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Foodie Lit

Eleanor Chance's Shades of Brilliance

Eleanor Chance has written an exquisitely crafted and researched historical novel set in 15th century Venice, Florence and Lucca. We see the worlds of art, politics, and the social and economic classes come to life. The roles of women, expected and hoped for, are a theme throughout the plot and in the thoughts and words of both women and men. The world of the artist is written about in detail, from the workshops, to the painting techniques to the Guilds.


There is a dichotomy in what we now call the Renaissance. Great advances occurred in art, music, and literature. Yet societal restrictions still applied against the lower classes, women, and dissenters from the Catholic Church. Throughout the 3 separate divisions of the novel, Celeste Gabriele represents many restrictions and privileges of the era. From poverty to privilege, from one frustration to another, Celeste’s journey is not about leaving troubles behind, but about her talents, her determination and luck, moving her to different levels of anxieties and quandaries. Precarious positions are troubling for servants and masters. Eleanor writes, “The slightest shift in power or the smallest insult could strip them of all they held most dear.”    


Lovers of historical novels should relish the elements of daily life from clothing to servants’ chores to the architecture of homes. These details, with the inclusion of historical people from the era, create a full picture. The author is expertly able to create a character in Celeste that was an individual yet represented so much from that era. Eleanor Chance wrote to me saying, “I envisioned Celeste Gabriele as a humble woman, born ahead of her time, but unaware of the greatness hidden within her. In some ways, she’s an amalgam of other women from history I admire for rising above their circumstances, such as Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, and Eleanor of Aquitaine (who I’m named for, by the way). “

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The novel has strong love interests, breaking taboos as well. Celeste and her Maestro Luciano, and reveal a great deal about 15th century Italy. This and other romances keep the tension taut among the novel’s characters and expose the strengths and sorrows in the numerous relationships. Eleanor told me, “Luciano Vicente’s main motivation, especially early in the story, was the promotion of outstanding art and artisans. The fact that Celeste was a woman took a backseat to the fact that she was an artistic prodigy. He was willing to sacrifice whatever it took to bring her work to light. Nonetheless, he was still keenly aware of the expectations and restrictions placed on him due to his noble status and chafed under that burden. These opposing forces constantly battled within him, and directly influenced his decisions and behaviors.”


Eleanor writes about the many opposing forces in this 15th century Italy, which reveal not only much about then, but about now.


Eleanor loves cooking and has written an Italian cookbook, Grace’s Favorite Italian Dishes, an appendage to her Arms of Grace series. It's available to those of you who would like to try these delectable recipes! However, we agreed upon a recipe I developed from a traditional Italian dish, cooked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Sformato di Spinaci (Spinach Mold). It fits with this Foodie Lit review and with Chanukah as it is a classic Italian favorite all year long and with Italian Jews during Chanukah, with the recipe’s use of olive oil. Delizioso!

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