ready for today’s reviews? Let’s get started then:
Secrecy by Rupert Thomson
Secrecy is an unusual novel. Set in Florence at the end of the 17th century, when both the Medici dynasty and the city were in decadence, it tells the story of Gaetano Zumbo (or Zummo). Zumbo was a real wax sculptor who specialized in macabre works depicting people affected by terrible illnesses, like the plague, during the last moments of their lives and after their deaths. His work appeals to the Grand Duke Cosimo III, who calls him to Florence to work with him. Cosimo has three children, none of which are fit to inherit his role, from his marriage to a French princess, who left him years ago and is now living out her life in a convent. Cosimo has a special and secret commission for Zumbo. The sculptor will have to be very careful and discreet in executing it, without getting into trouble.
And that’s not easy, because Zumbo has made a powerful enemy: the Dominican priest Stufa. The confessor of Cosimo’s mother and her protegee, Stufa believes himself untouchable, and makes life difficult for Zumbo, his friends, and the girl he’s in love with, Faustina (who happens to have a very damning secret of her own too).
Thomson does a great job at bringing Florence, with both its beauty and ugliness (the author doesn’t spare us the most gruesome and disgusting aspects of life at the time), come to life. The scenes were Zumbo is modelling his creations are beautiful too. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t convincing. Most of them tend to be one-dimensional. Maybe that’s because Zumbo often stops the narration to recall events from his past life. All these jumps disrupt the narration and prevent the characters from fully developing. The prose is beautiful, though, and it’s obvious that Thomson did his research well. If you’re interested in this historical period, I think you may enjoy it.
Available at: amazon
The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski
According to historian Linda Przybyszewski, American women don’t know how to dress well anymore (if you ask me, most women all over the world, don’t). We’re told to wear that brand to be cool, or that tight dress to be sexy, but there’s not much information out there about what styles, colours, and fabrics suit different body shapes and complexions, or how to look elegant or refined. It wasn’t always like that, though. In the first half of the 20th century, the Dress Doctors (professors of Home Economics all over the country) believed that the principles of art should be applied to fashion. They told women how to make, and choose, timeless clothing suitable for their silhouettes and the occasions they attended, how to dress well on a budget, and how to age gracefully, wearing outfits that emphasized your worldliness and life experiences. They also stressed the importance of practical fashions. Skirts that were difficult to walk in or pretty shoes that hurt your feet were, in their opinion, a waste of money.
Although the book offers lots of tips on how to dress well even today, this is not a fashion guide. Instead, The Lost Art Of Dress chronicles the history of American fashion from the early 20th century to our days, explaining how they, together with society’s values, changed and how they affected women. And it is beautifully illustrated. It features lots of images of old-fashioned and more modern clothes, giving the younger readers the chance to see for themselves how thing changed.
Younger readers may roll their eyes at some of the passages, though. The author is quite conservative and, although she obviously tried to restrain herself, it is obvious she strongly disliked most of what happened in the fashion world after the ’60s. Although I was born in the early ’80s, I found myself agreeing with Przybyszewski many times.
The book is also a bit dry in places. Although the author tried to make it accessible to both casual and academic readers, the writing style leans more towards the academic side of the spectrum. Because of it, casual readers who don’t have a strong interest in fashion, or simply expect a light read, may find it hard to reach the end. As for me, I devoured it. I found the history of the Dress Doctors fascinating, and I think we could still learn a lot from them.
Available at: amazon
The Time Bandit Solution by Edward G Brown
How often do you set down to complete a task but can never seem to finish it on time because you’re constantly interrupted by your boss, your colleagues, your children, etc? These people are your Time Bandits. Although they don’t steal your time with malicious intentions or on purpose, they do make you wish you could say no to their many requests without offending them, so you can, for once, finish all the jobs on your to-do list.
In this little book, Edward G Brown will teach you how to do just that. Not only your Time Bandits won’t be mad with you for not fulfilling their requests straight away, but they will also be grateful for it! Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. Brown has tried the techniques explained in this book, such as time locking (you decide a time during which you’re not available to anyone, and won’t receive any visitors nor even answer any calls), in many business firms with astounding success. Some people were sceptical (like you probably are now), but after they’ve tried it, they were amazed at how much time they had saved and how much more they had got done.
But the worst time bandit of all is you yourself. So, Brown will also teach you how you can stop wasting time and concentrate on what you’re doing. Everything is explained clearly, although Brown does tend to repeat himself several times. He addresses mostly business owners and employees, but the advice in this book could be used by parents, freelancers, teachers… anyone who’s often interrupted and feels frustrated because of it should pick up a copy.
Available at: amazon
Would you like to read these books?
Disclaimer: I received these books in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.