123 books directly related to Italy 📚

All 123 Italy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

By Viana LA Place

Why this book?

I am apt to come back to the kitchen from the garden or the farmers’ market with a large bag of irresistible vegetables that I have no idea what I’m going to do with. More often than not I turn to Viana La Place’s book for a simple and satisfying recipe that uses Italian ingredients with a touch of California thrown in.

From the list:

The best books about food catering to the plate, the eye, and the mind

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Book cover of A Room with a View

A Room with a View

By E.M. Forster

Why this book?

Young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy only to find herself among others of her class, all of whom have brought along their prejudices. When a father and son of a lower social class offer her a room with a better view, Lucy’s chaperone is suspicious of possible lurid expectations attached to the offer. The Edwardian moral code, outrageous to a present-day American, presents obstacles Lucy struggles to overcome so she can comfortably befriend the men. Although Forster’s style sometimes left me confused as to who was speaking during dialogues, and the Grecian myth references aren’t in my lexicon, the story…

From the list:

The best books about leaving home, travel, and self-discovery

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Book cover of Death of an Englishman

Death of an Englishman

By Magdalen Nabb

Why this book?

This delightful mystery set in Florence not only intrigues the reader with its clever, twist-filled plot but also with its insights into daily life and culture in Italy. The characters are enjoyable and show many humorous and unique facts of Italian life. Nabb knows her Florence and her Italians, and her ability to describe both make a reader wish to accompany her on her next trip!

From the list:

The best books to read so you can take a trip to enchanting Italy without having to book a flight

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Book cover of Joshua

Joshua

By Callie Carmen

Why this book?

Joshua's main character and fiery Italian babe Bella is spot on! She’s got the confidence, she’s sassy, and has that typical Italian hot temper. Not dominant per say, but she’s powerful and has a certain charisma and charm. She’s relatable to those who know what they want and seek it out. I also like her softer side…which you will have to read to find out about!

From the list:

The best romance books with strong, confident female main characters

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Book cover of A Feast of Narrative: Volume 1

A Feast of Narrative: Volume 1

By Tiziano Thomas Dossena, Dominic Anthony Campanile

Why this book?

This is a three-volume anthology of Italian American writers recalling family dinners, holidays, funerals, weddings, Italian customs, and Italian relatives. These volumes depict Italians in their everyday life far removed from any mafioso dramas. Reading these stories helps Italians verify the meanings and pronunciations of Italian words and gestures, those things called “Italian” used long ago but since forgotten with the passing of our elders.

From the list:

The best books on Sicilian/Italian history and the people

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Book cover of A Shadow in the Ember

A Shadow in the Ember

By Jennifer L. Armentrout

Why this book?

Oh, this one? It is everything. The villain is a virgin! Which deep down we all want. Seraphena is promised to him since childhood, groomed into marrying him and killing him in order to save her country. When the wedding night comes – he rejects her, leaving her behind. People blame her. If she hated him before, she loathes him even more. Until he reappears into her life to save her and they both fight this attraction. She still has a mission, and this is her excuse to try to seduce him. He is a tough nut to crack. He…

From the list:

The best books about love hate

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Book cover of The Mask of Aribella

The Mask of Aribella

By Anna Hoghton

Why this book?

Here’s another magical adventure that has such potential to be a series. Set in a Venice that is full of actual magic this book will appeal to the Harry Potter lovers in your life. Aribella must use her newly found magic to save the city from a grim future at the hands of the villain Zio. Although a fantastical Venice there are plenty of true-to-life details like the Lion’s Mouth, gondolas, and a ruling doge. I really loved the twists at the end. Middle grade readers will be captivated. 

From the list:

The best books for middle grade kids traveling to Italy

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Book cover of The Betrothed

The Betrothed

By Alessandro Manzoni, Count Daniel O'Mahony

Why this book?

This epic novel in Walter Scott’s good tradition, but with a plus of philosophical depth, taught us (and generations of authors) how to wave together love and hope, freedom and destiny, pride and courage. The plague’s tragic outcome around 1630 in northern Italy offered such a powerful literary palette that Manzoni had to spin off a chapter about the epidemic and publish it separately. Nevertheless, The Betrothed is still marked by death and devastation, the hysterical witch-hunt against the alleged “plague-spreaders” and the impressive scenes in the lazarettos.

From the list:

The best books on how the Plague changed history

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Book cover of A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

By Caroline Moorehead

Why this book?

I could have broken the rules and just listed five books by Caroline Moorehead here. I love her writing; her highly-researched biographies are a joy to read and utterly immersive. I chose A House in the Mountains because it shows me what it’s like to survive the hardscrabble blow-by-blow of daily life under an occupying army, and how you can defeat it. The five women whose lives in the Italian Resistance during WWII she chronicles here are models of courage and creative resistance to tyranny.

From the list:

The best books about women in wartime

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Book cover of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums

By Peter Watson, Cecilia Todeschini

Why this book?

No book exposes the tricks of the trade that smugglers and dealers use to launder looted artifacts like this one. Focusing on a wave of looting in southern Italy in the 1980s and ‘90s, the authors show how European and American millionaire collectors fueled the ransacking of ancient sites. It’s a substantive, entertaining read about crime and the contradictions of modern Italy by two brilliant writers.   

From the list:

The best books on the looting of the ancient world

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Book cover of The Silence

The Silence

By Katharine Johnson

Why this book?

The Silence is a psychological thriller with several layers. There are two timelines: present day, where the main character, Abby is a doctor, married with two daughters, and a ‘Then’ storyline set in the early 1990s when young Abby has been sent to Italy to stay with relatives in an old village house, following her mother’s suicide. Book clubs will be talking until midnight about multiple themes in this novel which include suicide and murder, what unsupervised children get up to, marital tension, blackmail, and the pressures of being a politician in a world of social media. Johnson is a…

From the list:

The best suspense page-turners with important themes for book clubs to discuss

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Book cover of The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919

By Mark Thompson

Why this book?

Even though Italy was one of the “victors,” its participation on the allied side was the cause of the government’s collapse, and the rise Mussolini and the fascisti, with all the calamities that followed.  This book provides a truly horrifying explanation of why that was so.

From the list:

The best books on the other fronts in WW1

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Book cover of The Italians

The Italians

By Luigi Barzini

Why this book?

Want to know what really makes Italians tick? Why they’re so obsessed with la bella figura? What family means to them? Where the good side of the mindset morphs into the bad? The afia. Corruption. Barzini was the son of a journalist close to Mussolini, but went to high school and university in New York. This book, which he wrote in English in 1965 is as at once hilarious and essential reading.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

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Book cover of Family Lexicon

Family Lexicon

By Jenny McPhee, Natalia Ginzburg

Why this book?

