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BOOK LIST: Best 25 Books Set in Italy

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world, and I have a particular love of historical novels set there. My own novel BITTER GREENS is set half in Venice and in a tower on the shores of Lake Garda - t gave me a wonderful excuse for a trip there! 



Today I've gathered together a list of what I consider the BEST 25 BOOKS SET IN ITALY:
(in alphabetical order)

1. The Wedding Officer – Anthony Capella

I loved this books so much! Its set in Sicily during the Second World War, and is all about food and love. It'll make you want to cook, I warn you!


2. Four Seasons – Laurel Corona

A beautiful book about Vivaldi and the women musicians of the Pieta in Venice.

3. A Thousand Days in Venice - Marlena de Blasi

This is really a memoir and not a novel, but I really loved it and so wanted to include it. Another gorgeous book about love and food. 

4. The Principessa – Christie Dickason
Set in the Italian city-state of La Spada, the gateway to Europe, this is an absolutely wonderful book of romance, palace intrigue, murder and fireworks. 

5. The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

I loved this book - its bold, passionate and brilliantly brings the world of Renaissance Italy to life.

6. In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant

One of my all time favourite books!

7. Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant

This one is set in a convent in Ferrara, Italy, in the year 1570 - I sat up till after 2am to finish it. An absolute zinger! 


8. Leonardo’s Swans – Karen Essex
Set in Renaissance Italy, the book charts the lives, loves and marriages of two sisters. Isabella and Beatrice, and their relationship with Leonardo da Vinci. This is historical writing at its best, vivid, alive, crackling with sexual and political tension, and uncompromising in its reality. 

9. The Glassblower of Murano – Marina Fiorato

This novel tells the parallel stories of a glassblower in Venice, 1681, and his descendant centuries later, a young woman who dreams of being a glassblowing artiste herself. It’s a simple, romantic story, but well told and with lots of lovely Venetian details. 


10. The Madonna of the Almonds - Marina Fiorato
A story of love, art, war and the story behind the making of the Amaretto di Saronna liquer - loved it! 



11. The Botticelli Secret - Marina Fiorato
A grand romp of an adventure through Renaissance Italy and Botticelli’s most famous painting, ‘La Primavera’, this was a great read (though you may need to willingly suspend your disbelief about quite a number of things). I loved it, though. The heroine Luciana is a delight, and the illumination of some of the possibly meanings behind the figures in the painting quite fascinating.

12. Daughter of Siena - Marina Fiorato

This lush historical novel set in 18th century Siena is a fabulous read, with a perfect blend of action, mystery and love. 


13. The Venetian Contract - Marina Fiorato
Her latest book and just as good as all her others. 



E.M. Forster

14. A Room with a View- E.M. Forster
An old favourite of mine and one I like to re-read every few years. A beautiful, subtle love story set partly in Italy and partly in England, with a gentle satire on English manners and mores – a wonderful book.

15. Where Angels’ Fear to Tread – E.M. Forster
Not as well known as A Room with a View, but just as good - romance and misunderstandings among English ex-pats in a small Italian village


16. Juliet – Anne Fortier 
A brilliant read! I really recommend it. This book tells the story of the original Juliet of Shakespearean fame, in parallel with the modern-day quest of a young American woman to find an ancient family legacy. I love books which parallel two historical periods, particularly when it is done as well as this one. 

17. The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
An absolutely wonderful and magical children's book set in Venice. I love all of Cornelia Funke's books but this is my favourite.  A must read for all ages. 

17. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici – C.W. Gortner 
An absolutely fabulous historical novel told from the point of view of Catherine de Medici, one of the most maligned women in history. The parts dealing with her childhood are set in Italy; the rest in France. 

18. The Falconer’s Knot – Mary Hoffman
‘A tale of poison, bloodshed and passion’ ...  a fabulous book, and one I can highly recommend.

