An evocative but excessively adulatory fictionalized biography.

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LEONARDO'S SECRET

A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE OF LEONARDO DA VINCI

Screenwriter Myers’ debut novel illuminates the life of Leonardo da Vinci, depicting him as a painter and inventor driven by curiosity about the world around him.

The Barbera Foundation’s Mentoris Project publishes novels and nonfiction celebrating great Italians and Italian-Americans. This volume begins in Tuscany in 1459: As an illegitimate child, 7-year-old Leonardo isn’t allowed to attend school, but he educates himself by paying attention to the natural wonders around him—and he’s interested in everything he sees. This becomes his motto: “To be a painter, one must be a great observer not only of people, but all of nature.” At age 15, he moves to Florence to be an artist’s apprentice, and soon, church panels and nobles’ portraits are his bread and butter. But his interests also extend into science and philosophy: He’s fascinated by a solar eclipse, investigates anatomy and the mechanics of flight, and even questions the nature of the soul. He moves among Milan, Florence, and Rome, serving as a court painter for King Louis XII and as an architect for King Francis I, both of France, during the Italian Wars. Truly, this was the epitome of a Renaissance man. His idealism and curiosity get him into trouble, however; he’s briefly a military engineer but is so appalled by battles that he deserts from Cesare Borgia’s army. When Pope Leo X threatens him with excommunication for dissecting corpses, he replies, “I think it is right to study the works of God.” In this novel’s most rewarding scenes, readers see Leonardo’s famous works in progress: The Last Supper mural for a convent (which starts peeling months later, due to his experimental paint) and the portrait of silk merchant’s wife Lisa Gherardini with her “mysterious smile”; the Mona Lisa remains unfinished for years because of his struggle to convey her “wordless wisdom.” Myers also manages the sweep of time well, particularly via the use of characters’ letters. Occasionally, though, he resorts to lines such as “More years passed.” Oddly, this book most resembles a biography of a saint: Leonardo speaks in profound sound bites and hardly seems to have any flaws, except perhaps a reluctance to finish projects. A bit more earthiness might have been truer to his character and the time period.

An evocative but excessively adulatory fictionalized biography.

Pub Date: April 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-09-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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