5 posts categorized "Book Reviews"

November 06, 2014

The Gondola Maker ~ Italy in Books Review & Book Giveaway

  Gondola Maker with award seal

Italy Book Tours invited me to read and review The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. And I finished the book just in time for my current visit to the floating city (I'm posting this review today from Venice).

 

The setting of the book, The Gondola Maker, is Venice in 1581. Although this is a work of fiction, the characters and the city of Venice, especially of that time, feel very real. The author goes into great detail on the art and craft of gondola making and through the characters' work, shows all that's involved in creating one of the most famous boats in the world.  The gondola is indisputably a symbol of Venice. Along with the gondola, there is usually a gondolier somewhere in the image, the two are virtually inseparable. One doesn't normally think about all the people involved in creating a gondola. In this story, though, the point of view is from that of a gondola maker - even though at one point he becomes a gondolier - and the reader gets what might be an entirely different perspective of Venice, life in the floating city at that time, gondolas, and even gondoliers.

In addition to the details about gondola making, another of the things I loved about this book is how the story takes us through life in Venice at that time. In the details and images the author creates, we get a glimpse of how all types of people might have lived then, and how life was different for each class of society. We see the handyman getting his bread and slab of cheese after a long day's work and the "Councillor" giving lavish private parties with banquet tables filled with all types of game and fish. Even the shoes a poor "boatman" would where gives away his status in society. We also see how rules/laws were carried out and enforced among the classes. I felt as though I could see Venice and all its layers of society in this book. There is a character from practically every part of life in Venice during the 1500s - gondola makers, oar makers, artists, apprentices, a Jewish citizen, a member of the Council of Ten, courtesans, everyday workers - dressmakers, bakers, etc. - and aristocrats.

Luca, the story's "hero" is a bit of a bumbling youth trying to make a life for himself despite what destiny might have in store for him, but he is quite likeable. I found myself rooting for him even though, as the reader, I could foresee that many of his escapades, plans and "deceptions" would only get him into trouble. Luca's story is a fun and easy read even if you care nothing about Venice (is that even possible?). But if you love Venice, as I do, this book is even better. I felt as if I were transported to Venice in the 1500s with Luca as my guide, walking the streets, gliding along the canals, watching the workmen and gondoliers in their shops, and peeking into the palaces of artists and aristocrats.

 

  Gondola canal and bridge Venice

Overview of the Story:

The book begins with a gondola burning between the two infamous columns "of justice" in the Piazzetta (the "little" piazza right off of Piazza San Marco and also where they held many executions). The gondola burning is part of a gondolier's punishment for throwing a rock at another gondolier while he was transporting the French ambassador around Venice. Luca Vianello, our protagonist, watches as the boat his father, who is known as "our Republic's most renowned gondola maker" crafted is reduced to ashes.

Luca is the oldest Vianello son and, therefore, destined to take over the family's gondola-making business. Luca's life has already been planned for him. He will be a gondola maker. His father has found him a bride, one whose family's business will also make a good marriage to the Vianello's gondola-making business.

From the very beginning, the reader gets the sense that Luca isn't too happy with this life that has already been planned for him. And then not one, but two, devasting tragedies strike the Vianello family. One of the tragedies Luca blames on his father and the other is a result of Luca's actions. Luca sends himself into exile from his family, but he cannot leave his home city of Venice. So he stays and sets out to create a life for himself under the alias of Luca Fabris. Starting homeless and in what would amount to a soup kitchen nowadays, Luca first finds work as a "handyman/gofer" for the manager of a traghetto stand, and then a well-known Venetian painter hires Luca as his personal gondolier.

At the painter's home Luca falls for a woman, the subject of one of his boss's paintings, who is of a totally different class than that of a gondolier. He is also equally fascinated with a broken and abandoned gondola in the painter's boat slip. Luca identifies the gondola as one his grandfather made. The story follows Luca through Venice while he attempts to get close to the girl and restore his grandfather's gondola all the while continuing to hide his true name and family origins. Will he remain a lowly boatman? Will he get the girl? How will he continue to hide his identity? There are a few unforeseen twists to the plot, and although the ending is "happy," its not as predictable as one might expect.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read that I would recommend and perfect one for anyone about to visit Venice.

