<B>Sukey's favorite</B><B>The Birth of Venus</B> by Sarah Dunant is the kind of wonderful historical novel that captivates from the get-go, taking you into another time and into another person's sensibility. Dunant gives us a woman's view of life in early 16th-century Florence, when the city's devotion to luxury and glorious art was being challenged and denounced by the fundamentalist monk Savanarola. Through the eyes of Alessandra Cecchi, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, we see what it was like to fall in love with a poor, truly talented painter she could not possibly marry and then to be married off to a man who could not possibly love her. Alessandra is unusually bright, well educated and passionate about art. Her indomitable spirit prevails and makes for quite a tale, eruditely told and elegantly narrated by Jenny Sterlin.