ahead that bet that you'll love it!
Now, without further ado, the review!
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You'll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which will mean some spoilers, so watch out. #3—additional warning reserved only for this review—I’m trying something different. Again. We’ll just see how this works. Hopefully I can contain the stream of consciousness…
I’ve had a lot of experience with Civil War era fiction, and not all of it has been good. As a born and bred Southern girl who comes from a long line of Crackers (aka, poor white trash) who picked cotton and fought for the Confederacy, my opinions on the Civil War are, shall we say, skewed. Because of that, I don’t see the war as everyone else sees—and writes—it. So I’m very picky about my antebellum, Civil War, or Restoration era fiction. I don’t want to read something that stereotypes Southerners as heartless, racist jerks, or something that glosses over slaves (and Crackers) to focus on a bunch of highfalutin Southern belles. I want the grit, the emotion, and the truth behind the war—not propaganda.
Therefore, I wasn’t too sure going into Dreams of Savannah. Everyone nowadays is very much a “Yankee,” regardless of where they live, so portraying all Southerners with including cliches is very difficult. I know I enjoyed reading White’s Circle of Spies, but if it’s not Gone with the Wind or Eugenia Price, I’m not interested.
Roseanna’s last novel, A Portrait of Loyalty, hadn’t particularly been my favorite and though I really like her last two series (Shadows Over England and The Codebreakers), something in her voice has changed. Her stories haven’t been the same.
That being said, I was very wary about DOS. I’ve found that when I’m wary about reading something, the book is pretty much fantastic. This is true for Dreams of Savannah.
We open with a ball just before the boys leave for war, and at first the story is light and our main girl, Cordelia, is daydreaming about her soon-to-be beau, Phineas Dunn. This doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for grit, darkness, and a well-formed argument for the South, if you know know what I mean. Another belle of the ball and her adventurous, rich, pampered boyfriend. But you throw in a traitor or two and an Englishman? You got yo’self a story, dat’s what.
In her earlier works (not including her biblical fiction; they’re on a whole ‘nother level), I could easily describe Roseanna as a “plot-driven” writer. Now, I’m not so sure. I’m beginning to see how she has a vague plot or an inciting incident that she employs on the first page, then a novel that’s carried to The End by the characters. This system has worked pretty well for her in the past—like with On Wings of Devotion, where in the aftermath of Ara’s abduction, not much happens that isn’t, well, drama.
However, I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go. For her previous books, we already knew the characters—like Camden, who we met in The Number of Love. The character has already be established and, at least a little bit, fleshed out. We understand from Page 1 why Camden kidnapped Ara, simply because we knew the sort of bloke he was. Right?
Not so for Dreams of Savannah. We’ve never met Cordelia or Phin before, so when we immediately dive into him leaving for war and Delia promising to wait for him, we’re not quite certain what kind of characters we’re dealing with. The main event of the plot is carried through ‘til about the halfway point, where we begin to see the characters (both main and secondary, like Delia’s dad, Julius James, etc.) use their drama skills to keep the story going. It’s not a bad idea, but I was left wondering halfway through, who are these guys? That left the rest of the novel kind of flat, I guess.
Still, I enjoyed the storyline. Roseanna stuck with a simple method—war + shipwreck + missing person + scoundrel for a cousin = happily ever after. She managed to stay away from politics and bloody fighting without glossing things over. She stayed true to the South, the Cause, and honor without conforming to the image most people today have of Southerners and Confederates (i.e., sexist, racist white jerks)—and that made for a very interesting, enjoyable read.
Remember what I said about not really knowing who Phin and Delia were? Well, that’s what will keep this section pretty short. Phin is describe as adventurous, but he didn’t have much “screen time,” at least as his “old self.” His new self is even harder to pinpoint. I couldn’t get a definite read on his personality. He didn’t seem quiet or reserved, but he wasn’t necessarily talkative and outgoing. He wasn’t rakish, but he was apparently quite the catch. Not really an alpha male but not a beta either. *shrugs* He wasn’t a bad character, but let’s just say he won’t be added to my “Best Hero Ever” shelf.
As for Delia, I actually liked her. She’s not my type of heroine, I guess. She had a little more personality than Phin, but I would’ve liked the simple questions answered—not the difficult ones. It was easy to figure out that she liked people, was curious, and loved to dream. She’s optimistic, but also has a lot of deep-seated fears. But what kind of sister is she? Would she rather be gathering inspiration by socializing with her friends or putting it to paper holed up in her room? Why does she get along with everyone but not her mother? On that note, I would’ve liked to have seen more of her family, Phin’s included. Lacy was a great little sister until suddenly...she’s not. Ginny’s never present in the book. Delia’s relationships with her parents are, to say the least, crazy.
This is what I was saying. We jumped right into the plot, the story, without first coming to understand the main characters and what makes them tick.
