My favorite books about Sicilian women

Why am I passionate about this?

Very little has been written in English about Sicilian women. Most of the studies written in English about the women of southern Italy are the work of foreigners who discovered our region in adulthood. While some non-Italian colleagues have produced fine work, my books reflect the perspective of a scholar who, being Sicilian, has been familiar with the region and its people all her life. This is seen in my knowledge of the Sicilian language, from which I've translated texts, and even the medieval cuisine mentioned in my books. Viva la Sicilia!


I wrote...

Queens of Sicily 1061-1266

By Jacqueline Alio,

Book cover of Queens of Sicily 1061-1266

What is my book about?

This is the first detailed compendium of scholarly but readable biographies of the countesses and queens of Sicily during our Norman-Swabian era.

It's a useful reference, at 740 pages, but interesting for anybody curious about these oft-overlooked women and the times during which they lived.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Comparative Study of Twelfth-Century Royal Women

Jacqueline Alio Why did I love this book?

Even an academic tome can be written with sensitivity. Here, the Sicilian angle is Joanna, the daughter who became Queen of Sicily as the wife of King William II.

The author brings us a perception of these women as real people without the kind of adulation or reverence too often directed at royalty. The phrase "crowned in a far country" suits Joanna, who was only eleven when she was betrothed to a man in his early thirties in what today would be called an "age gap" relationship. This is just one of many challenges she faced.

A special study about a special woman.

By Colette Bowie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The three daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine all undertook exogamous marriages which cemented dynastic alliances and furthered the political and diplomatic ambitions of their parents and their spouses. It might be expected that the choices made by Matilda, Leonor, and Joanna with regard to religious patronage and dynastic commemoration would follow the customs and patterns of their marital families, yet in many cases these choices appear to have been strongly influenced by ties to their natal family. Their involvement in the burgeoning cult of Thomas Becket, their patronage of Fontevrault Abbey, the names they gave to their…


Book cover of The Woman Outlaw

Jacqueline Alio Why did I love this book?

Here is the appeal of a different kind of story. This novella tells the story of an aristocratic Sicilian woman who, in the wake of the unification of 1860, becomes a brigand, which is to say, a partisan, fighting against the new regime.

The protagonist's unique experience is the key to this narrative, which translates into English very well. 

Book cover of Behind Closed Doors: Her Father's House and Other Stories of Sicily

Jacqueline Alio Why did I love this book?

These short stories about ordinary Sicilian women of the early years of the twentieth century bring us a gritty realism that may bring tears to your eyes.

Not only is this great literature, albeit in translation, but it also provides an insight into the history of Sicilian life and emigration. We usually read about this from the American point of view. Here, it is presented from an Italian perspective. In my opinion, it's useful and informative to read both.

Book cover of Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily

Jacqueline Alio Why did I love this book?

Memoirs authored in recent years tend to get excessively personal, even intimate, and a number have been written by foreign women who end up living in Sicily. 

Theresa Maggio is a bit different because she is the granddaughter of Sicilians, so she already has a keen sense of the culture. She ends up with a fisherman who leads the Mattanza, a method of capturing large tuna in huge nets. Alas, the Mattanza is no longer practiced, but this is an interesting story. There's also a sequel with a focus on visiting small towns. 

By Theresa Maggio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mattanza as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magnificent journey inside the world of a Sicilian fishing community and its thousand-year-old rituals. Every spring for untold centuries, great schools of giant bluefin tuna have swum through the Strait of Gibraltar to spawn in the Mediterranean Sea. And there, for untold centuries, men have been waiting for them. In this stunning debut, Theresa Maggio brings us inside the insular world of the tonnara-the ritual trapping and killing of bluefin enacted by fishermen since the Stone Age. In a single, bloody spectacle-called the mattanza-the fishermen harvest the bluefin, lifting them by hand from the Chamber of Death, the last…


Book cover of The Godmother

Jacqueline Alio Why did I love this book?

This is a different story about a different kind of woman. And no, it's not about the Mafia; that's only a peripheral theme.

The typical novels written in English about Sicily by women are built around themes like a foreign girl going to Italy to find love. This one breaks that mould into a thousand pieces, dealing with familial history and tradition in the context of Sicilian and American society. It actually held my interest.

Leigh Esposito's complex story eclipses most of what came before.

By Leigh Esposito,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Godmother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


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I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

Book cover of I Meant to Tell You

Fran Hawthorne Author Of I Meant to Tell You

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Museum guide Foreign language student Runner Community activist Former health-care journalist

Fran's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not a criminal, she stumbles into other secrets that will challenge what she thought she knew about her own family, her friend, Russ—and herself.

I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

What is this book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Sicily, Italy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Sicily, Italy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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Eleanor Of Aquitaine Explore 8 books about Eleanor of Aquitaine