Book Review: The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus

Posted January 24, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus
Genres: Time Travel, Romance
Published by Fiery Seas Publishing LLC on January 23, 2018
Pages: 274
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

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A, so far, standalone novel following a group of college professors as they tour the art history of Italy.

I received this story from the publisher, Fiery Seas Publishing, LLC, via Instafreebie.

My Take

Dacus uses single third person point-of-view using May’s perspective and focusing primarily on her passion, her fear. About those influences that attack your own sense of rightness, terrifying you into following someone else’s vision of your life.

It will be a fascinating journey, one that I wish Dacus had spent more time on in providing greater depth, showing us what causes this group of tourists to change as they do. We only see May’s and Eva’s interactions, and even those aren’t all that convincing. It’s more tell than anything.

Still, I did fall in love with The Renaissance Club, for Dacus’ turn of phrase, for her poetry (and I hate poetry!??!!), for her insights on art, for the evolutions in art, for those great quotes:

”This was beauty in service of a cruel faith that turned terrible persecution into its symbol of love.”

Dacus’ passion for the Renaissance came through quite clearly and definitely made me want to book my ticket for Italy right now! What Dacus says about Cosimo de Medici’s Library and what Michelangelo introduced in creating it. Wow. And yet more tidbits on the various artists who helped art to evolve, expand. And I had to laugh about “the constant need for entertainments”. Our time doesn’t need all the physical events Bernini speaks of…’cause we got TV and the Internet. Hmmm…

Yep, there’s plenty of bickering amongst the professors, each trying to one-up the other, but a few were much worse. Eva was just plain nasty. She was so angry at everything and so negative about everyone. She simply couldn’t resist tearing at everyone. Darren is another jerk, always aiming for the “correct” political move to make and such a child in his reactions. Wait’ll you read what Darren thinks of the Apollo and Daphne sculpture…oy…

Of course, May turned out to not be a whole lot better. What a weaseling, judgmental woman! She wants to, she’s afraid, she thinks she should stick to the humdrum, she…whine, whine, whine. She makes promises she doesn’t keep. She tries to railroad Darren. Again. As an historian, I can’t believe how quick May was to want to change Bernini’s future. I mean…what the heck?

I gotta say I didn’t buy Eva’s time reactions; I would have expected more skepticism from her. Especially the way she jumped on George for using the present tense in discussing the past. Although, lol, George did have some excellent responses to her snark.

There’s plenty of conflict in this: the years of negativity from May’s parents (and everyone else — she is wimpy); Sandra’s anger at her parents; Darren’s childishness; Eva’s bitching; Norman’s worries about his daughter (and his own wimpiness and planning obsessions); and, Bernini’s own conflicts.

”[Rome] is pure melodrama, meant to intimidate the sinner and bind the believer.”

I did love how supportive Bernini was of May. If only there were more people who could be so upbeat and positive.

”Her head emptied its thoughts into the pillow.”

There’s an interesting conflict in those of the group who see beauty as a lie, mostly due to their own issues, and others who appreciate beauty as truth. There was a fascinating bit from Bernini about “truth resid[ing] in the ideal, not the actual” with May realizing that [Bernini’s] kind of beauty didn’t cheat truth or realism. It heightened it.” How can you not love that?

I absolute DO agree with Eva about how non-painters overcomplicate the art. Sure there are some painters who want to make a statement, but most artists simply need to create whatever image is in their heads.

Then there’s May’s realization about what Bernini uses to “speak of the human condition”. Just beautiful.

Just a couple more niggles… There were a number of sentences that made no sense. I don’t know if author/publisher was in a rush or was overtired, but hoo-boy.

I just KNOW Dacus has set this up for a series. And I do hope she writes the next one quickly! …in spite of all my whining.

The Story

May Gold, college adjunct, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis — Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque.

But in reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and older boyfriend who is paying her way. She yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit, and when the floor under the gilded dome of St Peter’s basilica rocks under her feet, she gets her chance. Walking through the veil that appears, she finds herself in the year 1624, staring straight into Bernini’s eyes. Their immediate and powerful attraction grows throughout May’s tour of Italy. And as she continues to meet her ethereal partner, even for brief snatches of time, her creativity and confidence blossom. All the doorways to happiness seem blocked for May — all except the shimmering doorway to Bernini’s world.

May has to choose: stay in her safe but stagnant existence, or take a risk. Will May’s adventure in time ruin her life or lead to a magical new one?

The Characters

May Gold is the Baroque-loving daughter of documentary makers, parents who are firm believers in fact, not fancy, “crushing [their] daughter’s joy in creating”. She is currently a part-time teacher at the college under threat of a layoff. Dr Darren Perl is a self-obsessed senior professor of history and May’s boyfriend.

Dr George “Giorgio” St. James has always been different, traveling back in time even as a child. These days he is a history scholar who teaches at various universities, leads tour groups, and helps people who have an affinity for the past. Timmy was his best friend in fourth grade. Mrs. Smith had been an angry grade school teacher. Dr Maria Donato is George’s high-speed substitute in Florence. Signora Sciutto is the curator of Palazzo Fondazione in Rome.

The Renaissance Club is…
…a group of college professors, their spouses, and friends who take a tour of art and art history in the Italian Renaissance. Norman Wesley is the dean of Mount Antioch College and the club organizer. His wife, Kathleen, organized the trip. Sandra is their angry daughter. Dr Iris is a friend of Kathleen’s and more interested in Italian clothes. Eva Manookian, May’s boss, is the head of the Art and Art History Department, who paints when she’s not teaching. Arthur is her very one-dimensional husband who teaches English literature, heads up the English department, and plays guitar. Rebecca was their daughter who died of cancer three years ago. Rick is head of the Information Technology department and married to the gorgeous Marianna. Becca is the drama instructor; Daphne is her sister. Jake Ismail is a friend and colleague of George’s and currently working at the college.

Vico is the Italian shoe salesman who sweeps Sandra off her feet. Pépé is a fabulous chef. Dr Frank is a therapist Eva has seen before. Brother Leo is with the San Francesco del Deserto in Venice.

Italy, 1624
A sculptor, architect, and playwright, Cavaliere Gianlorenzo Bernini is a Renaissance artist whose ideas ushered in the Baroque era of art. Matteo Bonarelli is Bernini’s newest assistant; Costanza is his wife. Finelli was an amazingly delicate carver and another assistant. Luigi is Bernini’s traitorous brother.

Donna Olimpia Maidalchini was the mistress of Pope Innocent X. Prince Niccolo connives with Bernini. Cardinal Scipione Borghese had been Bernini’s best patron and a friend; his home is now a museum. Giotto was a shepherd who discovered perspective.

Some of George’s historic acquaintances include Solon, Thomas Jefferson, and Zheng who invented pasta.

The Cover and Title

The cover is glowing around May’s body, partially submerged in a Venetian canal, her long dark, curly hair descending midway down her back, as she faces away from us, staring into the pink and gold city of Venice, a cloud of butterflies flitting overhead in the dawning sky of pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows. The title is centered just below May’s hair with a text separator beneath with the author’s name beneath that in a distressed olde worlde parchment-textured serif font.

The title is the ongoing conflict, The Renaissance Club tour group of professors and art lovers.

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