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A Hidden Letter Alters History - an Editorial Review of "Pursuing a Masterpiece"

Book Blurb:

ZARA ROSSI quietly closes the door behind her and tiptoes into the Ancient Manuscripts Room in the Papal Archives in Rome. The young American Ph.D. candidate seeks information for her dissertation and surveys the scene, yearning to join the world’s elite scholars. Disheartened after a seemingly unsuccessful day hunting for little-known information about Henry VIII’s abdication from the Roman Church, she prepares to depart. But in the final moments before closing, Zara stumbles upon a letter, hidden for centuries. A desperate warning, scrawled upon crumbling parchment, informs Pope Clement VII of imminent disaster and reveals a conspiracy depicted by a stunning portrait: one that alters history.

Hoping to prove herself worthy of respect and love, Zara searches for the masterpiece, and begins to amass clues which reveal the painting’s extraordinary tale…

“In this gripping and beautifully complex novel, Sandra Vasoli invites us to travel across both time and space in pursuit of the discovery of a lifetime: a long-lost piece of artwork by Hans Holbein the Younger relating to the seismic and scandalous relationship between King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. In doing so, Vasoli has crafted a thrilling, emotional masterpiece; a thick and sublimely descriptive journey which not only leads to the recovery of a lost provenance trail, but which also leads to spiritual enrichment and self-discovery. Vasoli’s characters are rich, relatable, and messy, and at its heart, this is an artful account of the triumphs courage, of friendship, and of growth. A sensation.” —Dr. Owen Emmerson, author of The Boleyns of Hever Castle

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Author Bio:

Sandra Vasoli grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. As a child, she developed an abiding interest in objects and stories from a long-ago era: historic houses, antiques, period clothes, and tales from the past. A passionate reader and enthusiastic writer, she also spent her formative years caring for dogs and riding horses; the love of animals factors large in her writing.

She earned degrees in biology and English from Villanova University, and then pursued graduate work in organizational development during her long career in human resources. As a human resources officer for several Fortune 500 global companies, she honed her ability to observe and read the behaviors of people, which contributes to her poignant character development.

After leaving the corporate world, Vasoli wrote and published her debut novel, "Struck With the Dart of Love: Je Anne Boleyn". Uniquely positioned as a Anne Boleyn's memoir, it is the story of the tumultuous relationship between Boleyn and Henry VIII of England. With a deep appreciation for meticulous research, Vasoli was permitted rare access to the Papal Library at the Vatican, to read and study the original love letters penned in the 16th century by Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She has also done extensive research in the British Library, viewing the beautiful Book of Hours in which Henry and Anne both inscribed lovers' messages to each other, and documents attributed to a mysterious letter purportedly written by Boleyn while she was imprisoned in the Tower before her execution. The result of that research has been published in "Anne Boleyn's Letter from the Tower - A New Assessment".

The second novel in the two-part series is available now. Entitled "Truth Endures: Je Anne Boleyn" it is available on e-reader and in paperback.

Sandra Vasoli lives in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania.

Editorial Review:

In Pursuing a Masterpiece by Sandra Vasoli, Zara Rossi is an American Ph.D. student studying in Rome. Her Ph.D. studies are focused on Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church. During a visit to the Papal Archives, Rossi uncovers an old letter warning Pope Clement VII about a portrait of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn that contains clues to a conspiracy that could be catastrophic and history-altering if Rossi is correct. Rossi’s research is combined into a dual storyline where readers are transported back to the Tudor time period where they will meet characters such as Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Hans Holbein and his art are considered as well as many other political elements of the time period. It becomes nearly impossible to pull yourself away from either timeline as you root for Rossi and her research and become enthralled in the conception of the infamous painting. It is a complex novel and story that is so well done and is enjoyable to read.

Volumes filled with Coptic Greek, illuminated medieval manuscripts still vivid with color deposited by monks many hundreds of years ago, and at the front of the room, three women unrolling parchments on which were drawn the original architectural plans for the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica.”

Pursuing a Masterpiece has two different timelines. One is set in the present as Zara is conducting her research and trying to identify the meaning of the information that she is finding. The second timeline is that of the Tudor Era mostly in Henry VIII’s court surrounding the situation in which Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII are pursuing a relationship that results in England’s separation from teh Catholic Church. That timeline progresses from there and the reader is able to follow the painting’s journey through history. Each timeline is equally compelling and exciting to read. Vasoli writes both of these timelines so well because of the research that she has clearly put in. The historical timeline as well as the art and historical references throughout the book are accurate, well-researched, and well-explained in a nuanced way that the reader will barely even realize that they may in fact be learning history as they read. Readers will appreciate the evident love for history that Vasoli has as well as her excellent research that is so evident throughout the book.

Alone in Whitehall’s magnificent library, Hans paced; his footfalls echoing on the polished floor; mouth so dry that no amount of ale could quench it. At moments he felt as if he might vomit, so he sat to pour himself a sizable beaker of wine and swallowed it in two gulps, hoping it would settle his lurching stomach and bolster his courage.”

Taking on such looming historical characters as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn can be a daunting task for any author. This requires an author to create a version of these historical entities that are both believable and relatable for readers while honoring history. Vasoli does this beautifully. She clearly understands these characters and what life would have most likely been like for them. She also creates a more modern character in Zara Rossi but she is no less awe-inspiring than the famous counterparts she shares the pages with. Rossi is relatable and the perfect protagonist.

The manuscript is incredibly clean and well edited and the writing is pleasurable to read. The writing style is mature and well-developed making it easy to read and follow. While the prose is nothing over the top in style, the author has used it appropriately to develop a story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Vasoli is skilled at using foreshadowing appropriately and keeping the mystery alive and engrossing throughout her novel. However, the real gem of Vasoli’s writing is her ability to weave imagery throughout the novel so that the art pieces, settings, and characters come alive with rich detail. The reader should not find themselves losing interest in the story or the writing style. Readers will also find that the pacing of the story is excellent. The mystery elements of the story are effective at keeping readers interested and constantly wanting to find out more.

In May of 1536, ugly accusations about the Queen’s rumored infidelity had swirled about court. The maniacal King turned his back on a wife he’d once adored, condemning her, along with her five falsely accused lovers, to death by beheading. The otherwise delightful English month of May became gruesome with blood spilled by those whom the King had once cherished. ”

Pursuing a Masterpiece is the perfect book for readers who love historical fiction and mysteries with a touch of thriller elements. It blends these genres together perfectly in a way that creates a story that is nearly impossible to put down. Those with an affection for art will also enjoy this book. The author does a fantastic job of explaining the history and implications in detail so even those not familiar with much of the historical references will be able to understand and follow the story. The book is rather lengthy at just about 600 pages. Casual readers may struggle with a book this size but it is well worth the effort and time to read. Some readers may also struggle with the dual timelines that are present in Pursuing a Masterpiece.

Antonio and I arrived at Hever on a chilly and drizzly afternoon. The mist, although shrouding early blooms in the gardens, enhanced the dreamlike aura which clings undeniably to the exquisite Castle, moat, and surroundings.”

Fans of the Tudor time period, art, and mysteries, in particular, will love this book and enjoy getting lost in the story. Vasoli is a master at creating dual timelines that are both engrossing and complement each other beautifully. A dual timeline that will pull readers in, a thrilling mystery, and excellent, extensive research make Pursuing a Masterpiece an engrossing story that readers won’t be able to put down.


“Pursuing a Masterpiece” by Sandra Vasoli receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


To have your historical novel editorially reviewed or enter the HFC Book of the Year contest, go HERE

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