Among the greatest family memoirs of all time. Novelist, Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) grew up in a big family in Turin between the wars. Her Jewish father was a famous and famously irascible scientist, her mother a charmer from the well-to-do bourgeoisie. The last of five, Natalia gives a sparkling picture of the loves, friendships and conflicts between her older brothers and sisters as Fascist Italy drifted toward war. Impossible not to laugh and cry, while at the same time getting a sense of the deeper forces driving Italian life.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

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Book cover of The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

By Dina Nayeri

Why this book?

Dina Nayeri’s powerful book—half memoir and half polemic—challenges us to rethink our assumptions about nations, borders, strangers, and the meaning of asylum.

“Asylum seekers is so mild a phrase,” Nayeri writes. “We weren’t politely seeking, we were ravenous for it, this creature need for the safety for our bodies.” In this hard-hitting book, Nayeri skillfully weaves together stories of exile, asylum, and refuge to ask deep questions about what it means to be at home or not at home, welcome or unwelcome.

From the list:

The best books about hospitality and the art of dealing with strangers

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Book cover of I Will Have Vengeance

I Will Have Vengeance

By Maurizio de Giovanni, Anne Milano Appel

Why this book?

Can a mystery novel have supernatural elements and still be considered a mystery? I obsessed on this question when I was writing my book. (You’ll know why if you check it out.) Then, out of the blue, I stumbled across de Giovanni’s astonishing novels. His detective, Commissario Ricciardi, suffers from a bizarre affliction. He sees dead people. Specifically, he sees visions of murder victims just before their death. Naturally, this makes him the greatest cop ever, and the most tortured. If you can stand to read a little on the wild side, you will enjoy these historical mysteries, set in…

From the list:

The best books for discovering Italian mystery novels

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Book cover of Vroom With a View : In Search of Italy's Dolce Vita on a '61 Vespa

Vroom With a View : In Search of Italy's Dolce Vita on a '61 Vespa

By Peter Moore

Why this book?

Vroom With A View is a giggle-filled rev around Italy aboard a vintage Vespa motor scooter. 

I am a born-again Italian. In the same way I love everything about Italy, I loved everything about this book. Good travel writing makes you want to jump out of your chair and hit the road yourself. From the snippets of history about an Italian classic, the Vespa motor scooter, to the descriptions of wonderful off-the-beaten-path places and the irrepressible kindness and spirit of the Italian people, I defy you not to want to sample la vita Italiana after reading this book!

From the list:

The funniest road trip memoirs

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Book cover of A Hidden Sicilian History

A Hidden Sicilian History

By Ettore Grillo

Why this book?

Ettore Grillo is a retired criminal attorney from Enna, Sicily, who spends his time writing and traveling. This is the second edition of his first book. I am drawn to historical fiction and creative fiction writing. They are wonderfully entertaining ways to learn about cultures and history within the story’s setting and plot. Grillo teaches about life in Enna, Sicily including the feasts, the traditions, and the people who are held together by customs while trying to solve a family mystery. 

From the list:

The best books on Sicilian/Italian history and the people

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Book cover of My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein

Why this book?

Like me, millions of mainly women readers were captivated by this saga of an intense and heartbreaking relationship between two girls that evolves over four volumes. The story of Lila and Lenù’s friendship begins in 1950s Naples when they are young schoolgirls, living in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. Even though on the surface my boring middle-class life did not resemble theirs even remotely, the emotions that tied the two together as they grew into adolescence feel universal. In fact, reading Ferrante’s novel made me understand what I was trying to figure out in my own book––and led me…

From the list:

The best books to read about how women's friendships shape the stories of their lives

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Book cover of Waterfall

Waterfall

By Lisa T. Bergren

Why this book?

Waterfall takes a 21st-century girl, Gabriella, and mysteriously places her in medieval Italy. Gabi’s journey is unexpected and exciting! While the title might be misleading, you won’t be disappointed when you’re introduced to this teenage girl who’s grown up with archeologist parents learning how to wield a sword. Finding herself in the fourteenth century, Gabi literally lands in the middle of a battle, she meets a knight-prince, and her summer has only begun.

From the list:

The best teen adventure novels for an escape

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Book cover of Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

By Robert D. Putnam, Robert Leonardi, Raffaella Y. Nanetti

Why this book?

Putnam and his Italian colleagues studied the performance of Italy’s regional governments over a 20-year period. They asked why some democratic governments succeeded while others failed. They thought differences in success would correlate with a region’s economic vitality. Instead, they found that a strong civic community was a better indicator of success. When citizens sought information from reliable news sources, they tended to interact with one another on political matters.  Informed interaction encouraged trust in political dialogue and encouraged engagement in public affairs. 

Equally, when citizens had access to networks of secondary associations, where they interacted with strangers, they were…

From the list:

The best books on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy

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Book cover of This Is Rome

This Is Rome

By Miroslav Sasek

Why this book?

This last book is a classic and part of a series that would be helpful for other travel adventures. It’s the only non-fiction book on the list. But it’s a great introduction for kids wanting to know more about the place they are travelling. While originally published in 1960 the book was updated in 2007. This is a great overall introduction to Rome and its history and a good place to start piquing a young traveler’s interest. 

From the list:

The best books for middle grade kids traveling to Italy

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Book cover of The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April

By Elizabeth von Arnim

Why this book?

I have read this book a dozen times. It just makes me so happy! It’s set between the wars. Four very different women rent a villa in Italy for the month of April. They are all escaping something unsatisfactory at home. The beauty of Italy and the unlikely friendship that blossoms between them alters them profoundly. Written from each woman’s perspective, the author gives the reader a wonderful insight into their thoughts and motivations. It’s witty, charming, and clever, but above all, it is so uplifting.

From the list:

The best beautifully written books with love at their core

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Book cover of The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein

Why this book?

My hands are shaking as I write this. Honestly, I’m not certain I’m up to the task of writing about how brilliant this book is – and how much they mean to me. I’ve never felt more immersed inside a fictional character’s mind in my entire life. This is the epic story of a decades-long female friendship, depicted in compelling, granular detail. By the end of the fourth and final book, the pages were stained with tears. 

From the list:

The best books to make you cry

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Book cover of The Monster of Florence

The Monster of Florence

By Douglas Preston, Mario Spezi

Why this book?

When an American writer moves to Italy and befriends a former investigator, the two have no idea that they will soon be dragged into one of Italy’s most infamous murder cases. The Monster of Florence operated from the late 1960s through the 1980s, killing couples in the hills around Florence, always on a Saturday night when there was a new moon. The case went cold for more than a decade, but when Preston and Spezi begin to collaborate on a book about it, the prosecutor in charge of the case sets his sights on a new suspect: Spezi. The twists…

From the list:

The best true crime books to keep you up at night

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Book cover of Suspicious

Suspicious

By Sara Rosett

Why this book?

