Threading the Needle – Book 3 of the Roma Underground Series


51LbKc8yJjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]This 3rd book in the Roma Underground series finds the characters all back in Italy – this time in Milan.  While there, they investigate the murder of a young American student, Charlie Brooks.  He is murdered right after he meets Bianca at a restaurant and hands her some secret files regarding details of a tank being built by Adastra, a USA defense contractor.  What about this tank makes it so secret that Charlie and his assassins are killed?  That is the answer that Bianca wants to find out, and this involves delving into government secrets and conspiracies.  Loki, Bianca’s online “friend” tells her to stay away from this case, but Bianca doesn’t heed her warnings! Meanwhile this is happening, an aspiring Italian political figure is found dead.  The two cases seem so different, but clues surface which make it seem like the two may be related.

I enjoyed this book more than the other books in the series, and I think it’s because I am now familiar with the characters and know each of their personalities.  This story moved quickly and I liked the descriptions of the locations in Milan…I also liked the history lesson about the terrorism that plagued Italy from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.


Finding my Family’s Roots


I have always been interested in finding out about my Italian family, but the roadblocks were almost impossible to maneuver unless I were to make a special trip to Italy and spend lots of time in the churches or city halls.  But changed all that by making some Italian civil records available online (and they keep adding more)!


Lo and behold, when I looked up what was available, I found that the province of Padova, in the Veneto region, had online records!


My mother’s family “immigrated” from there to Lago Maggiore in Lombardy back in 1936, so I knew that I might have some luck in locating information about them while they lived in Padova.  I began by finding out where my mother and her sisters were born – that gave me the name of the town in the province. People didn’t move around as much back then, so once you have the name of the town, you can usually find loads of family members’ statistics. And I was right!  The records I found contained a lot of information – among them parents’ names, locations of birth, and whether the parents were alive or deceased at the time of whatever event you are researching. The records available online are from 1871 – 1910, and they contain birth, marriage, and death records, and therefore I knew that I should be able to find information about my grandparents within those years, as well as their parents (and maybe grandparents). With just a few simple word clues, you can decipher a lot of information from those documents (of course, it helps immensely if you can read Italian).  For instance, if the words “fu” or “furano” preceeded the names of the parents, that means that they were deceased.  If it said “di”, then chances were they were still alive.  It was tedious going through all the records, but fortunately there were yearly indexes to help with the search.  The hardest part was keeping all the clues straight!  I had to make a spreadsheet and cross reference all the information I found to see if they really were part of my family’s branch of the tree.  I was successful in tracing my grandfather’s part of the family tree back 4 generations!  I also unearthed a mystery which I was determined to figure out!

My mom’s mother died when she was 9 years old, so she really hadn’t ever spoken to her about her family back in the Padova Province.  But her father lived into his late 60’s so I thought she’d have more information on his family.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  He never really talked about them, other than to say that he had lots of brothers and sisters. Well, from doing the research, I realized why he never spoke of them – when he was just 11 years old, he lost both his mother and father (and baby brother) within one year of each other, leaving him and his 7 younger siblings orphaned.  But who took care of them?  Who raised them?  These are the kinds of questions that genealogy research leads to – these human interest stories that make you want to find out more.  I was like a dog with a bone and needed to find out what happened.  I decided to try something the old fashioned way and did a white pages search (online) for my grandfather’s last name in the vicinity of where they had lived. I found three people with the same last name and decided to write them a letter.  Yes, a real letter! In that letter, I described who I was and mentioned the names of my grandfather’s siblings, in the hopes that one of them had descendants still living in the area. In this letter, I did give my email address so that communication would be easier!  A couple of weeks after my letter went out, I received an email response from one of them.  I found out that they weren’t direct relatives but shared the same last name. She told me that she would be glad to help me find my relatives!  She was so nice and I feel like I made a friend – these are definitely the benefits of putting yourself out there and asking for help.  People are more than willing to help you!

My second response came about a month later and it was the answer to all my questions.  The author of the letter was my mother’s first cousin, whom she never met because she never went back after she moved to Lago Maggiore. Back then, if you moved even only a couple of hundred miles away, you may have well moved to the moon!