19. I, Mona Lisa – Jeanne Kalogridis 
This was the first book I have read by Jeanne Kalogridas and it won't be the last. I really enjoyed this book, which tells the story of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting. So little was known about Lisa Gherardini, Kalogridas was able to position her right in the heart of the intrigues, murders, and religious fanaticism of Florence in the days of Savaronola. A really good, exciting, romantic book.

20. The Borgia Bride - Jeanne Kalogridis 
The tagline for this book reads ‘Incest. Poison. Betrayal. Three wedding presents for the Borgia Bride.’ This sums up the book really well. It’s a real historical page turner, set in Italy in the 1490s when the Borgia family ruled Rome. Riveting stuff. 

21. The Book of Unholy Mischief – Elle Newmark
An utterly fabulous read! Set in 15th century Venice, with a boy who seeks to protect an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. Lots of intrigue, drama, danger and cooking. 


22. Vivaldi’s Virgins – Barbara Quick
Another wonderful book about Vivaldi and the girl musicians of the Pieta in Venice - full of atmosphere and beauty.

23. Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers
This novel tells the story of a prim and proper Englishwoman who goes to Venice and finds her life transformed by the power of art and love. It made me want to move to Venice!


24. The Passion of Artemisia – Susan Vreeland 

A novel inspired by the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women to ever be admitted into the salons of Renaissance Florence. Read my Interview with Susan Vreeland for more.




INTERVIEW: Marina Fiorato, author of ‘The Madonna of the Almonds’

Friday, April 19, 2013




I have read and enjoyed every one of Marina’s books – she’s now one of my favourite authors. Her books all share a vividly described Italian setting, strong plots that illuminate some aspect of Italian history, alluring characters, and gorgeous covers. 


Marina’s fascination with Italy comes from being half-Venetian. Although she was born in Manchester and raised in the Yorkshire Dales, she studied history at both Oxford University and the University of Venice, where she specialized in the study of Shakespeare’s plays.


She has also worked as an illustrator, actress and film reviewer, and has designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones.

She was married on the Grand Canal in Venice, and lives in North London with her husband, son and daughter (with lots of visits to Italy to research her books, the lucky thing!)
Her books are: 


The Glassblower of Murano (2008) 
The Madonna of the Almonds (2009) 
The Botticelli Secret (2010)
Daughter of Siena (2011)
The Venetian Contract (2012)


I loved them all, but I was particularly taken with story behind The Madonna of the Almonds and so that is the book I am interviewing Marina about:


Are you a daydreamer too?
 
Yes - I think it really helps. Sometimes I’ll drift away from modern life and slip back a few centuries - I’ve had lots of good plot ideas from just daydreaming, so I fully recommend it 
 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
 
Actually, no - I did when I was at school, then there was quite a long gap when I wanted to be a lawyer, vet, actress, artist! Then I came back to it when I had my son, and now I couldn't imagine being anything else
 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
 
i was born in Manchester, England, and now I live in London. what I like best is hanging out with my family (husband Sacha, son Conrad (9) and daughter Ruby (7)) meals are a big thing in our lives - probably cos I’m half Italian - so either eating out or at home all together round a table is my greatest pleasure.
 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'Madonna of the Almonds'?
 
I was having a glass of amaretto di saronno - or two! - with my husband one Christmas, and I began to read the legend on the back of the box. it told the tale of Bernardino Luini falling in love with a young widow and immortalizing her as the virgin on the church walls in Saronno in 1525. So I had a hero, a heroine, a setting, and even a date, and set myself the challenge of writing the story.
 

Tell me how you went about researching and writing the book.
 
I was lucky enough to go to Saronno and actually stand in the little church that Bernardino had painted, and then go to Milan to look at the monastery he decorated there. It's remarkable that the same beautiful green-eyed, red-haired woman is all over his work. it was very useful to see her like that, painted over and over again as every saint and angel and Madonna, because it really gave my heroine three dimensions. I invited her down from the walls and gave her life as Simonetta di Saronno, the heroine of the book.


