Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Party in San Niccolo by Christobel Kent


Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011

A Party in San Niccolo


The February post with a list of books that the other people taking part are reading this month has already been posted. February Reviews

This is a thriller with a realistic Italian background, although as first published in 2003 there are a couple of points that remove it from the 21C and the Italy that we know. The lira is no longer the currency and the wave of immigrants, although still a big problem, as I expect many of you reading this are aware, will often be of different  nationalities to those featured.  The depth of description of the ex-pat community in Florence reminds me in some ways of A Room With A View, although this is much more detailed and not set in 1908 but modern days. The author clearly knows and loves Florence and is not afraid to write about the drugs, corruption and prostitution that are part of the city and I suppose most big cities in the world these days. As far as I understand though Florence is not generally a dangerous place, just maybe a bit rough around the edges. She also describes beautifully the countryside outside Florence, in Tuscany and the Maremma, including Thermal Springs to be found in the countryside that I have enjoyed bathing in myself if not the particular ones described.

A week in the springtime in Florence, what could be a better way for Gina Donovan to unwind from the pressures of family life while visiting an old friend from university. Gina’s holiday turns out to be not at all the week of relaxation that she was anticipating as through her we meet the motley cast of characters that form part of the expat community. The main ones are Jane her university friend, who runs a cookery school, her successful architect husband Niccolo who has English and Italian parentage plus his daughter Beatrice. The aristocratic Frances a widow in her seventies is a character central to the story as is her Birthday party that is planned for the end of the week. Frank is the journalist within the community, although not a terribly successful one and young Ned, Beatrice’s boyfriend.

The plot is complex with many other characters besides the few I have mentioned. Within the first few pages we learn of the two murders but it is only the second body that is discovered immediately. Before the end of the week not only death but love,memories and secrets will all have intruded on Gina’s time in Italy. I think that is enough information to have tempted you if you like the sound of a murder mystery in an Italian setting. There is enough suspense skilfully built into the story that kept me turning the pages to make this a very quick and entertaining read.


Christobel Kent

A Party in San Niccolo was Christobel Kent’s first published novel and since then she has written and published four more novels set in Florence. They all feature a Florentine private investigator Sandro Cellini that she created and has written this series around. These titles may well be of interest to those of you taking part in the Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011

  click to enlargeclick to enlarge
click to enlargeclick to enlarge



I also post these ‘Italy in Books’ reviews on my other blog

News From Italy

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Return by Victoria Hislop




The first part of this novel certainly does not prepare you for the later intensity as suddenly the story takes on a complete change of tone and direction when we are transported back to the Granada of the nineteen thirties. It is a gentle start as this first part is set mainly in modern day Granada with Sonia and Maggie.  Two fans of salsa from the UK where they take regular classes, the young women spend a few days in Granada taking dance lessons as a birthday treat for one of them. While there Sonia became friendly with an elderly gentleman when she found the photographs displayed in his cafe fascinated her, leaving her finding she wanted to know more.

Part Two and it is 1931 the second republic with the promises of an end to poverty has just been formed and the protagonists are the Ramirez family of Sonia’s cafe photos. The story now moves to the Spanish Civil War and how it altered the lives of those living in Spain for ever, as told to Sonia by Miguel, the elderly gentleman she met in the previous part. El Barril the bar where Sonia first met Miguel was home to the Ramirez family whose experiences he is now relating to her. The parents Concha and Pablo, plus their three sons Antonio, Ignacio, Emilo and daughter Mercedes. In this conflict it was sometimes hard to say if anyone was completely without blame, whether Nationalists or Republicans. With two of the brothers firmly on opposing sides life is very uncomfortable for the family in Granada, which although in Nationalist hands harboured a strong undercurrent of support for the Republicans. Franco’s desire was to wipe the Republicans off the face of the earth whatever it took.

Part Three returns us to modern day Spain of 2001 as Miguel reads letters to Sonia that Mercedes wrote to her mother once it was safe to do so. Thereby bringing the emotional family story up to date for her. There were maybe one to many coincidences that tied up the ending too neatly for me, I mean the chances of this happening in real life are just so extreme, but then this is a novel and such endings are allowed.

A poignant story that is very well written and extremely enjoyable if not a little harrowing at times.  I learnt not just about the terrible effects of The Civil War in Spain but also about bull fighting and flamenco dancing.                       This is the second novel that Victoria Hislop has had published, both of which I have read and enjoyed. An author whose work I will certainly look out for again, as last time I learnt about leprosy in The Island and this time The Spanish Civil War, so much more than the romance that was also present in both novels.

Author photo courtesy

This video gives nothing away, but the music will put you in the mood to read the novel.


If you would like to learn more about what actually  inspired Victoria Hislop to write The Return then do take ten minutes to listen to this interesting video I found on YouTube, which is fascinating and does not contain any spoilers


Also worth mentioning is the fact that The Island has been made into a television series for Greek television, you can read more about that on the authors Official Website. Where you will also  find although given two years ago, a transcript to an interview she gave here. I was amused to learn some completely irrelevant but interesting facts such as her favourite male film star, ( she should watch my Italian ads posted on News From Italy) and who her famous husband is. Maybe some of you already knew this.