Communication, many times, sadly was lost. Not because of family feuds but simply because it was just too hard. Anyway, this letter contained photo copies of pages from a typed manuscript which detailed what happened to my grandfather’s family. Turns out that his parents and baby brother had died of cholera, during the outbreak of 1910 in the Veneto. When they had fallen ill, they had sent the other children (my grandfather included) to live with the grandparents and an adoptive uncle.  This adoptive uncle had, at one moment in time, more than 21 people in his household to take care of!  Amazing that families cared for each other so closely! This manuscript was written like a story with heartfelt words.  But who wrote these beautiful words? How can I get a copy of the entire manuscript, which I’m sure has lots more family treasures? These are questions that I posed to the author of the kind letter after I profusely thanked them for sending me these treasures. I am currently anxiously awaiting their response!  I can’t wait to find out more, and I’m so thankful that my curiosity paid off!

The next part of my search:  my maternal grandmother’s family!  Hopefully I’ll unearth more lovely stories about my ancestors.

The Wasp’s Nest – A Book Review



Continuing with the Roma, Underground series by Gabriel Valjan, this second book finds Bianca (Alabaster) back in Boston and working once again with Rendition.  This time, her assignment is to investigate Nasonia Pharmaceutical and it’s CEO, Cyril Sargent. who is trying to map out the genome for a species of wasp in order to discover a new form of cancer treatment.

Photo by

Photo by

Meanwhile, the case of the stolen antiquities which she had been working on while in Rome, continues with the extradiction of one of the key figures in the crime ring to Boston.  Because of the ties to Italy in this specific case, her friends from Rome, Farrugia and Gennaro, come to Boston as well.  While in Boston, these two uncover a conspiracy from their past, and one in which they would like to “settle the score” with.

At first, the book started off with lots of scientific talk, which I happened to understand because of my science background, but which I felt was a bit too technical.  It made for some dry reading (like reading a textbook) and I found I needed to really push myself to continue.  I honestly feel that if I hadn’t been reading this series for Italy Book Tours, I may have put the book aside.  But, I’m glad I persevered through these part, because the story got really interesting and I ended up enjoying it immensely!

Roma, Underground (Part 1 of the Series) – A Book Review



This suspenseful novel follows Alabaster Black, a.k.a. Bianca Nerini, a forensic accountant, as she tries to hide in Rome from her former “mysterious” employer, Rendition, after one of her contacts disappears and is presumed dead.   While in Rome, she meets Dante and gets involved with his archaeological hobby of exploring Rome’s underground.

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Dante is also an investigator who is trying to figure out who is stealing and selling Rome’s ancient artifacts.

Courtesy of The History Blog

Courtesy of The History Blog

The two of them devise a scheme to trap the thieves by making up a fake discovery.  Meanwhile, while they are trying to figure out who these players are, Bianca learns that she has been found hiding in Rome. Lots of characters are presented, each with lots of personality, as we’re led around Rome, both above and below ground.

The story is fast moving, but at times, I found that I was getting lost trying to keep all the characters straight.  Also, some things were explained in really technical terms and I wasn’t that interested in the details.  But that’s just me, that sort of stuff doesn’t really appeal to me.  I’m sure others will appreciate the technicality of the descriptions!  All in all, it was a fun read and kept me hooked all the way through.


