Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!I've always wanted to go to Europe - Italy, and France in particular, which is a big part of why historical fiction is such a favorite of mine. I'm a a major, unrepentant history nerd, and getting to read and see these fascinating locales in new ways through new books, especially ones so vividly drawn like Florence here with The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, is always a highlight of reading for me. Alana White's novel of Renaissance Florence is a strong, well-written and full of life, from the characters to the streets they walk. From the first page, the reader is caught up in the life of Guid'Antonio Vespucci, his famous nephew Amerigo Vespucci, and that of Il Magnifico - Lorenzo de' Medici. With a detailed, informative style and a clear voice, White's story is enveloping and vivid; a dense read but one that is rewarding.The disappearance and assumed death of a young, beautiful Florentine wife, the "miraculous" appearance of the tears from a painting of the Virgin Mary, and the ongoing struggle with Pope Sixtus IV are all important factors to the plot, and the the struggles of the protagonist, Guid'Antonio. A Medici man through and through, one literally haunted by his failure to protect Lorenzo's murdered brother, Guid'Antonio finds himself charged with finding out whether there is a conspiracy to incite Florentines to revolt against their unofficial but powerful Medici leader. Guid'Antonio is a strong protagonist - full of principle, but also internal conflicts and doubts. He didn't develop as much as I would have liked, but this was a solid, intelligent lead for a strong mystery novel.The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is consistently very evocative of Renaissance Florence. That's a very good thing, and what kept me coming back when I would struggle with the mystery. The vivid imagery is the strongest aspect of the novel, and Florence really comes to life under White's pen. From the neighborhoods and churches, to the Medici palace, White clearly knows her way around the City of Flowers, and it shows in her sensory language. The characters are solid, even if the secondary personages need a little more definition, the plot is compelling and fresh, and the mystery not easily uncovered, but it is the setting that really makes this novel stand out.I did think the novel stalled a little bit in the middle. Guid'Antonio understandably has a lot of leads to run down, questions to be answered and people to be found and the pace slowed down enough to make my reading progress a bit difficult. I didn't want to stop reading The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, but I did want some faster revelations or progression on the mystery. The mystery is itself well-constructed; the red herrings few but believable until Vespucci disproves them, but it did feel a bit stretched (or ignored, as when Maria's mother takes over the story) at times. However, White is a more than capable author and she found her storytelling footing soon enough and kept me engaged til the end.If you're a fan of Italy, or of the Italian renaissance, or interested in papal politics, or in the fascinating life of Lorenzo de' Medici, you cannot pass on Alana White's impressive The Sign of the Weeping Virgin. Good, convoluted historical mysteries with interesting characters and creative plots can be hard to come across and it will be a while until I find one that measures up to the caliber of White's first novel. Impressive, well-written, and with an excellent use of place-as-character, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin was a hit with me.