About Natalie S

I am an excited and hat wearing human who loves to read novels, comics and manga. To me, characters make a story, so I am thrilled to meet new ones!

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Review!

Simply beginning as slice of life web comic Supermutant Magic Academy is a compilation of comic strips from this not so ordinary high school. Where we see little interactions between the students, teachers and themselves experiencing the most mundane high school situations like failing a test, prom, trying to find the school’s wifi hotspot or procrastinating on a project but with the added twist of magic wands, lasers, and shape shifting into trees. We also see the characters discovering their sexuality, superpower or the secrets to the universe between classes, during P.E. and in their dorm rooms. Making this a very witty, quirky, and relatable graphic novel that summarizes high school with each panel.

Although what is probably the best thing from this graphic novel is the hilarious and very diverse characters. From an everlasting boy who continuously dies and regenerates, an artist hell bent on making a statement about the world to her less appreciative peers, a shy and sarcastic dungeon master attempting to confess her feelings to her best friend and a jock named Cheddar who only has time to go off on existential rants as he refuses to become the chosen one. And yet this is only skimming the surface of all the characters featured in the novel and as you may be able to tell that they are quite distinct and memorable.

Overall the art style and story telling of this graphic novel is very welcoming and a whole bunch of fun in its simplicity. Making it a great book for people trying to get into graphic novels but are sort of struggling with the transition from text only to primarily illustrations and dialogue because like a real novel there are spaces left for you to fill in, but instead of it being images and characters it’s the story and how everything comes together which allows your imagination to roam and flourish at the Supermutant Magic Academy.

 

Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowen Review

When you really like a genre you tend to read a lot of books within it and therefore read a number of similar books. Books that take place in the same time periods, featuring the same monarchs, similar leading ladies, a stereotypical romance and plot line making it everything you want but sort of leaving out a lot of the surprise and mystique as you wonder what is going to happen next. Since because you are so familiar with this particular genre everything appears very predictable as if you have read it before… Unless you have read it before and it just takes you 250 pages to realize that. Which is what happened to me in this instance. Although, when I originally read it I -for some reason- never wrote review on it so please allow me to remedy that now.

Now, to be fair, I am quite well read in historical romances taking place during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in the 1500s with a cunning female lead falling in love with a brute. Also, I remembered reading the first 20-30 pages before leaving it be for a while (of so I though). So for me to think that I was reading this novel for the first time was entirely plausible. Especially since it was on my “to be read” stack. But I have to say that this novel was just as good the second time around, even with the weird deja vu I was having with it.

Which was mainly in part with the intricate and provocative characters. Especially with the protagonist Lady Beatrice Knowles who was a very clever, honest, persuasive, deceiving and responsible with her loyalties to the country of England and her family. Even if it meant marrying out of necessity for her family’s fortune to be sustained or to flirt with uncivilized scotsmen in order to woo information out of them. Since Beatrice is a liar and tradeswomen of secrets, knowing all and choosing when to wield her knowledge or to just talk her way out of something. Unlike her fellow spies, or the maids of honor, who dealt more in the supernatural, shadows and force in comparison to Lady Beatrice. Then there was the scottish warrior Alasdair MacLeod who is dashing, strong and prideful but utterly infatuated with the engaged Lady Beatrice. But of course her Royal Highness (and many other -nesses) directs her head maid honor to flirt with the scot to Lady Beatrice’s great annoyance. Making Lady Beatrice’s internal monologue quite entertaining as she takes you through all her flirtations, deceptions and personal agenda.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this novel, for the second time. The story is still enchanting, thoughtful, well crafted and entertaining. Definitely a must read for fellow fans of historical romances, mysteries and simply historical YA fiction.

 

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger

Be transported to a time not so far away in a place somewhat similar to our own, known as Belle Heights. In this place the buses are powered by hydrogen, lab dissections are virtual, teeth can be straightened in under an hour and there’s this special procedure known as Memory Enhancement.

So meet Rose a reborn women in her sophomore year of high school trying to make friends and reestablish herself. Right off the bat we see Rose dying her hair, beginning to wear makeup and completely change her wardrobe. Which instantly garners her more attention and allows her to break into new social groups, but something is amiss for Rose. She is making everything perfect, but it just doesn’t feel real or perfect to her. Which then leads us to the rest of the events of the novel.