This is a cozy mystery that gives the reader a nice tour of Rome from a bargain tourist perspective. The story takes the reader north into Austria and Germany so you gain a feeling for the Alps. The couple that leads the story are suspects in a series of jewelry heists and work their way through Northern Italy and beyond to solve the thefts. It’s a light-hearted story with a little romance, no cuss words, and little violence.

From the list:

The best mysteries that let you explore the major cities of Italy

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Book cover of I Dreamed of Africa

I Dreamed of Africa

By Kuki Gallmann

Why this book?

Kuki Gallman, an Italian socialite, is another wealthy woman who sought adventure in Kenya. And another woman, with her husband, who set out to start a ranch in an inhospitable land. When her husband and son are killed in separate accidents, Gallman turns the ranch into a conservation park, using her money to bring attention to the plight of the local wildlife. And, as is true in Namibia, she enlisted the help of local tribal leaders to save both the endangered wildlife and native culture. In 2010, she founded Prayers for the Earth and in 2011, she and her daughter…

From the list:

The best books for wild women desperately seeking adventure

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Book cover of The Poison Keeper: An enthralling historical novel of Renaissance Italy

The Poison Keeper: An enthralling historical novel of Renaissance Italy

By Deborah Swift

Why this book?

Another woman steps out of the shadows of history in this novel about seventeenth-century Italy. Gulia Tofana was a notorious poisoner of terrible men and Deborah Swift explores in a tale full of excitement and drama the imagined early career of Gulia whose mother was executed for murder. Gulia just wants to be an apothecary, but her friendship with the abused wife of an aristocratic, power greedy husband draws her into murder. It is full of rich detail – you can feel the heat, smell the perfume, hear the rustle of silk and taffeta, and you can’t help being on…

From the list:

The best novels featuring historical figures

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Book cover of These Tangled Vines

These Tangled Vines

By Julianne MacLean

Why this book?

"I love everything—the food and the wine and the olive groves and the grapevines..." That line from the book was the feeling that enveloped me as I read this story. There is warmth and tenderness, comfort and satisfaction, a place where people work hard and reap the rewards of their efforts.

The universal search for love is prominent in These Tangled Vines. Love of husband and wife, married lovers, mother and daughter, father and daughter, sibling to sibling. Everyone wants love. But how many of us find the perfect match?

I loved exploring the lushness of Tuscany and the…

From the list:

The best novels for women about a second chance at love and romance

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Book cover of Our Italian Summer

Our Italian Summer

By Jennifer Probst

Why this book?

The story focuses on three women—Francesca, Allegra, and Sophia, three generations of the Ferrari family. They hope that a trip to Italy, to their roots, will restore their connections. But the ties of family run deep, especially troubled ones. Throughout the story, we see the ugly mistakes and misunderstandings of each of the characters—their dirty underwear on display—and how those mistaken beliefs and patterns have torn the fabric that holds the family together.

The characters are complex, human, flawed, and wonderful. You’ll pray for them, cheer for them, hope for them as they flounder, find their footing, and flounder some…

From the list:

The best novels for women about a second chance at love and romance

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Book cover of Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine

By Ignazio Silone

Why this book?

This famous novel tells the story from the other side, a socialist on the run, in fascist Italy. Certain unforgettable scenes portray the bullying and humiliation at the core of fascism and its human cost. I first read this in college, then re-read it when I was conducting research on Mussolini’s Italy.
From the list:

The best about the perils of fascism

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Book cover of The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

By Rick Atkinson

Why this book?

The Day of Battle was Volume Two of Rick Atkinson’s acclaimed Liberation Trilogy. While all three volumes of this series are well worth reading, Atkinson was at his best in the second volume which deals with the much-neglected campaigns of Sicily and Italy. The doyen of British military history and a veteran of the Italian campaign, the late Sir Michael Howard wrote that The Day of Battle was ‘one of the truly outstanding records of the Second World War’. I think it is too.

From the list:

The best books on World War 2 published after 2000

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Book cover of Sea and Sardinia

Sea and Sardinia

By D.H. Lawrence

Why this book?

“COMES over one an absolute necessity to move.” Has there ever been a more appropriate opening line to any travel book? D H Lawrence moved to Sicily right after the First World War and from there got the itch to board a ship and visit Sardinia to the north with his wife Frida. He was hoping to find a primitive, pre-modern society, where men were men and women were women. He did indeed find them and was appalled. But delighted too. It’s hard to think of a book with more fun in it, more self-mockery, more pathos, and more poetry.…

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

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Book cover of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

Why this book?

Hamilton’s memoir recalls her turbulent family history, her sexual ambiguity, her love of Italy, and more unexpectedly, her Italian mother-in-law, who nurtured her passion for cooking. It doesn’t hurt that outside the kitchen, Hamilton earned her M.F.A in fiction writing from the University of Michigan and can write about the devastating fallout from her parents’ divorce with the same acuity and poetry she deploys about cooking an egg. In the waiting room, where her galloping curiosity and generosity of spirit suffuse you, be reminded that there is a whole world out there, and that past this unhappy day, there…

From the list:

The best books to read in the waiting room

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Book cover of A Season for the Dead

A Season for the Dead

By David Hewson

Why this book?

If you diligently work your way down this list, you’ll travel to Sicily, Venice, Florence, and Naples. But none of these cities beat Rome. I’m biased, of course. My wife and I lived in Rome when we were first married. When I close my eyes, I swear I see Caravaggios and I can still smell the woodsmoke and simmering pasta sauce that perfume Rome’s air. All of which brings me to Hewson’s Nic Costa novels. I don’t think anyone nails Rome’s sinister criminal quality the way Hewson does, but he still manages to capture the Eternal City’s beauty, food, and…

From the list:

The best books for discovering Italian mystery novels

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Book cover of The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City - Two-Volume Slipcased Set

The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City - Two-Volume Slipcased Set

By Andrea Carandini

Why this book?

In two volumes, this is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I own. Much more than an atlas of maps, it includes illustrations of archaeological evidence from across the city and is full of reconstruction drawings. It is a book to simply lose yourself in and spend time browsing through the pages that set out the city of Rome. The overlaying of the ancient buildings from Rome onto the modern street grid, also allows for the reader to see how those ancient buildings, such as the Theatre of Pompey, continue to shape the streetscape of the city of…

From the list:

The best books on the archaeology of Roman Italy

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Book cover of Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

By Tim Parks

Why this book?

An English novelist, a long-time resident of (and writer about) Italy, Parks is well placed to offer his hugely entertaining take on rail travel in Europe’s most gloriously maddening country. It’s neither fully a history book nor travelogue, though Parks writes divertingly and inspiringly about both history and travel. Instead, it’s partly an attempt to appreciate Italy through its railways – as he says early on, “if someone wanted to understand Italy, they might start by understanding how the train ticketing system works.” For anyone who has ever wrestled with the intransigence of an Italian rail conductor, stood forlornly waiting…

From the list:

The best books about rail journeys

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Book cover of Abortion in Early Modern Italy

Abortion in Early Modern Italy

By John Christopoulos

Why this book?

