Friday, November 16, 2012

PASSION BLUE and the secrets of Renaissance Italy

PASSION BLUE, a YA historical novel by author Victoria Strauss, has just been released. Set in fifteenth-century Italy during the Renaissance, the book has garnered a number of wonderful reviews already, particularly regarding the richness of the setting and the strength of the female heroine, Giulia.

When seventeen-year-old Giulia Borromeo is sentenced to a life behind convent walls, she is afraid her lifelong dream of true love will die there. But then she discovers that the convent is home to a painters workshop of nuns, all busy making stunning creations in vibrant colors. Giulia joins the workshop and begins learning their techniques, but when she meets a visiting craftsman and falls for him, she realizes she may have to choose between art and love.

In her author's note to PASSION BLUE, Strauss explains that the painter nuns her book revolves around were inspired by Suor Plautilla Nelli, a nun who had charge of her own painting workshop in the Dominican convent of Santa Catarina di Siena in Florence in the mid-sixteenth century.

Strauss conducted extensive historical research in order to accurately portray convent life and period painting techniques in PASSION BLUE. One of her research discoveries concerned the stealth some Renaissance painters would employ in order to protect their techniques. The namesake of Strauss's book comes from a paint color described in the novel, a rich blue hue that was unlike any others in Renaissance times: passion blue. And in the book, the nuns create passion blue from a secret formula recorded only in code and guarded under lock and key.

In a recent interview from a blog online at Kirkus Reviews, Strauss describes just how important--and potentially dangerous--paint colors as unique as passion blue could be: “These paint recipes really were like industrial secrets today," she says. "They were incredibly closely guarded. There was espionage, and people did steal them."

In the same interview, Strauss discusses astrology, which also plays a prominent role in PASSION BLUE. Contrary to today, astrology was “an important and influential profession and very scientific for the time,” Strauss asserts. It only became discredited much later, in the eighteenth century. According to Strauss, even archbishops went to astrologers for birth charts or for readings to determine the most favorable times for important events to take place.

Read more of the insightful Kirkus interview here, which includes Strauss's explanation of the paintings she saw as a child that inspired her to write about art and history.

Below are some of the excellent reviews received in thus far for PASSION BLUE, which highlight why this book is as unique as the paint color it features. Be sure to scroll down further to find the book's cover, showcasing that alluring, passion blue hue. And, for the latest information about PASSION BLUE and Strauss's virtual book tours, plus an exciting giveaway (it ends in four days from now!), visit Strauss's website here.

"Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices...A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion." --Kirkus, starred review, Editor's Pick for Fall 2012

"Vividly set during the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance, Strauss’s novel has a strong and thoroughly likable heroine who is only one of many well-developed female characters.” --School Library Journal

"Strauss takes great care to illustrate Giulia's complicated world fully, including the limited choices available to women during the Renaissance, convent life and painting techniques of the time. Giulia's path may not surprise readers, but her unusual story is sure to capture their attention.” --Publishers Weekly

"An intriguing historical novel inspired by accounts of women artists in the Italian Renaissance.” --Booklist

"An elegant retelling of that old crucial story of finding one's place in the world, set against a vivid evocation of the Italian Renaissance.” --Robin McKinley, author of THE HERO AND THE CROWN, winner of the Newbery Medal

"PASSION BLUE is a lush, vibrant read that is utterly transporting. Full of heart and heady imagery, it is a luminous tale that swept me back to another time and place and into the life of a brave girl struggling to find her true destiny. Strauss paints beautiful pictures with her words." --Lesley Livingston, author of the WONDROUS STRANGE series and STARLING

"From its opening chapter to its final harrowing unfolding, Giulia's tale holds the reader riveted. PASSION BLUE is both a soul-felt journey and a triumphant, transcendent work of art.” --Meredith Ann Pierce, author of THE DARKANGEL TRILOGY

"I didn’t just like this book, I LOVED it...It has adventure, arguments, soul-searching, several villains, romance, hair-breadth escapes, dastardly betrayals, and girl power. I simply galloped through it.” --Jane Yolen, author of THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC

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