La Forcula gondola venice

 

Enter to win a copy of The Gondola Maker here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

A little about the author:

Laura Morelli earned a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught college art history in the U.S. and at Trinity College in Rome. She is the creator of the authentic guidebook series that includes Made in ItalyMade in France, and Made in the Southwest, published by Rizzoli. Laura is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler and other national magazines and newspapers. A native of coastal Georgia, she is married and is busy raising four children. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  about.me

Laura Morelli

 

 

If you'd like to read others' reveiws of The Gondola Maker, here is the Italy Book Tour schedule:

Tour Schedule

Nov 3 - Studentessa Matta - review / giveaway
Nov 3 - Il Mio Tesoro - review / giveaway
Nov 4 - Packabook - review
Nov 4 - Venice from Beyond the Bridge - review
Nov 5 - Monica Cesarato - review / giveaway
Nov 5 - Seductive Venice - review
Nov 6 - Food Lover's Odyssey - review / giveaway
Nov 7 - The Venice Experience - review / interview
Nov 8 - Hello World - review
Nov 9 - Orvieto or Bust - review
Nov 9 - Capturing Venice - review

 

Other posts on Venice, you might also like:

Eating Italy ~ Food in Venice Interview with Monica Cesarato

Italy in Books Review ~ The Glassblower of Murano

Venica Carnival Costumes in Photos

Nutella Filled Venetian Fritelle for Carnival

Italian Hot Chocolate Recipe and Carnevale in Venice

 

June 28, 2011

Italy in Books June Review - Searching for Sicilian Food in "The Wings of the Sphinx"

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri
While most readers pick up a whodunit intending to find a killer within the pages, I, instead, was on the search for Sicilian food. I had heard that Inspector Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri's character, loves Sicilian food. My main reason for reading The Wings of the Sphinx for this month's Italy in Books Challenge was to search out Sicilian food within the pages of this murder mystery. Kooky, maybe. In my defense, Mr. Camilleri's website has an entire page dedicated to recipes from the Inspector Montalbano series, so I may not be the only one looking for delicacies while reading. Now, let's get to the review. Oh, and I've added a few "food notes" below, after the review.

The story starts with Montalbano being called to investigate the murder of a dead young lady. Well that is after his maid walks in to find him nude, and he finds out that a police car can't pick him up because all the cars are out of gas. The police department is waiting for money to be able to fill the tanks.

When we get to the scene, the dead young lady's face has been almost completely shot off. The only clue to who she may have been is her distinctive tatoo of a butterfly, or more specifically a moth known as a sphinx. It seems that the girl was Russian and tied to an illegal sex trade, but she had been rescued from a Catholic organization. Montalbano finds a trail of three more women who have the same distinctive tatoo. They, too, were rescued from the Catholic organization, but they are missing. Along with the murder mystery, there is another case Montalbano is working on. A local business man was kidnapped, as witnessed by his wife, and neither a ransom demand nor a body has shown up.

 In the same quirky, disjointed and bumbling way that the story started, Montalbano solves both cases. Instead of a confession, the murderer proves his guilt by fainting after Montalbano interrogates him. The two cases are never tied together, as I had expected them to be. Before the book can end, though, there is one more murder - solved in a few short pages - and a botched rendezvous with his long-distance girlfriend Livia.

It is a quick read, and although it isn't an edge of your seat page-turner, it is enjoyable. There are several funny moments. Catarella, the incompetent front desk/operator/receptionist guy plays Costello to Montalbano's Abbott in a never-ending series of name mispronunciations, mistakes and vocabulary misunderstandings. Through Montalbano, Camilleri takes shots at Italian bureaucracy, Berlusconi, Ferrari and, even worse, SUV owners, to name only a few of his targets.

