Tag Archives: book review

A Song for Bellafortuna – A Book Review

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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.

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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.

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Chip LoCoco

Author of A Song for Bellafortuna and Tempesta’s Dream

Alchemy’s Daughter – A Book Review

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Here’s to another great historical fiction book introduced to me by Italy Book Tours – Alchemy’s Daughter.  Mary A. Osborne successfully transported me back to Medieval Italy in this enjoyable novel about a young girl’s determination to follow her own dreams in a time when women were never expected to have a strong will.  Young Santina was a smart and intelligent girl living in San Gimignano when she fell in love with a scholar.  Their love was one of mutual respect for each other’s dreams, but these dreams also kept them apart.  Calandrino, the young scholar, was intent on deciphering ancient alchemical texts and left Santina alone in San Gimigniano while he went off in search of his quests.  Santina, not content to follow in the tradition of arranged marriages (of which hers was to be to a trade merchant whom she did not love), left her father’s home to search out her own fate.  Knowing that she desired to do more with her life than be a merchant’s wife, she sought out Trotula, the village midwife, and asked her to teach her the ways of midwifery and healing.  She soon became immersed in this world  – learning about medicinal herbs and delivering babies.  She was finding her destiny, but she was always looking for more.  Trotula cautioned her to go slowly and to think about the consequences of wanting too much.

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Plague, as well as superstitious beliefs relating to the healing arts, were all obstacles that challenged Santina and her destiny.  Faith in herself and her dreams kept her strong to persevere.  This story was a great reminder that whenever there is a will, a way will present itself if you only just believe.

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Author Mary A. Osborne discusses Italy, alchemy, the Middle Ages, and her new book, Alchemy’s Daughter.

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Q:  Your book is set in San Gimignano, Italy.  Have you been there? 

A:  Fourteen years ago, during a trip to Florence, Italy, I took a daytrip to the village of Certaldo, where the ancestral home of the medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio is located.  As I stood at the ancient brick wall surrounding Certaldo, I gazed out at the rolling Tuscan countryside and saw San Gimignano with its famous tall towers in the distance.  Although I never made it to this picturesque town, it became the setting for my new novel, Alchemy’s Daughter. 

Q:  Where did you get the idea to write a novel set in medieval Italy?

A:  Both Alchemy’s Daughter and my first book, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, took shape after I became fascinated with the subject of alchemy, which is the ancient science of turning lead into gold.  In medieval Europe, philosophers explored the hidden symbolism of alchemy, and the subject of alchemy seemed to better lend itself to a historical novel than to a contemporary novel.

Q:  What does alchemy have to do with the plot of Alchemy’s Daughter?

A: In both Alchemy’s Daughter and Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, you will find occasional excerpts from A Manual to the Science of Alchemy.  The Manual is a work that exists only in my imagination, and it contains esoteric, but useful information which serves to guide the heroines at various points along their journeys.

Q:  Do you have any favorite places to visit in Italy?

A: As a student at Knox College I became enamored with Renaissance Art history.  So I have a special love for the art museums of Florence, especially the Uffizi—which houses famous paintings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli—and the Bargello Museum, with its statues by Michelangelo and Donatello, among others.

Q:  You use some Italian words in Alchemy’s Daughter, and the book includes a glossary of Italian words. Can you speak the language?

A: I know very little Italian, but I made it a point to learn at least some basic words and phrases before I visited Italy. When writing Alchemy’s Daughter, I relied on an Italian-English dictionary, as well as my Italian language textbook for help with Italian phrases.

Q: Will your third book also be set in Italy?

A: I am still sketching out the plot for my third novel, but I think it will be set in 17th century London, during Isaac Newton’s time. So it seems a trip to England might be in order!

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Bianca’s Vineyard – A Book Review

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When Italy Book Tours asked me to review this new book by Teresa Neumann, I volunteered right away.  It had all the attributes of a GREAT book!  Bianca’s Vineyard did not disappoint!  And what makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story.  Taking place at the beginning of the 20th century and spanning through World War II and a bit beyond, it described the hardships of life in Italy during the difficult war years as well the difficulties of immigrating to a whole new world!  This book hit close to home because my parents and grandparents immigrated here as well, and I am always enthralled by these stories.

