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.
Review: I was very excited when I saw the cover for A Beauty so Rare. I have to say, before reading it I was wondering whether the plot would be a repeat of the first two books in the series. However, it was decidedly not. It wasn’t much similar to Lasting Impressions or To Whisper Her Name save for the time period. But I think I enjoyed it even more than them, if that is even possible.
I have read all of Tamera Alexander's books and I do believe that A Beauty so Rare is my absolute favorite of all that she has written yet! I think it’s because her heroine was so unique. Most heroine's I read about are pretty and feminine and dreamy and sweet. Eleanor Braddock is considered plain and sensible and too tall. I think I liked her all the more because the author chose to make her those things. Again and again Eleanor’s practical side was revealed. Practicality is usually not a trait in the women of historical Christian fiction published today. But it certainly was in Eleanor.
Marcus was also an enjoyable character. He offset Eleanor’s practical side perfectly. I loved reading how their banter played out throughout the novel. It was almost flirting but not quite because they were both determined to be “just friends”. Yes…well…saying that never really does seem to work, does it? I really liked how he kept on going after what he wanted. No matter if it was his career, the new kind of potato he was trying to breed, or the woman he fell in love with, he kept pursuing and never gave up. He also showed remarkable restraint and respect toward Eleanor, which I greatly admire. He was also patient and intelligent and strong and…well…nearly perfect now that I think about it. His flaw was that he had a somewhat shady past despite his being an Archduke. But other than that he was perfect.
The relationship between Eleanor and her aunt was both well-written and complex. Adelica Acklen was, after all, the richest woman in America. I think I held my breath every time Eleanor needed to talk to her about something. Adelicia had the most interesting personality which was both undeniably feminine and unbelievably headstrong. She always knew her opinions, stuck to her ideals, and never wavered in anything. I found the conversations she had with Eleanor quite interesting. And sometimes I couldn’t help but cringe and think, “Poor Eleanor!” with absolute horror as her aunt severely scolded her for something. But unlike most female characters, Eleanor was always practical about her emotional response to her aunt’s sometimes severe diatribes. She never cried. She adjusted her behavior and moved on, never thinking about it twice.
I have always admired the way Tamera Alexander incorporates other languages in her books. German was highly prominent in this one. However, I was somewhat confused when sometimes the German was not translated. I was left a little bewildered and trying to piece together what the characters were saying. I can’t read German, though it is slightly similar to English. At a few places I had to go back and re-read the German to try to find out what was said because it was not translated. Sometimes the translation was given a few pages later, though. But most often not. This was the only flaw I could find with the book as a whole. Otherwise, it was perfectly delightful and wonderful in every way. Though A Beauty So Rare is close to 500 pages, because I had such a blissful experience reading it I sooo wanted there to be more once I reached the end!
One more thing I'll mention that I was impressed with before I conclude. She included characters from her last two books! I almost didn't catch their subtle introduction to the story because it has been so long since I've read To Whisper Her Name and Lasting Impressions. However, I managed to do so and enjoyed the novel even more because I did. So, although her books do not need to be read together I do suggest reading them in the order they were published because it will increase your enjoyment of each story. Also (and I just realized this) To Whisper Her Name is the first in the Belle Meade Plantation Series. Lasting Impressions is the first in the Belmont Mansion Series and A Beauty so Rare is the second in the Belmont Mansion Series. However, they all three still are set in the same time frame with characters that intertwine with one another, though loosely.
Bravo, Tamera Alexander! I am expectantly looking forward to your next novel. I didn't want A Beauty so Rare to end and was thoroughly disappointed that it had to. Your book left me breathless sometimes and blissful the rest of the time. I do believe that this one has a 100% chance of my reading it again! May the Lord bless you in the writing of your next novel. It cannot come soon enough for me!
I give this book 4/12 out of 5 stars.
*I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publishers for an honest review, which I have given. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone.
(or Ham and Cheddar Quiche)
From the novel A Beauty So Rare
by Tamera Alexander
Most people think quiche originated in France. Not so. It’s originally a German dish and people referred to them as "savory custards" in the 19th century. Which is accurate since the egg-based mixture forms a luscious-like custard as it bakes.
In my novel, A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series, the heroine, Eleanor Braddock, is "a cook with a dream." But her dreams don’t quite turn out like she thinks they will. However, her savories always do!
I hope you enjoy this recipe (or "receipt" as recipes were called in the 1800s) from A Beauty So Rare. For more about A Beauty So Rare and for recipes from all my novels, visit www.TameraAlexander.com.
1 old-fashioned unbaked pie crust (recipe below)
1 large onion, diced (or sliced if you like larger pieces of onion in your savory)
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound cooked ham diced into cubes (if using bacon, use 8 slices, fried chewy, not too crisp)
8 large eggs
1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste (I always go heavier on the pepper, personal preference)
1 3/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Sauté onion in the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Chop the ham into bite-sized pieces (or fry your bacon until chewy, then chop). Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust and press into a deep dish pie plate. A medium-sized iron skillet works wonderfully for making a savory custard (and is what Eleanor used). The crust comes out divine. I just happened to use a pie plate this time.
Whip the eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl, then mix in the onions, ham (or bacon), and cheese. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Cover the pie plate (or skillet) lightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quiche is set and the crust is golden brown. QUICK BAKING TIPS: The quiche may still seem a little loose when you first remove it from the oven, but it will firm up nicely once removed from the heat. Also, watch that lovely crust so the edges don’t get overly brown. I use a silicone pie crust shield if that starts to happen. Those are a fabulous invention (but foil crimped around the edges works just as well).
Remove from the oven and allow the savory custard to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before diving in. It’s so good, and just like Eleanor Braddock would make. It’s also delicious left over and warmed up the next day.
Eleanor Braddock’s Old-Fashioned Pie Crust
(makes two large crusts)
From the novel A Beauty So Rare
by Tamera Alexander
This is a wonderful crust that I’ve been using for years. Eleanor would likely have used lard in place of Crisco (since lard was cheaper than butter in her day), and you may too, if you prefer. Yes, lard is still available on most grocery shelves, although I’m pretty sure I just felt you shudder!
This pie crust "freezes beautifully " as they say in Steel Magnolias (instructions on freezing below), so even though I may need only one pie crust at the moment, I always use this recipe and make a second, and freeze it for later. Makes that next pie (or savory custard) go twice as fast!
1 ½ cups Crisco (or lard)
3 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter (or two knives will do the job), gradually work the Crisco into the flour for 3 to 4 minutes until it resembles coarse meal. In a smaller bowl, whip the egg and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir gently until all ingredients are blended well.
Halve the dough. Form 2 evenly-sized balls of dough and place each into large sealable plastic bags. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each to about 1/2 inch thickness to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you’re using the crusts immediately, it’s still a good idea to let them chill in the freezer for about 15- 20 minutes. They’ll be much easier to work with.)
When you’re ready to roll the dough for your crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes (if it’s frozen). On a well-floured surface, roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough if it’s too moist. If the dough starts to stick to the countertop, use a metal spatula and gently scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until it’s about ½ inch larger in diameter than your pie plate (or iron skillet).
Using a spatula, carefully lift the dough from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. (I sometimes fold my well-floured dough in half and then "unfold" it onto iron skillet. Or you can lop it over your rolling pin. That works well, too.) Gently press the dough against the sides of the pan or skillet, getting it all tucked in. Then crimp the edges in whatever way you prefer. And now, you’re ready for that yummy savory custard filling above, or maybe for a fruit pie.
If you make this recipe (or if you’ve read A Beauty So Rare), I’d love to hear from you. You can write me through my website at http://www.tameraalexander.com/contact.html.