Book Reviews

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer #Review @melodiewinawer @TouchstoneBooks

The Scribe of Sienna cover

Back in November, I received an email from Simon & Schuster offering a free ebook if I was willing to take part in a study to help them learn more about how readers engaged with their books. All I had to do was create a Jellybooks account, pick my freebie, and start reading. At the end of every chapter, I would click on a button that said ‘sync reading stream’… easy-peasy.  Of the five book choices, I had already read one of them, and had my request on Netgalley declined for another. Thinking I would choose the latter, I signed up. I had to read the blurbs for the other books—no self-respecting bibliophile would skip doing that, right?—and my mind was changed as soon as I read the blurb for The Scribe of Siena.

I’ll own up to the fact that it was the Outlander mention/comparison that made my choice an easy one. (If you know me, you know I am totally obsessed with love the story of Outlander, so you aren’t surprised in the least.) I think I would have chosen this book regardless, because the plot greatly appealed to me. I went into reading it a bit warily, though, because the last book I read that compared itself to Outlander—despite being a very good book—felt like false advertising, in that regard. After giving it some serious thought, I’ve come to decide that the The Scribe of Siena is worthy of the comparison. The stories, settings, and plots aren’t mirror images, of course. It is exactly like Outlander, however, in that it can’t be boxed into one single genre, but to a group of genres—specifically time travel, historical fiction, suspense, and romance. They are close enough in the ways that count to make it an acceptable comparison to me.

When books have historical settings, it’s important that everything fits the time and place;  dress, language, societal hierarchies… all of it has to be right, to feel right. Lovers of historical fiction are sophisticated enough to hone in on little details that don’t belong, and it can’t ruin the entire book for them when it happens. Thankfully, that didn’t happen with this book. Winawer clearly did the necessary historical research to bring this fourteenth-century medieval Italian setting to life, and it paid off beautifully in vivid characters, settings, and dialogue.

The conspiracy at the heart of the story was gripping, and my breath caught more than once as the conspirators set about committing their dastardly deeds. I enjoyed how it tied in to the research Beatrice’s brother did prior to his death, and why a particular person in the present day was so motivated to get his hands on that research.

As much as I loved the historical portions of the story, the present day story was equally enjoyable to read.  Most of the action understandably takes place in 14th century Siena, but Beatrice’s life in modern-day Siena had memorable moments, as well.

The love story between Beatrice and Gabriele was sweet. As is typical concerning lovers from different centuries, Beatrice ultimately has to decide whether to stay in his time, or go back to hers. The catalyst for this decision wasn’t something I’d foreseen, and that was a welcome surprise.

I absolutely adored this book, and I highly recommend it. I think fans of the Outlander series would really enjoy it, as well as readers who enjoy a good time travel story lush with historical detail, a healthy dose of romance, and a good batch of suspense added to the mix. The Scribe of Siena is a brilliant debut, and I’m fervently hoping to see more novels from this author in the future!

I received an advance reader copy of this book courtesy of Touchstone and Jellybooks.

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Author: Melodie Winawer

Title: The Scribe of Sienna

Genre: Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Romance

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 by Touchstone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

Equal parts transporting love story and gripping historical conspiracy—think The Girl with a Pearl Earring meets Outlander—debut author Melodie Winawer takes readers deep into medieval Italy, where the past and present blur and a twenty-first century woman will discover a plot to destroy Siena.

Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.

After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.

Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.

The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.

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About the Author

Melodie Winawer
Melodie Winawer (Photo © Dana Maxon)

Melodie Winawer is a physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University with degrees in biological psychology, medicine, and epidemiology, she has published forty-seven nonfiction articles and book chapters. She is fluent in Spanish and French, literate in Latin, and has a passable knowledge of Italian. Dr. Winawer lives with her spouse and their three young children in Brooklyn, New York. The Scribe of Siena is her first novel.

Author photo and bio via Simon & Schuster.

Book Reviews

#Review: The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse @MrsAmandaProwse

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Lucy Carpenter and her husband, Jonah, are happily married and planning to have a baby. When she becomes pregnant, Lucy spends her evenings knitting baby clothes. She has a pregnancy book she reads to discover how her baby is developing week by week, and imagines how happy their lives will be once their baby is born.  Her heart is broken when she has an miscarriage, but they are determined to try again. Sorrow strikes a second time when she has another miscarriage. As Lucy struggles to deal with the pain of her losses, she must also adjust to the arrival of her teenaged step-daughter, Camille. Lucy hopes to build a relationship with her, but instead finds herself feeling like an outsider in her home. Envious of the relationship Jonah has with his daughter and fearful that she will never be able to have the baby she desperately longs for, Lucy begins to resent Camille’s presence. The rocky relationship she has with Camille causes a rift to form between Lucy and Jonah, and Lucy is less than thrilled when Camille announces she’s staying. A shocking turn of events brings about a situation that will either bring them together, finally, as a family… or tear them apart.

