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Alice's Tulips by Sandra Dallas

St. Martin's, $22.95]

Witty and engaging Alice Bullock is the letter writer in Sandra Dallas' epistolary historical novel ``Alice's Tulips'' . Alice lives with her mother-in-law on their Iowa farm while her new husband is fighting for the Union in the Civil War. She has only two releases from the hard work: her quilting and her correspondence with her sister Lizzie.

Dallas handles the epistolary form gracefully, and under Alice's boastful chatter the reader can detect facets of life that Alice isn't willing to write about - being snubbed by the close-knit community she has come to live in, her reluctant but growing fondness for her austere mother-in-law, and a desire to please that leads her to say whatever Lizzie needs to hear, no matter how contradictory.

As Alice manages to get herself ensnared in the middle of a small-town scandal or two, her dreams about life with her husband and wishes for her sister's happiness wind through and bind together the letters like the fine stitching in a handmade quilt.

The details of Civil War life are richly presented, and the characters who people Alice's letters are relayed with charm. Dallas has created in Alice Bullock a woman who appears at first to be full of fluff but whose warmth, devotion and creativity endear her to all.

Reviewed by Melanie Danburg.

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