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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy

If You Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy is up next. I love the range of time periods of these books; this particular one finds us in Florence immediately after the Middle Ages. 

The Middle Ages were rough on everyone. The rich owned the land and everyone else worked on it. The Renaissance, which begins in the 1400's, saw a move from an agricultural subsistence to the addition of art and architecture to society. As bankers became richer, specifically the Medici's, they hired more artists. You  might be familiar with Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael -- and no, I'm not referring to the Ninja Turtles. These were famous artists who were commissioned for house paintings as well as some of the most famous art we have in galleries around the world today. 

Your family would have been large -- you would have had many brothers and sisters. Your father would have run his business out of your first floor, and your job was one of the following: as a boy, do well in school, and as a girl, learn how to keep a good house. We can cry about this, but it was 600+ years ago and we can't change it. We can only learn from it. 

Just as in Ancient Greece, the water was no good, so you were stuck with wine. (It's not a bad deal, really.) Your clothes were far more ornate than your own parents' were, and you totally dig that. You wore even more ornate clothes to festivals. Everyone in the Renaissance period loves festivals. That's why today we have Renaissance fairs. Because everyone loves festivals and turkey legs

However, the most important part of this time period was the art. Roman has included in the back of her book a list of some of the most famous pieces of the time and a picture with a caption describing it, including Michaelangelo's David and Hands of God & Adam and DaVinci's Mona Lisa. I am partial to art of this period as well not just because I love sculpture (blame it on my classical background), but because of the famous Lorenzetti brothers and distant relatives (Pietro and Ambrogio, my boys). Roman also includes a list of famous people of the time with a picture and a description, and as usual a glossary. These books are just so handy and informative, and I love that they skew older than her other series that I love so much. I appreciate the time and thought put into this work; it's clear that it is done with an eye toward education, and I am happy to add this one to my arsenal. Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America

If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America is Carole Roman's next addition to the history collection

If you were a settler of Colonial America, you would have left England in the early years of the 17th century. You would have most likely been a Protestant, and possibly even a Puritan. You would have braved a lot to come to this new world in order to live life the way you wanted, including disease, famine, and even death. Your family would have built your house from absolute scratch, as would have your whole village. Crops had to be grown from nothing, so these were a few years in coming. You had no new clothes for quite some time -- after all, where would you get the wool for the fabric? Life was hard the first few years in the settlement of America.

So we all remember the Mayflower from our days in history, right? But do you remember the Speedwell? Yeah, so, in my mid-30's I am finally learning that the Mayflower was NOT the only ship to bring over settlers to America the first go-round. You would think that someone would have told us that in US History at some point, right? Nope.

There were other very interesting pieces of information in here that I can't say I remember from days in school. The story of the first Thanksgiving, and the relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans is a bit whitewashed, and while I understand that sitting down with a seven year old and describing the intricacies of small pox may not be high on your to-do list this Wednesday afternoon, there is a level at which you can discuss the commandeering of land that doesn't belong to you and the systematic killing off of those viewed as "savages." This is my one big complaint with this book; I wish it had treated this relationship as less a meeting of the minds and more of the supplanting of colonial culture in a land that wasn't the Brits to begin with.

Otherwise, I did learn some things I didn't know before. There was the Speedwell, obviously, but I also didn't know that there were 32 kids on the Mayflower. While not a surprise -- clearly people brought over their families -- I am not sure I ever knew the actual number. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece

Carole Roman's If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece is my second installment this week, and I'm having a blast with these books.

If we lived in ancient Greece, we would have lived almost two and a half millenia ago. That's almost 2,500 years. We would have lived in a society that set the paving stones for modern democracy, and yet we would have had slaves. Our family would have lived in small quarters, and we would have eaten what we know today as a Mediterranean diet: olives, figs, cheese, and fish. And wine -- so much wine. It was far more sanitary than water. Boys and girls were treated differently in regards to education. If you were me and lived in ancient Greece, life would be very different.

I found it so interesting that Roman mixed in the gods and goddesses throughout the book, and it really served to emphasize her point early on in the religion was everywhere for the ancient Greeks. Now, what we do know about their "religion" is that the gods themselves were worshiped, but whether or not is could be considered religion is a little dubious to many scholars. Other religions took hold during this time as well, and so it's a complicated subject. However, the incorporation of the many gods and goddesses throughout the book as they pertained to whatever subject she was writing about at the time was a really lovely and spot-on choice.