Much of the time, though, I felt like I was on the outside of an inside joke. It seemed to me that much of the dialogue and Montalbano's thoughts had a double meaning or some political statement/stab, none of which I got. In the back of the book, there are explanations that helped to explain a few of the lost-in-translation moments, i.e. Montalbano refers to "smelling something burning," which in Sicilian is a double entendre for "I smell a rat." Without those notes, many times, I felt as clueless as Catarella. Is it only that something is lost in the translation? I also wonder if you need to be Sicilian to truly understand the humor. Or, did I need to start reading from the first book in the series to completely understand Montalbano's humor and quirks?

The food has a very small part in the book. I counted ten references to specific dishes in the 226 pages. When compared to books like The Food of Love or The Wedding Officer, both very food-centric, that is tiny. Not disappointed though, I appreciated the references to the Sicilian dishes, several I had never heard of before. Again with the food, it seemed directed solely at Sicilians. For the most part, with only one exception, Montalbano named the dish and ate it without any further explanations. Now, I'm sure that even the rest of Italy isn't familiar with the dish piscistoccu alla ghiotta.

Although the book may not be in my top 20 Italy-based reads, it was an enjoyable trip to Sicily.
This review is part of the Italy in Books June Reading Challenge. To see reviews of other books based in Italy, head on over there. Many reviews have been helpful, and I've found books based in Italy I hadn't known of before. Below are a few of my food notes about the Sicilian dishes Montalbano ate.


Caponata

Food Notes:
Of the many Sicilian dishes in the book, these were most interesting, and also, not as well known as cannoli, cassata and caponata. I'm looking forward to trying these out:

Pasta with Pesto alla Trapanese - From Trapani, this pesto is red. Tomatoes are added to ingredients that make the more popular Pesto alla Genovese.

Pasta 'Ncasciata - This is a dish I had not heard of before. After doing a little investigating myself, I found that the dish comes from Messina and am very eager to make it. The 'ncasciata is dialect for "in cassata," meaning in a mold/form/dish. Basically, it's a baked pasta dish that is surrouned by slices of fried eggplants and turned out of its baking dish. I've found a few variations on the dish, but in Montalbano's case, the sauced pasta is layered among other layers of eggplant, salami & cheese, sliced and boiled eggs, and a meat ragu. Sounds delicious, right? (I'm thinking of leaving out the boiled eggs.)

Piscistoccu alla Ghiotta - A stockfish made in the Messinese way: Stockfish first seared then slowly cooked in tomato sauce, with potatoes, celery, onions, capers, olives, pinenuts and raisins.

'Mpanata di Maiali - Finally we see at least part of the recipe in the book: Blanched cauliflower is sauteed with a thinly sliced onion. That is mixed with cooked and sliced sausage, thinly-sliced raw potatoes and black olives. Bread dough is rolled and placed in a cake tin. The mixture is added and another sheet of dough covers it. A nice layer of lard is spread over the top and it is baked.

Risu alla Siciliana - From the book the dish "is rice seasoned with the flavors of wine, vinegar, salted anchovies, olive oil, tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, hot peppers, marjoram, basil, and dried black passuluna olives."

Cassatelle alla Siciliana
The top photo is courtesy of the Amazon Associates program. All other photos are mine, All Rights Reserved.


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February 26, 2011

Italy in Books Review for February - Sacred Hearts

 Sacred Hearts 

Imagine you are one of two daughters in a nobile, but not so wealthy, Italian family in the 1500s.  Dowry prices to fetch a "respectable" husband, with the proper family name and influence, were on a steep rise.  For families that didn't have the funds to pay dowries for more than one daughter, it was common practice to raise one of the daughters for marriage and the other for a life in a convent. 

An arranged marriage or convent life, which might be worse?  I'm already trying to figure out how I would have been able to escape either. Add to this, the Catholic Reformation was also on the rise, and the few freedoms that nuns had within the convent were being stripped away.

Such was the case for Serafina, the young character in the novel, Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant.  The only problem was that Serafina had been raised for marriage.  However, she suddenly found herself locked up in the convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara, a far away place from her family in Milan.  The story starts here with Serafina howling in her cell. The dispensary nurse, Suora Zuana, comes to drug her, if not into submission, at least into sleep.

