Botticelli’s Bastard – A Book Review

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With a title like Botticelli’s Bastard, I had no idea what to expect from this latest novel by Stephen Maitland-Lewis . But as I began to get absorbed in it, it all began to take shape. The story begins when a middle-aged art restorer, who goes through the motions of living his life without experiencing any passion for it, opens up a crate that has been sitting in the corner of his art studio for years. Within it, he discovers an unsigned painted panel of an old Florentine aristocrat. Little did he realize how his life was about to change!  

Now this is where the story got a little weird for me, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the rest of it….but the painting of the Count began to speak to Giovanni, the art restorer! And, of course, he was the only one that could hear the painting speak! They ended up conversing a great deal, and Giovanni found himself treating the Count like his confidante and best friend! Weird, right? But actually, these conversations opened up the floodgates of history.  All the time periods between the Renaissance and modern times were described from the viewpoint of this painted Count who  had “lived” through them all. It was all pretty fascinating, especially the description of the pillaging of art by the Nazis in Paris during World War II.

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The Count also dropped a bombshell on Giovanni when he insisted that he had been painted by none other than Botticelli himself! Giovanni had his doubts, but promised the Count that he would have the painting analyzed by the experts for authentication.

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Throughout all these conversations, Giovanni began to renew his passion for living – the Count counseled him about life in general and also gave him a mission to accomplish. Giovanni was ultimately faced with a moral dilemma and his character was put to the test.

This book is a perfect example of what true historical fiction is all about – learning about history in a way that is interesting and entertaining!  I can highly recommend it, if you can get past the fantasy of the talking painting!

Below is a question and answer session with

Mr. Maitland-Lewis:

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  1. How did you do research for your book?

The internet is my primary source for research, but one has to be very disciplined so as not to go off in tangents in reading material with is irrelevant to the topic in hand. For that reason, visits to local libraries are ideal, although more time consuming. With regard to Botticelli’s Bastard, the research covered many different periods of European history, which made the project enjoyable and it did not at any time feel onerous.

 

  1. If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you
    be?

Unquestionably, Giovanni Fabrizzi, the art restorer. He was burdened with sadness and later on was faced with the dilemma of Satan on one shoulder and the good angel on the other in determining his course of action. But there is a moral tale for all of us and I found myself inspired by his ultimate decision.

  3.  What made you write a book about a talking painting?

A painting that has survived 500 years, has traveled across continents, and has hung on many different walls, has a life of its own. Just as Oscar Wilde’s
Dorian Grey had a painting that aged, my painting in
Botticelli’s Bastard talks to the restorer. Just as a writer or an actor can get totally immersed in his character, so can a restorer working over a long period of time and in the minutest detail, become overtaken by the painting on which he is working.

4.  What is the last great book you’ve read?

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. This novel is superb on every level – character, plot, language, and overall style. I first read the book many years ago, at a time when I was not writing professionally, so I didn’t appreciate the subtlety and brilliance of Mr. Styron. Reading it again recently, I realized that the author was one of the major world’s literary geniuses. His writing is so fine that I have to resist the temptation of never writing another word.

 

  1. Do you write every day?

I try to do so. Even if I am not writing a novel, I think it is important to write
something on a daily basis, whether it be a journal entry, or a complex social
or business letter. The great piano virtuoso Arturo Rubenstein remarked once
that “the first day I do not practice, I notice. The second day I miss a
practice, the critics notice. The third day – the audience notices.”

 

  1. What advice would you give budding writers?

Treat the art of writing as a serious professional occupation, and not a recreational activity. Try not to read fiction whilst you are writing fiction, as you could fall into the trap of admiring a particular descriptive passage in something that you have read, and subconsciously repeating it in your own work. Read fiction before or after you have completed your book, not during your exercise.

 

  1. What is your next project?

I have started a novel about a second-rate jazz pianist, and have already
completed about 20,000 words. In the midst of writing this, another project came into my mind and I may well place on hold the earlier one to focus on this latest possible work. I don’t want to say anything about the new project at present, so as not to jinx these very precious early stages.

 

Would you like to win a copy of this book?