Who would have thought Catholic Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated widespread abortion? John Christopoulos brilliantly shows that, despite the moral proscription and legal prohibition of abortion from church and state leadership, women across the social spectrum from elites to peasants practiced abortion with the tacit or explicit support of key people in their communities. Compelling mini-narratives about individual women’s abortion stories are interwoven with an expert analysis of the legal, religious, and scientific knowledge and attitudes.

From the list:

The best books on the history of sex to understand where we are now

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Book cover of Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun

By Frances Mayes

Why this book?

I love how Frances, after heartbreak, leaves everything behind to reinvent her life in beautiful Tuscany Italy. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? Although she faces challenges and hardships—language barrier, renovating an old house, making friends—it’s a lovely worthwhile journey. And her descriptions of grand old homes, glorious vineyards, delicious foods... are all scrumptious. I visited Italy ages ago and being transported back there in this delightful autobiographical story was pure delight. 

From the list:

The best books about vineyards

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Book cover of Robot Dreams

Robot Dreams

By Sara Varon

Why this book?

Not all friendships are easy, that’s for sure. This beautifully illustrated, wordless graphic novel is as funny as it is touching. Don’t let the lack of words fool you, this is a skillfully told story about a complicated relationship. I’m a fan of visual storytelling and Sara Varon is a master. I also like when a book takes a turn that you may not expect. It might not have the ending you hoped for, but it makes you think.

From the list:

The best graphic novels about navigating friendships and family

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Book cover of Pezzettino

Pezzettino

By Leo Lionni

Why this book?

A little piece wonders if he belongs to one of the bigger pieces. His adventure of self-discovery leads him to the island of Wham! With abstract ideas and characters like one-who- runs, strong-one, and swimming-one, children usually identify with the characters, especially Pezzettino being little. I often hear children “playing” this story during recess after I read it to my class.

From the list:

The best books that go on an adventure

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Book cover of Da Vinci's Cat

Da Vinci's Cat

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Why this book?

Da Vinci’s Cat is the right book for middle grade readers who like some magic and mystery along with their history. This book slips between present-day New Jersey, where Beatrice is having to spend the summer with her moms in boring suburbia instead of in Italy with her grandparents like she usually does, and 1511 Rome where Federico is held hostage in the Pope’s palace. It’s a wonderful melding of times and places. I really enjoyed the addition of the cat, Juno into the mix as well. Famous artists Michelangelo, Rafael, and Leonardo Da Vinci all make appearances in the…
From the list:

The best books for middle grade kids traveling to Italy

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Book cover of South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy

South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy

By Robert V. Camuto

Why this book?

I have long loved Robert Camuto’s writing about living in Italy and the wines and winemakers he’s discovered. My own food and wine awakening happened while living and working in Italy, so naturally I gravitate to books that take place there or tell the stories of others who’ve chosen to live there against all odds. Robert Camuto’s newest book South of Somewhere has quickly risen to my list of favorites. In this evocation, he traces his own history back to the town of his ancestors, and the relationship that evolves from a life-defining memory of a childhood summer in this…
From the list:

The best books about wine, love, and landscape

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Book cover of The Light in the Ruins

The Light in the Ruins

By Chris Bohjalian

Why this book?

I loved learning about what happened in Italy when the Germans occupied it. In this story, a wealthy Italian family becomes too close to the Germans by inviting them to search the secret ruins behind their villa for antiquities. This relationship has deadly consequences years later as members of the family are killed. The book goes back and forth between 1943 and 1955 until we learn why someone is seeking revenge.  

From the list:

The best WWII books with stories we haven’t heard before

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Book cover of Dear Mr. Brody

Dear Mr. Brody

By A.M. Johnson

Why this book?

Beautifully written words with a lyrical like feel are what I know I’ll always find within the pages of an A.M. Johnson book. The emotions she wrings from me every time are astonishing, and yet I never feel like I’ve been banged over the head with them like you sometimes get in some heartfelt stories. This is a male-male romance, and even if you don’t think this is your sort of thing, I still highly recommend it because it’s just gorgeous.
From the list:

The best romance novels with slow burns you’ll feel for days

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Book cover of Joseph Mazzini: His Life, Writings, and Political Principles

Joseph Mazzini: His Life, Writings, and Political Principles

By Giuseppe Mazzini

Why this book?

This work provides another sample of how the national idea was understood and represented by a leading figure from the European world. Along the way, one gains an introduction to many influential events, people, and ideas from the ‘classical age in nationalism,’ albeit as filtered through the sensibilities of one who was himself a subject of considerable controversy. Certainly, this immersion in the personality of Mazzini (1805-72) is no small part of the work’s appeal, at least for me. Memorable too is the odd little piece at the end in which an acquaintance offers a view of the exiled author…
From the list:

The best books which document the spread of nationalism throughout the modern world

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Book cover of The Keeper of Lost Things

The Keeper of Lost Things

By Ruth Hogan

Why this book?

I enjoyed the relationship with the two main characters, a man called Anthony who wants to atone for a promise he broke many years before. His time is running out and he must leave all his unfinished work to his assistant, Laura, who runs his house, offers him companionship and above all whom he trusts. This is a real page-turner, as several “actions” trigger a serendipitous string of encounters. I love this story. 

From the list:

The best books for lovers of French and Italian history with romance and mystery

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Book cover of The Longest Echo

The Longest Echo

By Eoin Dempsey

Why this book?

When I like an author, I do my best to tell everyone about their books, and Eoin Dempsey is one of those authors I often recommend. Lately, the WWII fiction genre seems to be dominated by female authors, but Dempsey is the exception! I fell in love with The Longest Echo by the end of the first chapter, and I haven’t talked to anyone who hasn’t loved this novel. What captured me was that I hadn’t ever read about this moment in history before, and I found myself completely immersed in the story very quickly.

From the list:

The best books to make you fall in love with WWII fiction

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Book cover of The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen

By Frances Mayes, Edward Mayes, Steven Rothfeld

Why this book?

What better way to transport ourselves to a different place than by food. I love how Frances and Edward share simple traditional Tuscan recipes in this cookbook. Things you can actually concoct in your own kitchen, and you know they’re tried and true. These recipes make me want to drag a long table outside, set lanterns and flowers upon it, invite some friends and neighbors, then bring out generous platters of pasta and ragu and chewy bread and... a fine bottle of wine... and just enjoy!

From the list:

The best books about vineyards

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Book cover of The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

By John Truby

Why this book?

