Written by: Alyssa Pa
Published: April 25, 2017 by Quirk Books
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.
Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.
*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***
When I received an email from St. Martin's Press asking if I would be interested in reading an advance copy of this book, I of course said yes. Not only do I love historical fiction set in the Renaissance, especially if art is involved, but I also love the city of Florence. And this book was an absolute delight.
For one thing, the author does a great job establishing the historical setting. You can tell she did her research into the time period, and the historical figures. Renaissance Florence definitely comes alive in this book with the art, the politics, and the themes or religion and marriage. Fans of historical fiction will definitely appreciate the way the author explores the time period in an interesting and entertaining way.
But more than that, I appreciated the way that the author establishes the physical setting. I am a great admirer of the city of Florenece. It's beauty, it's history, it's culture, I love it there. In college I spent a semester abroad there and it has been so long ago now that I am desperately missing the city and want to go back. And while this book did nothing to assuage those feeling, that was kind of a good thing. I'm not sure if it was my wanderlust or the writing but the city definitely came alive for me. I could see the Duomo, the Arno, the churches, the narrow streets, and the red roofs. This book is definitely a love letter to Florence and I loved that.
As far as the plot of the book goes, it is definitely a character-driven story. It is about Simonetta and her interactions with the elite of Renaissance Florence. And that made for kind of a basic storyline that was made a little more interesting by exploring some deeper themes of the time. It was more about what it means to be a wife and a beautiful woman in the time than it was about art work or artists. It was interesting, but still kind of simple. I read the book in just a few days, which honestly is totally okay. After not finishing a book I was excited about, it was nice to read something simple and still engaging.
But that being said, I didn't really love the characterizations here. So much of the book needs to be carried by the main character of Simonetta. She is supposed to be the most beautiful and intelligent woman who is so sought after by all the men, but it felt like I was being told this as a justification for their actions instead of being shown it. But I did appreciate that she thought for herself and stood by her convictions. There were just times I get like the fawning over her was a bit over the top. And certain aspects of her relationships I definitely saw coming. She was an interesting and arguably complex character, I just didn't connect with her for some reason.
But I did really like the way the author took real life characters and expanded on their stories. This is the perfect example of historical fiction. I absolutely know who the Medici's are, and of course Botticelli but I feel like I learned much more about them in this book. And I have never heard of Simonetta Vespucci before this book but now I am definitely fascinated by her. She was indeed a real person and it was great learning about her and thinking of her as the inspiration behind some of Botticelli's most famous works. That is the best kind of historical fiction to me, the kind that takes real people and events and explores them in interesting and engaging ways.
On the whole this was a really good read. I loved being able to explore the beauty and art of Renaissance Florence and even though I didn't totally connect with the characters it was interesting to see the lives of real people explored in a complex and engaging way.
I give The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palumbo 9 out of 10 stars
Have you read The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!