Serafina, rumored to have one of the most beautiful singing voices, has been sent to Santa Caterina to join their already well-recognized choir of nuns.  Sent so far away from her home and obviously not raised for convent life, Serafina's arrival is fodder for gossip. Whispers spread that some scandal is the real reason for her arrival.  Her disobedience and refusal to sing, only adds to the gossip and disruption in the convent.  Of course, there was a scandal, which plays a part in the plot.  A life-sentence in prison, that is convent life depicted through Serafina's eyes.  The main story involves how she does or doesn't cope and adapt to convent life.  She eventually sings, only as part of her plot to escape. Will she succeed?

The story also shows how life within convent walls was indeed just like a city.  Each nun had her specific duties.  The bigger her dowry and the better her family name, the better "job" she had in the convent.  The convent had the same problems, financial issues, jealousies, gossip, cliques, and political maneuvers of any city or state.

Besides Serafina's story, there is a substory which involves three other main characters and a play for power over the convent.  There is the Machiavellian abbess, Madonna Chiara, who comes from one of the ruling families of Ferrara.  How far will she go to keep her place in charge of the convent and to keep any news of scandal in the convent from getting out past its walls? 

There is the fanatic, Suora Umiliana, who wants to purge the convent of all joy, frivolities, and freedoms, including those surrounding the convent's choir.  She continually questions the abbess's deciscions and finally openly challenges the abbess's authority.  Both she and the abbess use Serafina as a pawn in their power play over the convent.  Will Serafina's disruption help Umiliana in her scheme to usurp the abbess?

Then there is Suora Zuana, the dispensary nun.  Not of nobility, she was neither raised for marriage nor for the convent.  Instead, her apothecary father let her learn his work beside him until he died.  If Zuana had been a man, she would have continued her father's work in Ferrara.  However, that was strictly forbidden to women. Left with nowhere else to go after her father's death, Zuana took her father's medical books into the convent and practiced medicine there.  The abbess had always been a supporter of Zuana's work.  Umiliana instead believed that healing should only be done by God. 

Serafina becomes Zuana's helper, and they become friends.  Only concerned with her potions, herbs and healing, Zuana has little interest in the politics of the convent, and has avoided them during her 16 years there.  She is the character most balanced between the extremes represented in the abbess and Suora Umiliana.  Although Zuana has always been a friend to and an ally for the abbess, she begins to question the abbess's actions in regards to Serafina.  Will she involve herself in the power play and change alliances?  Will she help Serafina?

 

Cloister 

 

I can't tell you the answers, you'll have to read the book to find out. 

This is the fourth book that I've read by Sarah Dunant. (The others being The Birth of Venus, In the Company of a Courtesan, and Mapping the Edge.)  I am a fan of her writing and love how she uses even the most subtle details, like chin whiskers or curls peeking out of nuns' headdresses, to develop characters' personalities.  It's obvious that she has researched convent life and sympathizes with those who lived that life during those times, especially those forced to against their will. (The author dedicates the novel to these women.)  Both the good and bad of convent life are explored in Sacred Hearts.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I do have to say it wasn't my favorite of hers.  Possibly because I'd rather read about a courtesan's life than a nun's, but also because I felt the story dragged a bit in many places.  I frequently felt myself tempted to pass over some of the pages, those detailing convent life or Zuana's work in medicine, and fast forward to the action.  There is plenty of action with Serafina and her plans to escape and with the power play between the abbess and Umiliana, but it was dulled by the descriptions of convent life.  I continued reading through those pages because I wanted to find out what happened to Serafina and Zuana - my favorite character in the novel.  The last 200 pages moved along more easily and interestingly than the first.  One thing is certain, the book left me grateful that I am free to choose my own path in life.

 

This post is part of the Italy in Books 2011 Reading Challenge.  Check out other reviews on books based in Italy: February's Italy in Books Challenge

If you'd like to join the reading challenge, it isn't too late: Italy in Books Reading Challenge 2011.  There are prizes involved!  Each month the reviews are included in a random drawing.  Last month, my review was picked, and I won an autographed copy of Ask Me if I'm Happy by Kimbery Menozzi.  I will be reading it and reviewing it shortly.

