Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. And if the story happens to take place in Renaissance Italy, it's a bonus. So when I discovered the middle grade/young adult novel NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES by Mary Osborne, I was thrilled. It's a book that encompasses so many of my favorite things, and it's one I can share with my daughter and her friends!
I thoroughly enjoyed NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES. The story was very interesting, and I loved how the author incorporated so much history into the story. In addition, I really liked the characters of Emilia and her mother, and I thought their relationship was wonderful. I also enjoyed how Emilia and Giacomo's friendship was portrayed and how it eventually blossomed into more. The story did get a little slow for me in the middle; however, I'm not sure that it wasn't me rather than the book!
There are many positives about NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES, but one in particular stood out to me -- the character of Emilia. I was especially fond of her and enjoyed seeing how much she matured throughout the novel. Despite living in Renaissance Italy, when women had far less of a role in society than today, I have a feeling that today's girls will find themselves relating to Emilia. She was a very bright and creative female character who faced many dilemmas such as a tense relationship with her father as well as wanting something she wasn't supposed to have (i.e. a painting career.) She also tended to share too much personal information and she even fell for two very different guys. In addition, she was also torn between thinking (and knowing) what was the right thing to do and actually doing it. Sound like pretty universal teen/tween themes?
Another thing that I appreciated about this novel was all of the historical information that it contained. It's apparent that Ms. Osborne did a huge amount of research to write this book. Not only was there a great deal about Renaissance art and painting, but there was also interesting tidbits on the Medici's, religion, philosophy and of course, alchemy. I was especially grateful that the author used many of the Italian terms and that she was very good about giving their definitions within the same sentence (or at least the same paragraph.) In addition, she included a glossary of the terms in the back of the book, so the reader could quickly reference the words' meanings.
NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES is truly an ideal selection for middle grade/young adult book clubs as well as mother daughter ones. The story is intriguing and there is a great deal to discuss -- it's a perfect fit. I wasn't able to find a reading guide, but I'm not sure that you need one. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include women's roles in Renaissance Italy, the meaning of art, religion/faith, betrayal, love, secrets, parent/child relationships, philosophy, and staying true to one's self. In addition to the various themes that occur in the book, it might also be nice to supplement your meeting with maps, pictures of artwork, and even Italian food.
NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES is Ms. Osborne's first novel, but she has another one coming soon! It's actually a prequel to NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES and is called ALCHEMY'S DAUGHTER (there is a preview in the paperback version of NONNA'S.) It takes place about 100 years earlier during the time of the plague, and I can't wait!
I am anxious to hand my copy of NONNA'S BOOK OF MYSTERIES to Booking Daughter. She isn't a huge fan of historical fiction (....yet), but I have a feeling that she's going to enjoy this one. In fact, I can see lots of young girls relating to Emilia and her dilemmas. I definitely recommend this book to girls age 10 and up -- and their moms too!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.
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