John Truby’s book is an invaluable resource for the serious writer. He provides in-depth insights into the inner workings of a character, and the character’s creator (you, the author), to create memorable, powerful, and emotionally moving narratives. Not only do you discover the tools to create compelling characters and their story worlds, but you also gain awareness of your own values and worldview that influence and shape your story from its foundation to its masterful completion. 

This book was a pivotal influence in the step-by-step progression of my historical novel with its six point-of-view characters and their story world, set…

From the list:

The best books to help you write your best book

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Book cover of The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein

Why this book?

I read this novel feverishly, over a decade ago. Ferrante’s calm, snaking sentences yanked me into this book with a compulsive gravity. After her husband leaves her, the narrator, Olga, struggles to care for her two children. She forgets herself in her daily rounds — driving absently, denting fenders, braking at the last minute — “angrily, as if reality were inappropriate.”

Throughout this novel, Ferrante presents a devastating (yet somehow gratifying) portrait of feminine rage. When I first read this novel, still in my twenties, still generally polite and obliging, I recognized something frightening: the scorn of a woman who’s…

From the list:

The best books featuring transgressive mothers

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Book cover of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women

By Elena Favilli, Francesca Cavallo

Why this book?

Growing up, I loved fairy tales. So when the first volume in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series featuring short stories of real-life women and girls told in a fairy tale style was released, I was excited! The gorgeous illustrations, motivating quotes, and blank pages for readers to write their own stories and draw their own portraits are genius. Filled with 100 extraordinary females—past and present—from countries all over the world, including those who are well-known to the unfamiliar, this book will inspire readers to explore their passions, dream big, and pursue their goals without limits. Spoiler alert:…

From the list:

The best kidlit books starring spunky (aka determined and courageous) girls

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Book cover of You Are Enough: A Book about Inclusion

You Are Enough: A Book about Inclusion

By Margaret O'Hair, Sofia Sanchez

Why this book?

You Are Enough is a powerful book celebrating diversity and inclusion. I literally had goosebumps the first time I read it. Every line is poster-worthy and each page is amazingly illustrated with kids from diverse backgrounds and abilities. Working together, the text paired with the illustrations reinforce the messages that “our differences are what make us special,” “we all belong,” and “you are just right exactly as you are.” 

From the list:

The best children’s picture books on inclusion

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Book cover of Mouthful of Rocks: Modern Adventures in the French Foreign Legion

Mouthful of Rocks: Modern Adventures in the French Foreign Legion

By Christian Jennings

Why this book?

This book was a very compelling read and resonated with me, as the author was a professional and idealist who was drawn into a war that he was not in control of. His casual and all matter of fact style of writing made it a pleasure to read, while still hitting home with his underlying theme. Jennings is an Englishman with few prospects for a prosperous future so he throws his lot in with a motley bunch of foreigners in the service of france. He writes with hilarity and frankness that I was immediately drawn to.

From the list:

The best books about the French Foreign Legion from someone who joined

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Book cover of Madrid: A Guide for Literary Travellers

Madrid: A Guide for Literary Travellers

By Jules Stewart

Why this book?

Hemingway (who might have fully ‘got’ Spain if he had been less obsessed with ‘being Hemingway’) once described Madrid as ‘the centre of the world’. Jules Stewart is a former reporter who knows the city like the back of his hand. In this book he provides a perfect guide for travellers (even of the armchair variety) around what is one of the most vibrant European capitals. From Dalí’s favourite café to the place where Cervantes drew his last breath, it brings the history of the place alive like nothing else.

From the list:

The best books on Spain (by people who really get Spain)

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Book cover of Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy

Primo Levi's Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy

By Sergio Luzzatto

Why this book?

The partisan experiences of Primo Levi—chemist, Auschwitz survivor, and writer—are researched and offered in gritty, thorough detail by Luzzatto. Levi, in his writings, alluded to incidents that occurred during his time as a partisan, and Luzzatto delves deeper into the motivations behind these events and the personalities involved. The Resistance in its early days, while being hunted by Nazis and their Italian allies, became a small force of its own making, using collective, military-style decisions and tactics, and meting out its own forms of justice. An important book to gain insight into the complexities of purpose within the Resistance, learn…

From the list:

The best books on WW2 occupation, resistance, and the aftermath

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Book cover of The Italian Baker: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside--Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies

The Italian Baker: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside--Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies

By Carol Field, Ed Anderson

Why this book?

This book literally changed home baking forever by making artisan breads accessible to the amateur cook. It was the first time that many of us saw recipes for the rustic breads with crackling brown crusts and moist, hole-ridden interiors that were before only available at specialty bakeries. All books are a labor of love, but I can’t imagine the determination an American woman must have had to wrestle the original recipes from Italian masters.

From the list:

The best baking books for at home bakers

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Book cover of The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century

The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century

By Steven Runciman

Why this book?

This is perhaps the best book by this prolific historian, because of the way in which he successfully weaves together the histories of lands right across the Mediterranean and beyond: Aragon in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and the Levant, focussing on a successful rebellion in Sicily in 1282 that permanently changed the face of the Mediterranean.

From the list:

The best books on global history before the modern era

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Book cover of Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Why this book?

What is more truly vagabond than packing up your life and traveling abroad for a year? Elizabeth dives deep into herself by going solo and immersing herself in three cultures. Hers is the perfect illustration of rejecting societal norms and her own internal demons to find the abundant life she wants.

From the list:

The best books for hikertrash and other vagabonds

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Book cover of Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style

Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style

By Michael Baxandall

Why this book?

This is a classic study that for me—and countless others— changed the way we look at Renaissance art, the artists who made it, the patrons who commissioned it, the people who used it, and the Renaissance authors who wrote about it. Everybody knows that Masaccio, Uccello, Angelico, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci were great painters. But only after reading this short and compelling essay by one of the twentieth-century most insightful art historians you understand how these great artists mirrored in their works daily life experiences and activities of Renaissance society, such as preaching, dancing, and gauging barrels.

After your…

From the list:

The best books to understand the art and culture of Renaissance Florence

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Book cover of Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy

Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy

By Elena Isayev

Why this book?

Migration is the great theme of the twenty-first century. Our experience has set historians on a quest to see how new the mass movement of peoples really is. Isayev’s book is one of the first full-length studies of migration in Roman times.

It is enormously wide-ranging, bringing together the evidence of archaeology and of Roman comedy and history with the insights of geographers and sociologists. We see populations transplanted against their will, enslaved prisoners, hostages, and refugees, but also settlers and traders trying to make their fortune, and explorers and travelling scholars. Best of all we explore the ways that…

From the list:

The best new books about the Roman Empire

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Book cover of The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

By Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli

Why this book?

Until his death in 2019, the Sicilian-born Camilleri was the king of the Italian mystery novel scene. His detective, Inspector Montalbano, became a beloved fixture in Italy thanks to a TV series based on his adventures. I love Montalbano because a) he’s a decent man trapped in an often-corrupt Sicilian environment, and b) boy, does he love great Italian food! The series is 28 books long; it’s worth starting with the first one to see if you love this world.