Now, onto my opinions of this book! It is a short read and conceptually very interesting but incredibly convoluted. There just isn’t that much consistency or continuity throughout the novel to allow me to fall into Rose’s world, instead I keep dragging myself out of the world in order to set names straight, timelines and perspectives/pronouns. Which took away a lot from what is a pretty beautiful and powerful story. It also drew attention away from the very complex and compelling character of Rose who is a very confused, insecure and struggling teenager that a lot of us could identify with but it is hard to fully understand her and follow her development because of all inconsistencies of her pronouns, perspective and thought process that jumps around quite a bit similar to an actual teenager but makes it quite difficult to understand what is happening, happened or going to happen.

Alright, the reason why I wanted to read this book was because it claimed to be similar to Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not which was an amazing neo-science fiction novel. Now, there are a lot of similarities in these novels especially that they are what I consider neo-science fiction  which is when the world in very similar to our own aside from one or two things that are totally ahead of our time. In this case is was the Hydro-buses and Memory Enhancement which were pretty cool and well executed in the story.

So overall, I thought that this book was conceptually very interesting just not perfectly executed. However, I do believe that Rose’s character has some merits and a story worth being told. Also, this book would be good for anyone else interested in this neo-sci fi thing.

 

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

There are a lot of haters in the world, most of them are middle schoolers or pretentious hipsters. Although that’s not quite true and is actually quite presumptuous, most people are haters. Some are just more openly critical than others. And Jazz kids are definitely the more open of haters. So what happens when you shove hundred of them into a competitive camp?

Apparently three of them will ditch it completely a go on tour because they are just that cool. And it’s these three haters that we’ll be reading about. So I basically have already stated the entire plot of this book in two sentences but I have more to say. Especially on the bulk of this book which is them in a car driving around avoiding the cops, eating nothing even remotely nutritious, experiment with all sorts of drugs and alcohol, discover themselves, have phone/technology withdrawals and attempt to get gigs at clubs and bars. Its hilarious, profane, realistic and utterly enchanting. Sadly, there isn’t much more that I say without divulging spoilers! There are just so many surprises on the road that it would be awful to even give one of them away.

On to the awesome and enigmatic characters. Beginning with the leader of the Ash Ramos Band/Meow Meow Kitty/Jennifer Lawrence’s Armpit/Cookie’s Gruesome Death/ Perfect Taste/Charlize and the Eds/The Haters, Wes. A boy known to be ever vigilant, responsible and an unapologetic hater. He is sort of the dad of the group since he is always concern with everyone’s safety, care and overall experience while on their whirlwind tour. He plays bass and doesn’t suck, but also isn’t that good. Then there is Corey, Wes’ right hand man and the percussionist of their band. He has a streak of picking fights and also for being kept on a leash by his protective parents so he’s the most excited about this little adventure. And Ash the girl who has her own pace and rhythm that’s mesmerizing even if it doesn’t fit the song. She’s a rebel and sees no issue with her decisions and crazy ideas that take Wes and Corey on this wild ride. Now, what’s most enthralling about these characters is watching them bounce off of each other and grow with each other over the course of this novel.Since no one comes out of this road trip the same. This road trip tries them, strains them and tests their new or well founded relationships. Both boys are vying for Ash while Ash wants none of that, she just wants to have fun. So we see how Wes and Corey compete for Ash and also how this new freedom either sends them overboard or makes them incredibly conscious of how impossible this situation is.

Overall this book was awesome. It was realistic, laugh out loud funny and incredible. Definitely a must read for any jazz band people especially those in high school who will be given an awesome new game idea and also understand way more of the jokes then I did. This book is also for everyone who read John Green’s Paper Towns and would like to read a similar story about teenagers going on a life changing road trip this is worth checking out. Thankfully this book didn’t end up breaking my heart like Me, Earl & The Dying Girl did so thank you Jesse Andrews for your mercy. Please continue writing your ever hilarious and captivating stories.

