Book Review: The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram

Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, The Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter's workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Her first mistake is convincing her father to let her marry Giorgio Carelli, a wealthy saffron merchant in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia's desire for freedom from her father's workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son.

In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia's father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion-both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.
The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe's most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes.
Release Date: February 19, 2014
Age Group: Adult
Source: Review copy via book tour
Reviewed By: Kelli
I love historical fiction, but have never read a novel set in Tuscany, so I was really excited for The Towers of Tuscany.  I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book!   

Sofia is an artist who paints for her father's shop.  Female artists were not accepted during the 1300s, so she has to paint in secret and her work is sold as her father's.  Sofia's father is also a gifted artist, called a maestro, and he is the one who taught her to paint.  Sofia spends almost all of her time painting, and her creative process was described in exacting detail.  I loved learning how artists painted in the 1300s.  It was fascinating to me, and the fact that their panels and frescoes took so long to create made them all the more meaningful.  Sofia was responsible for each and every step it took to create a panel, starting from preparing the wood, to creating the pigments and colors.  The focus on her creative energy was one of my favorite aspects of The Towers of Tuscany.

Cram infuses The Towers of Tuscany with the most beautiful imagery.  Reading this book was like visiting a museum to me.  I learned so much about Tuscany and the time period Sofia lived in.  The way Cram describes the cities Sofia lives in, and the world around her was so well done.

The Towers of Tuscany is told in a third person narrative, which usually isn't my favorite style of storytelling, but it worked for this book.  There are flashbacks to Sofia's childhood throughout the story, and in these flashbacks the reader gets to know Sofia better.  I understood Sofia's motivation for her actions as a result of the flashbacks to her childhood with her widowed father. 

My only complaint about this book was the slow start.  The story took a while to really take off, at least for me.  However, once I got about one-third into the book, I was completely hooked and ended up finishing the book as fast as I could read it.  I just couldn't put the book down! 

There is a very intense romance in The Towers of Tuscany, one that was adult in nature but tastefully written.  I admit that the love story didn't have the outcome I initially hoped for, yet upon further reflection, the resolution of Sofia's love life was perfectly suited to the feel of the novel.  If Cram had ended it any other way, the ending would have felt false.  I admire Cram for the way she concluded her story.  There was an epilogue as well, which I loved (who doesn't love a good epilogue?). 

I really loved The Towers of Tuscany and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction.  

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