Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: The Creation of Eve

Summary: 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.

The Creation of Eve
is a riveting novel based on the true but little- known story of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first renowned female artist of the Renaissance. 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? -- Putnam

I love a good historical fiction novel, and THE CREATION OF EVE by Lynn Cullen certainly falls into that category. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book was -- the story captured my attention, the characters were extremely interesting, and the themes of this book gave me something to think about. Plus, the writing was very, very good. Overall, it was a wonderful read.

I always joke that I like to get my history lessons from novels (much to my husband's chagrin), and by reading THE CREATION OF EVE, I definitely learned a great deal. THE CREATION OF EVE was based on the true story of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first recognized artist of the Renaissance period. I had absolutely no idea that women were painters during this time period, and I found her story to be quite interesting. The book even begins with Sofi training under Michelangelo (and I love books about him!) Sofi falls in love with another artist and after their indiscretion is discovered, she flees to Italy to save her family's reputation. She ends up becoming a lady-in-waiting, art teacher, and friend) to the young Queen of Spain.

From the time Sofi joins the Spanish Court, the book actually becomes a story not only about Sofi but also about the Spanish royal family. Having never read any books about King Felipe II and his wife
Elisabeth, I had no idea of their story. I was happy to learn that their court was filled with mystery, intrigue, romance, and even a little deception -- it definitely made for great reading!

While I was fascinated by the story of Sofi and the royal family, I think what surprised me the most about THE CREATION OF EVE was how much substance there was to this book. The characters were not only interesting, but there were also well developed and extremely complex. So many of their actions surprised me and caused me to see them differently from how I first thought. I also found many of the characters' relationships to be complicated, and I found myself questioning how we define love.

I was extremely impressed with Ms. Cullen's storytelling ability as well as her writing style.
The author captured the essence of this time period and most definitely brought these characters to life. I also loved how she continually surprised the reader whether it was through the story or the characters' actions. I especially enjoyed how she made me question my initial impressions about the characters, and how she showed that every story has at least two sides. Ms. Cullen has also written a YA novel called I AM REMBRANDT'S DAUGHTER (guess what I'm adding to my wish list.)

THE CREATION OF EVE would make a marvelous book club selection, especially if your group is like mine and enjoys historical fiction. There is a reading guide available, with some very interesting questions. Not only is the book full of intrigue, but it also has some wonderful character development. And as I mentioned above, this book gives the reader a lot to ponder about human nature. Some of the topics for discussion are the role of women, friendships, first impressions, secrets, betrayal, loss, and
the meaning of love. I have a feeling that this book would be a treat to discuss with your friends.

If you are a fan of historical fiction books that are also very well-written, then I highly recommend reading Lynn Cullen's THE CREATION OF EVE.

Check out these other tour stops:

Wednesday, March 3rd: Scandalous Women

Thursday, March 4th: Café of Dreams

Monday, March 8th: Books and Movies

Wednesday, March 10th: The Tome Traveller

Thursday, March 11th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, March 15th: Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Wednesday, March 17th: Educating Petunia

Thursday, March 18th: English Major’s Junk Food

Monday, March 22nd: A Few More Pages

Tuesday, March 23rd: Devourer of Books

Wednesday, March 24th: Wordsmithonia

Thursday, March 25th: A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Monday, March 29th: Katie’s Nesting Spot

Tuesday, March 30th: Dolce Bellezza

Wednesday, March 31st: Raging Bibliomania

Friday, April 2nd: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds really good to me, and I love your proposals for book club discussion topics!!!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like the perfect book for you! I've discovered that I do like historical fiction, but that time period scares me for some reason - maybe I think it's over my head.

Daphne said...

I've been wondering about this book - it sounds good so hopefully I'll get a chance to read it soon. And it is amazing how much history you can learn from reading fiction!

Anonymous said...

I love historical fiction in this era. If you want another great novel about female painters in the Renaissance, you should check out The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland -it's excellent, too.

Jenny Girl said...

I also learn my history from HF books so you are in good company. After I read the book I research the history behind and surrounding it. This sounds quite interesting and I haven't read many books set in the Spanish royal houses. Thanks Julie!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Wow, this one sounds terrific. And, I love Michelangelo too.

Lynn Cullen said...

Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful and indepth review of my book. I loved when you said, "So many of their actions surprised me and caused me to see them differently from how I first thought...and I found myself questioning how we define love." When I wrote the book, I'd hoped readers would think about these things. So glad that you brought them up. Many thanks for your kind words.

trish said...

LOL!! I'm with you about liking to learn my history from novels. My friend who's a history buff would just die if she heard me say that. :)

It's so interesting to read about a woman doing something, like painting, during a period where we don't think women did those things. I think it's great the author wrote a book about it, and it sounds like she did a fantastic job.

Thanks for being on this tour, Julie! You write fantastic reviews!

Darlene said...

Great review Julie. I enjoyed this one as well. I really liked getting a view into the Spanish Court for once!