 

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Have you read Sacred Hearts?  What did you think of the book?  What would you do if your only options were an arranged marriage or convent life?  Which option sounds less dreadful to you?

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Church Cloister 

 

Related Posts:

Italy in Books January Book Review: The Glassblower of Murano

Italy in Books - Favorite Books Based in Italy and a Challenge for 2011

Villa d'Este in Photos - A Day Trip from Rome

Italian Hot Chocolate and Carnevale in Venice

Chiacchiere - Fried Treats for Carnival in Italy

January 28, 2011

Italy in Books Review: The Glassblower of Murano

The Glassblower of Murano 

This month I wanted to go to Venice for the Italy in Books reading challenge. Could this have something to do with my upcoming trip to Venice, for Carnevale?  Maybe so. The book I chose to take me there was The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato.

The Glassblower of Venice begins in 1681 with Corradino Manin, the great maestro of Venetian glassblowers, returning to his birth city from abroad.  He reenters his city at night dressed in all black, except for his white bauta mask, setting the tone for the chapter and the story.  He drops off a book and money at an orphanage, which is obviously intended for one specific girl, and waits, knowing he will be murdered soon.  The last question he asks before the murderer sticks a Venetian glass knife into him is, "Will Leonora be safe?" The questions and the mystery begin....Who killed him? Why? Who is Leonora? What is so important about the book he left behind? 

The next chapter finds us in present-day England with Nora, (short for Leonora).  She's newly divorced and hoping to find a new life in Venice.  She moves to Venice, the place of her birth and the home of her deceased father.  Leonora plans to become a glassblower like her ancestor, Corradino.  She is successful, initally because of her name, and becomes the first woman glassblower in Venice. 

The mystery surrounding Corradino surfaces to cause Leonora problems, and ultimately her  job.  She searches for all the information on Corradino and his death, certain it will clear both her and Corradino's name.  The chapters switch between Corradino's life in Venice during the 1600s and Leonora's in present-day Venice, and the mystery behind Corradino and his death unfolds.   Also, once in Venice, Leonora finds a love interest (Being in Venice, one MUST have a love interest) which provides more conflicts to the story and to Leonora's life.  By the end of the book, the mystery is solved and Leonora's life has changed. 

 

Blown Glass Tree on Murano 
Blown Glass Tree on Murano 

 

Entrance to a Murano Glass Blowing Shop 
Entrance to a Fornace on Murano

 

I was sad to find that Corradino Manin is an entirely fictional character, although plenty of history on Venice and the art of glassblowing is infused into the story.  We also get information on the Venetian Republic and Venice's Council of Ten from the 1600s.  

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  What I liked most was how the lives and talents of these two ancestors were similar and become intertwined, even though they lived centuries apart.  Leonora is the main character, but I was more drawn to Corradino.  At times, even Leonora was more concerned with him than herself, her own father, or her lover.  Set in one of my favorite cities, it's quite an easy read involving mystery, love, and some Venetian history.  If you are interested in Venetian glassblowing, in a fictional setting, the book could also interest you. 

From the story, the book gives me a better appreciation for the art of glassblowing.  Sometimes the art gets lost behind all the bobbles for sale in the touristy souvenir shops throughout Venice.  This story reminds us that those glassblowers are also responsible for so much more; mirrors, chandeliers, and windows in Venice and beyond.  This next trip I know I will look at the windows along the Grand Canal longer and differently.  I'll search out glass chandeliers in churches and buildings, seeing if there really is that one in the Chiesa della Pieta, mentioned in the book.  When I go to the Cantina Do Mori, I'll look at the mirrors and think of Venetian glassblowers.  Now, even the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, which has a part in this book along with Louis XIV, will take my mind to Venice.