Just click here, a Rafflecopter giveaway,
and you will have the chance to get your very own copy FREE!

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Oh To Speak Like an Italian….

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FullSizeRenderWhen I hear people speaking in Italy, I’m always amazed at how beautifully the words fall off their tongues.  I love the eloquence and the melody of their phrases.  Their words are so expressive and beautiful and I’ve decided that I  want to sound like that, too!  Even though I am pretty fluent in Italian (it was my first language and one I still speak all the time), I still have so much to learn in order to pull it off authentically.  I have hurdles to overcome, but hopefully with some diligence, I’ll be able to fit in like a native! Well, at least, a native once removed!

My first hurdle is learning the art of speaking formally!  My parents taught me Italian, but it was the Italian spoken between family and friends – not the Italian that I would use if speaking to the Prime Minister or the Pope!  (Even though, I don’t think Papa Francesco would mind if I spoke the familiar with him – he’s so cool that way!!)

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In Italian, when differentiating between the formal and the informal, they use the terms “dare del lei” or “dare del tu” – where “lei” is the formal form of you, and of course, “tu” is the informal.  My mom always said she loved English because “you” was “you” and it didn’t matter who you were addressing, it was the same either way!  That is so true, and therefore, we English speaking folk don’t have to change our pronouns!  For me, this is a very difficult thing to handle in Italian.  I find that my speech is stunted because I’m afraid off offending someone because I am not giving them the “lei”.  It’s not natural to me, whereas the “tu” has no problem coming out of my mouth!  I’ve decided that my only solution for this is to practice and practice until it becomes second nature to me.  I will be speaking all my Italian in the formal from now on (at least until I have it mastered).  I’ve already begun speaking to my Italian cousin this way, and at first, he thought I was speaking about someone else instead of addressing him formally!  Ha! Ha!  But when I explained what I was trying to accomplish, he understood but said that he found it hard to address me with the “lei”.  I just told him to pretend he was speaking to the Queen :)

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My second hurdle comes from some certain verb tenses – don’t ask me which ones because I have absolutely no clue what they’re called!  (All this business of linguistic terms like passato remoto, futuro anteriore, etc. mean absolutely nothing to me – heck, I don’t even know what they’re called in English!)  But they’re the ones which deal with the plural (we, they, them) of “should have”, “should be”, “could have”, and “could be”. I’m sure there are others, but right now those are the ones that come to mind.  I find myself getting stuck on those words and end up modifying my sentences to make it work!  A good recovery, but again, not spoken like a true Italian!

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And finally, my last hurdle (again, probably not really the last one) is the pronunciation!  I’ve been told that my American accent is charming, but I think people say that to be nice – what they’re really thinking is “who is this hick trying to speak our language”?  Sadly, I think this all stems back to the fact that I was embarrassed that I spoke Italian when I was growing up . I felt like I was different and I didn’t want to be different.  Therefore, I toned down my pronunciation and Americanized it.  I didn’t want to stand out in any way, and so I got sloppy with the “r’s” and the enunciation of all the syllables.  I also learned to speak rapidly, which I believe doesn’t allow you to say the words in all their eloquence.  So….I…. am… going… to… try…. to… slow… down… my…. speech…. and pay more attention to those “r’s”!

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The Light in the Ruins – A Book Review

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This excellent book by the author of Midwives, Chris Bohjalian, delves into life in the beautiful Tuscan countryside during the ravages of World War II. The Rosati’s, a noble family, who lived in a beautiful villa surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, thought their little world was safe from the horrors of the War even though both their sons were in the military fighting for Il Duce. Their oldest son was off in Sicily and their other son was commissioned in Florence as part of the Nazi pillaging of art, but the rest of them were quietly living out the War in their little corner of Heaven. Heaven was about to turn into an inferno, though, when the Nazi’s learned of the secret Etruscan tomb on their property and the possibilty of gathering priceless artifacts to send back to Germany.

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At first, they treated the Rosati’s with respect and reverence. One of the young German officers even fell in love with Cristina, the youngest daughter, and it all seemed like they would live a happily ever after once the War was over. This fairytale abruptly came to an end, though, when Italy surrendered to the Allies. The Germans became desparate and began trashing the countryside and killing anyone suspected of harboring the Partisans.