From the list:

The best books for discovering Italian mystery novels

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Book cover of Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide

Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide

By Tiziano Scarpa

Why this book?

Venice is a Fish is the book to carry to Venice so that you can sit in a campo somewhere (or at a café with a spritz) and read it during your stay. A funny, fun, and informative book about Venice as it is now, as well as over its long history. Then you can follow in the book’s footsteps and go for a walk and get lost.
From the list:

The best books about Venice (non-guidebooks)

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Book cover of Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day

Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day

By Jamie Lee Curtis, Laura Cornell

Why this book?

This book shows that everyone has moods that can change each day, or within the same day...from silly to angry to sad, etc. The zany, touching verse and the fun mood-wheel that lets the children change a character’s facial expressions will help a parent and child identify and discuss both good and bad feelings and how to manage them. A wonderful book to start a discussion of revisiting misbehavior and deciding what s/he could do next time in a similar situation.
From the list:

The best picture books to motivate kids to manage their own behaviors and feelings

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Book cover of The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento

The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento

By Guido Ruggiero

Why this book?

This book is a fantastic, broad overview of the Italian Renaissance (or rinascimento, the term Ruggiero prefers and which his subjects would have recognized). The Italian Rinascimento was a period, according to Ruggiero, of vibrant cities, social change, and cultural expression, in which intellectuals, politicians, and artists both looked back to an idealized classical past and forward to uncharted territory.

I love the way this book focuses on issues that preoccupied the people he studies and incorporates topics often absent from works on the Renaissance, including women, sexuality, economics, disease and death, and religion, among others. Even more important,…

From the list:

The best books on Renaissance Italy

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Book cover of I See You

I See You

By Michael Genhart, Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Why this book?

Although this picture book has no words, its message of caring and compassion is clear and powerful. A small boy becomes aware of a homeless woman and simply, gently, acknowledges her. This innocent and kind book serves may serve as an opening to talk to children about homelessness. It also may help us all to remember not to ignore those less fortunate.

From the list:

The best books on acceptance and empathy

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Book cover of Bonaparte Falls Apart

Bonaparte Falls Apart

By Margery Cuyler

Why this book?

This one oozes adorableness. But it’s more than just cute. It’s a story about a young skeleton who is literally falling apart. Everyone, myself included, can relate to those awkward times. The best part is that his friends help him pull together. Of course, that means lots of silly hijinks, but you’ll get the feels from this story as you read it to your kids.

From the list:

The best children’s books with not so scary monsters

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Book cover of Siciliana: Studies on the Sicilian Ethos and Literature

Siciliana: Studies on the Sicilian Ethos and Literature

By Gaetano Cipolla

Why this book?

Dr. Gaetano Cipolla is the retired head of the Foreign Language Department at St. John’s University, New York. He has spent his academic career researching and writing about the Sicilian culture and its people in order to counteract the stereotypical image of Sicilians and Italians as primarily spaghetti eaters and mafia. Dr. Cipolla understands the many dialects of the Sicilian language and, through his writings, has reclaimed the literary greatness of forgotten Sicilian writers by translating their poetry and other works. To overcome the pending extinction of Sicilian, he has written and developed a two-part course that teaches the language.…

From the list:

The best books on Sicilian/Italian history and the people

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Book cover of Ameri-Sicula: Sicilian Culture in America

Ameri-Sicula: Sicilian Culture in America

By Mark Hehl

Why this book?

Mark Hehl gathered a bunch of Sicilian American writers to contribute pieces about their remembrances of their grandparents, those 1st or 2nd waves of immigrants that came to this country. American readers can relate better to the settings of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, and New Orleans than to the small Sicilian villages like Bisacquino, Sant’Anna, Chiusa Sclafani, the towns from which many immigrants embarked, and the towns from which these customs were carried into American cities.

From the list:

The best books on Sicilian/Italian history and the people

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Book cover of The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe

The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe

By Christine Shaw, Michael Mallett

Why this book?

What would a world awash in mercenaries look like? Like medieval northern Italy, which was the Afghanistan of its day. Back then, mercenaries were how you fought wars, and anyone who could swipe a check could wage war no matter how absurd or petty. Aristocrats, city-states, and popes routinely hired mercenaries. When I wrote The New Rules of War, I spent three months digging through the archives in Florence, Bologna, and other city-states to understand how the dynamics of private warfare worked. For those who want a feel of the times, try this rare book by famed historian Mallett.…

From the list:

The best books on mercenaries from a former military contractor

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Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss

Why this book?

The ultimate revenge story! At its core, this novel is an adventure story, but it also has a huge Gothic undertone, from the gloomy atmosphere of the prison to the dark psychology of seeking personal justice. While I loved the movies, I loved even more how the novel was darker, with Edmond Dantes setting up his nemeses like dominoes just to watch them fall. He not only inflicted justice, but he did it in such a psychological (and financial) way that it became even more damaging to those who wronged him, to the point that most succumbed to their own…

From the list:

The best gothic books that show the dark side of the human psyche

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Book cover of Courage, My Love

Courage, My Love

By Kristin Beck

Why this book?

I just recently read this wonderful debut novel, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since! Courage, My Love tells the story of two women living in Nazi-occupied Rome who become involved in the Italian resistance and its effort to rid their country of fascism. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, timely novel of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, and the courage they have in standing up to evil.

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Italy

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Book cover of Casa Rossa

Casa Rossa

By Francesca Marciano

Why this book?

This book made me fall in love with Puglia, the hot, dusty “heel of the boot” with its lemons, olives, and cactus, its boxy farmhouses. Not that the story, bouncing from Paris to New York to a long-gone Rome, doesn’t deliver—the narrator, Alina, talks about a family secret passed from woman to woman, disintegrating memories, a past she must understand before the movers arrive and the house with its mural of a naked woman painted on a patio wall is no longer theirs. Present and past, the known and the unknown combine, and all of it is tied to…

From the list:

The best novels about people grappling with the past (often sabotaging their present and future in the process)

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Book cover of Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety

By Wallace Stegner

Why this book?

The retrospective gaze in this semiautobiographical novel zeroes in on friendship rather than family or romantic love. The friendship between the struggling-to-rise Morgans and the blue-blooded Langs, nearly academic royalty, is instantaneous and deep, with an imbalance that creates a delicious sense of precariousness. Stegner is a master of low-key suspense, gently stoking our curiosity about what comes next and what makes these people tick. Known for his California-based masterpiece Angle of Repose, here Stegner ventures into the Midwest, New England, and Italy, into academia, into aspiration and longing, and the forces that can alter a friendship. I love that…

From the list:

The best novels about people grappling with the past (often sabotaging their present and future in the process)

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Book cover of To Forestall the Darkness: A Novel of Ancient Rome, AD 589

To Forestall the Darkness: A Novel of Ancient Rome, AD 589

By Vann Turner

Why this book?