 

Fans of The Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa Review

Tell me a story about how we can always runaway. How life is this impossible thing to comprehend yet we are all fan of it. Everyone is utterly enthralled with the concept of life even when they don’t want to be apart of it anymore. This harmless looking novel shows us three different perspectives,  all of which are a different expression of depression so some readers may recognize these characteristics in yourself, friends, family or someone you pass by. Although the facade is quickly taken off and throws the reader into the downward spiral of being a high schooler.

So the main setting in a small town in Massachusetts not to far from Cape Cod and Provincetown at a Catholic school and local diner. Summer has just ended and we meet Jeremy on his first day back to school and the beginning of his Sophomore year. Then we meet Mira who is partially repeating freshmen year and is the new student at this Catholic school. We meet Sebby later who should probably be in class but is just hanging out at a record store whittling away his time until he can hang out with Mira. Mira is trying to appease her family, but mostly be mother, by participating at school and making new friends. So when she is asked to join the new art club Sebby quickly convinces her to join. And the president of this art club is Jeremy and thus entwines the lives of these fans of the impossible life as they work on an art exhibition for their school.

Obviously not much more detail can be said about the setting and plot since that’s venturing too much into spoiler territory. So let’s introduce you to the characters. There are obviously three main characters because there are three perspective taking place. Readers first meet Jeremy a bookish and friendless art fanatic who spends all his time doodling. Jeremy has two Dads, a cat named Dolly Parton the cat (yes, that’s her full name) and confides in his english teacher, Peter, a great deal. And it was Peter’s idea to have Jeremy start the art club so he can begin making new friends and breaking out of his shell more. Mira and Sebby are paramount to Jeremy’s development as he is quickly enveloped into their circle and learns what it is like to not be alone and to have people to spend time with and texting to. And he is incredibly caring and devoted to his friends while still maintaining his own person, not being sucked into a group but infact becomes a better more independent him through his friends which is what friendships should accomplish. Then there is Mira a dark skinned and curvy thrifter who hates having to wear a uniform and makes a point of just barely breaking the rules so she can maintain her own style. She’s imaginative, crafty, sarcastic and insecure. Pretty much a perfect individual, but obviously she has her problems too. Although those problems are abated through thrifting and Sebby, her best friend. Sebby is in incredible character. He is written in a much different way then his friends jeremy and Mira who are written in the first person while Sebby is in the second person, kee that in mind while reading the book. Now, Sebby, a kid down on his luck caught in the foster care system making his share a room which a sparkly and too-peppy six year old, he can’t and won’t go to school and only has Mira and Jeremy to confide in. Sebby and Mira make up a dream team of kids finding security in the other to help resolve their personal insecurities. Its an epic relationship and totally a best friend goal for most of us out there in the big wide world. Alright, time for some shout outs to Jeremy’s fathers who are the first gay parents I have ever read before, then Rose the incredibly optimistic pessimist who is so infatuated that it will make anyone’s heart flutter and roll their eyes reading about her and then Peter a debately too open teacher who will listen to any student and tell other students who he thinks will end up all alone in the end. So yeah, the characters a freaking great.

As previously stated in the opening that this novel does deal with depression which is something most people encounter sometime in their life and most commonly in teens. It’s normal and can just be a phase, but sometimes gets out of hand. And I have to hand it to Kate Scelsa for expressing the three most common forms of depression through Mira, Jeremy and Sebby. These characters show a lot of the common signs of depression and how kids tend to deal with it. Which is heartbreaking and adds another layer to this story that is greatly appreciated and reaches out towards all different kinds of people out there dealing with depression.

You know, when I began this book I wasn’t expecting much. It just appeared and read like some slice of life coming of age novel. Nothing truly enthralling or magical, but not bad either. But boy oh boy was I wrong. This book is fantastic and something inexplicably compelling. It’s new and magnificent marking a new leaf in young adult literature and queer literature with Jeremy’s Dads and how only one character is straight the rest are gay and nobody obsesses over it. It’s just there and is amazing. So bravo Kate Scelsa you wrote a damn good book!