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Massacres of innocent people, sometimes a whole town, took place and everyone lived in fear. The Rosati’s were no exception: they soon became prisoners in their own home.

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They were forced to give up their home for it to become a barracks for the Nazi’s. They were allowed to remain, though, but all 6 of them were crammed into one room. Their animals were slaughtered to feed the soldiers and their vineyards and olive groves destroyed. Everything they had was gone! And on top of all the physical and economic hardship they indured, their allegiance was questioned by all…were they Nazi sympathizers (after all, their daughter was in love with one) or were they harboring Partisans?

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Fast forward 10 years or so….the War is over and Italy has somewhat repaired itself from the damages. The Rosati’s have left their war-torn estate behind and moved to Rome. The horrors they endured during the War are still raw scars on their hearts that have yet to heal, and probably never will. And now, their family has become the target of a brutal serial killer. Someone is out for revenge, but why? Who? The pretty, young, female investigator assigned to the case has to untangle clues from the past which puts her back in touch with her own secrets and horrors endured during the War. The story takes its twists and turns, but the reader is always caught up and motivated to keep reading wondering how its all going to come together.

My Dad – The Soccer Player

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Growing up in Italy, playing soccer is every boy’s greatest dream, much like baseball, basketball, and football are the dreams of many American boys!  Few get to really pursue this dream, but my dad was one of the lucky ones.  Throughout his life, he lived and breathed soccer!  He truly loved the game and didn’t have any trouble memorizing all the stats of all the soccer games played by all the Italian teams.  His favorites were Juventus and Milan, but he paid close attention to all of them.  In fact, when the World Cup games were on, he was always at the Italian club in San Francisco watching the games on a giant screen TV!  Growing up, I never quite understood his fascination with the game, but I later came to understand why he had such a passion for it.  You see, my dad played professional soccer in Italy for probably about 8 years in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  His team was Gallarate (a town near Milan in Northern Italy).  He played in Serie B and was a mid-fielder.

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During his career, he was a top goal-scorer and earned quite a following in his home town.  Many in the town followed his games and were excited whenever he’d score a goal – even to the point of getting free dental work from his dentist!  He was a home-town celebrity but you’d never know it by his demeanor.  He took the accolades quietly, even though he enjoyed the little perks!

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During a recent trip to Italy, a few years after my dad had passed away, I got to meet up with one of his many fans who had followed his career closely.  He asked me if I knew what a great soccer player my dad had been, and sadly, I had to confess that I had only heard about the perks he received(and those stories weren’t even from him!)  He told me that my dad had great talent, but my dad was too conservative and humble to allow himself to venture into Serie A.  He said that Como, a Serie A team at the time, had courted my dad to play for them.  But my dad had declined because he felt that his knees weren’t good enough!  He had had meniscus surgery, which in those days was a major operation, and he was unsure that he could keep up in Serie A.  According to this fan, my dad had incredible skills – he could use both feet to shoot into the goal or to pass, and he had great aim with his head shots! I only wished that I could have seen him play this game that he loved so much.  The only memory I have of his skills was when he used to play “keep away” with me…I remember chasing the ball but never being able to get it because he’d whisk it away with his feet so much faster than I could ever go!

There is so much more I’d love to ask him about his soccer days but sadly he’s no longer with me.  And when he was here, I never thought about asking…why is it that we never take those special opportunities when we have them?

Venice in the Moonlight – A Book Review

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With the gorgeous setting of 18th Venice during the mysterious season of  Carnevale, the story features a secret society, murder, suspense, and a love story.   Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel, Venice in the Moonlight, was an enjoyable short read (it’s only 186 pages).  But perhaps it was too short…the conflicts were well developed but were resolved too quickly, in my opinion.  There wasn’t much depth to the resolutions , which left me wanting for more explanation.