This book is set in Italy at the end of the 6th century. It is a vivid account of an engineer who struggles to survive in a largely devastated country and longs to revive the former advanced Roman technology. It depicts a cruel world: old Romans attacked by Lombards, and merciless clashes between Pagans, Arian, and Catholic Christians. Of great interest to me were the personal interactions of both leaders and ordinary people.

Although, for my taste, it included an unnecessary preoccupation with violence and sex, the vivid cultural and factual detail provided me with much background information and food…

From the list:

The best spiritual quests set in Antiquity

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Book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

By Helena Attlee

Why this book?

I fell in love with this book after just a few pages. It’s a beautifully descriptive and colourful account of the significance of citrus fruit in Italy, from the days of the first introduction of the citron to Calabria in the 1st Century to today’s cultivation of blood oranges on the plains beneath Mount Etna.   

Written with great charm and humour, the author weaves this part-travelogue effortlessly in and out of history and horticulture with stories and recipes as we learn fascinating facts about the citron (still essential, for example, for the celebration of the Sukkoth festival by Lubavitcher Jews),…

From the list:

The best books about the cultural importance of trees

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Book cover of The Thief Lord

The Thief Lord

By Cornelia Funke, Christian Birmingham

Why this book?

Long a favorite of mine, every couple of years I enjoy returning to this book about two brothers who fall in with a group of Venetian street children and the young master-thief who oversees them. Funke's classic, assured style grants this relatively contemporary novel (first published in Germany in 2000) a charming, old-fashioned sensibility, while the pacing and characterization should appeal to the most modern of readers, at least to my eyes. The book has everything I love in stories for young readersmystery, magic, friendship, and startling plot twists–and the interior illustrations done by Funke herself are lovely.

From the list:

The best books about kids suddenly caught up in mysterious circumstances

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Book cover of Midnight in the Piazza

Midnight in the Piazza

By Tiffany Parks

Why this book?

I discovered this book through a podcast I love about living the expat life. Thirteen-year-old Beatrice has landed in Rome with her professor father, and she would rather not be there. But Rome is full of wonders and Beatrice becomes entranced by the turtle fountain in the piazza outside her apartment, especially when those turtles seem to vanish. The author lives in Rome and is very knowledgeable about the art and culture of Italy, so I learned a lot about art and history without realizing I was learning at all. Middle grade readers will love the mystery, and who would…

From the list:

The best books for middle grade kids traveling to Italy

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Book cover of Totalitarian Art: In the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People's Republic of China

Totalitarian Art: In the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People's Republic of China

By Igor Golomstock, Robert Chandler

Why this book?

Rich in illustrations, ambitious in scope, and still relevant despite having been written in the pre-perestroika Soviet Union, Golomstock makes his four-way comparison accessible and convincing by insisting that “totalitarian art,” a distinct genre with its own aesthetics and style, organization, and ideology, emerged with the rise of the four regimes indicated in the title of his book. 

From the list:

The best books on art and aesthetics in Nazi Germany

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Book cover of The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients

By Erica Bauermeister

Why this book?

This luminous women's fiction is anchored by Lillian, restauranteur by day, cooking class instructor by night. Come for the lyrical and evocative descriptions of sophisticated food and indulgences. Stay for a brilliantly-crafted cast of flawed characters, who seek hope and restoration. I especially adore this novel for the relatable backstories of Lillian's students. It's the perfect, decadent slice of life for escaping yours.

From the list:

The best lyrical women's fiction that deep-dives into complex relationships, while tugging every heartstring

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Book cover of Römische Tage

Römische Tage

By Simon Strauss

Why this book?

Germans have been in love with Italy since always, a love that found its culmination with Goethe’s famous Italienische Reise in 1816. It’s a love that lasts forever, for it’s a love that never finds fulfillment. Germans are like the stuffed up straight guy who’s in love with a lively beauty above their level, that is Italy; they’re forever stuck in the moment of enchantment, they can never grasp or really fathom their love, let alone turn it into a real affair or just begin to understand this incredible woman. Promising young German writer Strauss takes up residence in the…

From the list:

The best me-against-the-world books

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Book cover of The Rainaldi Quartet

The Rainaldi Quartet

By Paul Adam

Why this book?

Paul Adam takes readers on a tense, insiders journey through the shadowy netherworld of priceless antique violins in search for the holy grail of violins, Stradivari’s “Sister Messiah,” that leaves a trail of dead bodies in its path. The hero, Giovanni Castiglione (like Amadeo Borlotti in my Daniel Jacobus mystery, Playing With Fire) is an under-the-radar violin forger with a conscience. As a professional violinist for a half-century, I can attest that The Rainaldi Quartet is absolutely true to life from start to finish. I was unable to put it down. Adam hits the nail on the head in…

From the list:

The best mysteries in the world of classical music

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Book cover of Cry to Heaven

Cry to Heaven

By Anne Rice

Why this book?

There’s a reason why so many books set in Venice revolve around death, heaven (aka Paradise), mystery, and love lost & found. There’s a story lying in wait around every alley corner, under every bridge, and at the bottom of every canal. It’s no surprise that Anne Rice, the queen of Vampire lit, set Cry to Heaven in Venice. Her novel is impeccably researched and written, bringing to life the castriti of the 18th century—men who were castrated to become sopranos for the opera houses and royal courts. Beneath the decadence of the surface of Anne Rice’s Venice lies…

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

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Book cover of The Road to Rivoli: Napoleon's First Campaign

The Road to Rivoli: Napoleon's First Campaign

By Martin Boycott-Brown

Why this book?

This is a detailed and meticulously researched book focusing on Bonaparte’s first independent command. The Army of Italy is little more than an afterthought but he forges his rag-tag troops into a force that expels the Austrians from most of northern Italy. I loved the eye-witness accounts and the author’s ability to evaluate events such as those at the bridge over the Arcole. It became part of the Napoleonic legend, immortalised in Gros’ painting, that the young general was in the thick of the fighting but this has been denounced as blatant propaganda. We learn from Boycott-Brown that both things…

From the list:

The best books for getting inside Napoleon Bonaparte’s head

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Book cover of Love & Gelato

Love & Gelato

By Jenna Evans Welch

Why this book?

Let’s take this European adventure to Italy. Like most of the books on my list, Love & Gelato doesn’t go heavy on the romance, which is an aspect I really appreciate. Lina, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, comes to terms with grief and uncertainty in this beautiful, tender story. The fact that it’s set in Italy is a big bonus.

Jenna Evans Welch has written similar books with settings in Ireland and Greece. She has a great voice and takes the reader to some of my favorite settings in the world. That’s amore!

