Book Reviews: Jane Austen's First Love, Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, & The Teen Money Making Manual

Hello everyone,

curious to find out what I've been reading lately? Here we go:

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James
I don't read many romance novels these days but, as a Janeite, I just couldn't pass this up. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen's life, the book imagines our favourite English author falling in love for the first time. The object of her affections is the dashing and charming but devilish Edward Taylor, heir to the Taylors of Bifrons. A 15 year old Jane meets him when she travels to Kent with her family to be introduced to her brother's fiancee, Elizabeth, and her family, the Bridges. It's going to be a month full of parties, fun, and games, as the Bridges celebrate both Elizabeth's and her elder sister Fanny's engagements.
Her feelings for Edward, though, don't prevent Jane from interfering in other people's relationships. Fancying herself a good judge of human character, she starts playing matchmaker, but the outcome is very different from what she had expected. Sounds familiar? During her stay in Kent, Jane learns some important lessons that will one day inspire some of her most popular and loved works.
James has thoroughly research both Austen and the time period. She faithfully recreates Regency customs and courtship rituals and her characters are interesting and charming. I especially loved the young Jane Austen. She's a smart and witty tomboy who is not afraid to speak her mind, almost to the point of rudeness. She's just like I imagined her to be at that age. And Edward Taylor, although no Mr Darcy, is definitely worthy of the affections of our heroine. His charm is very difficult to resist.
The story, narrated by Jane, is written in the Regency style. It's old-fashioned compared to the more colloquial and concise style we're used to these days, but by no means convoluted or boring. On the contrary, it makes for a charming, more realistic read. Although this is a fictional work, it was so accurate that I felt like things could have really happened the way that James describes them.
Jane Austen's First Love is truly a delightful read, which I highly recommend to all Janeites. It will not disappoint.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales
Mona Lisa is one of the most famous women in history. Everyone knows her face and her smile, but only a few her name and her story. Who was the woman who inspired Leonardo da Vinci to paint his masterpiece? Although several candidates have been proposed, most experts agree her name was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, a Florentine woman whose life spanned the most tumultuous years of her city and of the greatest artistic outpouring the world has ever seen, the Renaissance.
Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered is part biography, part history, and part memoir. The things we know for certain about Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo wouldn't fill a whole page, let alone a whole book. But, after spending countless hours in archives, interviewing experts on Lisa and Florentine Renaissance history, and walking through the same streets Leonardo's muse walked in, Hales manages to reconstruct what her life would have been like. Her assumptions are always based on what we know about the lives of women like Lisa at her time, and the customs and laws of the city she lived in. Sometimes, Hales also imagines what Lisa must have felt life at particular moments in her life, but when she does it, she always clearly mentions it.
The book is also a treasure trove of facts about Lisa, her portrait, and anything connected with them. Hales introduces us to her ancestors and her descendants, helps us navigate the tumultuous political times of Medieval and Renaissance Florence, shares anecdotes about the great artists that lived and embellished the city and the men who ruled it, and tells us what happened to the painting after Leonardo's death. Leonardo is also, obviously, a big part of her book. So much so that at times it almost seems like the book is as much about the artist as it is about his model.
But the book is also a memoir of Hales and her discovery of Lisa's story. The author takes us on the journey with her, sharing with us the places she's seen, the sources she's consulted, the conversations she's had about Lisa, and how her fascination for her was born and developed.
Not everyone will be interested in that last part, though. I enjoyed taking a trip to Renaissance Florence with Hales, but some readers may be interested just in the facts of Lisa's life and the history of her city. Which leads me to my main problem with the book. At the end of it, the real Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo remains elusive. This is no fault of Hales, though. It's obvious that she did a huge amount of research, and reported her findings accurately, but there is so little information available on Lisa that any book about her will perforce be more speculation than reality. We may, through careful and in-depth historical research, discover how she lived her life, but not what kind of person she was and what made her tick.
Hales is a journalist, which shows in her writing style. From the first moment I opened the book, I felt like I was reading a very long, and very fascinating, magazine article rather than a boring essay or biography. I mean that in the best way possible. She has a beautiful way with words that sucks you right in from the start. And her passion shines through every page. I highly recommended it to all fans of this iconic painting and those who want to know more about its subject.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

The Teen Money Manual: A Guide to Cash, Credit, Spending, Saving, Work, Wealth, and More by Kara F. McGuire
Think that adolescence is to soon to start making some money? Think again. Learning how money works, how to make it, save it, and invest it, and how to protect it are skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life. And they're never taught too soon. This little manual explains how to do all that in a clear and straightforward manner anyone can easily understand. No complicated jargon here.
You'll learn how to land your first job or start your own business, how to save money for university, a house, or anything else you want, how to negotiate your paycheck and a raise, how to choose the best investments for you, how to stretch all your money so that you can pay for everything you need without giving up all that you want, how to make sure you have enough money for emergencies and retirement, and how to protect yourself from financial frauds and scams.
Although the book is aimed at teens, the wisdom in these pages would be useful for adults that are struggling financially too. However, if it's step-by-step instructions you're looking for, you will disappointed. The information provided is quite general and, while it touches all the bases, it never explains them too in-depth. Because of it, this book is a great introduction to the topic of money, but, as you start practising its advice, you will probably need more detailed information from other sources. Should you buy a more detailed book from the start? That depends on your situation and your interest in the topic. Some teens may be frustrated by how short each section is, while others will feel grateful that the book covers all the essentials rather than overwhelming them with information they won't need straight away. In either case, if you are a teen or know one, you may want to check it out.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Would you like to read any of these books?

Disclaimer: I received these books in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.