The Idea of You is a beautifully written novel you won’t soon be able to forget. Intensely emotional and painfully realistic, this is a book guaranteed to wring every ounce of empathy from you, and then some. Lucy’s dream of motherhood are especially poignant when she writes of what she imagines it would be like to have a child… dreaming of the possibilities, of the things she would do with her child at different ages. You’ll definitely want to have a box (or two) of tissues handy when you read this book, because I don’t think it’s possible to read this one all the way through with dry eyes!

Simply put, this is a book worth reading.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Lake Union Publishers.

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Author: Amanda Prowse

Title: The Idea of You

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: March 21st, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

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About the Author

Author Amanda Prowse
Author Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse was a management consultant for ten years before realising that she was born to write. Amanda lives in the West Country with her husband and their two teenage sons.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.

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Book Reviews

#Review: No Apparent Distress by Rachel Pearson, MD @HumanitiesMD @wwnorton

No Apparent Distress cover

If you are deeply concerned about the plight of the poor in America—and, in particular, the roadblocks they face in getting even the smallest health care need met—then this is going to be an extremely difficult book for you to read.

As I write this review,the date is currently January 23, 2017. Three days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. The House of Representatives and the Senate is in Republican control and it’s just a matter of time before a new Supreme Court Justice is appointed—who will most certainly be a Conservative—which means all three branches of the Federal government will be under Republican control. By the time this review is published in late April, it is very likely that under this Republican majority, the Affordable Care Act will have been repealed, which will be particularly devastating to the most vulnerable in our society who gained coverage through the medicaid expansion (if they were fortunate enough to live in a state that expanded medicaid).

Which makes this a most timely read, indeed.

No Apparent Distress recounts the author’s days as a medical student in Galveston, Texas, detailing some of her experiences working in St. Vincent’s Student-Run Free Clinic. Staffed by volunteer students and physicians from University of Texas Medical Branch, St. Vincent’s offered health services for the uninsured poor. Financial limitations restricted the care patients received, sometimes with deadly results.

Pearson doesn’t shy away from admitting her own mistakes and shortcomings as a medical student; she shares those stories with regret and the 20/20 hindsight that wisdom brings. Nor does she hide her frustration about the disparity of care available to the insured vs. the uninsured, given examples of the inequalities she noticed while working/learning at the office of another doctor whose patients were insured and had considerable financial means, as well.

The Haves… and the Have-Nots.

If ever there was a book that inspired compassion for those less fortunate, it’s this one. If you’re seeking understanding about what it’s like to be poor and uninsured in America, I urge you to read this book. It’s definitely an eye-opener.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and W. W. Norton & Company.

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Author: Rachel Pearson, MD

Title: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Publication Date: May 9th, 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

W. W. Norton & Company | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

In medical charts, the term “N.A.D.” (No Apparent Distress) is used for patients who appear stable. The phrase also aptly describes America’s medical system when it comes to treating the underprivileged. Medical students learn on the bodies of the poor—and the poor suffer from their mistakes.

Rachel Pearson confronted these harsh realities when she started medical school in Galveston, Texas. Pearson, herself from a working-class background, remains haunted by the suicide of a close friend, experiences firsthand the heartbreak of her own errors in a patient’s care, and witnesses the ruinous effects of a hurricane on a Texas town’s medical system. In a free clinic where the motto is “All Are Welcome Here,” she learns how to practice medicine with love and tenacity amidst the raging injustices of a system that favors the rich and the white. No Apparent Distress is at once an indictment of American health care and a deeply moving tale of one doctor’s coming-of-age.

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About the Author

Author Rachel Pearson
Author Rachel Pearson (Photo © Danielle Barnum)

Rachel Pearson, MD PhD, is a resident physician who also holds a PhD from the Institute for the Medical Humanities. Her writing has appeared in Scientific American, the Guardian, and the Texas Observer. She is a fifth-generation Texan, currently training as a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Author photo and bio via publisher’s website.