Roman also mentions more than just gods and goddesses -- Hippocrates is also mentioned, as is Alexander the great and both The Illiad and The Odyssey. There is a glossary as well as a reference page to the gods and goddesses. I am just super impressed with how this book turned out specifically, as I have a fondness for ancient Greece. While I am no expert in classical culture, I did spend a great deal of time with the subject in college as that was my major. I have always been more attracted to ancient Greece than Rome, which is funny considering I took more years of Latin than I want to admit and I'm Italian. Something about the ancient world, Alexander the Great, and the Mediterranean just draws me in. I can't wait for my child to be old enough to enjoy this book with me. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived In...Elizabethan England

When a new batch of Carole P. Roman books come in, I am always thrilled. I was even more beside myself when I saw that it was a brand new series that extended off of her world series, this time bringing slightly older kids back in time to different time periods. Today's book is If You Were Me and Lived In...Elizabethan England.

If your name is Elizabeth or Henry, you are in luck! You would have fit right in during this time period. Kids were named for kings and queens, because, after all, it's Elizabethan England. If you lived in the big city -- London, that is -- you would have resided in a crowded residence with no bathroom and trash on the street in front of your home. You most likely would have run a business out of your first floor. If you lived in the country you certainly would have had more space, but pests were definitely an issue. No matter where you lived, you would have avoided the water. Just -- don't ask. You were either Catholic or Protestant, and you often ate your meals with many friends and family. Girls were trained to be housewives and boys were sent off to school or to master a trade. If you were me and lived in Elizabethan England, you would be making dinner even as I type this.

I am already super pumped about this series, and it's only my first book. I love that these books skew older and reach a different audience. In fact, I am keeping a small box of "older" books for my baby in order to have more to hand it as it gets older and starts reading more. I would put these books around 4th or 5th grade (unsure where they would fall on the F&P scale, for you educators out there), but they are definitely good to have around. There is a nice, long glossary of terms in this particular book, and the list of people you should know from the time period is pretty comprehensive in terms of history. It's also an informative book, and I love the sneaky learning factor that Roman always includes in her work. I'm excited for these books!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Mothers: A Novel

This is a good story. I wanted to nab this book so bad at Book Expo last year, and I missed the official drop. I was in line for another book, and I saw the woman behind me had a copy. I was lamenting to her how much I wanted it, and she was like, "Here, take my copy." I replied, "No no no, I coldly imagine doing that," and she was like, "Girl, I run a book club with over a thousand members. I'll just head back to the booth and get another copy. They love me." WHAT?!? The amazing kindness of strangers brought me Brit Bennett's incredible debut, The Mothers.

Nadia Turner was just like any other high school girl until her mother killed herself. The grieving girl finds herself in the throes of Luke Sheppard, the preacher's son and no-longer-fixture at Upper Room. When she finds herself pregnant and needing an abortion, Luke hands her the money and disappears from the waiting room. This choice will alter both of their lives in profound ways. After graduation, Nadia heads out to see the world without looking back, and Luke moves on into a deeper depression and decisions that will alter his future. Years later, life will see these two crash into each others' life course again. 

I had a hard time getting into this book; I started reading it then put it down for a couple of weeks. When I came back to it, I was fully in it to win it. I needed a focus, I think, that I didn't have when I started it. The reason this was necessary is because Bennett is one of these writers that has a lot to say in not a lot of words, and I needed to be clued into that and willing to listen while she whispered. It was astonishing, really, to get into this book and realize the gift that was wrapped between its covers. Bennett's prose is like an undercurrent; it's so outstanding that you only realize upon finishing what a gift it was to read it. Like one of those comedies that moves so fast you only laugh after you are a paragraph out -- a "gotcha" moment. 

Her characters came alive -- how easy it is to understand Nadia's wanderlust combined with her guilt for leaving her father. She was an entirely easy-to-relate-to character while keeping a cool distance for us readers. I hated Luke, yet still had a deep sympathy for him when physical tragedy struck the second time. Aubrey, Nadia's best friend, was like someone I knew and cared for myself. They story was insightful, but it was these characters that kept drawing me back. 

I don't know the lady who gave up her copy for me, but I would like to thank her for her kindness and for passing on one hell of a book to me. I'll repay your kindness by giving this book to someone who needs it as much as I did. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This Is How You Lose Her: Stories

I have yet to pick up any of Junot Dìaz's books, so this week on the train I packed This is How You Lose Her, his most recent collection of short stories. 