 

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Mysteries, conspiracies and scandals have captivated audiences across the globe and time sprouting gossip and internet forums to answer; why? Another thing that tends to enthrall the public is something spooky, something dark and utterly dangerous. It’s not uncommon for the two to intertwine and create something truly bewitching; like a novel. Well, prepare to be amazed by Alison Goodman’s newest book The Dark Days Club which the beginning to an astounding new series! One that deals with one debutante whose attempting to overcome such scandal bestowed upon her by her Mother.

 

Alright, let’s set the stage in 1812 London right as the summer season draws nearer and nearer our leading lady Helen is about to present herself to her majesty the Queen and is dutifully practicing her curtsies and rehearsing a scripted answer for if anyone brings up her scandalized mother. Life is normal and the bookish lady Helen is merely trying to appease her gracious extended family and atone for her Mother’s scandal by marrying in her first season. But obviously that’s not the whole story… Lady Helen is introduced to a distant cousin, Lord Carlston. A man accused of murdering his wife but with no body ever being found he remain innocent. Although lady Helen is still advised to maintain a length of distant from the Lord. This doesn’t stop Lord Carlston as he weasels his way into Lady Helen’s life and ultimately turns it upside down. Lady Helen is then thrust into the espionage and conspiracies kept under wraps by the “nonexistent” Dark Days Club that works directly under the crown in order to protect the public.

So, the characters are to die for. They are all intelligent, funny, witty and quick. Perhaps too quick… At least lady Helen Wrexhall who is notorious for stealing four hour candles so she can read well into the night since all she wishes to learn and satisfy her not-so-feminine curiosity. Lady Helen  also has a little quirk about her, aside from her substantial height, and that is her acute ability to read faces and see into the hearts of those she stares at. As a protagonist lady Helen thrives! She is level-headed, conservative, loyal and realistic with her escapades and also in her being a woman of the Regency era. A time that was the height of the ideal that Women’s’ sole purpose was to produce heirs and be obedient. Obviously, lady Helen disagrees with this ideology but knows to never voice her opinions and this constantly restricts her to her own and the reader’s frustration. Overall I absolutely adored Helen and can’t wait to see how her character further develop. Alright our main sidekick is Lord Carlson the man shrouded in scandal and mystery. In one word he could be described as commanding, enigmatic or disturbing… He carries a dangerous intensity but lady Helen automatically trusts and is infuriated by him. Now, in this novel we don’t learn too much about the history of Lord Calston but it is quickly understood that he is a respectable and virtuous man who believes in protecting everyone even at the expense of himself. Watching this duo bounce off each other was quite captivating since they have a lot of similarities but there is an obvious chasm between them due to their genders that either free them or hinder them. There is a plethora of other amazing and enticing characters who could keep me typing for pages upon page, but that would spoil a lot of the fun in the novel. You should know though that I adore Darby the best darn Lady’s maid who may not be as well at Lady Helen but she is just as smart and passionate as her Lady. There is also Duke or Selborne, Lady Helen’s brother Andrew and Lady Margaret who are worth mentioning too.

Read this book, please just read it! My ability to formulate sentences or reviews could never possibly do justice to the masterpiece that is this book. This novel is significantly different from any of the Regency era books that I have ever read and that is a lot of books. The only books that it is somewhat similar too is Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate or Finishing School series with the same century and witty female protagonists. I adore the writing, I admire the characters and was astounded by the story. Let me tell you that I cannot wait for the next installment in this series.

 

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

When a strong sisterhood is disrupted by one of the Varren girls going off to college in Maine the other is left to her own devices in the hustle and bustle of New York City. Leaving her to deal with her playboy father and his most recent divorce, catching up with her other college friends, drinking, smoking and being a general rebel –all while developing a crush on the boy across the park bench. Montana yearns all year for her sister to return from college, wholly believing that her reappearance will set the world right again. When her sister does finally return she quickly learns that her sister’s presence won’t fix everything and can actually make things even more off kilter then they were before.