A Song for Bellafortuna – A Book Review



Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco wrote this delightful novel full of vivid imagery of the Sicilian hilltops and valleys.  Even though the countryside is beautiful and the citizens of Bellafortuna live in harmony with each other, life isn’t idyllic. At one time, Bellafortuna had been a thriving community that produced it’s own wine and olive oil.  But as hard times came around, the farmer’s were forced to seek assistance from the wealthy Vasaio family – who would loan them money but would, in return, charge exhorbitant interest rates.  So high, that it was impossible for these people to repay the loans, thus resulting in the loss of the properties that had been in their families for generations.  The people became poorer, while the Vasaios became richer and more powerful.  The farmers became disillusioned with their state of affairs, but they never lost the desire to work hard – in the hopes that one day they may be able to regain control of their land.  The one respite, which rallied their spirit, was their love of music.  Every week, they would hold a concert where they could escape reality for a short while. For a particular family,the Sanguinetti’s, successful wine merchants who were not under the control of the Vasaios, the problems facing their neighbors weighed heavily on their conscience.  Their success was, in part, due to their past association with the Vasaio’s.  Even though they had stepped away once they had realized the Vasaio’s sinister ways, they always tried to vindicate themselves by helping out their neighbors any way they could.  The villagers had long since forgotten and forgiven them, but the Sanguinetti’s still felt that they owed their neighbors.  The young Giuseppe Sanguinetti decided to take upon himself the duty of ridding the village of the Vasaio’s control.  He concocted a plan that would either bring about freedom for the villagers or result in squelching the town’s spirit once and for all.

The book stuns in its vivid description of beautiful Sicily, but I found the story to be too predictable.  I always seemed to know what the outcome would be for every situation.  The author’s writing style was simplistic and a bit redundant.  On the whole, though, it was an enjoyable read, but mostly for its imagery and romantic sense of life in an Italian village, surrounded by caring neighbors.


Here are a few words from Chip LoCoco

A Love of Opera

A Song for Bellafortuna and my first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, all use music in the story, and not just any music, but opera.

I am often asked if I studied opera and if I can sing. My quick answer is, no, I have never studied opera, but I do sing – in the shower of course.  So although I am not musically inclined, I do have a passion for this art form. This love affair began when I was in high school, although, even as a little boy, music and opera surrounded me.

I grew up in a Sicilian/American family. On Sundays, after lunch, all the men would gather in the front room and listen to Giuseppe di Stefano and Mario Lanza opera recordings.

I still remember when I purchased my first opera recording. The compact disc players had just come out. A friend of mine loved Bach, and said how great classical music sounded CDs. So off I went to Smith’s Records in New Orleans to buy a Bach CD. Danny, a young clerk, offered his advice on a Bach CD, and when we started talking about music and opera, he told me I just had to buy a newly released recording of Puccini’s Tosca with a young Jose Carreras as the tenor. I came home and the rest, as they say, is history. Opera, and not just the music, but opera history and lore, became my hobby.

Without a doubt, I always wanted to pass down my love of opera and music to others.  But, because I am nonmusical, I do it through writing, instead of singing. So music is used throughout the story.  In my first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, music plays a central role as the story revolves around a young man from Milan, who wishes to become an opera tenor. In A Song for Bellafortuna, music is not the main character in the story, yet still plays an important role, as it is music that  the villagers rally behind.

I read one time that most writers will write about things that they are passionate about. Writing is hard, telling a story s hard – yet it becomes a lot easier, when you are telling a story that you feel passionate about, know a lot about, and can’t wait for people to read it and hopefully learn something.


Chip LoCoco

Author of A Song for Bellafortuna and Tempesta’s Dream

The Inheritance – A Book Review


The Inheritance by Marianne Perry[1]

Marianne Perry has successfully written a wonderful book set in my favorite place, Italy. This story of love and betrayal follows the Marino Family during the early 1900’s when lines were clearly drawn in Italian society between the wealthy and powerful, and the servants and the laborers. It’s the story of good versus evil : the goodness of Anna Marino, the matriarch of the family, with her beautiful eyes which revealed her kindness towards all those who knew her; and the evil and cold heart of her husband, Santo, who sold his soul to that devil called organized crime.  Power was all consuming to him and the ultimate means to an end.  He didn’t care who he betrayed, killed or harmed if it was to his benefit.  Lorenzo, their son, inherited his mother’s kind eyes and that same good heart. He was an artist and looked at the world through different eyes.  His mother was the only one who encouraged him to follow his passions and from her he learned to love, even if it meant he would love someone that his father disapproved of.  Unfortunately, his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps and ultimately would make life unbearable for Lorenzo

The storyline was great and kept me enthralled throughout.  This could have been a GREAT book except for a few distractions that got in the way.  My first criticism was the over abundance of characters – there were way too many presented to keep them all straight and to remember how they all related to each other.  Many were irrelevant and only created a distraction to the real story. In fact, at times, I couldn’t remember who a certain character was after they became important because they had been originally presented quickly and without much more than just their name.  The other distraction was the incorrect use of Italian.  In my humble opinion, if the author was going to use Italian to give her story more depth and credibility, perhaps it would have been best to consult someone proficient in Italian and who would guide her in using the correct words.  It was almost as if she used google translate for the translations (and we all know what happens when we rely solely on that….)  It may have been safer to leave out those Italian words altogether – the book would have been just as good!

