Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant – Audiobook Review

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family – in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia – in order to succeed.

Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest – though increasingly unstable – weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Thoughts on the story:

The Borgias rival the Tudors as one of the most dramatic families of the European Renaissance. Dunant approaches the family with a very literary and somewhat reserved bent. In the early pages of Blood and Beauty I worried that I would have a difficult time getting into the book because Dunant keeps the reader very distant from her characters. I need not have worried, though. Dunant tells the story of the Borgias beautifully and with such reality and tension that even knowing the history and where all of their lives were headed, I was completely rapt.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Edoardo Ballerini. You guys. He’s fabulous. Like, he’s just really fabulous. I’ve got a serious audio crush on him now. Every part of his performance is masterful.

Overall:

Amazing. The book, the audio edition, all of it. Read it or, even better, listen.

For more information, see the publisher’s page.
Source: Publisher

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

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Inferno by Dan Brown – Audiobook Review

Inferno by Dan Brown, narrated by Paul Michael
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Doubleday Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

Thoughts on the story:

A classic Dan Brown, and, I believe, vastly superior to The Lost Symbol. Inferno has a pretty good pace, although it somehow manages to feel less high-stakes that DaVinci Code and a truly improbably number of things happen over the course of the day. And, of course, because the protagonist is Robert Langdon we hear about his damn tweed coat and Mickey Mouse watch a ridiculous number of times, the watch even though Langdon LOSES IT before the first scene. Despite its obvious problems, I enjoyed Inferno more than Angels and Demons and The Lost Symbol. I think it was largely the literary and Italian Renaissance art themes that really made it for me. Although, I will note, that at least twice I figured out very obvious clues before our celebrated symbologist and art historian did, based on nothing more than what I remember from AP European history about 15 years ago. That was sort of ridiculous. And frustrating. No way these things should have puzzled Langdon, so I would be distracted by my frustration with him until he’d finally get it.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Audio is SO the way to go, here. Paul Michael is a new-to-me narrator and in another book I might not be blown away by his narration, but he totally worked for me to get inside Robert Langdon’s head. He seemed so much more like how I would have imagined Robert Langdon than Tom Hanks ever did. He was also surprisingly good at giving characters different voices, a skill I didn’t expect based on something in his voice. I think the main reason why this worked really well, though, is that Brown is more of a storyteller than a wordsmith. In audio I could mostly ignore the short chapters and the occasionally awkward or repetitive phrasing; I could just sit back and be washed into the story. And you know what? I ended up listening to the whole 17 hours of it in about 2 days, which for me is unprecedented, so yeah, the audio really worked here.

Overall:

Inferno would be a really great road trip audiobook this summer. Also recommended for yard work or the gym.

Learn more about this book at the publisher’s website.
Source: Review copy.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

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All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani – Book Review

All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press

Maddalena came to the United States with her husband Antonio 50 years ago, and by now she has given up any idea of ever returning to Italy. After all this time, most of the people she knew and loved are either dead or sick; Maddalena would prefer simply to remember them as they were. Unfortunately for the Grasso family peace, Antonio and Maddalena’s strong-willed daughter Prima has decided that it is in everyone’s best interest for the whole family – her parents, her husband and sons, and her younger brother Frankie – to return to her parents’ ancestral home. Antonio wants this trip just as badly as Prima does, but Maddalena and Frankie are dead-set against it.

It took me awhile before I connected to the story in All This Talk of Love. The novel opens on Frankie, and I found the story of him and his married lover to be the least compelling part of the novel. I continued reading, however, and before long I found myself completely caught up in the Grasso family. There is so much more to their story than meets the eye: illnesses, the loss of a child, even issues of sexuality. The farther you get into All This Talk of Love, the more realistic and fully formed the characters become. Some of the family members – particularly Antonio – hold views that bothered me. I’ll admit that this put me off a bit when I first encountered them, but they are very true to who he is, the age in which he was raised, and his background, all of which just makes him feel like an even more realistic character.

Ultimately All This Talk of Love is a realistic and moving book. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower – Book Review

Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks

1492 was not a good time to be Jewish in Spain. Esther’s father and brothers left ahead of Esther and her mother in order to set up a life for them in Rome, but eventually King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella formally expelled all Jews from Spain, and Esther and her mother were force to flee to Rome as well. It was a hard journey, and Esther’s mother died along the way, leaving Esther’s voyage in the hands of friends and neighbors. If all of that weren’t bad enough, after Esther’s arrival, her father decides that she will convert to Christianity and become a lady in waiting to Lucrezia Borgia, in order to further ingratiate Esther’s father the moneylender to Pope Alexander VI, nee Rodrigo Borgia. For one or another, Esther becomes very close to Lucrezia – and in some ways even closer to Lecrezia’s infamous brother Cesare, who bestows upon Esther the nickname Violante.

It is a pretty common historical narrative that the Borgia’s brought back the decadence of ancient Rome and added a health dose of poison, that their bed and spouse hopping made the Henry VIII’s marital history look puritanical by comparison. Even so, some of Esther’s early experiences with the Borgias seem to be almost tawdry for tawdry’s sake. Perhaps this is an accurate description of his parties, but it seemed to me that a bit more could have been left to the imagination. Partly because of the graphic nature of some of the early Borgia scenes, Sins of the House of Borgia got off to a slow and rocky start for me. While it eventually engaged me and the pace picked up, I never stopped having an issues with Esther’s intense fascination with and lust for Cesare Borgia. At their very first meeting he embarrassed and degraded her, and never showed any particular preference for her, other than writing her letters seemingly designed to lead her on. Esther was generally a very smart young woman, I found it difficult to believe that she was so incredibly stupid about a man so famously inconstant and syphilitic.

I’m still very interested in books about the Borgias, particularly some set in the years before Rodrigo’s ascension or in the early years of his Papacy, instead of nearing the end of their power as Sins of the House of Borgia was. Someone please write or recommend me a book with a good scene about the battle between Cesare and Catherina Sforza! Sins of the House of Boriga may interest those who like historical fiction that adheres to the tropes of the romance genre better than I do.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis – Book Review

The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Daughter of the rakish Duke of Milan and daughter-in-law (yes, you read that right) of the Pope, Catherina Sforza was not your average 15th century woman. She loved where she wished, schemed for what she wanted, and fought to keep what was hers. She even matched wits and swords with the Borgias. That being said, Caterina Sforza is a strong, admirable woman, but is also perhaps not the most sympathetic character in fiction, particularly when she is younger. Which is why Kalogridis was wise to narrate her story through her (entirely fictional) lady-in-waiting Dea. Dea was actually a particularly compelling character in her own right: consumed with a need to understand the mystery behind and take revenge for her husband’s murder.

I was totally sucked into “The Scarlet Contessa.” I am just starting to read more about the Italian Renaissance, and it is absolutely fascinating. From what I learned in history classes in high school, I thought it was all artists and patrons, some scientific discovery, and maybe a little backlash against scientific discovery from the church. But, oh! the power struggles! And not only amongst the Dukes, Princes, and other leaders of the various cities, but between the secular leaders and the church, and within the church itself! Absolutely fascinating.

This is the second book by Kalogridis I read and reviewed. “The Scarlet Contessa” confirmed what I thought after reading “The Devil’s Queen,” that Kalogridis is a very skilled author. Her particular talent is taking characters who should be unsympathetic due to their actions and making the reader care about what happens to them. Not every author can do that, and many books have left me cold because I could not care less about the protagonist. Kalogridis, though, examines the complex motivations behind some very unsympathetic actions. Not to mention she is a great storyteller, one who knows how to captivate her audience.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from Sarah at St. Martins.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.