This summer is promised to be the best summer ever where the sisterhood of Arizona, Montana and Roxanne are reunited with a new addition of Karissa and hopefully Bernardo. But of course it wouldn’t be that simple and easy. Arizona returns home having used her certificate given to her by their father and one of their step-mothers that gave her any free cosmetic surgery of her choice, in the case of Arizona it was breast implants. This begins the wedge between Montana and Arizona because they vowed to never get plastic surgery like their Mom and step-moms that eventually made them miserable and leave their Father. Who should be noted as the surgeon conducting these surgeries. The wedge goes deeper and widens as Arizona is introduced to Karissa who she claims to be a bad influence on Montana because she is taking her out to bars and constantly smoking with her. Then Bernardo enters the picture and Arizona despises how quickly and similar to their father Montana falls in love. This story is about family drama, lies, betrayal, love and being a teenager.

This novel puts a lot of effort into the characters and their development, it’s definitely more of the focus than the overarching story. Which I appreciated since characters mean everything to me. So let’s begin with the protagonist, Montana, the girl across the park bench who is in a hurry to grow up and be an adult like Arizona and Roxanne. Montana’s struggles to become independent are a focal point in this novel and typically fall short. Montana is a very dependant character where she needs someone to latch onto in order to feel comfortable as herself. Readers see this with how she relies on her sister to make the majority of their decisions and opinions, with Karissa after Arizona leaves to take her out drinking and smoking to finally Bernardo who defines her burgeoning sexuality. Montana is constantly asking herself “what would so and so think or do?”. Which gets rather frustrating as the story progresses. It should also be noted that Montana is not a reliable narrator in many parts of the books because she is often drunk. Now onto Arizona Montana’s sister who is presented as very kind and considerate, but turns out to be a rather hateful and grudge bearing girl who is the largest hypocrite in the book. Montana relays to the audience that Arizona has always been very against plastic surgery and associated it with the cruel step-mothers. So it’s really surprising when she does get work done and seems really out of character and I thought that it would be delved deeper into and some conclusions could be created by the reader, but nothing is given or inferred by the text. Alright, Bernardo is a quirky guy from the other side of NYC who is willing to dye his hair pink in order to woo a girl and it works. For the most part of the novel Bernardo appears to be the only sane one who is a very positive influence in Montana’s life which I think does help Montana develop more as a character. Guess it’s Karissa next who is Montana’s life preserver after Arizona’s move to Maine that’s willing to take her to bars and go clubbing who I consider to be an awful role model and a very irresponsible adult. Karissa propels the plot forward and definitely receives the most dimension and development throughout the novel making her the most engaging character. Finishing off this section with mention of the father of Montana and Arizona who gets way too little page time, but I think that’s to signify just how absent he is from his daughters’ lives even though his decisions and lifestyle impact them the most.

Overall, this was a story about a teenage girl trying to find herself and not really finding herself. Which is frustrating, but also extremely and devastatingly realistic. Since no teenager has a perfect or reasonable expectation of what they expect to do with their life. Most adults probably don’t either. So what this novel offers is a slew of not your run of the mill characters and a plot that is full of a bunch of surprises. If teen or body image fiction is your thing I would suggest this novel.

 

When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling Review

An utterly chilling, thrilling and astounding novel that would make anyone’s skin crawl. Although it is not a horror book, it’s much worse; it’s realistic! But with a hint of magic sinister and good since as readers find out that there is magic in the everyday.

So let’s takes a road trip up to Chico where Lacy lives with her Step-Mother after her father’s death. Lacy loves her life and is motified when her mother returns after three years of being awol and takes her back to Sacramento. There she begins to morph into the heartless and soulless girl she once was who had black hair and wore gratuitous amounts of eyeliner, but worst of all Lacy begins to use black magic. Cursing people and thinking evil thoughts that occasionally escape Lacy is becoming the girl she fears being; a monster. So how does Lacy fight her growing despicableness? Or will she let it conquer her? Well, you would have to read the book and find out!

