Review of “A Beauty So Rare” (Belmont Mansion #2) by Tamera Alexander

Alexander, Tamera. A Beauty So Rare. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-0623-8. $14.99 USD. 

5 stars

A Beauty So Rare is just as wonderful as the first in the series in terms of providing a sense of time and place, but it does expand on the changing world in the Reconstruction years beyond the issues with rights for freed slaves and the tenuous relations between the North and South, looking more intimately at the losses among the war widows and their families, as well as issues among immigrants and the possibility of more opportunities for women in the future.

It is the vision of the latter that makes the heroine, Eleanor, so compelling. Despite being told that it is not proper for someone of her status to work, she is determined to pursue that path and put her talent as a cook to good use, especially when she finds there are others who are less fortunate that are in need.

Marcus is a very different hero that I would have expected from a novel from this subgenre, but I love that through him and his family, we also get a sense of the equally intriguing and dramatic events going on in Austria at the time, under the second-to-last Austrian emperor, and how disenchanted he becomes with the expectations placed upon him. He evolves into a much more humble person throughout the book, whereas before, he might have been more inclined to give into the pleasures that his title would have offered.

A central part of the book is its focus on different types of beauty. While the perception of one’s physical beauty is discussed in the book, the beautiful things that stand out are descriptions of both Marcus’ and Eleanor’s creations. Marcus’ work with architecture and especially the gardens are so beautifully described, and there are equally as many descriptions of Eleanor’s food, which left me craving the things she was making, especially strudel, which she makes frequently for Marcus in the book.

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