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Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite
In Somerset, the prequel to her New York Times best-selling Roses, Leila Meacham has crafted a sweeping, epic tale as vast and uncompromising as the Texas landscape in which the majority of narrative takes place. The events of Somerset unfold over four generations and six decades with enough twists and turns to delight even the most hard-to-please reader. Two powerful antebellum South Carolina families, the Tolivers and the Warwicks, descended from British nobility, endure lost inheritances, forced marriage, westward expansion, boll weevils, abolitionist activity, war, betrayal, rivalry and countless reversals of fortune in their efforts to put down roots in Texas. As Silas Toliver and his wife Jessica wend their way from a forced marriage to real love and struggle to establish and maintain the novel’s title plantation against inconceivable odds, the reader is drawn into a world rich with real history and cultural references - windows to a fascinating and brutal era that shaped America.
Leila Meacham writes with a syrupy Southern lilt and a twinkle in the eye of her dialogue. Somerset’s narrative is utterly charming, shamelessly old school and spun to perfection. When combined with the fascinating stream of factual tidbits pertaining to actual history, bygone customs, and social graces, the overall effect is mesmerizing. Actor and teacher Teresa DeBerry conjures four generations of Tolivers, Warwicks and DuMonts with astonishing facility and breath-taking consistency. Her sensitive and crystalline portrayals are rendered with such precision that one can hear the characters age as the book progresses. The audio quality of this Hachette production is superlative in every aspect. The pristine sound quality makes it possible for the listener to descend fully into the world of Somerset. Somerset by Leila Meacham is an enormously entertaining and educational tale of an emerging America with all of its ideals and its growing pains intact. Venturing into the world of the Tolivers and Warwicks may be as close to time travel as we will get in our lifetimes. This is a book eminently worth reading.