Egisto Bertozzi, the youngest of 3 brothers, was expected to immigrate to the United States so that he could earn money and send it back to Italy.  Moving he did, but before he did, he was expected to marry and bring an Italian wife with him.  He was in love with Marietta and she was to be his wife.  But, Egisto wasn’t religious and refused to marry in church.  Marietta’s family forbade their daughter to marry outside the Church and therefore broke up the loving couple.  Heartbroken, but desperate to find a wife, he married a beautiful poor girl, Arilda, from his town whom he didn’t know at all.  Arilda was looking for an escape from her miserable life and thought that this would be just the perfect opportunity to make a change for the better. At first they were happy in their new home, but soon, things started to become difficult for Arilda and she became depressed.  Egisto suffered for his wife and tried to make things work out for their sake as well as their children’s.  Arilda ended up leaving them and moving back to Italy right before the start of World War II.

The story goes on to describe how difficult life became in Italy during this time.  Hunger and fear swept the country, and the citizens of Italy were desperate.  Egisto tried his hardest to help his family in Italy, but even that was hard.  There were times when he didn’t even know the fate of his family.  My parents, who lived along the shores of Lago Maggiore, have described to me what life was like during World War II in Italy, but their tales were nothing compared to the hardships endured in other parts of Italy, especially Tuscany.  The Nazi’s, Fascists and Partisans waged war against each other and anyone else who didn’t support their cause. Many innocent people lost their lives and fear was rampant.  It must have been such a horrible time in this idyllic country.  It’s hard to believe that such beautiful places endured such atrocities, but I know they did from this book as well as lots of other movies and stories I’ve read about life in Italy during the war.

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The story starts off in the present when Egisto’s grandchildren visit Italy to learn about their history and see the family homestead. There they meet Bianca, Egisto’s niece, who is now an elderly woman and who inherited the family vineyard.  She tells them their family’s story so that they may know the strong and proud lineage that they come from.

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Connections to the homeland are so important to really understand one’s self and realize the sacrifices that were made to improve dire situations.  I’ve always said that it takes a very strong person to leave everything they’ve known all their lives, move to a country where they don’t know the language nor have any family, and forge a new life.  My parents did it and I am so proud of their inner strength.

Interview with Teresa Neumann:

Did you ever know Egisto Bertozzi personally?
Yes. He was amazing; suave but simple, smart but humble. Oliver Towne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press once wrote that “Egisto Bertozzi was part of the creativity of our civilization.” It was truly an honor to have known him.

What inspired you to write Bianca’s Vineyard?
First my husband. One of the things I found fascinating about David, when I met him was that he was half-Italian, which meant he possessed an unusual amount self-confidence along with generous amounts of artistic creativity and scientific savvy. Throw in a unique zest for life, and I realized I’d discovered a “Renaissance man” much like my husband’s grandfather, highly acclaimed sculptor Egisto Bertozzi, the co-main character in my book. My love-affair with Italy had begun.
My mother-in-law, Violenza (Babe)Bertozzi Neumann, was an incredible blessing. So when I learned that after immigrating to the U.S., Egisto’s wife Armida had a mental breakdown, abandoned her family, moved back to Italy, found a job as a domestic to a “high-level fascist leader” and then disappeared during WWII – only to be found years later, her death a mega-mystery – well, who could resist that challenge?!

Your book is set primarily Italy. Have you been there?
In the last 15 years, many times. Egisto was a sculptor, born and raised in Tuscany, near Lucca. He studied at the famous art school in nearby Pietrasanta. Just before WWI broke out, he and Armida secretly married and immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where their two children were born. Later, after WWII, Egisto took Violenza (my mother-in-law) to meet his family and spend the summer in Italy. Until his death decades later, Egisto’s family corresponded with him. Then all letters from Italy abruptly stopped. It wasn’t until much later, after years of research, that we found out why.
Fast forward to 2001: I received a response to a query letter from Egisto’s niece, Bianca Corrotti inviting us Tuscany to meet her and the other Bertozzi cousins. By then, my mother-in-law was in her 80’s and couldn’t travel, so we reluctantly went without her. Our hearts immediately bonded with my husband’s relatives and birthed the passion and motivation to research and write Bianca’s Vineyard.

What about Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida lived after immigrating to the U.S.?
Being as my husband and I were raised in Iowa, Minnesota was in our “back yard” so to speak. Many Bertozzi and Neumann relatives live in the “Land of Lakes,” so we’ve made numerous pilgrimages there over the years. The area is home to many of Egisto’s sculptures. We’ve particularly loved studying his sculptures at St. Paul Cathedral.

What is your next project?
In 2013, Domenico’s Table, the sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard was published. My third book, not a sequel, but with an Italian-American protagonist, is called A Year in the Company of Freaks and should be out this summer. You can read more about it, and my other books, on my website: http://www.teresaneumann.com

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!

