Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Editorial Book Review: Mona Lisa's Daughter by Belle Ami #HistoricalFiction #RenaissanceFiction #DualTimeline #EditorialReview #TheCoffeePotBookClub

*Editorial Book Review*

Mona Lisa's Daughter

by Belle Ami

From acclaimed author Belle Ami, renowned for her poignant World War II epic, The Last Daughter, inspired by her mother's survival of the Holocaust, emerges a captivating saga that transcends the bounds of time. Mona Lisa’s Daughter entwines the fates of two remarkable women against the backdrop of history's glittering peaks and darkest depths.

In the resplendent glory of Renaissance Florence, Leonardo da Vinci meets Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a silk merchant, forging a friendship that transcends the conventional roles of artist and muse. Their bond yields what many consider the greatest masterpiece the world has ever known, but also harbors a shared secret that must be kept hidden at all costs.

Fast forward four centuries to the dawn of World War II, where in the shadow of fascist rule, fear grips the city of Florence. It is here that young nun Valentina Amati shoulders the duty of safeguarding a hidden cache of letters exchanged between Leonardo and Lisa. However, as the malevolence of Hitler’s Nazis marches ever closer, Valentina finds herself haunted by her own past and ensnared in a perilous web of secrets that threaten not only her life but also the sanctuary she has vowed to protect.

‘The beautiful object was made of wood and carved with an inlay of two birds in flight. Its metal hinges were free of rust. No dust nor any cobwebs covered its exterior. It was not overly heavy, but it was locked, so she stretched her hand again to the back of the secret compartment, seeking a key to unlock the chest.

“I see you’ve discovered our treasure,” Suor Maria Vittoria’s amused voice floated up the ladder.

Valentina gasped again and would have lost her footing had the nun not steadied her.

“Careful, my child.”’

Mona Lisa’s Daughter begins in 1882, at the convent of Santa Maria del Carmine, when a young nun, Suor (‘Sister’) Maria Vittoria, is tasked by an elderly nun, Suor Ursula, with looking after a treasure the convent has been hiding for centuries. Suor Ursula is dying, and there are only few chosen ones who would ever know of this secret box of delicate, faded letters. Suor Maria Vittoria swears to look after it well.

Next, the action moves to 1925, when young Valentina Amato is taken – pregnant – to the convent by her irate mother. Despite her initial reluctance, she soon begins to warm to several nuns, and eventually, acknowledging Valentina's good education, Suor Maria Vittoria employs her in the convent library. In time, they build up a trust, and after Valentina discovers the hidden box, she is tasked to transcribe the content of the 400-year-old letters kept in the box. Sworn to secrecy, she is intrigued by what they reveal.

Flashback to 1503, and we delve into the bustle of Renaissance Florence. Powerful families rule the city, which prospers under the benevolence of their masters. But even renowned artists need to pay bills, and for Leonardo da Vinci, this means doing portraits. He meets a mysterious lady, who buys, and then releases, a pair of turtledoves. Her demeanour, and her beauty, intrigues him. This is the beginning of a slow, fascinating, intimate relationship between the artist and his younger muse. 

Back in the 20th century, the time arrives for Valentina to give birth to a daughter, in the knowledge that the babe will be adopted. She briefly meets her daughter’s new parents – a Jewish couple from Rome who adore the baby from the start. Heartbroken, she rushes away to leave them to their newfound joy.

But returning home, Valentina is being observed by the same man who stalked her previously. And whilst her uncaring mother plans Valentina’s wedding, the girl hatches a daring plan of her own.

Will Valentina escape the clutches of her tormentor? And what happens with Leonardo da Vinci and Lisa del Giocondo? Well, read the book to find out!


An intriguing dual-timeline novel set in Florence, Mona Lisa’s Daughter covers the Renaissance, when Leonardo painted his famous portrait of a woman who belonged to another. And it also delves into the dark era of pre-WWII Italy under the firm command of Mussolini and his dangerous henchmen. When Italy aligns itself with Germany, and Jews began to be rounded up, to be sent to internment camps far away from home, the fate of Valentina’s daughter, and her adoptive parents, comes dramatically into play.

Several characters make this story so compelling: Valentina, who grows from insecure teenager to astute young woman as she takes an important decision that sets out her future; Suor Maria Vittoria, the friendly nun who gives the wronged girl a chance, without judgment; and Leonardo da Vinci, famed painter who falls for another man’s wife.

For me, Valentina is the undisputed star of this novel, as she grows from a young innocent to a woman who knows her heart. The choices she makes are born from necessity, and we, as readers, empathise with her plight. But it is through her that we uncover one of history’s long-kept secrets: that of a liaison between da Vinci and Mona Lisa.
Valentina’s character shines through, and as she grows into an adult, she brings a strong sense of realism into the plot. Her fate probably resembled that of dozens of other young women through the ages, and her decision must be respected; admired even. We follow her steep learning curve as external forces encroach into the sanctity of the convent, where – like many other convents or monasteries – they harboured rebels, Jews, and other people endangered by Nazi politics.

I absolutely adored Valentina. She is a wonderful character and, together with the indomitable Suor Maria Vittoria, makes a formidable duo.

Suor Maria Vittoria is a kind nun, caring, intelligent, and friendly. Her support of the young girl who’d arrived pregnant on their doorstep is incredible. She is a steadfast character, not only in her faith, but also in seeing the good in the women around her. Her trust in Valentina is rewarded by the girl’s devotion. Their bond is a close one, among religious sisters, and it’s what makes this novel so heart-warming.

I’m afraid I didn’t care too much for Leonardo and Lisa’s part of this novel. I found them a little one-dimensional, and although the fictional plot has some merit – Ms Ami explains this part in her Notes at the back of the novel – I never found their story of much interest. I have seen the painting repeatedly, and I can well imagine there to be a small grain of truth in the plot, but it just didn’t do it for me.

My focus was entirely on Valentina, whose story was foremost in my mind. Her life could have gone completely wrong, especially had her devious mother had her way, but with her mind made up, Valentina chose the best path for her, and one that kept her and her daughter safe. Well, most of the time…

Ms Ami has undertaken some absolutely incredible research, not only into the splendour and brilliance of Renaissance Florence, but also into Italy between the wars. Mussolini’s growing power is mentioned, and although the convent is fairly cut off from the world, news does reach them. The parts set in the Renaissance are exquisitely authentic, and Ms Ami has created an enticing environment for two great minds – the painter and the good wife – to meet. The detail of the era is so realistic, you feel transported back in time. For me, sadly, the emotional side did not work out, but the historical setting was very well portrayed indeed through the graceful narrative.

Mona Lisa’s Daughter is a moving and intriguing dual-timeline story of human actions, hope, obsession, persecution, and ultimately, of enduring love. As her fate echoes through the ages, it is her story that sets the tone of this novel, and it is her character who turns it into an unforgettable reading experience.

Recommended especially for readers of dual-timeline mysteries, in an exquisite setting, who love an intriguing plot, and characters who show incredible fortitude and unconditional love.

Review by Cathie Dunn
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Belle Ami writes breathtaking historical fiction, captivating historical romance, and gripping romantic thrillers. Creating unforgettable characters and crafting complex stories, Belle’s writing reflects the redemptive power of love and the strength of the human spirit.

A former Kathryn McBride scholar of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Belle, is also a proud recipient of the RONE, RAVEN, Readers’ Favorite Award, and the Book Excellence Award.

Belle’s passions include hiking, boxing, skiing, cooking, travel, and of course, writing. She lives in Southern California with her family and her brilliant Chihuahua, Giorgio Armani.

Connect with Belle:

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