Lacy is an amazing and complex protagonist who has known a lot of suffering and is a victim of abuse. So it’s not surprising when you learn of her smoking and thieving or when she uses her dark magic it’s typically in a justifiable situation. Yet Lacy is overcome with guilt and self hatred for her actions since she did a bad thing, she has a conscience. Although as the book progresses we get to meet many different Lacys who aren’t as nice, are more vengeful, more innocent and more fragile since Lacy is just a kid who wants to study botany and chemistry but is stirpped away from all that she loves and isolated with an abusive and wicked mother who turns her into another person. Typing of Lacy’s mother Cheyenne who is a beautiful and ageless woman that is quite adept at extortion and other crimes in order to survive. Cheyenne is a very talented manipulator who easily plays with Lacy, lovers and everyone one around her who begin to question their own sanity while in her presence. Readers learn more about Cheyenne’s past which is haunting and answers a lot of questions, but it in no way justifies her actions and makes Lacy seem all the more powerful for being able to go up against her mother. Another character worth mentioning is Anne, Lacy’s stepmother who is a good natured vegetarian who is terribly worried and avidly fighting for the right to take Lacy away from Cheyenne and that is so great. Anne totally defies the stereotype that all stepmothers are wicked and it’s great to see an adult so concerned with Lacy after she has lost so much. There are more awesome characters, but it would be spoiling too much to mention who they are and their roles, but they are essential to the plot.

This novel is not for the faint of heart their is child abuse, manipulation, self harm, attempted suicide, attempt at rape and a lot of other horrible things so be wary when reading this novel. It’s a scintillating read that’s quick and easy, but has a lot going on. It also really gets into the psychology of being an abuse victim and how the mind starts changing as someone is abused.

Overall, When My Heart Was Wicked is a novel that captures a reader wholeheartedly and takes them on a wild ride. Its perfect for the season when everything is creepier than usual. I will be recommending this to people who are comfortable with such themes. Although the warning I will also be giving is that their is a charm on this book which is that you can’t put it down once you start.

 

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

 

While sitting through a boring class it’s fun to doodle or draw in my notebook and then imagine the little characters and waves that I sketched come to life and put on a little play for me. Now, as cool as that would be if it actually happened I would be a little freaked out if one day the murals around downtown began to weep or change while my doodles cowered in a corner of my notebooks. But I guess in Brooklyn, New York that’s the case and it’s up to Sierra to get to the bottom of this mystery. A mystery which answers a lot of questions but creates countless more.

So its modern day Brooklyn and school has just let out for the summer when Sierra is given the task to paint a mural all over an abandoned tower which obviously an artist would be happy to do. And in teenager fashion makes the mural a great dragon! Yet as Sierra works on her mural she notices another across the way begin to fade and weep so she goes to her Grandfather who has been speaking in tongues until this occasion when he instructs her to find someone and gives her a part of a poem. So Sierra finds this person a fellow artist named Robbie and he explains everything to her and just in the nick of time since they need to ban together in order to save the world! Which I won’t go into since that would be spoiling the book and that’s cruel. But what I will say is that the story is utterly captivating and on more than one occasion throws out a plot twist. Which was unexpected, but very appreciated.

Sierra Maria Santiago is what she is; enough. She’s casual with a touch of cute and is a freaking badass. She is an amazing narrator who takes everything in stride after tripping a few times, literally. But what I appreciated most about Sierra was a few unimportant scenes where she perfectly describes body image issues and how she interacts with her family and friends. I loved how Sierra went to or attempted to get help from adults which is something so seldom seen in novels and movies, especially when the adults in her life listened and did help her. Now on to Robbie! An inked up artist who isn’t really intimidating but is pretty quirky and absolutely the most loveable person in the book. He isn’t very smooth and has a track record for ditching his dates, but he is always well prepared to fight and draw. Robbie is essential to Sierra’s induction to shadow shaping and he teaches her most of what she knows as well as support Sierra as all the craziness catches up to her. Alright time for a few quick honorable mentions to Sierra’s other friends who were truly loyal and hilarious as they adventure together. And even for the friends who didn’t stick around, my hat goes to them for leaving and not forcing themselves into a situation they didn’t want to be in. Then there was Nadiya and Sierra’s godfather who were very present and amazing adults that every teenager should know.

Another thing worth mentioning is that most of the dialogue is in spanish and are a number of other things since most of the characters are Puerto Rican, Mexican or Black. I do not know spanish so I chose to keep a dictionary with me just in case I found a word that could have a deeper meaning say something more than the english equivalent. Although I didn’t find anything so that isn’t really necessary and most of the words are common phrases and many can be inferred if you know a latin rooted language like Portuguese or French.

