Book Review: The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

First line: Clara Darden’s illustration class at the Grand Central School of Art, tucked under the copper eaves of the terminal, was unaffected by the trains that rumbled through ancient layers of Manhattan schist hundreds of feet below.

Summary: For Clara, a struggling artist and illustration teacher, Grand Central School of Art is a stepping stone in the hopes of greater things to come. She has dreams of working for Vogue as an illustrator. By moving to New York City, she left behind everything but so far, things have not turned out the way she had planned.

After her divorce, Virginia Clay has been trying to figure out how to support herself and her daughter after spending years as the wife of a powerful attorney. When she gets a job at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth, she does not realize how much it will change her life. She discovers a watercolor behind a cabinet in the old art school and it leads her on search for the artist and the history of the terminal.

Highlights: I really enjoyed the character of Levon. He was fiery and temperamental. He portrays the iconic angsty artist. He had a rich back-story and little quirks that made him stand out. I wish that he were a real person so I could see some of the work that Davis describes in her novel.

The descriptions of Grand Central were amazing. Google is my best friend when reading historical fiction. I am always pausing my reading to search for pictures or more information about places and characters. It is sad that the terminal was in such bad shape in the 70s and that at one point it was going to be torn down. I have never traveled to NYC but I have seen the station at Kansas City and if it is half as pretty as that, it would have been a shame to lose it.

I have enjoyed the time jumps in Davis’ work. I think the thing that makes her work so great. She is able to switch between characters and time while keeping the flow of the story. I have not read her second book, The Address, yet but I am on hold for it now.

Lowlights: The beginning was a little slow to start. Davis gave us some background on the characters plus some information about the time. Then the speed of the relationships went very fast. I was a little shocked by Virginia early on but she grew on me as I continued to read. One scene in particular stood out between Virginia and Dennis.

FYI: If you like this try the novels of Susan Meissner.

Book Review: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

First line: It was a large canvas, big enough that it had taken two men to carry it into Il Magnifico’s chambers.

Summary: Simonetta, a new bride to Marco Vespucci, is considered the most beautiful woman in Florence. When she meets the rising star, Sandro Botticelli at the home of Lorenzo de Medici, she becomes the muse for the artist. He uses her as the model for one of his most famous works, The Birth of Venus.

Simonetta in The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Highlights: I really enjoyed the story. I love the time and the history of the Medici family. They were leaders of the Republic of Florence as well as supporters of the Renaissance in Italy. I had never heard of Simonetta Vespucci before reading this but since I have Googled her to see the paintings done by Botticelli. The writing was well done and flowed nicely. This is a good example of historical fiction. It has just enough history to learn from but is not filled with facts. I plan to read the author’s debut novel soon.

Lowlights: I got tired of the repetition of her being the most beautiful woman and being used to having people stare at her. It is the title of the book. It was too much. I did not need to be reminded.

FYI: Check out the artwork of Botticelli. It is amazing!

Book Review: The Light of Paris

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

First Line: I didn’t set out to lose myself.

Summary: Madeleine is a married woman who is bored and unhappy with her life.  Her husband is controls everything from the money to what she

is allowed to do with her day.  She loves to paint but he has made it clear that he does not think that this is something she should be spending her time doing.  When she goes home to visit her mother she finds her grandmother’s journals in a trunk in the attic.  Through the writings of a woman she barely knew she finds out more about herself and what she wants from life.

Margie is a young woman in 1924.  She was a debutante but remains unmarried making her practically an old maid.  When the chance to chaperone her younger cousin around Europe is presented she jumps at the chance to see the world before she settles into marriage with one of her father’s business partners.  But the trip doesn’t turn out as planned.  Her cousin ditches her in Paris leaving Margie with the question of what to do alone in Europe.  Rather than take her parents advice and return home she decides that Paris has more to offer her, even if it’s only for a little while.

Highlights: Paris!  It has been 11 years since I visited the City of Lights but I want to go again.  This book took me back to the 4 days I got to spend there in college.  The monuments, cathedrals and the food were magical!  I envy Margie the chance to live in this beautiful city.  I liked the flashbacks.  It made the story richer as you found out more about each woman.  I was able to connect with them and became invested in each of their lives.

Lowlights: Most of the story was very predictable.  I knew what was going to happen in most of the book but that is not always a bad thing.  It felt like a safe and comfortable read.

FYI: You will want to visit (or live) in Paris after this!