I seem to have got a little carried away with additional author information in this post today, but when I enjoy an author’s work I am also fascinated to learn more about the person behind the stories.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott




Little Women is one of my favourite classics from my childhood. While I rarely re-read novels I decided to make an exception for this. It was after reading March by Geraldine Brooks last year I felt that I wanted to renew my acquaintance with Meg, Jo Beth and Amy.

Using the character of John March, Geraldine Brooks created a touching well written story which is in my opinion a decent read but nothing more. It seems I may well be in the minority holding this opinion as I learnt that the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. This award is presented to a 'distinguished' work of fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. This last paragraph is taken from my original review where you can read more of my thoughts concerning this sequel.

My interest in reading Little Women again made it the perfect choice for another reading challenge I have signed up for.

The Victorian Literature Challenge

Although originally published in 1868 I think the March girls still have a message to give us, which is probably why it has been a favourite of so many generations of young girls. A heart rending story of a family that despite times of poverty and despair, discover that love and hope can overcome. It is the little things in life that are important and the love of family and friends. We see Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy progress from little girls into young women with growing maturity as they deal with the problems they encounter. Whilst some of these issues may seem out-dated to the modern reader, many are still relevant to a 21st century generation that will read and enjoy Little Women

I must warn you though that there is a lot of moralizing and Louisa M Alcott’s style of writing is rather cloying, but remember this was written in 1867 when life was very different and it is also a semi autobiographical novel. Overcome this and it is worth reading if you have never done so.

Louisa M. Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist. She is best known for the novel Little Women, set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868. This novel is loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters. The photo and biographical information in this post are courtesy of Wikipedia where you can if interested find out more about her.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton



I loved this, uncomplicated, I mean this in a very complimentary way, contemporary women's literature at its best. This was such a fun read that transported me to an idyllic, well almost, life style abroad, in this case the Cevennes mountains at the southern end of the Massif Central in France. The kind of life style abroad that I know many of us dream of and some of us are even lucky enough to be given the opportunity to experience.  While where I live in Italy is not the harsh lonely place that the protagonist Catherine chooses to call home, there are many similarities that made me smile.

Catherine Parkstone, divorced for a number of years with adult children decides to seek a rural lifestyle in an old stone farmhouse on the outskirts of La Grelaudiere a tiny hamlet amongst the chestnut woods on the slopes of Mont Lozere. The book tells the story of Catherine’s gradually emerging love affair with the place, the nature around her and of becoming friends with reserved neighbours. The title comes from the fact that she sets herself up as a seamstress, not without some opposition from local bureaucracy. 

Beautifully written I found I very quickly became attuned to Catherine as she coped with not just the emotions of moving abroad but personal highs and lows concerning family, community, love and loss. Besides Catherine there is an interesting array of other characters to meet and her descriptive writing to savour. Savour is the right word to use as not only does she describe so well the surroundings but you can almost taste the food she talks about.

I do not like to give away too much about the plot or story in my reviews as my intention is to encourage you to read the book for yourself not tell you the story! If this a genre you would normally enjoy, then I recommend it highly.          I hope I have tempted some of you to read The Tapestry of Love  as it is such a cheering read, that certainly lives up to the many enthusiastic reviews I have seen in the blogsphere.

Until a few months ago I had never even heard of Rosy Thornton which is a shame as I feel sure I would enjoy her previous three published novels. I have now added them to my wish list on Goodreads, to read what other readers have to say there about her earlier novels, just click on the titles. More Than Love Letters, Hearts And Minds, and Crossed Wires. My excuse for not discovering this author before now is probably because her first novel was not published until 2006 after we had left the UK, it is not so easy to keep up to date with new authors when living abroad but I now do so by following Book Blogs. I was introduced to Rosy, by her getting in contact with me, albeit virtually by the fact that we have two author friends in common. I believe she had also seen some of my other reviews. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to get to know her and to read and review The Tapestry of Love as she so kindly sent me a copy.

Rosy Thornton is a Goodreads - Rosy Thornton author I have reposted some of her profile information here. You can also visit her Official Website  where there is a very interesting section where she explains how a two week holiday had such a profound effect on her that twenty years later she was inspired to write a book about the region. The link with photos, one of which I have reproduced here can be found on her website in the section  My Cevennes

Photos reproduced from Rosy Thornton’s Official Website.

Rosy ThorntonRosy Thornton.

This is what she has to say about herself and her writing on Goodreads - Rosy Thornton

‘My first novel, 'More Than Love Letters' was published in paperback 2007, my second, 'Hearts and Minds', came out in 2008, and my third, 'Crossed Wires', in 2009.
My latest novel, entitled 'The Tapestry of Love', was published in paperback in October 2010.
I write fiction which might be described as romantic comedy with a hint of satire - or possibly social satire with a hint of romance.
In what passes for real life I am a Fellow and lecturer in law at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I live in a Cambridgeshire village with my partner, two daughters and a small pack of spaniels. For my sins, I am also a season ticket holder at Ipswich Town FC.’

I am certainly looking forward to getting hold of the rest of her novels to read.