Despite these small criticisms, the author had a good story to tell and she made this time in Italy’s past come alive.  We were able to feel the pain, hardship, and passions of the main characters and their lives.  I would highly recommend this book, even knowing that some real Italophiles may flinch at the incorrect use of those Italian words!

Here is an interesting interview with Marianne Perry, the author of The Inheritance –

and I’ll be looking forward to her new books!

Why did you write The Inheritance?

Family mysteries intrigue me. I wanted to understand why my paternal grandmother, Nana Caterina left Calabria, southern Italy in 1913 as a young woman; sailed on a steamship across the Atlantic Ocean; landed at Ellis Island, New York; settled in Canada and never returned to her homeland. Our large family knew scant about Nana’s early life so I started genealogical research to investigate her history, which eventually inspired The Inheritance.

Why did you select “Caterina” as the protagonist’s name?

The Inheritance is set in Calabria, southern Italy from 1897 to 1913.Names help create authenticity and I reviewed Italian genealogical documents to determine those appropriate for this era. As a result, I chose Mafalda, Fortunata and Armida for minor characters. St. Catherine of Siena is a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi. The name is a perennial favourite in Italian families plus honours my late Nana Caterina and Catherine Rose, an older sister who died in infancy.

Tell me about the cameo brooch Caterina inherits.

My mother has long suffered from dementia and I cherish a cameo brooch that I inherited from her. It belonged to her Sicilian-born father but she knows nothing about its origin. The clasp is broken and the brooch, fragile. I have long been haunted by the milky carving of the elegant lady depicted and it seemed the perfect gift to symbolize the ailing Anna Marino’s quasi-maternal affection for Caterina.

What is the significance of the crumbling stone cottage on the cover of The Inheritance?

In order to research The Inheritance, I traveled to Calabria in 2004 where I snapped this photograph. The crumbling stone cottage was located in the mountains near my Nana Caterina’s ancestral village. It typified the poverty of my grandmother’s family and is intrinsic to Caterina’s life as a peasant in this novel. I value authenticity as a writer and felt a personal photograph would illustrate this to the reader.

Will your next book be set in Italy?

Yes. To date, I have traveled to Italy seven times. In May 2013, I returned to Calabria for an intensive two week genealogical and writing research trip geared to my next book. It will be set in Calabria with chapters in Rome and Zurich, Switzerland. The time period is modern and the protagonist a Canadian woman of Italian ancestry who inherits a century old deed to property in Calabria plus a holograph will from her deceased godfather under strange circumstances. She travels to Calabria to solve their mysteries but forces attempt to thwart her along the way. My third book will be a sequel to The Inheritance.

Don’t Pass Up this Great Offer from Starwood (SPG)


I know that I have mentioned in the past how happy I am with the American Express SPG card, where you can earn points that you can exchange for some incredible hotel stays all over the world.  For a limited time, they are offering a generous sign up offer of 30,000 SPG points when you spend $3000 in the first 3 months!  That’s equivalent to about $800 worth of hotel rooms!  If that’s not reason enough to sign up, here are some pics that I took on our stays in these wonderful hotels!  If you decide you want to apply for the card, send me your email and I can have them send you a private invitation!

Here are some of the great rooms we’ve had in Italy!


The Westin Palace, Milan

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Westin Excelsior, Rome


Hotel Danieli, Venice

Not only have we stayed in these great Italian hotels, but other hotels in lots of other places in Europe and North America!  All of them have been spectacular, and best of all, they know how to treat their loyal customers!