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Apr 22, 2014

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

This inspiring historical will make your mouth water!

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander
Bethany House Publishers
Paperback 484 pages
NetGalley eBook provided by publisher in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 Stars
Other Tamera Alexander novels reviewed here:
To Whisper Her Name
A Lasting Impression

From the USA Today bestselling author of To Whisper Her Name and A Lasting Impression comes a moving historical novel about a bold young woman drawn to a group of people forgotten by Nashville society--and to the one man with whom she has no business falling in love.

Eleanor Braddock, a spinster--plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty--has long since dismissed any hope of marriage. But when a dying soldier whispers his final words, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. But this compassionate deed takes a harsh turn, and Eleanor finds herself dependent upon the richest woman in America and the most despised woman in Nashville--her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont Mansion. A clandestine act of kindness leads Eleanor to an unlikely path for her life--building a home for destitute widows and children from the Civil War. And while Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve.

Gerhard Marcus Gottfried, Archduke of the House of Habsburg and fourth in line to the Austrian throne, arrives in Nashville in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Collaborating with botanist Luther Burbank, Marcus seeks to combine his own passion for nature with his expertise in architecture. But his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widow's and children's home run contrary to the wishes of practical, frugal Eleanor, who sees his ideas as costly nonsense.

Yet as the construction project continues, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground--and a love neither of them expected. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor to marry, and even if he were, someone who knows Marcus's secrets is about to reveal them all.

Tamera Alexander's newest Belmont Mansion novel will delight her fans with new characters set against the familiar backdrop of the famous home of Adelicia Acklen. Eleanor is Adelicia's niece is new to the area and determined to make her own way in spite of how that would look to her aunt's society friends. Eleanor is a free-spirit who enjoys helping others and making good use of her time without regard to her looks or what sense of decorum her aunt thinks she should emanate.

The love interest in the story is Marcus Gottfried who is hiding his identity as heir to the Hapsburg throne. He is handsome, strong, independent and down-to-earth - and perfect for Eleanor. Aunt Adelicia of course has other plans for Eleanor, and plans to marry her off to some stodgy banker. The romance is faint emotion that runs throughout the novel, and as with Tamera's other novels the story is a clean Christian historical.

This compelling novel is a long one so that you truly have a chance to marvel at the flowing writing style of Tamera and become enchanted with the characters and the setting of a post-Civil War America. Eleanor's work with the poor of Nashville was a major inspirational theme that becomes a passion for both the character of Eleanor and the reader. And even though this is part of a series, you can read it as a stand alone - especially because Aunt Adelicia seems a lot different this time around!

There are interesting posts on Tamera's site this month in honor of the book's release; everything from recipes to dressmaking and photo shoots. One of the charming scenes in A Beauty So Rare is where Eleanor tried, tried, and tried again to make a streudel for Marcus (though it still was not as good as mutter's streudel!)

Just in time for spring, and even Mother's Day, here's a yummy recipe to try that Tamera posted on her site:

3/4 cup butter at room temp (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar*
1/3 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (sifted)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, then spray a smaller (8-9 inch) cast-iron skillet very lightly with non-stick cooking spray. You don't need that much spray. Trust me, the butter in the recipe will take care of that.

Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, then the vanilla. Next, work in the flour. You can either mix the flour in with an electric mixer, or you can get into the 1860s way of doing things and knead the dough on an unfloured surface until it's nice and smooth. Press the dough into the iron skillet (or you can use a pretty shortbread pan too). Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool for about 10-15 minutes then flip the pan over onto a wooden cutting board. Cut the shortbread into pieces while still warm. It "sets up" as it cools. Or serve it warm. Serves 10-12. And it really does. This stuff is rich and delicious. Hope you enjoy.
Find more recipes here.

Edited to add that A Beauty So Rare was a 2015 Christy Award finalist. Congrats, Tamera!