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The story follows young Marietta – a widow at the age of 20 – who spent 5 years of her young life married to a horrible husband and an even worse mother-in-law.  After her husband’s sudden death, she was banished from the family home in Verona and sent back to her hometown of Venice.  She hoped to make amends with her widowed father who had married her off to this horrid family, only to find out that her father had died a few months earlier.  Marietta had been angry at her father for 5 years, trying to figure out why he had chosen to marry her into the horrible Gatti family.  But, as she finds out more and more about her father’s life during those 5 estranged years, she comes to realize that he only did what he felt was best for her and that he still loved her so much.  As she delves into the circumstances leading up to her father’s “accidental” death, she discovers that someone had been out to get him.  But why?  Her sleuthing into Venice’s dark corners puts her in danger herself.  Someone doesn’t want her to uncover some dark secrets and Marietta finds herself alone, not knowing whom she can trust.

Enter the love story (which, by the way, I ended up enjoying the most out of the story).  During her “exile” from Verona, she had been rescued by the handsome Nico when her carriage had gotten stuck in mud.  After arriving in Venice, she kept running into this handsome man.  At first, she didn’t trust him – he seemed to be a womanizer and a cad -just like her late husband had been.  She didn’t want to give her heart to someone just to have him use her and then discard her when he tired of her.  So she played it safe and pursued a strictly business relationship with him, trying to use his influence to discover more about her father’s death.  Time passed, and things changed…

All in all, the book was entertaining and I would recommend it for a quick read.  The setting was great and the author described 18th century Venice beautifully – down to the masks worn during the Carnevale season.  I just wish that the conflict resolutions weren’t dismissed so easily.  It seemed that the grave dangers the characters found themselves in, and which had been building up throughout the story, were resolved within moments.

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 Please enjoy this short interview with Elizabeth McKenna…

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  • How did you do research for your book?

 

Years ago, I had traveled to Italy and fell in love with it. When I decided to use Venice as a setting, I hauled out my photo album to refresh my memory. I also read the book, A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant, which is a true love story set in the 18th century. It helped me with historical details. I also, of course, relied on the internet. I found a copy of Casanova’s memoirs online, which was extremely interesting.

 

  • How long have you been writing?

 

I was a journalism major, so I have been writing my whole adult life, but I didn’t start writing fiction until 2008.

 

  • If you could go back in time, where would you go?

 

I wouldn’t go back too far. I like the Hollywood glamor of the late 1940s/50s. I love to watch the black and white movies where the woman has semi-curled hair and a beautiful evening gown.

 

  • Favorite travel spot?

 

Anywhere in Europe. I love the architecture and the food. I am not a beach resort sort of person. I like to explore and learn things when I travel.

 

  • What   is your next project?

 

I am working on a contemporary romance titled, First Crush. Here is the description I have been using:

 

Remember your first crush? How your heart raced and your cheeks flushed whenever you saw him? Jessie Baxter does, and it’s happening all over again at her high school reunion. Lee Archer is The One Who Got Away. Despite Jessie’s best efforts, he only wanted to be friends. Fifteen years later, things are different. Lee wants more, but first Jessie has to unload some baggage—the biggest one being a psycho ex-husband. Will Jessie learn to trust again and make her first crush into her last love?

 

Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel will have you remembering the angst of high school, the grief of a failed relationship, and the happiness of true love.

 

Would you like to win a copy of her book?

Just click here,
a Rafflecopter giveaway
and you will have the chance to get your very own copy FREE!

Of course, you can also purchase the book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

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The Gondola Maker – A Book Review

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The setting is Renaissance Venice.  Wouldn’t you know it?  That’s one of my favorite subjects, so when presented with the opportunity from Italy Book Tours to review the newest book by Laura Morelli, I jumped on the bandwagon right away.  And boy am I glad I did!  The book was everything I wanted it to be…and more!

Laura Morelli, the author of several shopper’s guides – Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest – has done a wonderful job bringing Renaissance Venice to life in her first novel.

