Off the Shelf: The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

I entered a contest to win the entire year of Off the Shelf’s book club choices because, you know, free books. In my efforts to read things I wouldn’t normally read, I decided to read their monthly choices. Sadly, I don’t have my own book club, but I invite any of you to join me whether it’s for one month or all twelve. I’ll never turn down the opportunity to talk about a book with other people.

January’s choice was The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer. While I did finish it yesterday just in time, I didn’t make it on the post, so February gets two! Woo! This book and its description are a large part of the reason why I decided to follow along with this book list.

What’s it about? Beatrice continues her brother’s research about the devastation caused by the Plague in medieval Siena. While she continues his studies, she comes across a painting from the time and discovers her own face in its crowd. She finds the artist’s journal in the archives, and her connection to the painter becomes stranger from there…

Not the best summary, but it’s actually very hard to summarize this book without giving too much away. The action starts on page 1 and doesn’t stop until the book ends. I will say that it is part historical fiction with some fantasy elements thrown in.

The Good: Uh…everything. I loved this book! I thought it would be a nice way to solve my problem of being indecisive about what to read next, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. There was enough mystery to keep me guessing. It was respectful and true enough to the time period, which I always appreciate in historical fiction. I know fiction is part of it, but come on, some research is needed! Winawer did a really great job of blending history with fictional characters, and she outlines what was historical and what was her invention at the end of the book.

I think what makes this book so compelling is the writing. It was structured nicely as a whole, and it was easy to read because the sentence length was varied. I wasn’t getting lost and bored in a single sentence, and it never sounded choppy. The author was really great at getting into her character’s head as well, which sounds weird since she invented her, but it was consistent and easy to forget that she was just a character.

The Bad and the Ugly: I really don’t have anything bad to say about it, so I know I won’t have any ugly today. I suppose the only thing that could be considered bad would be there are a couple sex scenes, though they aren’t obtrusive at all, but if you want strict, strict PG, be aware of that. There are also some gory bits. I’m a big fan of ancient Greek works, so I’m okay with gore; I know not everyone likes seeing that though.

Overall: I answered this one already, but just to reiterate because the book deserves it, I loved this book. It’s definitely in the early running for one of my favorites of 2018.

Who’s it for? If you like books about Italy, historical fiction, or (spoiler) time travel stories, I think you’ll definitely enjoy this story.



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