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The Wedding Dress    by Virginia Ellis order for
Wedding Dress
by Virginia Ellis
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

After the Civil War ends, the Atwater sisters are left to fend for themselves on their small southern plantation. The women have lost just about everything to the 'Cause': their way of life, their parents, and the two eldest (Julia and Victoria) their husbands.

Both women have come to grips with the prospect of widowhood, perhaps for the rest of their lives, since so few 'eligible' men have come home from war. But when youngest sister Claire wakes from a nightmare crying and truly distraught over the fact that she may never marry, Julia vows to find her a husband. So determined is she that she announces to her sisters and then much of the surrounding county, that there will be a wedding at the Oak Creek plantation come spring. To make the daring declaration complete, the sisters dedicate every free minute and their very sparse resources to sewing Claire a new wedding dress.

Once news of the impending nuptials circulate, members of the community and even total strangers, are quick to offer congratulations and small tokens for the prospective bride, from bolts of cloth to buttons for the dress. Weddings after all, herald new beginnings. At the same time, Julia receives a letter from Sergeant Monroe Tacy of Savannah. He was with Julia's husband William when he died at Gettysburg and now asks permission to come to the plantation to deliver his comrade, (and friend's) dying request. Julia and Victoria consider his imminent arrival as a sign -- Sergeant Tacy might well be an eligible 'beau' for Claire.

During the weeks that lead up to Tacy's visit, the three women pull out all stops to assure his stay will be as comfortable as possible. Tacy arrives bearing unexpected gifts and fighting an ornery mule - a man whose eyes bear the awful memories of war, yet one who's lost neither his sense of humour nor his appreciation for life. When it becomes apparent that he and Claire won't make a good match, the sisters fear their spring wedding will never come to fruition. Ghostly soldiers and dreams of the dead only add another poignant and mystical layer to a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page of a surprising and imminently satisfying ending.

Ms. Ellis not only writes an emotional memoir of war and its aftermath, especially for the women left behind, but she also tells a story of hope, of the strength of family, of friendships and of how communities pull together during the most desperate of times. Above all else though, this is an age-old and masterfully told tale of how love abides and heals. If any story should be translated to film this year, it's The Wedding Dress. Hallmark, are you listening?

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