 

 Venetian Window

 

 

This post is part of the Italy in Books 2011 Reading Challenge.  Check out other reviews on books based in Italy: January's Italy in Books Challenge.  If you'd like to join the reading challenge, it isn't too late: Italy in Books Reading Challenge 2011.

 

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Have you read The Glassblower of Murano?  What did you think of the book?  Do you have any other books based in Venice to recommend?

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**The photo of the book cover is from the Amazon Associate program. Other photos in this post are mine, all rights are reserved, and may not be used without my permission. 

 

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December 21, 2010

Italy in Books - Favorite Books Based in Italy and a Challenge for 2011

 

Books Based in Italy 

 

What do I do when I'm not in Italy? Well, besides planning my next trip, I do a lot of reading.  It's not only food and travel or cookbooks I read.  In fact, I love all books, especially fictional ones.  A story that's set in Italy and involves the food of Italy is even better.  When I travel abroad, I check out the local book stores and their English section.  The English books featured at bookstores in other countries are, many times, not the same ones featured in the U.S. I've found some of my all-time favorite Italy-based books in those stores.

For me, a good story is a way to travel to another place, time, life, and culture without having to pack or buy a plane ticket. Whenever I'm looking for a new book to read, I ask myself, "Where do you want to go today?"  Many times that place ends up being somewhere in Italy. 

For this reason, I am thrilled to join Book after Book's Italy in Books Reading Challenge in 2011. The challenge will run the entire year.  The goal is to read one book a month, review it, and possibly win a prize each month.  It's open to both bloggers and non-bloggers.  The Book after Book site will have a place for non-bloggers to enter their reviews. Although the challenge is focussed on fiction and non-ficiton books, you can also review up to two cookbooks and/or travel books, "learning" books as they're termed in the challenge details. I think this is a great way for all of us Italophiles anywhere in the world to share what we've read and to give each of us a broader exposure to books set in Italy.

If you're interested in joining, hop on over to Book after Book's site for information and challenge details.  She also gives resources for finding books based in Italy. 

 

Below I've listed my 10 favorites in fiction that I've already read and a few I have planned for this reading challenge.  If you're still searching for a last minute Christmas gift for a special Italophile, any of these would be a great choice.

 

Ten Favorites in Fiction Set in Italy:

 

 The Food of Love

The Food of Love - Based mainly in Rome, it's a food lover's version of Cyrano de Bergerac.  Laura, an American student in Rome decides she will only date a chef.  She finds one, she thinks.  Tomasso is actually a waiter, but he persuades his shy roommate Bruno, who is a chef, to cook while he takes the credit, and gets the girl.  In the meantime, Bruno falls for Laura and creates meals for her that has her falling in love, too.  It's just with the wrong guy.  Love, food, comedy, Rome and Roman cooking make this a great read.

 

The Birth of Venus 

The Birth of Venus - Historical fiction set in Florence during the 15th century.  The story of a woman's life, Alessandra Cecchi, during the time just after Lorenzo de Medici's death and when Savonarola's influence was on the rise.  The plague, political unrest and a serial killer in Florence add to the tension.  Alessandra, a strong willed woman and artist, navigates her way in a world not so kind to women.  The story weaves in historical information about Florence and artists of the time.

 

The Wedding Officer 

The Wedding Officer - Another story of food and love in Italy.  This time the story is set in Naples during the end of World War II.  Livia, a widow and cook from the Campania countryside, comes to Naples to find work.  English Captian Gould has come to Naples as the wedding officer, to discourage and deny the marriages of his fellow soldiers to any Neapolitan women with shady reputations.  After Capt. Gould has denied many marriages, a local decides that food is the way to soften his heart.  Livia becomes his cook.  Food and love prevail in this novel.  You will also read about life during wartime in Naples, an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the beginnings of the Camorra, the craziness and hilarity of the Napolitani and, possibly best of all, Neapolitan food.

