Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review of A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

Book Review of A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexanear.
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.(less)
Paperback484 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Bethany House Publishers (Baker Publishing Group)
original title
A Beauty So Rare (Belmont Mansion, #2)
0764206230 (ISBN13: 9780764206238)
edition language

Leona's Review:
The book begins with the prologue on December 15, 1864 with Eleanor helping a Confederate Civil War soldier who is dying. He thinks she is "His Mary" and gives her a hankie that is stained with his blood. I found the mission of Eleanor to find Mary is a important part of the  book. Yesterday, I attended a class at our local library about Civil War sewing kits that were give to the soldiers by women who made the kits. The kits also carried pictures and mementoes for the soldiers. A story the presenter, from the Minnesota Historical Society, told was of a soldier who died holding pictures of three children in his hand. An artist at the newspaper drew the faces for the paper and a woman who saw the paper knew it was her husband who had died. I am sure there are many stories like this.
Chapter one begins September 2, 1968.
Eleanor's mission is to open a restaurant but with her father ill of dementia, she finds she may not be able to open one. She moves in with her wealthy aunt while her father lives at the insane asylum.
The friendship of Eleanor and Marcus increase throughout the book. When they first meet, Eleanor thinks he is a undergardner but soon finds he is a botanist and later  finds he is also an architect. Together they work to build a home for the widows and children of the soldiers of the war. Both have a secret they do not want known.
Marcus is working on producing a rose for the aunt, Adeclicia Acklen; she wants certain colors for the rose.  We also find the potato an important part of the story.
Find some recipes on Tamera's blog site from some of the characters.
The  book is dedicated to: For my readers, who not only take these journeys with me, but who add joy and beauty to my own.
It is a historical romance book by an award-winning author, Tamera Alexander. I give it a 5 star rating. I enjoyed it so much, I woke the next morning disappointed I had finished the book.
I won this book from A review was requested but the opinions are my own
A Beauty So Rare is full of history, love, loss, family, hope, God, friendship, compassion, Civil war, cooking and recipes.
A Beauty So Rare is the second book of the Belmont Mansion Novels. The Belmont Mansion is in Nashville, Tennessee. See
For a trailer on A Beauty So rare visit
You can find Tamera Alexander:
Her blog:
Leona Olson

Contest by Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander is running a lovely giveaway for her latest book, A Beauty So Rare. Click here to enter!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy Higley


The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy Higley

"From the servant halls of Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace to the courts of Herod the Great, Lydia will serve two queens to see prophecy fulfilled.

Alexandria, Egypt 39 BC

Orphaned at birth, Lydia was raised as a servant in Cleopatra's palace, working hard to please while keeping everyone at arm's length. She's been rejected and left with a broken heart too many times in her short life.

But then her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel. Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.

Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family—his sister, his wife, and their mothers—and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah."
Paperback400 pages
Published March 18th 2014 by Thomas Nelson
1401686842 (ISBN13: 9781401686840)
edition language
Leona's Review:
I thought I had read Tracy Higley's books in the past, but find this is my first read by her. I always like to read historical fiction and this book did not disappoint. It is full of history and gave me some more knowledge of the times and people. I did not know that Cleopatra, for example, had sisters. There is a map of the Mediterranean area in the front of the book and the family charts of The Hasmonean Dynasty and also Herod's Family.
The book is dedicated to: For Steve Laube. In gratitude for nearly a decade of unwavering support, wise guidance, and genius friendship.
The book begins in Alexandria, Egypt on January, 39 BC.
Lydia is the handmaid to Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. She is to become the handmaid of Herod's future wife Mariamme and so travels to Jerusalem.
The journey is long but on the trip Lydia becomes acquainted with David, who is younger than her.
Lydia's mentor, Samuel, was killed but before he dies he had passed the scrolls from the prophet Daniel to Lydia with instructions where to deliver and to whom. The scrolls are usually passed from father to son but these were now for Lydia to deliver. Lydia must carry the scrolls with her and keep them a secret and so they are hidden most of the time
There is a lot of warfare in this novel with some descriptions of death but fits the story and the history of the wars at that time.
The Queen's Handmaid is full of history and of the Jewish religion and beginning of the Christian religion.
I give this a 5 star rating. It is a historical fiction book with some romance. The author, Tracy Higley, shows she has done extensive research to write this novel. The end was unexpected for me but I was pleased with it. This is a book that can be re-read for those interested in history.
I wish there had been a list of the characters and the places in the book. There were many and I think it would have helped the reader.
Read more of Cleopatra on this site:
Read more of Octaavian, Antony and Lepidus
on this site:
There is a study guide at the back of the book. Two questions are Question Number 2: Lydia struggles throughout the book with issues of identity and feelings of worthlessness. Do you relate to her struggles? In what way? And Question Number 9: How do you feel about the author's portrayal of spiritual darkness in the story? Do you believe that people like Salome may have been in touch with evil powers at this time in history? How about now?
I received a complimentary copy of The Queen's Handmaid  to read and review from Litfuse Publicity Group and Thomas Nelson Publishers. The opinions are my own.
Leona Olson
Tracy Higley may be reached at
List of some characters:
Lydia- The main character. She is an orphan and does not know anything about her parents.
Simon- Ran the palace staff at Jericho
Cleopatra Philopator- Queen of Egypt
Herod- The Galilean governor but he is not Jewish
Mariamme- Wife if Herod
Banafrit- In charge of Cleopatra's kitchen
David- Lydia meets him on the boat after leaving Egypt.
Samuel- A Jewish man who taught Lydia about the Jewish religion and who gave her the scrolls.
Marc Antony- Lover of Cleopatra and father of her twins
Caesar- Ruler of Rome
Caesarion- Son of Cleopatra and Caesar; also under the care of Lydia when she lived at Cleopatra's palace.
Ha Shem- Name of God in the Hebrew Bible
Octavian-Nephew of Julius Caesar
Octavia- Sister of Octavian and wife of Marc Antony
Joseph- Herod's brother
Salome- Herod's sister
Jonah and Ester- Friends of Simon
Some places in the book are:
Temple of Cybele
Temple of Ceres
Kidron Valley