Yunior is a young man who gets into all sorts of pickles with women. He is the through line of these stories. From his mishaps with the opposite sex to stories of his childhood, Yunior's life is presented in technicolor for all to see. He has cheated on his fiancé for six years and is devastated to lose her. He watches his brother waste away from cancer while losing his mother. He watches his father lose his mother. Yunior's repeats those same old patterns. He is, however, on all of these stories, simply himself. 

I had a hard time getting into the first two stories. I wasn't thrilled with how the women were spoken about, and while yes, I understand that this is how the character thought of the women he dated, I was still not comfortable with the crude objectification of the physical aspects of these women that were clearly only focused on the sexual aspect of their relationship. In context, yes, it makes sense, but I'm not sold. 

However, as we moved into the stories about Yunior's relationship with his family I became far more engrossed and bought into the writing. Dìaz's astonishing prose really shine in those moments of fragility in Yunior, when he spoke of his brother and the confusion that broke through the hard-hearted surface of Yunior's facade. This carried over into the story of his life after his fiancé -- he was flippant and lost her, and when he recovered years later from his broken heart, he was never the same. It was a beautiful treatise on self-exploration, as told through parallel tracks of Yunior and his best friend. 

I'm now interested to pick up the rest of the Dìaz cannon to see what I think. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Pilot's Wife: A Novel (Guest Blogger Charlotte)


The Pilot's Wife is a 1998 novel by Anita Shreve. This isn't the type of book I'd normally be drawn to, as the cover makes it look like a serious, sappy look into marriage. But, I was intrigued by the fact that it was selected for Oprah's Book Club, and I know better than to judge a book by its cover, so I gave it a try.

The book is about Kathryn, a wife and mother whose world is rocked at the start of the novel when she learns that her pilot husband has died in a plane crash along with all his passengers. From the beginning, it is both a love story and a mystery. 

I'm starting to long for a novel that just goes in chronological order. While The Pilot's Wife doesn't technically start in the middle and jump backwards, it is packed with flashbacks and memories that take the reader through the romance of Kathryn and her husband Jack, from when they met until the day before he left for his final flight.

It's a fast read in part because so much of the story is far from unique: the once-hot romance turned boring, the distant teenage daughter who wants to stay in bed all day, the beachside estate with a dark and stormy ocean as a symbol of loneliness and mystery. That said, the writing is engaging and it's easy to get involved in the story and very interested in Kathryn's point of view and her perspective on the relationships around her.

What I enjoyed most, however, was the mystery aspect of the book. We learn of Jack's death when a union officer arrives late at night and knocks on the door to notify Kathryn. This is the beginning of his presence in the book as a calming but questioning friend, and of Kathryn's quest to find out what really happened, as she's initially sure her husband can't have been at fault for the crash. While the house is constantly surrounded by reporters and news shows on the TV all day, she tries to protect her daughter and make sense of what may have happened.

The Pilot's Wife builds the mystery slowly and focuses on Kathryn's perspective on her husband. As she begins to notice tiny things that tell her about parts of her life that were unknown to her, she begins to dig further. But for me, this is where the appeal of the book fell apart, because after chapter upon chapter of slowly finding little almost-non-existent clues, everything is revealed so quickly that it feels improbable and left me feeling somewhat disappointed. I closed the book wondering at first if maybe my copy was missing the last few chapters. I didn't actually feel that the beginning was slow, but that could be my love for dramatic irony, which a lot of readers find frustrating. But I did feel that the end was too abrupt to be a true, appropriate finish for the story that had been building - it didn't feel realistic to me.

Overall, I liked The Pilot's Wife and I'd suggest it as an easy but well-written read if you're feeling reflective. 

- Charlotte

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Underground Books -- Carrolton, GA

This weekend I went home to visit my folks and be the guest of honor at my baby shower. We are about 10 weeks away (give or take 2) from meeting Baby Sassy Peach, which is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I hope he loves to read, because he got A LOT of books. I'll post on that later. 

My parents and I drove out to see my brother who is just north of Carrolton, and I had never been there. After eating at The Brown Dog Eatery, which was seriously out of this world -- I can't recommend it enough -- we wandered through the most adorable downtown area and came across two bookstores: Underground Books and Horton's Bookstore, which advertises itself as the oldest bookstore in Georgia. Horton's was closed on Sunday -- bummer -- but Underground was open, and I was in love. 


