By: Susan Meissner

Published: April 18, 2023

Publisher: Berkley

Historical Fiction

Susan Meissner has become a must-read author for me. The characters she creates are realistic and easy to care about and root for. She finds ways to weave the background of what is happening in the world (often war or some other type of disaster) into the lives of the characters and the crumble of their lives in a way that doesn’t overpower the emotions and journey the character is taking. In her newest novel, we meet two very different women whose lives intersect in one way and then another and their connection changes them forever.

The young girl of a vinedresser, Roseanne, has grown up living in the vineyard. She knows all the best places to hide and loves watching the workers cut the grapes. After a tragic accident that takes her parents and brother, she is left behind as a teen to live at the vineyard as the owners’ live-in housemaid. She enjoys learning from the personal chef about how to prepare meals and doesn’t mind serving them, but misses the opportunity to go to school and be with friends. As a child, she learned she had a special quality, a blending of the senses called synesthesia, the ability to see colors while hearing sounds. Because at this time there was no word for this type of condition, her parents had warned her not to tell anyone about her special abilities as people wouldn’t understand. But, in a weak moment of loneliness, she shares her ability with the vineyard owner, Truman, which sets off a series of events that will forever change her future.

As I lie in the bed hearing the sounds of the institution coming to life, I know that my parents were right to fear the colors. They are dangerous.

People will always distrust what they don’t understand. And what they distrust, they cannot love.

Roseanne in ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL by Susan Meissner

Helen, the sister of Truman, has lived most of her life in Europe as a nanny. During the early days of WWII, she becomes a nanny for a family of 5 children, one child with special needs. As Helen spends her days caring for Brigitta they become very close. Then word of Hitler’s Eugenics Law starts to spread and Helen makes a mistake that she will never be able to forgive herself for.

Meissner gradually creates the lives of Roseanne and Helen, sharing their thoughts and motives behind their decisions. Readers will struggle with Roseanne’s inability to advocate for herself as she felt trapped in numerous situations and cry out with Helen as she realizes the cost of her mistake. Even though this novel is set during WWII, it isn’t the focal point of the story but in the background laying the framework for how and why things happen to the characters in the story. Readers will learn about the treatment of the mentally infirm and those in Europe who were deemed not perfect…often a topic not discussed in history class or mentioned in books.

I know I want to create a life that will allow me to say, as Helen Calvert said, that I am right where I want to be. A life that will allow me to buy amaryllis bulbs to my heart’s content – the only “children” I will ever have. And I will have them. Windowsills full of them. A life where the colors are my well-kept secret. A life that is good.

Roseanne in ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL by Susan Meissner

Beginning in 1938 and spanning a few years after WWII and beyond, these two brave women will touch your heart, break it into pieces, and magically put it together again. As Meissner states in her author’s note, “If we forget our history, we are more apt to repeat it, aren’t we? Hence this book.” This book shares parts of our history we tend to overlook or maybe haven’t even heard about but even today, we are still crossing that line of who gets to say who is weak or strong or perfect or different. This is a must-read and would also make an excellent book club discussion.

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than three-quarters of a million books in print in eighteen languages. She is an author, speaker, and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Check out her website, HERE.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.
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