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

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.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Supreme Macaroni Company

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I am honored in having been chosen by Laura Fabiani from Italy Book Tours to review the newest book by the bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani – The Supreme Macaroni Company.

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Adriana has a way of writing that is both natural and funny at the same time, and she keeps you glued to her stories.

This story revolves around Valentine, an Italian-American young woman who creates beautiful shoes – how very Italian of her 🙂  The shoe company has been in her family since her grandparents brought the craft over from Italy when they immigrated.  She has big dreams for her shoe company and she brings to it lots of love and creativity.  Of course, she also falls head over heels (haha) for a beautiful Italian man and the book tells their love story.  They jet set between the East Coast and beautiful Italy and the description of their home in Santa Margarita Ligure makes you feel like you are there, breathing in the warm sea air and revelling in the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean Sea.  Aaahh…it reminds me of my time in the Cinque Terre and makes me smile every time I think of it.

Valentine is part of a crazy Italian family, complete with loud explosive arguments coupled with the love and warmth of a close family.  Everyone is part of everyone else’s business and there is no hiding!  But when push comes to shove, they are there for each other in all regards!   There’s even a crazy aunt who is opinionated, stubborn, and down right rude (isn’t there always one in every family?)

On the whole, this book is very good – I read almost all of it during a plane ride back from Italy and it kept me entertained (at least, I wasn’t falling asleep every few seconds – that came on the second leg of the trip when I’d already finished the book!) But in comparison to her other book, The Shoemaker’s Wife (you can read my review here), I think I liked that one better.  Adriana has a great way to bring everyday life to the forefront, but in a couple of instances, it was a bit too much normal life ( for instance, when she was going on and on about a typical evening at home eating dinner and conversing – I felt like I was eavesdropping on a normal family conversation – there was nothing exciting going on, just the mundane chatter of everyday life).  I think I know why she was describing this very normal evening because of subsequent events that were about to occur, but even still, it was a little boring.  The other criticism I have is that I think the title of the book (being the name of company she built) is disconnected.  It doesn’t seem to fit…again, it’s my opinion, but I think something a bit more creative could have been chosen.  Despite these few stabs of criticism, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it for an easy and entertaining read!

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If you would like a chance to have your very own copy of this book, autographed by Adriana herself, here are a few ways to win it: leave a comment below, become a follower of my blog, or share this review on your blog or Facebook page!  I will randomly choose a winner on August 25th and the publisher will send out the book to the lucky recipient (once I get all the pertinent info through a private email)!

Buona Fortuna!

 

 

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Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker’s Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She wrote the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she also directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Adriana here: adrianatrigiani.com
Twitter: @adrianatrigiani
Facebook: facebook.com/adrianatrigiani

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The House in Amalfi….A Book Review

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Elizabeth Adler shines again with this novel set on the beautiful Amalfi coast.  Her descriptions are always so vivid that you feel like you are experiencing it yourself.

This story follows Lamour, a 30-something landscape designer from Chicago, who, when her life begins to unravel, decides to return to the place where she last felt happy.  Her husband has recently been killed in a car accident, and while she is trying to deal with his death, she discovers that he had been having an affair and was about to leave her for this other woman.  Devastated, she decides to leave Chicago behind and run to the little house along the cliffs of the Amalfi coast where she lived with her father, Jon-Boy, when she was a little girl.  Life as a child wasn’t easy, either, because her father was a starving author who squandered every penny he made.  But, he made her feel like the love of his life, and their time in Amalfi were the happiest moments of Lamour’s life.  She had been a free child – living in a tattered red bathing suit, going barefoot, and swimming in the beautiful blue waters of the sea – without a care in the world.  Her idyllic childhood had been shattered, though, when her father mysteriously died in Italy while she had been sent back to the United States to have a “normal” childhood with some good family friends.

Lamour is determined to go back to the house in Amalfi and discover everything she can about her father’s death.  Once back, she meets people that she knew growing up and she begins to feel at home.  She begins to unravel the pieces of the mystery, all the while fixing up her little safe haven precariously perched along the cliffs.  She begins to feel happy again…even falling in love.

The descriptions of the places she visits and the food that she eats are mesmerizing.  The plot moves along very quickly, albeit being a bit predictable.  Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable easy read and a real pleasure.

This book was read as part of the Italy in Books Challenge 2011.

The City Of Falling Angels

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Usually I read fictional novels, so when a co-worker gave me this non-fiction book to read, I was a bit skeptical. I wasn’t sure what to expect nor what the purpose of the book was. After all, the storyline read like a fictionalized story of the intrigue of Venice, complete with depictions of deceipt and mystery.