'The Christ Child Asleep' by Bernardino Luigi
 
How extensively do you plan your novels?
 
i usually do a page long synopsis, and then a chapter plan telling me what will happen in each chapter. So I usually know before I start exactly how the story is going to end, but sometimes the characters surprise you!
 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
 
If I'm in the middle of a book I sometimes will dream about the characters, and if they do (or usually say) something interesting I'll scribble it down when I wake. I always have something with me to write down wherever I am, otherwise the ideas just disappear like bubbles.
 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
 
My favourite animal is a giraffe, and I put one in every book. I discovered that Luini's son (also an artist)  had put two giraffes at the centre of his Noah's ark fresco in Milan, so I didn't have to figure out how to fit one in!

 
Where do you write, and when?
 
I write on my laptop, on the sofa in my living room. I work while the kids are at school, and stop while they're home. It's quite a good chunk of time to write, but it stops me overworking because it's a finite time.
 

What is your favourite part of writing?
 
I love it when I have an idea for a scene or some dialogue which I'm so enthusiastic about that I have to write it down so fast that my fingers can't catch up! I also like the editing process, when you have a strong first draft down and then can hone it.
 

What do you do when you get blocked?
 
I don't tend to get blocked because I know I have a limited time to write so I just write any old rubbish, because I know I can edit it. Just putting words down on the page makes the process less daunting - there's nothing worse than a blank page.
 

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
 
I read a lot, watch a lot of telly, go to movies, talk to interesting people. There are so many stories to write if you keep your ears open
 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
 
Not really, except for drinking copious amounts of tea!
 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
 
Thomas Harris, Alexandre Dumas, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Adams, Antonia Forest, Pamela Kaufman, Anya Seton, Shakespeare, Dickens, Jilly Cooper!

Anya Seton
 

What do you consider to be good writing? 
 
Writing that makes you want to turn the page, that makes you want to read just one more chapter before you go to sleep.
 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
 
I think if you want to write, you should read. Read everything, good and bad, because you'll learn from both.
 

Tell me all about your new book.
 
I'm writing about all of Shakespeare's Italian plays, as if all the characters are real and are living at the same time in Renaissance Italy. Their paths cross and they meet each other, and Shakespeare himself is in it too. It's messing with my head a bit but I'm really enjoying it! 


BOOK LIST: Books I Read in March

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I read only nine books in March, but then its been rather a whirlwind of a month for me, travelling all around Australia talking about THE WILD GIRL. 

These are the books I read:

1 The Venetian Contract – Marina Fiorato

I loved this book so much! Fabulous historical novel with romance, intrigue and adventure in one heady brew. Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favorite authors (look out for a review & interview with her next week!)



2. Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta

I was really impressed with Melina Marchetta's first epic fantasy novel. Better known for her contemporary social realist novels for young adults, Melina made a bold move switching to fantasy. Her plot is cleverly built and well-handled, the pace never flags, and her characters are all intriguing and believable. Well worth the read!


3. The Three Loves of Persimmon – Cassandra Golds 

Cassandra Golds is one of the most bewitching and original writers Australia has ever produced. Her novels are fables about love, hope, and faith, and unlike anything else being written by any other writer I know (except perhaps Kate di Camillo, whose work I also love). Her books are all utter treasures, and 'The Three Loves of Persimmon' is no exception. Look out for an interview with Cassandra, coming soon!



4 An Uncertain Place – Fred Vargas

An intriguing murder mystery with a shambling, slow-thinking and slow-moving Parisian detective. These books are translated from the French, which adds to their charm. I found it a little slow, but I loved the settings and the characters were all quite unique. 


5 Nine Days – Toni Jordan

What a beautifully written little masterpiece of a novel! I loved it. Once again, I'll post a longer review and an interview in the next few weeks. 


6. When Maidens Mourn – C.S. Harris

This is the latest in a series of murder mysteries set in England during Regency times. Think the dark underbelly of a Georgette Heyer romance novel. The amateur detective is a Viscount with a troubled past  - his suffragette wife is a delight and my favourite character in the books. 


7. The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

An intriguing and unusual book set during Victorian times, with the feel of a Victorian melodrama. The historical setting is superbly well done, with a rather creepy foggy atmosphere, and more twists and turns than a roller-coaster ride. 