 

Book Reviews

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann #Review @DavidGrann @doubledaybooks

Killers of thr Flower Moon cover

Oil brought unimaginable riches to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the early years of the twentieth century, and made them the “richest people per capita in the world” by the 1920s. It also brought about the “Reign of Terror,” a period of time between 1921 – 1926  when racism and insatiable greed led to many of the Osage being murdered for their headrights, which were worth millions of dollars. When the newly-created FBI first investigated the case, they botched it. Once former Texas Ranger Tom White and his undercover team were put in charge, however, significant progress was made and the evil conspiracy that devastated so many families was finally exposed.

I don’t often read true crime, but I was drawn to this one because I’ve always been very interested to learn more about the cultures and histories of Native American people. I was further intrigued because it happened in my home state and I knew nothing about it.

As difficult as it was to read about the murder victims and how they died, it was nearly as upsetting to me to read about the way the Osage were generally treated and regarded. Bigotry was made worse by jealousy of their wealth, and they were regularly swindled out of their money by being charged exorbitant fees and forced to pay hugely inflated prices for everything. Many of the Osage were ruled incompetent to handle their own money, and had court-appointed guardians who decided how much money they would be allowed to access, and what it could be used for. These guardians often-times were in control of several people’s finances, whom they stole from ruthlessly and repeatedly. Once the murders and suspicious deaths began, the terrorized Osage  quickly lost hope of justice ever being served, thanks to shoddy investigations (if, indeed, an investigation took place at all) that wrapped up quickly and garnered no useful leads in finding the culprit.

What interested me as much as the case details was the portion at the end of the book, detailing visits and conversations the author had with descendants of murder victims. Grann was made privy to details known only to the families of the victims, leading to discoveries that are both shocking and heartbreaking.

Meticulously researched and written in an engaging, narrative style, Killers of the Flower Moon is simply excellent. Highly recommended for history buffs with a particular interest in Native Americans and true crime.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Doubleday.

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Author: David Grann

Title: Killers of the Flower Moon

Genre: True Crime

Published: April 18th, 2017 by Doubleday

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.

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About the Author

Author David Grann
Author David Grann

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the hunt for the giant squid to the presidential campaign.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, published by Doubleday, is Grann’s first book and is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.

Grann’s stories have appeared in several anthologies, including What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001; The Best American Crime Writing, of both 2004 and 2005; and The Best American Sports Writing, of 2003 and 2006. A 2004 finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic.

Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.

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Book Reviews

Review: Every Which Way Crochet Borders by Edie Eckman @edieeckman @StoreyPub

Every Which Way Crochet Borders cover

Step-by-step instructions and symbol charts put these 100 creative new border designs within reach for beginning and advanced crocheters alike. If you’re ready to chart your own crocheted course, Edie Eckman offers plenty of helpful design advice, including how to choose an appropriate border for each project and how to incorporate an element from the main stitch pattern into a new border design. She then explains, with the help of close-up photos, how the same pattern can have dramatically different results depending on the weight of the yarn. With each pattern diagramed to approach in both rounds and rows, Every Which Way Crochet Borders is an inventive and invaluable resource.

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Author: Edie Eckman

Title: Every Which Way Crochet Borders: 138 Patterns for Customized Edgings

Genre: Nonfiction, Crafts & Hobbies

Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by Storey Publishing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Storey Publishing.

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Crocheting is something I love to do… there’s nothing like the feeling of taking a hook and a few skeins of yarn and transforming it into something beautiful. And what it is that enhances the beauty of crocheted creations? You guessed it… a pretty border!

I’m not creative (or knowledgeable enough) to dream up my own patterns, so books like this one are extremely useful to me. I have a small collection of crochet pattern books that I look to for inspiration for my next afghan, etc. but none of them had a dedicated section on borders, so I was excited to see what this book had to offer. It’s so much more than merely a book of patterns, however. The chapter about design concepts gives tons of useful information, from choosing borders that will either complement or contrast the main body of your project (and what that means) to the importance of border size, the colors you choose, and even the type of yarn you use. You’ll also find instruction on how to add a crocheted border onto a fleece blanket, for example—something I never even thought about doing!

With 138 patterns to choose from, shown in beautifully colorful photographs, you’re sure to find a border you’ll fall in love with. Each one is precisely detailed and illustrated, with notes on how to do specific stitches. The appendix includes information on how to read crochet patterns—which is useful for people like me who can’t always remember all the stitch symbols—as well as an illustrated glossary… which is perfect for deciphering things like “Dc2tog over 3 sts” for those of us who often forget the meaning of certain abbreviations.

This is definitely a book any crochet enthusiast would find beneficial, and would be a lovely addition in your crochet book collection.