Monday, June 10, 2013

Retaking Tara: Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm

"Um, I have a boyfriend," I reminded Dev. No well-muscled man in uniform was going to change that.

"No, you don't," Dev replied breezily.

I rolled my eyes. "Dev, you've met him like fifteen times."

"Technically, you don't have a boyfriend," Dev explained. "According to the laws of Back to the Future, Garrett McCaffrey, your alleged boyfriend, doesn't even exist. Because he hasn't been born yet. And may never be born if we change the path of history as we know it.

"Back to the Future isn't real science. And we don't actually go back in time," I countered, eyeing him suspiciously. "You know this, right?"

"I'm just saying--what happens in 1861 stays in 1861."

It was a perfect prom with her BF Garrett, the nerdy but nice soul mate she met interning as a re-enactor in a restored Maine colonial village the previous summer, but prom is past and it's time for the history-obsessed and beauteous but brainy Libby to make some summer money before she and Garrett begin college together at Amherst. As usual her fashion-obsessed friend Dev has found a way to cash in on his dress designing talent as a sutler, a merchant camp follower for Civil War re-enactments across the Deep South.  Dev convinces Libby that with her to model his Scarlett O'Hara knockoffs, they'll rake in the neo-Confederate dollars and have a blast, with the added bonus of hanging around lots of cute Confederate hunks all summer. So while Garrett is off to intern at the Boston Globe Libby finds herself heading off to Sweet Home Alabama, hoop skirts and wasp-waisted corsetry at the ready.

All is not sunny down in Dixie, despite the undeniable charms of Beau Anderson, their exceedingly dashing guide and corporal in the re-enactor Confederate forces preparing for mock battle near Tuscaloosa.  Dev declares that he is near death when he learns that Confederates don't do coffee (there's that pesky coastal blockade between the Rebels and their caffeine supply), and Libby finds Southern belle undergarments give even her the vapors in the Deep South heat, but sales are booming on sutler's row, especially when the public sees what the petite Libby can do for Dev's well-crinolined antebellum gowns.

But Libby finds that she is still a magnet for faux ghosts, as a pale wraith is sighted, bewailing that a nineteenth-century curse is about to befall the last surviving Anderson man--who would, of course, be the buff and gallant Beau.  Libby suspects that the ghost's appearance is part of a land grab scheme by a mercenary builder who wants to turn Civil War battlefields into tracts of Tara knock-off condos, but the ghost is undeniably intimidating when it leaves behind messages predicting Beau's death scrawled in fresh chicken blood.

Meanwhile, the downright darlin' Beau seems to be enchanted by Libby's vintage charms. Given that Beau, unlike Garrett, shares her obsession for history, Libby also finds his courtly manners, soft Southern accent, and ways with a waltz almost irresistible.

The plot thickens like a pot of cold grits when the media gets hold of the historical ghost mystery, the news spreads all the way to Boston, and Garrett finds himself assigned as reporter for the Globe's Southern affiliate, the Tuscaloosa News, covering this historic ghost story.  Garrett is instantly jealous of Beau, who returns the favor, and Libby suddenly gains an understanding of Scarlett O'Hara's dithering between Ashley and Rhett.  It's a frothy romantic triangle and an admittedly vintage Scooby Doo ghost hunt to boot, as the re-enators roam the Southland all the way to the Carolinas before Libby and Garrett break the story, save the historic battlefields, and once more re-inact true love, in 1861 and in the present.

As with her first summer story, Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink, (see review here) Stephanie Kate Strohm's just-published  Confederates Don't Wear Couture (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) is a fizzy and funny summer frolic with a soupcon of Civil War history along the way, worthy of packing along for vacation fictional fare.

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