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The Gondola Maker follows the story of young Luca, the heir to one of the best gondola-making families in Venice.  After the death of his mother and a terrible fire that destroyed the gondola “factory”, Luca left the only life he had ever known and went off on his own.  His adventures in “Our Most Serene Republic” take him from some awful lows to moments of extreme pride and accomplishment.  Laura’s vivid descriptions of everything – from the plush fabrics used to decorate the gondolas and the garments worn by the noblemen, to the stench of the sewage-filled canals – makes you feel as if you’ve ventured back 500 years with all the romance and strife of life in a Venice so different from today.

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Luca’s passionate attention to his craft of restoring and creating the beautiful work of art that is the Venetian gondola makes us appreciate, all the more, this unique mode of transportation that is so synonymous with Venice, itself.  And anyone with a passion for creating art will relate to that most innate passion that is part of one’s being and cannot be taken away, no matter the circumstances.

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I can promise you that after you read this book, you will pay careful attention to every detail of the next gondola that you ride in – once you get to Venice, of course, and fork over the 100 euros it takes to ride one of these beauties through those same canals and by those same richly decorated palaces of so many years ago.

The Gondola Maker has won several awards including:

IPPY Award for Best Adult Fiction E-book 
Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award 
Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award 
Shortlisted for the da Vinci Eye Prize 

Here’s a little bit about Laura Morelli, the author of this great book:

View More: http://sarahdeshawphotographers.pass.us/laura-morelli

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.

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Would you like to win a copy of her book?

Just click here, a Rafflecopter giveaway, and you will have the chance to get your very own copy FREE!

Of course, you can also purchase the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.

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Beautiful Love Song by Eros Ramazzotti and Il Volo

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Another romantic love song by the great Eros Ramazzotti, this time with the help of Il Volo!  Beautiful as always….

Cosí

 

Cosí cosí
L’amore a volte ci dimentica
Ci lascia solo un pugno di ricordi
Come farfalle libere

Cosí cosí
L’amore píano se ne va cosí
In cerca di nuovi sorrisi altrove
Nei cuori di questa cittá

Aíutami a capire cosa sento
Ora nel mio petto c’é un rimpianto
Cosí grande
cosí grande

Il cuore é come un mare senza vento
Muore sulle labbra quell’istante
Che era grande
Cosí grande

Cosí cosí
L’amore piano ci dimentica
Lo fa cosí in modo naturale
Come é arrivato se ne va da me.

Autami a capíre cosa sento
Ora nel mio petto c’e’ un tramonto
Cosí grande
cosí grande

E non so piu’ che cosa sento dentro
Il cuore ha le rughe di un deserto
Che e’ troppo grande
Così grande

Per noi
Che non vogliamo ancora smettere
L’amore e’ un bimbo da rincorrere
Ma come l’alba tornera’

Da noi
L’amore e’ come un uragano
Ma se lo guardi da lontano
Lo vedi anche da qui che e’ grande
Cosí grande
Autami a capire cosa sento
Ti accorgi di un rumore se si e’spento
Quanto e’grande
Cosí grande

Ascolta la tua mano sul mio petto
Quanto fa paura un cielo aperto

Cosí grande
Cosí grande
Cosí grande

Cosí cosi
L’amore adesso ti ha lasciato qui

Ma senti l’aria arriva un temporale
Chi l’avrebbe detto mai

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So

So, so
love sometimes forgets about us
it leaves us a handful of memories
like butterflies liberated

So, so
love quietly goes away
to search for new smiles elsewhere
in the hearts of this city

Help me understand what I´m feeling
now in my chest there is a yearning
so big
so big

The heart is like a sea without the wind
it dies on the lips of that moment
it was big
so big

So, so
love silently forgets about us
it does it like this so naturally
like it came it goes away from me

Help me understand what I´m feeling
now in my chest there is a sunset
so big
so big

I don´t know anymore what I feel inside
my heart is dry like a desert
which is too big
so big

For us
who don´t want to stop yet
love is like a child to chase after
but like the dawn it will return

To us

Love is like a hurricane
but if you look at it from afar
you will see also from here, that it is big
so big

Help me understand what I´m feeling
you realize a noise if it is silent
It’s so big
so big

Listen to your hand on my chest
How much fright is an open sky
so big
so big

So big

So, so
love has left you here

But you can feel in the air a storm arriving
who could ever have imagined