Monday, 30 September 2013

Review: The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant



'Turning fifteen in Renaissance Florence, Alessandra Cecchi becomes intoxicated with the works of a young painter whom her father has brought to the city to decorate the family's Florentine palazzo.'

Sarah Dunant brings Renaissance Florence to life, exploring Alessandra's life and marriage under the influence of fundamentalist monk Savonarola who's political power and religious influence are changing the city. Beautifully written and easy to read, The Birth of Venus starts off as a fantastically vivid novel. The first chapter was written beautifully in a way that captured my attention and made me itching to read the rest of the book. Sarah Dunant paints pictures with her words- the images of Florence and the information about the clothes and colours she provides are rich and incredibly detailed, which seems to suit the nature of Alessandra's story telling. This can at times get a bit repetitive, especially in reference to the religious motivations behind art. But, again, even that fits, as Alessandra captures the changing spirit of the city of Florence in the closing years of the fifteenth century. Dunant's historical research is also evidence (and I have to admit that accurate historical knowledge always improves a book for me).

And then the last third ruined it all for me. The conclusions and decisions that Alessandra came to in her life did not satisfy me at all. I felt that there were certain elements that were too contrived, and that Alessandra would not really be happy with the way events happened. What she said and what she did sometimes differed through the book, and sometimes I felt that the character was being manipulated to cause plot developments to suit the authors whim. And by the end of the book, I was distinctly unsatisfied. This feeling has definitely affected the rating I have given the book, of 6 stars, which would have been much higher, I feel, if events after the receipt of the letter had taken a different turn. Like I said, 6 stars despite a strong start. I would definitely be interested in reading other works by Sarah Dunant, if only for the way she writes.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

At Home is definitely a learny stuff book. It claims to be a short history of private life, but crams in so much information into its many pages to really be more a history of technology, organised categorically by the rooms in his house. Bill Bryson has a certain way of writing that feels like he is telling you about someone he knows- the whole book feels personalised and anecdotal despite covering hundreds of years and featuring hundreds of different historical figures, from politicians, inventors and nobility.

The book is not something that can be read in one sitting, or even over a few days. To read more than a chapter or two at a time does cause information overload, so many facts slip the mind or blur together. Too many chapters together also does feel a touch repetitive, but that may be because I was listening to the audio book version whilst doing two weeks of data entry. Certainly, there were some chapters that were both better written and more interesting than others. For anyone who loves spouting random facts, Bill Bryson's works are the best source for a variety of these facts. He talks about the origin and development of habits, inventions and even language, and shows how over time these have all formed the features of our home that we take for granted.

Bill Bryson's At Home is definitely a book for the curious minded, and works well as a general overview of everything social history related. As a social history lover with a history degree, I feel like I can be a bit fussy here and say that there are other historians that I prefer, in both their general style of writing, methodology and general conclusions. But, not to knock Bill, he does have a certain charm that occasionally shines through. 7 stars.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: My Granny Writes Erotica, by Rosen Trevithick

Browsing amazon, I stumbled across My Granny Writes Erotica, and downloaded it after snaffling loudly at the description. Reading the book, I am so thankful that I did, as it was witty, prim and dirty, all at once. My Granny writes erotica takes a very humorous look at the forgotten person in erotic fiction: the writer.

Betty Berry has longed to be a writer, and has been working on her bestseller-to-be for 20 years, despite continuing rejections from publishers. But now, with debt collectors at her door looking for her adulterous husband and a fat wad of cash, Betty turns to self-publishing to make some speedy cash, with erotica being her genre of choice. But, being 65 and sexually naive to say the least (as well as quite prim and proper), Betty needs an education in erotica, and fast. Betty embarks on her mission, in an attempt to repay some of her husbands debts before anyone finds out that she is writing about naughty rumpy-pumpy.

I cannot recommend this book more. Betty is lovably naive, and manages to grow through the novella without losing her unintentional middle-class suburban charm. The story is detailed and well paced, allowing for a constant smirk of general amusement to be on my face for the whole 89 pages. Rosen Trevithick is a genius, and I have downloaded another of her books, Straight out of University, to read next. If anyone is interested in finding out more about older erotic writers, Rosen has a short piece about it on her website here.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Review: With This Ring, by Savannah Leigh

Lily is a wedding planner, and whilst she is fantastic at what she does, the depression is taking hold and threatening her business. Add in that she is 32 and single, with no chance of that changing any time soon.  Then at the biggest wedding of the season, Lily meets Drew, a stunningly handsome groomsman, who seduces her off her feet. The chemistry between them is too hot to handle, but Drew has a proposition for Lily that is more business than pleasure.

Novellas can be terrible, especially when there is insta-love. Thankfully, this is as far as you can get from short form literary tripe, thanks to its totally mad premise, that removes any and all need for insta-love. Eagerly awaiting the sequel, I thee wed! 8.5 stars.