Saturday, December 09, 2006

Alice's Tulips, by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas
ISBN: 0-312-20359-4
Book #06-159

When Alice Bullock's husband, Charlie, joins the Union Army during the Civil War, the young wife has no idea what's in store for her. Pretty, flirtatious, and selfish, Alice is no stranger to controversy, but her quick thinking usually gets her out of trouble. Alice writes letters to her sister, Lizzie, on a regulr basis, and it is through these letters that Sandra Dallas presents her story.

Alice and Charlie have only been married a year when Charlie runs off to be a soldier, leaving Alice to live with her mother-in-law, a dour older woman who doesn't much care for Alice and her flighty ways. As the war wears on, however, the two women have to rely on each other more and more. Alice throws herself into the war effort, designing a flag for Charlie's unit to carry into battle, and coming up with an idea for a quilt pattern that the local ladies can use to put quilts together for their Yankee soldiers. Alice strikes up a mild flirtation with the brother-in-law of her friend Nealie, but soon tries to back away from the Sam and his controlling, violent possessiveness. Matters get worse when Alice accompanies a vain older woman to the city to meet a soldier she's been corresponding with, only for Alice to learn that Mrs. Kittie has arranged for Alice to spend time with the very man she's been trying to avoid.

When Sam turns up dead (by way of several unhappy encounters with an axe), Alice is the main suspect and must endure the gossip and censure of the entire town. Sandra Dallas masterfully injects her plot with suspense, because readers are kept guessing as to whether Alice actually did murder Sam.

Alice's letters run the gamut of emotions. Alice herself is not especially likeable at the beginning of the book. Young, vain, and more than a trifle impressed with herself, Alice shares her opinions freely. Gradually, however, Alice matures, without losing that fun-loving side of herself that is so appealing to the other characters in the story as well as to her readers. Her bitter regret over telling Charlie not to come back if he can't dance with her adds poignant irony to an already memorable book. Alice's constant criticism of her sister's husband makes for fun reading, too. History buffs will enjoy the chance to view the rigors of war from the side of Union characters and to see that it was not only Southern families who suffered deprivation during the War Between the States. The details about quilts and quilting that Dallas gifts her readers with are well-written and welcome, as well.

ALICE'S TULIPS is an engaging novel and highly recommended. Readers will most likely glom Sandra Dallas's backlist after reading Alice's story from her own point of view.

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