Tag Archives: historical fiction

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

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:

author


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

The Lantern: A Renaissance Mystery

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While searching on Amazon for some historical fiction books, I came across this one by Joanne Lewis. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, it sparked my interest as these are always my favorites! I was about to write it down on my reading list to look for it at my public library when I noticed the Kindle version was only 99 cents! How could I go wrong by buying it? So, as convenient as is possible, I downloaded it to my ipad kindle app and began my virtual journey. I have to say, I was a bit dubious about it being good since it was so inexpensive but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a good read and kept me interested throughout!
The story goes between the past and the present and links the two stories together brilliantly. It begins with the story of a girl, Dolce Gaddi, who lived in Florence at the same time as the great architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. She studied his architecture, especially that of the great unsupported dome he built on top of Santa Maria del Fiore, the beautiful cathedral of Florence.

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She learned architecture on her own and called herself an architect. Being female, though, her achievements were never acknowledged until a present day contest that strove to find the true designer of the lantern that sits on top of the dome. This is where Filippa enters, a present-day young woman who had led a rough young life, in and out of prison and drug use. All her life her Grandfather would tell her the story of the contest and both of them would study anything they could to find clues as to the existence of the young female architect whom they believed designed the lantern. Filippa travels to Florence to search for the evidence and her journey leads her on a path to find her true self.
Being a historical fiction novel, I wondered what part of this story was true, so I did a bit of my own research. Of course, everything said about Brunelleschi was pretty accurate, except for the part about him adopting a son, Andrea. I couldn’t find any evidence of this in any of my readings. And then, the fact that a girl had designed the lantern must have been fictional because there wasn’t any mention of that in any of the historical documents I read, either. Nonetheless, the description of life in Renaissance Florence was, I believe, a close approximation of how things really must have been. Ms. Lewis brings both old and new Florence to life with her vivid descriptions – you can actually feel yourself walking the streets of this very ancient town.
I can highly recommend the book and enjoyed it immensely. I did have a few moments of disconnect with the story where I felt I must have missed something along the way. But this didn’t really deter from the enjoyment of the book. I was actually sad to have it come to an end. I wanted to continue learning about the characters.

Solitaria – A Book Review

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I am going to digress from my travel log in order to review the latest book I read having to do with Italy – Solitaria by Genni Gunn.  I actually won this book from The Italy in Book Challenge that I did in 2011 and finally just got around to reading it.  I have a signed copy with a personal note from the author!  I definitely am going to put this book and note in a safe place – it’s always so special when the author has signed their work.

Solitaria is a wonderfully written book which takes place in the present time,  when the body of Vito Santoro is discovered by a demolition crew at an Italian seaside villa, and it digresses to memories of Italy in the 1940’s.  La Solitaria (the solitary) is Piera, the oldest sister of a family of 5, who barricades herself in her room when the rest of the siblings come back home from their homes around the globe after the body of their oldest brother, Vito, is discovered.  She feels that no one understands her even though she feels she has devoted her entire life to taking care of them and making sure that they were safe.  She has a strong sense of duty and she believes that the rest of her siblings don’t realize that everything she did in her life was out of love and sacrifice.  Instead she feels only lonliness and rejection.  The discovery of her brother’s body after all these years is the right time for her to tell her side of the story of the family’s past and all their secrets, but she will only tell David, her sister’s son and favorite member of the family.  During her private times with him, she pulls out letters that she has written and which she has kept locked up.  She tells him about Aldo, the successful lawyer, whom everyone turns to when they are in need; Teresa, the dead brother’s wife and Marco, their son; Renato the rebel who lost Teresa to Vito; Mimi the spoiled youngest surviving sibling; Clarissa, the famous opera diva whom Piera competed with for attention; Daniela whom sadly was killed as a young child; Vito, the oldest brother and “black sheep” of the family;  and her mother and father who faught with their own demons while trying to provide for such a large family.  The family dynamics were at times loving and other times filled with jealousy and betrayal…and many dark secrets.  Genni Gunn brings Italy of the 1940’s to life with her words, and I could hear the stories told to me by my own parents of the difficulties of living in Italy right before and during the War.

If you are looking for a book that keeps you interested page after page, while giving you some insight into Italy’s history during the Fascist Period, then you will enjoy Solitaria.  I highly recommend it!

Italy Book Challenge 2011

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I LOVE reading books set in Italy.  I especially enjoy historical fiction, and the Renaissance is one of my favorite periods.  But, really, all stories set in my beautiful country are attractive to me.  Even though most of the books I read are fiction, their factual accounts of places and events in Italy teach me so much about Italy’s history, culture, people, and places.  It makes me relive those places to which I’ve been, and to dream about the others yet to be discovered.  That’s why when I heard about Book after Book’s Italy Book Challenge 2011, I knew I had to participate.  First of all, I think it’s a great resource to discover new titles to read.  Secondly, it’s fun to read reviews by others who also enjoy reading books about Italy!