Because of this, I really liked Salina and Luther more than Delia and Phin, and I would’ve loved to have seen more of them! Their motives and personalities were pretty clear, and they were so unique (or at least Luther was) and had more interesting storylines of their own.
I would’ve liked a lot more romance. Because Phin and Delia were all but engaged by the first chapter, their first kiss wasn’t all sparks and fire. The conflict surrounding them wasn’t as...conflicting as it would’ve been had they just met or fallen in love. As for Salina, her relationship with River just *poof* happened all of a sudden. I would’ve liked to have watched them fall in love, probably more so than Phin and Delia.
Luther was fabulous, though. A story about him and Eva when they met and fell in love would be SO AWESOME! He had a lot more personality than Phin did, in my opinion, and so seeing only a few scene here and there of him was kind of disappointing.
I was beyond happy when White put in four POVs. Her earlier series usually included four—from the villain to the two love interests to the “other guy,” whether that be the villain’s accomplice or the third point in a love triangle. Even though Phin and Delia weren’t the best characters, Luther and Salina more than made up for it!
Speaking of romance, I’m not entirely certain Roseanna was going for a romance when she wrote Dreams of Savannah. Most romance writers don’t dare go for the story where the characters have already fallen in love and everything seems on the fast track to success. The first kiss and meet cute are almost always nonexistent, and that’s pretty much what makes a romance. Because of the way White wrote this book, I’d probably be more inclined to call it just plain historical fiction than a romance.
Without a doubt, it’s more philosophical than anything. And I appreciate that. When one pays too much attention to romance or action, one misses the depth of it all. White’s always been a very thoughtful writer, and even if I may not agree with all of her opinions, I like that she’s not afraid to express them in her writing and carefully craft characters who discover those thoughts and opinions for themselves. It makes the story that much more authentic.
I was so terrified that the Civil War was going to be presented as a bunch of heartless white men fighting for slavery and a group of patriots fighting against it. However, White was very mindful of the Confederates’ and the Union’s true agendas, that the war wasn’t just about slavery—that it was a war of honor. She tackled that subject so well and portrayed Phin’s change without a hitch. Instead of embracing racial equality with unrealistically open arms, he struggled with his views and what he’d been taught, without being a jerk. Make sense? I think the transition was really good. It’s difficult to pull off a realistic transition into anything in fiction, so I more than appreciate the care White put into writing that aspect of Phin’s story.
I’ve always loved White’s prose. Her style is unique without being overly so, if you know what I mean. I’d actually say she’s got two separate voices—the one she’s used for her Shadows Over England and Codebreakers series, and the one she’s used for everything else.
The latter has visibly grown since A Stray Drop of Blood debuted in 2009, but it has always retained its sense of balance—between emotion, action, dialogue, and narrative. The flow has always been measured and even, not quite melodic but not at all choppy. Perfect, you could say.
The first, her “new” voice, is choppy and abrupt, like a clipped London accent. Her one or two word sentences make for a sudden jar—not an unpleasant one. An emotional one. I like both styles. I’ve tried them both in my own writing, and I’ve seen where they fit certain characters and situations better than others.
But...I’m really glad she reverted back to her voice. Maybe it’s because she wrote Dreams of Savannah years ago, in 2011, or maybe it’s because she saw that her American accent (not the clipped London one) fit well for her Georgia girls and boys.
Speaking of Georgia, can I just say that I LOVE my state? I know nothing’s perfect (and Georgia certainly isn’t), but DOS release day also happens to be the date for the run-off election for senate, so...prophesy, maybe? For those of y’all who enjoyed (or think they will enjoy) Dreams of Savannah, I HIGHLY recommend reading Eugenia Price’s Savannah. You’ll suddenly understand why Delia dreams of Savannah once you read Price’s take on this historic port.
Long Story Short…
To summarize, Dreams of Savannah wasn’t a perfect book. But it was a perfect reading experience. Not only was I uncertain about White’s novels, I was also uncertain if I could get sucked into anything again. I haven’t been reading like I should (or used to, that is), and I’ve had to force myself to get through some things, so I wasn’t certain if I’d be able to breeze through Dreams of Savannah. (Was it possible that *gasp* I was coming to not love reading as much as before?) But then I got sucked in, page by page, until I was walking around with my face in this book and putting up with the sun through the trees whilst riding in the car just to finish one more chapter. You know how it is.
The highlights of DOS are definitely Luther and Salina and the way White wove everything together like a dream. It could have been better, and Delia and Phin could’ve had more personality—or just more. Maybe the book should have been longer to allow their characters more…“fleshiness.” But…(there’s always a but, you know)…it was worth it. I enjoyed it, I really did. And if you were to ask me if I’d read it all over again, I would. Would I recommend it? I would. Would I rate it five stars?
Yeah. I would.
Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions expressed above are my own.
PS: I think I actually managed to contain the stream of consciousness this time! Hooray!