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Jul 14, 2014

Somerset by Leila Meacham

epic soap opery saga kleenex material

Somerset by Leila Meacham
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Grand Central Publishing
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Disclosure: I requested this title on NetGalley but it took several weeks for them to get around to responding to the request, so I finally decided to just read the hardcopy when it was provided by a friend; I then waited till I was ready to get around to it myself. And voila, here is the review.

One hundred fifty years of Roses' Tolivers, Warwicks, and DuMonts! We begin in the antebellum South on Plantation Alley in South Carolina, where Silas Toliver, deprived of his inheritance, joins up with his best friend Jeremy Warwick to plan a wagon train expedition to the "black waxy" promise of a new territory called Texas. Slavery, westward expansion, abolition, the Civil War, love, marriage, friendship, tragedy and triumph-all the ingredients (and much more) that made so many love Roses so much-are here in abundance.

Read my review of Roses
Read my review of Tumbleweeds

Several years back I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Leila Meacham during her book tour for Roses and I waxed not so eloquently about it here on the blog. It was then that she said she didn't want to be at the beck and call of a publisher's schedule, so I cried inside as I knew I would want more of her stories from her graceful pen.

Luckily her husband gave her the idea to tell the story of the how Roses came to be, which brings us to Somerset, the story of the ancestors of the characters in Roses, which I enjoyed immensely. 'Generations' would be an apt subtitle for Somerset, as it completes much of the family history of several generations of the Warwicks, Tolivers and DuMonts. And if you haven't read Roses yet, that's okay. You'll want to when you finish Somerset.

Somerset begins before the Civil War between the States, and it carries us all the way through to the 1900's where inventions and progress have come to the founding families of Howbukter, Texas. Although a fictional story, the author does a very good job at imparting historical tidbits about the life and times of our American pioneers as they leave South Carolina and head straight for Texas where war is brewing between early settlers, Mexico and Indians. The Tolivers focus on cotton, Warwicks on lumber, and the DuMonts have a very special department store.  These families are made of something special, and each with a special characteristic to make them unique to the story. Slaves and their treatment are a bit part of the novel, and
I can appreciate the special attention to the abolitionist cause as well as the view from a Southerner's point of view.  Readers of Roses will remember the curse the Tolivers had to deal with, and the origin comes to play in Somerset, which means no one is safe from death's cruel hand. Have your tissues handy for there is love found and lost, grief and happiness all flowing from page to page of Somerset.

Roses was compared to Gone With the Wind due to it's same style of drama and similar era, and that is same with Somerset. Nothing can compare to that classic blockbuster, but Meacham gives us good storytelling told with heart, and the main characters of Silas and Jessica Toliver really stand out. Their friends and their family all form the patchwork that is the story of Somerset, and I'm itching to re-read Roses now. A really good sink your teeth into type of novel, Somerset is a fantastic chunkster that really makes it worthwhile if you are in the mood for a soap-opera style generational novel.

I will say that those readers looking for the "wars of the roses" link will be disappointed that it is just a small thread. Don't expect a miraculous connection to British royalty in the novel as it is simply a symbolic gesture to remembering heritage. Those readers who are interested in what it may have been like living in America during its earlier years will feel more in tune with America's early progress after reading Meacham's expansive novel.