Today at Stiletto Storytime I am happy to welcome author Mary Osborne whose wonderful book Nonna’s Book of Mysteries just released this summer. The book is the first in her young adult Alchemy series. The next installment, a prequel will be titled Alchemy’s Daughter.
Description of Nonnah’s Book of Mysteries:
“At age fourteen, all Emilia Serafini wants is to learn to paint so that she can become an artist. But painters’ apprenticeships for young women don’t exist in the Florence of Renaissance Italy. The odds appear stacked against her until she receives a fascinating book, A Manual to the Science of Alchemy. It was once her grandmother’s and Emilia turns again and again to the Manual for guidance.
When Emilia meets the wealthy, brooding Franco Villani, her life takes a thrilling, but dangerous turn. Franco will do anything to win a place in the court of the powerful Cosimo de’ Medici. Well aware that Cosimo prizes ancient manuscripts above all, Franco realizes Emilia’s Manual would be invaluable to him in more ways than one.
Infused with the mysticism of alchemy, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries is an exciting portrait of a young woman who defies convention to seek her destiny.”
I must say I simply adored Nonna’s Book of Mysteries. At first I was a little hesitant in the beginning chapters on how Osborne would keep teen interest with intense period detail and a fourteen year old protagonist. While period is not only hard to write, it is also often a hard sell for young adults. In general most teens and kids like to read about characters that are their age or older, anything younger and they often feel they are too grown up for it. However Osborne’s narrative is so intricately detailed and researched, I feared the age group attracted to the book might find the text beyond their reading level. This is the kind of thinking that goes on in a children’s librarian’s brain whenever they read a book, we always are trying to figure out what our readers would be thinking as we read. We also remember vividly how kids of different ages react to certain books offered…you start to see patterns and they become seared into your memory for future reader’s advisory.
I am happy to say that all of the fears I had for this book were baseless once I read a few chapters into Nonna’s Book of Mysteries. In Emilia, Osbourne has created a character that is not only bold but also enchanting, mature and absolutely impossible not to fall in love with. The work is a tapestry of philosophy, art, history and love story all sewn together in the life of this one young girl who longs to become a painter in Renaissance Florence. Florence itself almost becomes a character in the book because of the vivid and well researched setting created. Osborne has said she became inspired for the book while traveling and visiting Florence. This is certainly reflected in the narrative as the city seems to come alive. As someone who has traveled to the magical Firenze, I had mental images flash through my mind as I read her descriptions of the city itself, its breathtaking architecture and priceless masterpieces.
The plot of the book is unexpected and satisfying even for an adult as it winds its way slowly to Emilia’s fate. Osborne is one of those rare writers who can take a plot or character and turn it completely on its head while making it still seem a part of the natural progression of the story. Readers will love that they won’t expect what is going to happen and cannot predict the future and if they do, there is always some twist to further surprise them. I highly recommend the book not only to teen girl readers but also to adult women as well. I think it appeals most to a female audience but it is well written and excellently plotted in a way to appeal to a larger group as well.
However the power of the female is very strong in this work as is the importance given to the female line of a family. What a woman passes to her daughter…whether it be words of wisdom, confidence or even a “book of mysteries.” Author Mary Osborne has made this a central theme in her novel and so it is only fitting that her guest post on Stiletto Storytime continue it….
From Mother to Daughter
“In 1957, before they were married, my father declared to my mother, “No wife of mine is going to work!”
Employed as an artist at a greeting card company, she had studied at the renowned Cape School of Art in Provincetown, MA and at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was living on her own in a tiny apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, holding out on marriage until she was 28 years-old, causing her family back in Rockford to fear she would be an old maid. Despite her independent streak, she acquiesced to my father’s wishes.
Wearing a pillbox hat with attached veil, my mother married my tall handsome father. Nine months later, my sister was born. I followed a few years later. We lived in a Riverside, Illinois, a picturesque suburb of Chicago designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—the designer of New York’s Central Park. Gently curving, tree-lined streets and grassy parks along the riverbanks offered an idyllic place to grow up and dream.
In those days, I would sometimes return home from school to find my mother at work in the kitchen. But she wasn’t cooking, she was painting. She would set up her easel in front of the stove and paint a landscape from a photograph or maybe a still life—a basket of peaches or the yellow roses my father had given her. Throughout the years, she never forgot her passion for art. She also never forgot to put an inspired dinner on the table or to set aside what she was doing and sit beside my father as he sipped his cocktail after a hard day’s work at the office.
It was my mother’s example which taught me to spend my spare time creating. Under her tutelage, I made greeting cards, drew fashion catalogs, and wrote puppet shows. In high school, I painted murals for the school dances and wrote poetry. At Knox College, I studied creative writing and thought to be a novelist, but it was my mother who told me, “You can’t just be a writer—you have to have a way to support yourself.”
She was right, and I’m glad I eventually became a registered nurse. Throughout my adult life, nursing has been the career which stood by me in good times and bad. My mother, who was eventually divorced from my father, knew that a woman should have a way to support herself, “just in case.” More than fifty years after my mother married, the majority of us (70%) who are of working age have joined the workforce. Most of us do not have the luxury of staying home and having a husband take care of us. Whether married, divorced, or single, women are working, starting businesses, and moving into careers once dominated by men.
In my novel, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, Emilia—the heroine—dreams of becoming a painter at a time when apprenticeships for young women do not exist. Frustrated and disappointed with the apparent lack of opportunity in Renaissance Florence, Emilia turns to a book of alchemy given to her by her mother. The book has been passed from mother to daughter in her family for generations and guides Emilia as she searches for her dream. When you find yourself at a loss, I want you to remember this book Emilia’s mother tells her.
Though you might not have a book of alchemy in your family, you have no doubt listened to the stories of your mother, grandmothers, or mentors. These stories contain your legacy, the wisdom passed down through the generations to you. It is part of who you are.
Our mothers and grandmothers have bequeathed to us their knowledge, the history of their experiences and lessons learned from their struggles. My mother taught me that art and writing are worthwhile pursuits and that a woman should never let go of her passion. Men, fortune, and fame might stay or might come and go in our lives; through it all, we must become our own constants, able to adapt to life’s inevitable changes. After my husband passed away some years ago and left me to raise our son on my own, I finally took this lesson to heart.
When we find ourselves overwhelmed by difficult challenges, it helps to listen to the voices of our mothers and grandmothers. They were strong and resourceful, and their wisdom is still with us. They are telling us there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”
~ Mary Osborne
Thanks Mary for a wonderful book for our teen girls who are so often in need of empowering messages and confidence from the world around them and also for this wonderful guest post! Mary has also been generous enough to offer a copy of her book to one of Stiletto Storytime’s lucky readers! To enter simply leave a comment answering the question below along with your e-mail address. US and Canada addresses only please. Giveaway will end September 8th at midnight and the winner will be chosen by random.org. Good luck to all & Happy Reading!
What is the most precious thing that has been passed down in your family? It can be material or not…it can be through the female line or not..but what stands out as the most treasured and why?