A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander
Two people caught in society’s web of affluence, when given a choice, their only desire was to put their talents to use. Two people who were constrained by what was expected of them, when all they wanted was to be themselves, and to help others in need.
Eleanor Braddock had been shouldering her family’s burdens since her mother died. Then her brother was a casualty of the War Between the States. But the final indignity was the steady decline of her famous father’s mental health as he slid down the path of instability with symptoms most readers today would recognize as Alzheimer’s Disease. Eventually she was forced to sell their home and goods to pay for her father’s care in the asylum for the insane; she had to become her Aunt Adelicia’s dependent. She didn’t mind living in the posh Belmont Mansion, but she was alarmed when her aunt insisted on finding a suitable match for her. All Eleanor wanted to do was open a business, a restaurant, to make enough to become independent and to support her
father’s medical care.
Marcus Geoffrey was an aspiring architect and botanist. His burning desire was to see his designs built; buildings where nature and man-made structure co-existed seamlessly. Among his many ambitions as a botanist was to create a potato that wouldn’t fall prey to blight and rot. He had been working to that end for a decade, collaborating with such scientific giants as Dr. Gregor Mendel. For the time being, his work was sponsored by Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, who provided him with a wonderful greenhouse complete with a water tower and an underground irrigation system–one of the best in the country.
But Marcus was a man with a secret. He was only in America on forbearance of his uncle and father in Austria. He had only a year to live as he pleased, to follow his dreams before he must return, step into the role he was born into–that of being second in line to the throne of Austria. The secret he was keeping to himself…he was Archduke Gerhard Marcus Gottfried von Habsburg, and his uncle was Emperor of Austria. He was engaged to be married, though unwillingly. It was all part of the duties he must shoulder once he returned.
When he met Eleanor in the greenhouse one day, Marcus realized just how difficult returning home would be. He could only offer friendship to the one person he truly admired, especially when he discovered what she was doing with her spare time secretly.
I love Tamera Alexander’s writing style. She paints clear, vivid word pictures of her characters so that they become real to the reader. Her dialogues are clean, tight, and at times funny, especially as she develops the friendship between Eleanor and Marcus. Every moment counts in this historical fiction. There are no ramblings and loose ends. She knows how to build tension and offer comic relief when needed. She delves into social issues pertinent to the times without sensationalism or waxing philosophical. She shows rather than tells us the issues of the post war years–the trauma it brought to new widows and families without their men.
As a reader, I couldn’t help but cheer Eleanor on in her determination to meet needs where she saw them, all done in secret to avoid her aunt’s disapproval. Complications were compounded when Eleanor complied with her aunt to be courted by a man her aunt approved of, while her heart really pined to be won by Marcus. But she knew he could offer her nothing but friendship, and the practical side of her knew she needed to find a way to support her father.
The story is fast paced with just the right amount of suspense to keep the tale moving forward. I enjoyed all the detail the author employed to create a believable world and believable circumstances. I felt completely immersed in Eleanor’s world and felt deeply the frustrations Marcus faced as his time in America quickly dwindled.
In addition to great characterization and story line, the author skillfully weaves in spiritual elements as both Marcus and Eleanor struggle with their faith in God. When things seemed to go wrong for them, it was Eleanor who was the strong one. It was her faith that was able to finally prod Marcus’ heart to open to God’s leading.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”