The book begins with the author’s arrival in Venice shortly after the devastating fire which burned the world-famous Venetian opera house, La Fenice.  What entails is the investigation into the fire and a determination as to whether the fire was a result of arson or pure negligence on the part of the crew working on the remodeling of the famous theater. The author interviews many members of Venetian society, and soon finds out about all the jealousies and back-stabbing going on behind the scenes. He finds that there are many who could easily be implicated, and some for good reason, into the event. Every one of these players, though, could also prove their innocence.  As a result, the true cause of the fire is never really discovered.                                           

The book is a portayal of the many facets which make up Venetian society…and the pride that the citizens of Venice have for their mysterious and beautiful city. Even though the famous opera house was burned, the aftermath of Venetian civic pride became even more evident and the personal ties involved in Venetian society was interesting to learn about.

If you are interested in a book which delves into the political and social underlyings of Venice, you will like this book. I found it mostly interesting, but I felt it moved a bit slowly and the in-depth character descriptions were a bit over-developed and long.

This book was read as part of the Italy In Book Challenge 2011.

Juliet – A Book Review

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Anne Fortier’s debut novel, Juliet, delves into the “true” story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  The “real” story did not take place in Verona, but actually in Siena. The feuding families were the Tolomei’s and the Salimbeni’s.  Juliet was a Tolomei, but Romeo was not a Salimbeni – he was a Mariscotti!  As if that isn’t confusing enough, Ms. Fortier’s novel bounces between the present and 1340 (the year that the original Romeo and Juliet fell in love, and tragically lost their lives).  The present day Giulietta knew herself by Julie Jacobs all her life.  Only after her aunt’s death was she told that her real name was Giulietta Tolomei and she was a direct descendent of the “real” Juliet .  She and her twin sister, Janice, had been born in Italy and whisked away to America by her aunt when their parents tragically died.  After her aunt’s death, Julie/Giulietta was secretly given a letter which told her she had to return to Italy to find a treasure which was rightfully hers…and to be careful since there was a presumed curse on this treasure.

The story takes place mostly in Siena, both in the present day and in the Siena of the Middle Ages.  So many of this medieval city’s landmarks come to life with Ms. Fortier’s vivid descriptions of the tiny alleys, the soaring towers, and the magnificent campo.  She describes the Palio – the horse race that brings all of Siena together in a competition between contradas (neighborhoods).    She also takes us to the Tuscan countryside near Val d’Orcia and we can just see the rolling hills and cypress lined avenues leading up to beautiful villas.

The story is full of mystery, intrigue, violence, deceipt…and love.   All  throughout the book, you’re never quite sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys!

I enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  It kept me hooked throughout – even if just to get all the characters and their allegiances in order!

Some new Italian words I learned from this book were:

Cencio = this is the banner presented to the winner of the Palio.

The Cencio from the Palio of 2010

       Contrada= the neighborhoods of Siena that compete against other in the Palio.

The flags of the Contradas participating in the Palio

I read this book as part of Italy in Books Challenge 2011.

The Enchantress of Florence – A Book Review

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The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie is a descriptive, convoluted, epic novel that both captivated my attention as well as made me want to abandon it all at the same time. The story, when I was able to follow it, was actually quite good … but being able to keep up with the twists and turns and the endless amounts of various characters drove me crazy at times (there were at least 100 different characters, and at times different names for the same character, too!).

Basically it is the fictionalized story of Amerigo Vespucci’s nephew and his visit to the Moghul emperor with a great secret!  He brings the news that he, a boy from Italy, and the emperor are related by blood because of a common ancestor, the enchantress Qara Koz. Qara Koz was the emperor’s lost aunt and her great beauty enchanted everyone who came into contact with her. She became known as an enchantress because men, women, children…and even animals, fell under her spell. At one point, she even had the Medici Dukes and all of Florence under her power. Throughout the story, we are reunited with important figures from Renaissance Florence such as Machiavelli, Andrea Doria, Vespucci, Lorenzo di Medici, And Pope Leo X. We are also introduced to Emperor Akbar the Great in great detail. The Emperor of this story is a great and powerful man, but also a BIG dreamer. He has even given life to an imaginary queen! All this leant the novel to read like a sort of fairy tale.

If you are a lover of fine literature and you are in the mood to really work hard at understanding and interpreting this very important piece of literature, then I can recommend this book. But if you are looking for pure entertainment and relaxation from reading, then I think I would steer away from this book. I felt like I should have been taking notes to get the full appreciation of this formidable story.

This book was read as part of the Italy in Books Challenge 2011.