Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Leonardo the Florentine by Catherine McGrew Jaime

Leonardo the Florentine
Author: Catherine McGrew Jaime
Publisher: Self-published
Series: N/A
Pages: 158
Genre: Historical fiction
Release Date: October 18, 2010
How Received: Author

SummaryWho are the Medici brothers? And who is trying to assassinate them? Why was the Pitti Palace never completed? And what part did Leonardo play in all of this? Leonardo da Vinci is remembered as an artist and inventory. But who was he before anyone knew his name? This family-friendly novel explores the history and the legends of his early years in Florence. It also weaves a mystery of politics and power.

My Thoughts:
This story felt more like a biography in the way that it was written. The voice felt distant, as if we were just reading about Leonardo. There were hardly any feelings involved and I just didn’t connect with the characters on any level. Compared to other historical fiction I’ve read, this just felt like a slightly altered biography. The history, naturally, was my favorite part of the novel.

Reading about Leonardo, however, was absolutely riveting. Not that he did much that exciting, but to see his (historically correct) upbringing was fascinating to me. I enjoy reading stories about where people have come from – especially ones where a person goes from rags to riches (well, so to speak). The story goes from when Leonardo is first apprenticed to when he heads to Milan. There wasn’t much that drove the story forward, to be honest, so that also reinforced my feeling of how this felt more like a biography. Some events were created, but most of it was historically correct. But nevertheless, I loved the descriptions of Florence and the history behind the Medici family.

The one thing that bothered me about this novel, however, was the passage of time. There was almost a reiteration of “Leonardo learned a lot during those months; he was enthralled with learning and absorbed anything he could be taught like a sponge. He was kept busy with a lot of projects. Months later...”. That’s a huge paraphrase, but a variation of passing the time like this was used at least 4 or 5 times.

One thing I thought was cool, however, was the incorporation of actual drawings and sketches Leonardo made inside the book. The chapters would open up with a sketch of Leonardo’s landscape drawing around Florence, and there was a map of Florence at the time Leonardo lived there. And lastly, there was also a timeline for Leonardo’s early life located at the back of the book that was awesome to reference.

Cover Musings: It’s not very eye-catching as a cover. But as a drawing? Amazing. I’ve seen this prospective study drawing for the Adoration of the Magi before (in a humanities class) and loved it.

Memorable Quotes:
As he swam among the others, his thoughts took him back to his favorite swimming place in Vinci – the pond behind Grandpa’s house. There he had been able to take in the lovely country surroundings when he was done. He had spent much time during those summer months studying the plants and the animals that flourished among his grandfather’s fields and vineyards.
Here in Florence, he had something new, something better. He had friends. (pg. 42)
Overall Thoughts/Final Comments: All in all, this story was more like a retelling of history (with some variations) than anything else. The most interesting part about the novel was that it was historically correct. However, there wasn’t much that drove the story forward, which made it seem like a retelling of someone’s life, and the middle got a bit slow. Would I recommend this book? Yes, especially if you love history. I can't wait to see where Catherine takes the story in her future novels. 

If this were required reading for an English or History class, I’d totally love it.

Rating: 3/5

**This book was provided for review by the author in exchange of an honest review.