Sunday, April 10, 2011
She Walks in Beauty
Bethany House, 2010
Christian Historical Romance
I flew through this book as it was arranged just the way I like books with relatively short chapters and lots of section breaks. That means I can read a section real quick while waiting for something or encourage myself to finish it faster as I say "I'll just read one more section...and then one more...etc."
Clara is a year away from her debut into New York society and grateful as she yearns more for books and academia than balls and a husband. Her aunt however moves up the year of her debut in order to garner a marriage with Franklin De Vries, heir to a fortune and to a family that once wronged Clara's. Soon Clara is the belle of the season but she finds herself far more interested in Franklin's younger brother Harry and troubled by her growing knowledge of the dirty world of New York politics. When tragedy strikes, Clara must decide who she really is.
Clara seems like a pretty typical heroine. Although too tall and without a fashionable figure, she's a devoted reader and pretty loyal friend and daughter. Watching her struggle and then triumph navigating the tricky mires of society was amusing and exciting. Although her aunt was often very harsh, I really loved her. Toward the end, she explains that she was trying to help Clara survive in a world that is very harsh to women and I could appreciate her motivation. What about Clara's parents? Her mother died a long time ago, bequeathing to Clara a book of Byron (hence the title from a Byron poem) but her doctor father remains dispensing his miracle tonic and preparing for Clara to win the heir to the De Vries fortune and thus restore the family honor.
Of course there's a love story. Franklin is a bore who loves to talk of himself and his horses while Harry is the friendly, sweet, well-intentioned man who naturally captures Clara's attention. He is also the one who introduces the main Christian theme that God loves His creation which proves so challenging to Clara's faith. I was expecting much more Christian language but it was very minor overall. I imagine non-Christian historical fiction fans could read it and just skip the few passages where a relationship to God is discussed.
There were many little tidbits sprinkled throughout the story such as Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives; the painfulness of a corset; men's trips to the Bowery; newspapermen and celebrity; scandal!; the minutiae of society; and medical quackery that were fascinating but not given enough attention in my opinion. Some receive more than others but despite Clara's sympathy for the poor exposed by Riis, there is never any mention of her attempting anything to help and little chance of that given the ending. Obviously not all of them could be treated but I would have preferred a tighter focus on a few.
Overall: The Christian content was lacking but the historical details and the character Clara kept me engaged.
Cover: The cover is what attracted me to this book-I think everything about it is very pretty.