 

Leonardos Swans 

Leonardo's Swans - Historical fiction set mainly in Milan during the 15th century about two sisters in arranged marriages, Isabella d'Este and Beatrice.  Beatrice landed the more powerful husband, Ludovico Sforza. Isabella, the more beautiful, cunning and ambitious sister, is jealous.  Isabella catches Ludovico's wandering eye, and she plans to use this to her advantage to get a sitting with Ludovico's court painter, Leonardo da Vinci.  This story of the lives and rivalry of two sisters takes you to the Duke of Milan's court during the 15th century, where you'll find political intrigue, family feuds, and the fight for being immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci's brush.

 

Beach Music 

Beach Music - I absolutely loved the storytelling in this book.  It's based in Rome and South Carolina.  After his wife killed herself, Jack McCall (a travel writer) took his daughter and moved to Rome.  Evenutally he returns to South Carolina, faces the death of his wife, and other  tragedies that have happened in his past. These include problems with his dysfunctional parents, and childhood friends. I literally laughed and cried, mostly at the same time, while reading this. The author weaves together stories of Jack, his family and his boyhood friends. Their families all seem to be battling for the title of most dysfunctional family.  The Holocaust, Vietnam and a terroist attack at Rome's airport also play pivotal roles in this story. (I had a crush on Jordon Elliot, one of Jack's childhood friends, for the entire book.  He's the priest living in Rome.  Yes, I realize he's also not a real person, but the story was written so well, I sometimes always forgot.)

 

In the Company of the Courtesan 

In the Company of a Courtesan - The courtesan's dwarf servant, Bucino, tells their story.  They barely escape the sack of Rome in 1527 and flee to Venice. Scarred and ill, Fiammetta - the courtesan - is nursed to health by a blind healer, La Draga.  Fiammetta returns to her profession in Venice.  You're transported to 16th century Venice in all its splendor and sordidness as the drama and the lives of Fiammetta, Bucino and La Draga unfold.

 

The Sixteen Pleasures 

The Sixteen Pleasures - Set in Florence after the flood of 1966, Margot a 29 year-old librarian, decides to come to Florence to help save and restore books damaged in the flood and to find adventure.  While helping to restore books in a convent, she finds the book "The Sixteen Pleasures" believed to be the last copy of Aretino's erotic sonnets and accompanying drawings.  (The Pope had ordered all other copies to be burned.)  The book could be worth a lot of money and save the struggling convent. With this book, she cetainly finds adventure in Florence.

 

Angels and Demons 

Angels and Demons - Most people know about this book and the movie.  Still, it's one of my favorites in fiction.  It is an entertaining work of fiction, but the art and the buildings in the drama do exist.  It's "24" but the race is in Rome, and we learn little factoids about art, history and the Vatican along the way.  Hopefully all those that have seen the movie also read the book.  As with most movies, it did not do the book justice. 

 

The Passion of Artemisia 

The Passion of Artemisia - Historical fiction or fact-based fiction on the Italian artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman elected to the Accademia dell' Arte in Florence.  The story starts in Rome where Artemisia is the defendant in a rape trial against her painting teacher.  She agrees to an arranged marriage with another painter in Florence.  While in Florence, her painting career does better than her husband's, and problems ensue. The story portrays a life of an woman and an artist in Italy during the 16th century.

 

The Thief Lord 

The Thief Lord - After their parents die, two orphaned boys run away from their dislikeable aunt and uncle to Venice. They join up with a secret community of other orphans who steal to survive.  The leader of the "gang," who goes by the name Thief Lord, does most of the stealing, jewels from rich Venetians.  The aunt has hired a Venetian detective, Victor Getz, to find the boys.  While Victor is searching for the boys, someone hires the Thief Lord to steal a wooden wing, which is actually a key to a magical merry-go-round.  The hide-and-seek mayhem is amusingly played out in the alleys of Venice.  While most of my favorite books are better suited for adults, this book is a good read for both adults and children.

 

 

My list for the 2011 reading challenge includes the 4 books below.  I just started Sacred Hearts and will be reviewing it in January. I need to find 8 more, so if you have suggestions for me, please add them in the comments section below.

Sacred Hearts 

Marcus of Umbria 

 

  Barolo

 

An Irreverent Curiosity 

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What are your favorite books set in Italy and what would you add to the list above?

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