First came "an overpowering scent of lilacs and the hint of yellow linden blossoms," writes Schneider. "Then color exploded, a lush jungle green as if the world had just been created...." Joanna Sheperd has just seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, who instructs the twenty-something to pursue her dream of becoming a painter—in Florence.
While the premise may sound hokey, this debut novel is both haunting and wise in its insights on love, loss and longing. Once Joanna leaves her sheltered life in rural Washington State, where her grandfather has just died of cancer, her journey turns spiritual as well as sensual. She isn't born again or baptized—despite a few Virgin Mary cameos, this book is not about religion. Rather, Joanna finds I herself in a heartbreaking love triangle even 'as she revels in the magic of Italy's art. Told with humor and warmth, the story of Joanna's self-discovery is as vivid as it is inviting. (Broadway, $22.95)
Bottom Line: Lyrical, languorous tale of enlightenment