Step into post-Civil War South as you dive into the pages of A Beauty So Rare, the latest novel by author Tamera Alexander. Eleanor Braddock is a woman dedicated to serving others. Whether it be serving as a nurse during the Civil War, meeting the needs of her aging father, or feeding the poor in the Nashville community, Eleanor's inner beauty shines bright. It's her outer beauty that seems to be in question. Described as plain and not as attractive as other women in her social circle, she is often reminded that she is close to "aging out" of potential marriage opportunities. When her father's illness causes her to face new financial challenges, Eleanor is taken in by her aunt, Adelicia Acklen Cheatham of Belmont Mansion. It is there that she meets "Marcus Geoffrey", also known as Archduke Marcus Gottfried of Austria. Marcus has a passion for botany and architecture and wants to make a name for himself in both areas, on his own merit and without any influence from his royal roots. He has a lot to prove, and so does Eleanor. As they strive to do just that, their lives and hearts will collide.
When I read the prologue, I was immediately drawn in to this story as I had just finished reading a few books about the roles of women as nurses in the Civil War. Eleanor Braddock was easy to relate to as well. She wasn't portrayed as a glamorous beauty, but what I consider to be a regular girl. Although I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for her at the beginning of the novel as she was so often referred to as plain and someone men weren't really attracted to. When she first met Marcus and he was drawn to her, I couldn't help but think, "why?" But as the book went on I could see why.
Marcus was described as very handsome, so why would a plain woman like Eleanor even spark his interest? We learn that Marcus isn't just a handsome face, he has a brilliant mind for cross breeding plants and flowers and has a talent for architecture. In Austria, he was known as a bit of a playboy, with money, women, and resources at his fingertips. Coming to America was not just a way to flee a family scandal, but to also make a fresh start. When Marcus saw the way Eleanor didn't fawn over him, but treated him as a equal, it was a reality check. He also observed her inner beauty and the "plain" woman before him blossomed. Reading the interactions between the two of them over the course of the novel definitely made his attraction to her more believable.
For me, the first part of this novel was a lot about setting the scene, getting to know the characters, and understanding them. The next part is what really drew me in. It's when the different characters began interacting more, developed relationships and feelings among each another--I began to feel like I was part of their world. I was imagining the beautiful flowers in the conservatory at Belmont, I pictured Eleanor helping the abandoned widows and young children in the poor areas of Nashville, and my heart skipped a beat as Marcus and Eleanor shared a special moment. Let's just say that when I finished the novel I was feeling a little withdrawal. : )
A Beauty So Rare was a delightful trip into history, filled with real-life places and people. But it also helped me to remember the inner beauty that is created when Christ shines through us. In a world that focuses so much on outward appearance, it was refreshing to see a heroine who was beautiful from the inside out.
Some of my favorite lines: "The good-byes here are only temporary. Someday there will be only together forevers." What a beautiful reminder!
**I received this book for free from Bethany House publishers to give an unbiased review**