First line: When Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, more than two hundred years after Holbein’s death, he understood a biographer to be ‘A writer of lives; a relator not of the history of nations, but of the actions of particular persons.’
Summary: Hans Holbein was the court painter to Henry VIII of England. But even though he achieved stardom at the English court he started as the son of painter in Augsburg, Germany. He learned his trade from his father and worked his way up the social ladder with introductions for well-known clients until he reached the height of his career. Using his talent, he brought the world the best known portraits of the Tudor court including the king himself, his courtiers and several of his wives.
My Thoughts: I have loved Holbein’s work ever since I became interested in the Tudor period. His art is beyond his time. He brings life to his subjects making them almost appear in 3D. Many of his works survive and there are probably some still to be discovered. The few that I have seen are outstanding in their detail.
I really enjoyed this look into Holbein’s life. Before reading this I basically knew his name and his works. I learned a lot about the time period in which he lived, his rise through friendships with Erasmus and Thomas More, and the lives of painters in the sixteenth century. I always assumed that someone who worked for the court was well off but many painters struggled to make enough for their families. There are many rules surrounding the painters’ world including inclusions in guilds and requirements of marriage. I found this to be a great insight into another world inside the one I already knew from my years of reading Tudor history.
Moyle’s biography can be fairly dense with information but I found it easy to read. She follows a linear storytelling while she explains the culture and religious tensions of the time and how they affected the young painter.
The book includes color prints of some of his father’s works (Hans Holbein the Elder), early religious works (Hans Holbein the younger), and his portraits from the royal courts.
FYI: For fans of art history or the Tudor period.
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.
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!