March 14, 2010

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

It's 1559. A young woman painter is given the honor of traveling to Michelangelo's Roman workshop to learn from the Maestro himself. Only men are allowed to draw the naked figure, so she can merely observe from afar the lush works of art that Michelangelo sculpts and paints from life. Sheltered and yet gifted with extraordinary talent, she yearns to capture all that life and beauty in her own art. But after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family.

After Sofi's flight from Rome, her family eagerly accepts an invitation from fearsome King Felipe II of Spain for her to become lady-in-waiting and painting instructor to his young bride. The Spanish court is a nest of intrigue and gossip, where a whiff of impropriety can bring ruin. Hopelessly bound by the rules and restrictions of her position, Sofi yearns only to paint. And yet the young Queen needs Sofi's help in other matters- inexperiences as she is, the Queen not only fails to catch the King's eye, but she fails to give him an heir, both of which are crimes that could result in her banishment. Sofi guides her in how best to win the heart of the King, but the Queen is too young, and too romantic, to be satisfied. Soon, Sofi becomes embroiled in a love triangle involving the Queen, the King, and the King's illegitimate half brother, Don Juan. And if the crime of displeasing the King is banishment, the crime of cuckolding him must surely be death.

Combining art, drama, and history from the Golden Age of Spain, "The Creation of Eve" is an expansive, original, and addictively entertaining novel that asks the question: Can you ever truly know another person's heart?

When visiting Michelangelo's workshop in Rome, Sofi becomes tempted into an indiscretion with the young man she has longed for for some time, Tiberio. With no resulting offer of marriage Sofi accepts the position of lady-in-waiting to the very young, newly crowned Queen of Spain, Elisabeth, and in doing so subjugates her love and talent for painting. The story follows Sofi through the trials of the Queen's new marriage to King Felipe II and the jealousies and rivalries that arise between the King's son Don Carlos, his brother Don Juan, nephew Don Allesandro and the King for the attentions of the Queen.  The King is fiercely jealous and has total command over the lives of those in the royal household. Sofi becomes favourite of the Queen and through her naive errors and inherent timidity creates more difficulties for herself, and at times, the increasing discontented Queen Elisabeth.

What I loved about this book was the original story about a little-known, unique person in history, Sofonisba Anguissola, a female painter during the Renaissance. The novel is very intimate from the first, presented in journal format, so we are reading about the events as they happened through Sofi's eyes.  The novel is divided into Notebooks and journal entries, and before each journal entry Sofi writes Items...little notes about painting, herbs, history, culture, court life...whatever Sofi deems important.

Sofi is very naive and I chuckled at every time she was driven to say "Sweetest Holy Mary" when confronted with temptation or surprising events.  Sofi is used to living within a constrained lifestyle and the story is more about her attempts to have increased understanding of the world and venturing beyond the restrictions imposed on her...sometimes with disastrous consequences. The story is bittersweet as Sofi both indulges and repels her yearnings to paint, experience life and discover love.

At times some of the scenes were repetitive...the King comes across the Queen acting seemingly indiscreet one too many times.  Some of the story seems to lagged in places, but the premise is creative and very well researched.  This is quality historical fiction that I recommend if you like original characters, court intrigue and a focus on artistic talent.

Disclosure: LibraryThing EarlyReviewers ARC from Publisher
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 390
Publisher: Putnam
Release: Hardcover March 23, 2010

My Rating: 4.0


Further Recommendations:
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

March 10, 2010

Other Obsessions Besides Books?

Being obsessed with books from an early age, I have to admit I am a creature of habit in other areas of my life too, so when I try new things and absolutely love them I usually go back to them them over and over again. Like I have used the same shampoo and conditioner for over I think five years and it wasn't only until last winter that I changed from "volumizing" to "moisturizing" in the same brand.  I don't know what this says about me...but if you find something great, why deviate? These are some of my favourite things.  I'd love to hear of some of your obsessions beyond books, so please comment!!!

Volumizing Shampoo and Moisturizing Conditioner from Pureology - This conditioner is super and works great to counteract my daily use of a flat-iron.

Earl Grey (Loose Leaf) Tea from Café Artigiano - Has an amazingly strong Earl Grey flavour and wonderful scent.

Calvin Klein Black Shaper Tights from The Bay - I feel an inch thinner all over with these tights on.

Grilled cheese and ham sandwich with a garlic pickle on the side. Comfort food and my go to meal when I do not want to put any effort into dinner.

Narciso Rodriguez For Her Perfume (Pink Bottle) - Has a woodsy scent that is still feminine. I have a very sensitive sense of smell and this is the only perfume I have found I can wear.

Russian Caravan tea by Murchies…a unique smokiness in this medium-bodied tea.

Dark chocolate ice cream with Skor bites in a dark chocolate dipped waffle cone from Marble Slab Creamery.

Sony Reader PRS-600 - Pefect for travelling on the bus to and from work every day. Nothing can replace reading from the real thing though!

My Diamond Hoop Earrings from Anne Louise - The perfect discreet earring for everyday.

Ombra Eucalyptus Bubble Bath. Wonderfully strong menthol smell that is totally relaxing...almost like being at the spa!

Starbucks Extra Hot Hot Chocolate.  Some hot chocolates have a very week chocolate taste but not this one...I always order extra hot because I like to savour it rather than gulp it.

Rosebud’s Strawberry Lip Balm. I put this on every night before going to sleep and I never have chapped lips anymore...and I used to be a chapstickaholic.

Black Crocodile Print Riding Boots from Arnold Churgin - Perfect with skinny jeans and skirts.

Slate Blue Cashmere Scarf from Club Monaco. The perfect color for my blue eyes.

NeoStrata Intense Daytime Total Anti-Age Complex - A women in her 30s needs to fight those wrinkles. I have been a long-time user of NeoStrata products and this one was well worth the price. I waited until I got a two for one deal though!

Lush Fluffy White Clouds and Bathos Bubble Bars - Both bars have patchouli undertones which are soothing. I make the bars last a long time by using a bit of the bubble bar with Milk & Honey bubble bath gel from Bath & Body Works.

L'oreal Voluminous Mascara in Black with the Curved Brush - I  have used this mascara since my teens and only varied to black-brown from black a couple times. The best mascara!