The store is underground, which made it all the cooler. It had used mass market trade paperbacks in the rafters, and I scored a John Grisham I haven't read yet. (Those are becoming few and far between.) It was a great selection of books, from the used to the new to the discounted to the antique. There was also a cute arch made out of old books. I bought the Grisham plus two Lisa Delpitt books I have been wanting to read. 

We also got a photo of Horton's even though it was closed. I told my mom and my brother they could be famous if I put a picture of them on my blog. 


Those cuties. 

We also passed by a Little Free Library downtown. This place is really quite lovely. 


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood

I can't remember how Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood by Bill Hayes came into my possession, but I'm glad it did. I like to keep one paperback in my purse as my "commute book," and this was the latest, and a fascinating commute it ended up being this week. 

The body contains five quarts of blood. It's our lifeline -- we can't exist without it. It brings oxygen to the heart and gives us energy. We have the ability to regenerate it and give it away. It comes in types, and it may contain antibodies. It can become infected, quickly or slowly killing us. Physicians of yore have sought out ways to use blood (or get rid of it) to cure all that ails us. Bloodletting was in fashion for FAR longer than it ever should have been. Transfers have only been recently in the making. Blood typing is also relatively new in the history of medicine. Blood gives us life, and it perplexes us in the process. 

This was quite different than what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. I was expecting a medical treatise of sorts, and what I received instead was history of the pop culture and medical understanding of blood and how that relates to what Hayes has experienced regarding his blood and his partner's blood. His partner was HIV+, which makes blood take on a different form. While you and I may not think about our blood very often, Hayes and his partner think about it multiple times a day. Bloodletting, once a common practice for curing all that ails you, is no longer an option and in fact, is quite frightening for anyone attempting to avoid the virus. How blood is tested in laboratories is now vital to understanding how to survive, it's not just a fascination. When a nurse is charged with reusing butterfly needles in one testing clinic, many are affected and infected by her careless (or even malicious) choices. Blood takes on a larger than life quality for Hayes, and he makes outstanding work of it in this book. 

This has also been interesting to read while pregnant and contemplating the process of growing a fetus and then giving birth. I am B+ but I am also CMV-, which means I don't have cytomegalovirus antibodies in my system. This means that if I lose blood and I need a transfer, I need CMV- blood I order to avoid directly contracting the virus. It's not the end of the world -- if healthy, a body should be able to deal with it -- but I've never been known to deal with big health issues well. You may have had pneumonia -- my case was so bad I was in the ICU for 5 days. You may be a carrier for meningitis -- I was hospitalized for a week as I fought back to life. So you can see why I might be concerned about CMV. It was something that occurred to me as I was packing the hospital bag, as I added my blood donor card just in case. I realized that I needed to tell my partner so that he could file that information in the back of his head in case of an emergency. Blood is no joke. 

I was so happy this book came into my possession. It was fascinating and well worth the time to ingest, and I particularly found Hayes' visit to the blood processing lab to be one of the best moments of this book. It was incredibly informative and fascinating. I would suggest a read on your part if you are interested in a more interesting and personal history of blood than what you will get in a medical textbook. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Testing: A Novel

This was one of my first exciting grabs at my very first Book Expo four years ago. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing, but I finally did this last week. 

Cia Vale is out of Five Lakes Colony, and they haven't seen anyone selected for The Testing in years. Since the Seven Stage War, the colonies have sent their best and their brightest to Tosu City to test for university and a government placement. Only once you leave your family, you can't go back. When Cia graduates, she is selected along with three classmates. She heads into the city but finds out quickly that the testing is not as happy an honor as it's made out to be. She must fight to stay alive, and in the process, manage a new relationship and the knowledge that soon she will lose all of her memories. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It came out at the height of the dystopian YA movement (years after those hungry novels but right at the release of the movies) and I was terribly interested in a new take. I thought the plot was engrossing enough to keep me reading, and Charbonneau has quite a knack for good end-of-chapter cliffhangers. I am not the first to jump at the chance to read dystopian fiction; it's just not my style. This story, though, transcended that aversion and got me deep into the inner workings of a young woman's quest to stay alive while still retaining her values. 

I also really loved the character of Cia -- she was a strong, fantastic female protagonist, cut from my favorite cloth of problematic while lacking in whininess or self-pity. Cis struggles with hurting other people in the last round of testing, and she shows her empathic side in a scene that involves death at a large level. Watching her struggle with her feelings of fairness was a lovely and honest read. She did what she had to do and it was glorious. I would absolutely feel comfortable handing this book off to my own children as a great story that also reads as a story of female empowerment.