8. The Last Templar  - Michael Jecks

A very enjoyable medieval murder mystery, with an appealing hero and a puzzling mystery. I'll be trying another of these.


9. On the Way to the Wedding – Julia Quinn

Frothy and funny as ever. 

BOOK LIST: Books read in January 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

I've been meaning to keep a better track of all the books I read so here is, a little late, a list of all the books I read in January 

1. The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland

An utterly compelling historical novel which moves between Portugal and Iceland as a young woman searches for two rare white falcons in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Her journey is fraught with danger, betrayal, murder and horror, with the strangest set of seers ever to appear in fiction. Highly recommended.

2. Jewels of Paradise – Donna Leon
Donna Leon is best known for her murder mysteries set in Venice, which I really enjoy. This one was a disappointment - it was rather slow and the characters were unappealing. Stick to her Guido Brunetti series instead. 


3. Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schiltz

I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant. 

4. Madonna of the Almonds – Marina Fiorato

I've been slowly reading my way through Marnia Fiorato's books since enjoying her debut The Glassblower of Murano a few years ago. This one is set in Renaissance Italy, and tells the story of the love affair between a painter and a young woman who invents a liquor made from almonds in order to save her beloved house. I really enjoyed this and will be interviewing the author later this month. 

5. The Mystery of Rilloby Fair  - Enid Blyton

An old childhood favourite.

6. Shatter – Michael Robotham

Warning: this book must be read with all the lights on and a man or a large dog in the house. I have not been so freaked out by a book in a long time. Seriously scary, this book is possibly the most brilliant psychological thriller I have ever read. I still shudder from time to time thinking about it ... wondering what I'd do if I was faced with such a situation ... and determined to keep my children closer than ever ... Chilling, powerful and utterly superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.   


7. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake – Sarah McLean

I really enjoyed this Regency romance novel - it was funny, sexy, and had a really appealing hero and heroine. Great fun.  

8. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dea
I've had a vague plan to read all the Newbery Medal winners, and slowly I'm getting through them. This one is very restrained, almost cold, yet its a compelling story of a young Indian girl left alone on an island and her struggle to survive. It won the Newbery in 1961, and so its older than I am. One of those short, yet very strong books that leave a lingering impression.  

9. Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
This is the most beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica - I'd really recommend it to anyone who loves books about forgotten women in history (in fact, I'd recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction.) Here's my review of 'Chasing the Light' and here's my interview with Jesse Blackadder

10. Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny
I really enjoy Louise Penny's contemporary murder mysteries set in Quebec - she's very good on character and dialogue, and her mysteries are always clever and puzzling, the way mysteries should be. 



11. The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh
Loved this book! Loved it! Its the story of French resistance fighters in the Second World War, and their loves and fears and betrayals. I believe there's a sequel coming out - I can't wait. 




12. White Truffles in Winter – N.M. Kelby
This is a slow moving but beautifully written account of the famous French chef Escoffier and his life and loves. It desperately made me want to eat the amazing food described in the  book - larks cooked with truffles and such things and brought to life that period of history for me most vividly. 

13. Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, which was like an early policeman in Regency times. This was a great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder. I'm looking forward to reading the next one. 

14. The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier
I love Tracy Chevalier so much. She's what I'd like to be. Each book is very different from what has come before, each is beautifully written - walking that fine line between the high style of the literary novel and the accessiblity of the popular - and she is interested in the subjects that interest me. I've always been intrigued by the Quakers and I've always wanted to know more about the Underground Railway that helped runaway slaves escape. I've even thought I might one day write a book about it. Once again, Tracy has beaten me to it - this book brings to life both the inner world of a Quaker woman and her struggle with the narrow strictures of a Quaker life, and the drama of the Underground Railway, and the bounty hunters that seek to drag back the runway slaves. 'The Last Runaway' is rather a quiet book, yet its utterly readable and compelling. I really loved it - I just wish Tracy wrote faster!



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