Shadowshaper is the perfect read right now during this season of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos when everything is a little bit more creepy and the unreal is more real. The suspension is comparable to that of a Guillermo Del Toro horror movie and builds beautifully as the story progresses misleading the reader like the Winchester Mystery House. Overall a stunning read! I absolutely love the characters, setting and mixing of languages and cultures.

 

Da Vinci’s Tiger By Laura Malone Elliott

 

There are poets. There are muses. There are revolutionaries. But is there one who captures all of those traits? What would they look like? What would they be like? Who would the be? Well, I beg your pardon, she is a mountain tiger. And her name is Ginevra De Benci a woman of the Renaissance whose gaze and portrait has entranced people for centuries. Now her story between the portrait and it’s back.

This historical novel explores the exquisite and splendor of Florence, Italy where the sixteen-year-old Ginevra De Benci is wading through life. Recently a graduate of a convent school and newly wed woman to a wool dyer, Ginevra is rather uninspired and unprovoked. Until she is invited to the Medici’s family residence for a dinner where she meets two compelling men; ambassador Bernardo Bembo and artist Leonardo Da Vinci. That night Ginevra enchants the ambassador who then pursues Ginevra as his Platonic Love. A platonic love in Florence is a relationship between a man and woman where a man is inspired by a woman to become closer to God and kept strictly to emotional and mental intimacy. Not physical. The platonic love is entertained by the rich and well-to-do who have the money to pay for gorgeous portraits of stone, oil or any other medium to capture the women in her chaste beauty. So when Leonardo Da Vinci is commissioned by ambassador Bembo to capture Ginevra De Benci and a different love blossoms between them.

Love in all its forms is explored in Da Vinci’s Tiger and does beg the question of what is love and can love be platonic? Readers will see familiar lover between brothers and sisters, marital love, devotional love, platonic love and scandalous love. Which really reminds me of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with how people experience many different loves and not just one. Love is a spectrum and felt on many varying levels. That is especially apparent in Da Vinci and Ginevra’s relationship where Da Vinci is a Florenzer or gay, but he and Ginevra still have this very intimate adoration for each other.

Alright, now onto the characters. Obviously beginning with Ginevra who is an excellent woman. A woman who is not particularly upset with her position in life because she is comfortable and her relationship with her husband is cordile. Yet she still has a mind of her own that provokes her to write poetry inspired by ancient texts, the teachings of Abbess Scholastica  and of her own heart. Which is why she is a mountain tiger whose gaze enchants all. Ginevra De Benci is a poet, inspiration to Da Vinci and readily encourages Da Vinci to break tradition and societal norm with her drab garb and being place in a landscape when women were not compared to the forces of nature. On to Leonardo Da Vinci the wild, inspired and rash artist. Who has just finished his apprenticeship with the great Varricchio who is helping him find work and establish Leonardo in Florence. Da Vinci is so progressive and thoughtful with how he works conversing with Ginevra on an academic and philosophical level that Ginevra is very unused to being a woman. He gives Ginevra a lot of freedom and security over the months they spend together creating a portrait to astound audiences for year and years to come, Da Vinci may have physically painted the portrait, but Ginevra was just as present in the creation of the piece. The final person I would like to give the spotlight to is Luigi, Ginevra’s husband whom we spend little time with. Although he is still worth mentioning because of how kind and supportive he is, he isn’t cold or cruel unlike most other husbands depicted in italian historical fiction. Luigi is very supportive of Ginevra for more reasons than practical advantages he wants to see her happy and understands that them together won’t produce that. And that’s just amazes me.

Da Vinci’s Tiger is a excellent italian historical romance. Elliott masterfully captures Florentine culture and weaves a new story. Since Italian historical fiction is by far my favorite genre that I am always on the quest for more of and it’s aggravating when I read novels telling very similar stories of the same family -typically Medici-  so nothing is very surprising, but here there is a novel that is fresh and new. Definitely something for any renaissance or historical fiction fan to pick up. Since I came, I read and I was conquered.