The “challenge” runs the entire year, and the goal is to read one novel about Italy every month, and then to review it.  There is the possibility of winning a prize, too!  If you are interested in joining the challenge, you can join Book after Book’s Italy Book Challenge 2011.

Can’t wait to read my first new book about Italy….stay tuned!

Ancient Rome….Taking a Step Back in Time

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We are always a bit late keeping up with series on HBO (probably because we don’t subscribe to HBO!!), and therefore missed it when they were airing ROME.  But, after hearing rave reviews on the series, we rented it on NetFlix.  Wow!!!  What an epic show it was!  The production was definitely worthy of the many awards that it received.  It was mostly filmed in the Cinecitta Studios in Rome on a set that spanned over 35 acres! 

The story takes place during the 1st century, and it begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and ends with the reign of Emperor Octavian Caesar and the take over of Egypt (including the deaths of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra).   Even though the story has some fictional characters, many of the historical data is accurate and allows you to experience life of Ancient Rome.  It was a cruel world, with the value of human life at an absolute minimum.  Death was around every corner – both in murder as well as self inflicted for the sake of maintaining honor.  The important historical figures are portrayed in graphic detail, but obviously portrayed through the eyes of the director and slanted towards his interpretation of what these people were really like.

The show follows the lives of two fictional characters, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenas, as they go from being soldiers in Julius Caesar’s army to civilians, and back to soldier life.  This series is very graphic – both in sexual content as well as violece.  People are stabbed, maimed, and gored with no sparing of the blood and guts.  It is all there for us, the viewers, to witness.  The sexual scenes leave nothing to the imagination, either!  But this is probably how it was back then, and all that was important was the here and now – they didn’t believe that their earthly actions would bring them to consequence in the afterlife.  That came afterward!! 

What enthralled me was trying to equate what I was seeing in “ancient Rome” to what I have seen in “modern day Rome”.  The forum, of course, was at it’s peak as far as architectural perfection, but what captivated my imagination was more the “neighborhoods” depicted in the series.  The Aventine, where the common folk lived in the series, is now one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Rome.  Each of these different districts were ruled by their own “gang lords”.  Different “gangs” or collegiums (as they were called back then) ruled different parts of the city, protecting their inhabitants and fighting against each other if need be.  The dynamics between the upper and lower classes, as well as the practice of slavery, was interesting to witness as well.  So much cultural and sociological development was protrayed in this series, which is, what I think, allowed it to earn such high acclaim.  I can wholeheartedy recommend this series to any historical buff who is interested in learning more about the culture of Ancient Rome.  Kudos to the producers, writers,and directors of this epic series!  I wish there were more of these historical fiction mini-series to bring history alive!

Sacred Hearts

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Sacred Hearts, a novel by Sarah Dunant, takes place in the convent of Santa Caterina during 15th century Ferrara, Italy.  In the 15th century, many families placed their daughters in convents because they couldn’t afford the dowries needed in order to marry them into prestigious families.  Usually, the prettiest daughter would be chosen to marry while the other daughters would be placed into convents.  The girls did not have much choice in these matters, and they were placed into these convents against their wills.  They usually did not have a particular calling to the religious life, but instead grew into this religious life out of necessity because they had no chance of escape.  Oddly enough, the women in convents found that they had many rights and their voices were heard in convent politics.  They were the rulers of their own destinies, and had probably many more privileges than  married women who always had to defer to their husbands.  Within the walls of the convent, they created their own rules and held important positions.  They routinely had meetings where they voted on matters having to do with convent life.  The convents were democratic, with the abbess acting as the president.   Men were not allowed to make contact with the Sisters, except family members and then always with chaperones.  The only man allowed was the priest who would come to hear their confessions on a regular basis, and to say their Masses. 

Sacred Hearts centers around two main characters – a woman who has been in the convent for most of her life, and one who was just recently put there because her parents did not approve of a suitor she had taken up with.  Suora Zuana takes this young novice, Serafina, under her belt and nurses her back to health after Serafina decides that she doesn’t want to live “in jail” for the rest of her life and tries to fight her way out.  The two develop a warm relationship, and they both learn to respect and understand the other.  But Serafina is determined that she will get out of the convent one way or another.  The story, unfortunately, is not very riveting…it took me a long time to finish this book.  It does not grip your attention, and it was, in my opinion, very predictable.  I was surprised that this book ended up being the way it was since the author’s other books were actually very good and excellent portrayals of life during Renaissance Italy.  This, too, was a good portrayal of life within the convent during the Renaissance….but it was a tad boring 😦   Too bad!