From the list:

The best young adult contemporary romances that take you abroad

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Book cover of Death in Venice

Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann, Stanley Appelbaum

Why this book?

There are so many amazing books set in Venice, but no list is complete without Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. It’s a literary classic from 1912 that not only stands the test of time, it exceeds the hype. Death in Venice follows Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author who travels to Venice in search of inspiration. Instead, he finds obsession. Death in Venice is erotic and dark, but what I love most about this book is how it captures the city’s bewitching personality. 

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

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Book cover of The Four Horsemen: A Novel

The Four Horsemen: A Novel

By Gregory Dowling

Why this book?

The Four Horsemen is Gregory Dowling’s follow-up to his book Ascension. Set in the 1700s, it’s a thriller/mystery that follows a tour guide (yes, they had them back then) who is recruited into a secret police of sorts. They need him to investigate the death of an agent, which is connected to a secret society called The Four Horsemen. Forced to go on the run, the book delves into the back alleys, canals, and island of Venice. Another wonderfully researched book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

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Book cover of A Kiss from Maddalena

A Kiss from Maddalena

By Christopher Castellani

Why this book?

Castellani’s warm and beautiful prose takes us on a journey with Maddelana, an innocent young woman in a tiny Italian village where everyone knows everyone. As she embarks on a journey that will change her life, we watch her future unfold across the ocean and through generations of the family she starts, immigrant descendants making a life in America. The best part is there are two more books following this one! 

From the list:

The best World War Two novels with strong female characters who aren’t spies

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Harriet and the Secret Rings

By Debra Clewer

Why this book?

I have always found ancient history fascinating. In my teenage years I couldn’t learn enough about ancient Rome and Greece. As an adult, one of my bucket list holidays is to visit the amazing ruins throughout Italy, including Mt Vesuvius. Through Harriet’s adventure we get to experience ancient Rome in its glory days as if we were there. I found it fascinating to read and learn about the everyday life of an ancient Roman family with twists and turns of a thrilling adventure as Harriet is chased through ancient streets by Roman soldiers. It is great escapism into a place…

From the list:

The best adventure books for children that love to travel around the world

Book cover of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

By Tony Perrottet

Why this book?

This travelogue looks at the Mediterranean with dual vision: one ancient eye and one modern. Perrottet retraces the route taken by the wealthy Romans who were, in a sense, the world’s first tourists, living with enough safety and comfort to travel for leisure rather than necessity. He begins in Italy, then the Greek mainland and some island-hopping, makes a necessary stop in Troy, then moves down the Turkish coast and finally into Egypt. In doing so, he provides perspective both on what the Romans would have expected and discovered along the journey as well as what a modern-day traveller would…

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The best books on ancient Roman society

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Book cover of Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

By Carlo Levi, Frances Frenaye

Why this book?

This book does not take place in Sicily however, the plights of the inhabitants of a small southern town in Luncania are the same as those Italians in parts of Sicily where even in the ’60s, many families lived in caves. Carlo Levi, a doctor, painter, and writer is sent to Eboli because of his opposition to Mussolini and Italy’s Fascist government. Levi’s book is about the harsh life of its citizens who continued to live according to the traditions and beliefs of their ancestors, including healing by natural methods and black magic and superstitions.   

From the list:

The best books on Sicilian/Italian history and the people

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Book cover of The Prince

The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks

Why this book?

The Prince is a brutal book. It sets out to be advice for a would-be tyrant. But the book is so much more than that. Machiavelli, was a democrat, a man who believed in popular participation. And he arguably wrote this book as a kind of warning. I love this book and quote it all the time, not least because it contains timeless insights, such as that the greatness of a leader depends on the quality of their advisors, and the maxim that once you take over a new state, you need to “make a list of the crimes that…

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The best books for deep thinkers about politics, democracy, and philosophy

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Book cover of Transnational Art Crime

Transnational Art Crime

By Edgar Tijhuis

Why this book?

When I first started out, there were very few books ever written about the study of art crime. Tijhuis was one of the few authorities, approaching it from a criminological perspective. This is a really strong academic survey of the phenomenon, perfect for those interested in the intersection of criminology and art.

From the list:

The best books on art crime: theft, looting, and forgery

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Brave Men

By Ernie Pyle

Why this book?

I came close to picking James Tobin’s brilliant biography, Ernie’s Pyle’s War, but decided that it was impossible to overlook Pyle’s own prose. This anthology contains the articles he wrote in Sicily, Italy, and France in 1943-44. It shows, more movingly than any other eyewitness account, just how terrible the fighting could be in what is too often glibly remembered as America’s “good war.”

From the list:

The best books to understand WW2 from eyewitnesses and historians

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Book cover of Dead Lagoon: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

Dead Lagoon: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

By Michael Dibdin

Why this book?

Tangled canals. Crooked alleyways. Slumping palazzi 500-hundred years old. Venice is Italy’s most atmospheric city, right? Maybe. Genoa runs a close second. Both are misunderstood and misrepresented in literature. Outsiders don’t dip below the theme-park surface. Except for the late, great Michael Dibden. Dead Lagoon features Commissario Aurelio Zen, a flawlessly drawn Italian detective. What makes me so sure? Genetics, experience, passion. My mother’s family is Venetian (via Rome). I’ve spent decades diving deep into the Lagoon City. I even did a year of college there. When I follow Zen into those crumbling palaces to unnail their intrigues, or watch…

From the list:

The best crime novels that double as travel books

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Book cover of The Quest for Corvo

The Quest for Corvo

By A.J.A. Symons

Why this book?

Before Symons published The Quest for Corvo in 1934, many biographies were little more than hagiographies, or boring tomes about unblemished saints. Symons redefined biography by writing a mystery story, featuring himself as a historical detective seeking to understand how a character as disagreeable as Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, could have authored beautiful novels like Hadrian the Seventh.
From the list:

The best books about reimagining biography

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Book cover of The Companion Guide to Venice (Companion Guides)

The Companion Guide to Venice (Companion Guides)

By Hugh Honour

Why this book?

Every visitor, regardless of how often he or she has been somewhere, needs an engaging, accurate, and timely guidebook. Hugh Honour’s Companion Guide to Venice is my choice because it was written by an art historian who lived in Italy (he died sadly in 2016) and because it falls into that rarified category of guides that not only describe what you are seeing and how to get there but also places the artwork, building or site in a broader context. Thus, the book functions as a history of Venice and Venetian culture and an insight into its unique society. It…

From the list:

The best books on Venice, an improbable city

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Book cover of The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas

By Nicola Terrenato

Why this book?

This book rewrites the story of how Roman imperialism got started. It is written by one of the best archaeologists in the field, and it shows. It is brilliantly illustrated, and it explains the world into which Rome emerged. Instead of the traditional story of virtuous Roman heroes and bold wars of conquest, it shows why other Italian peoples decided to join up with Rome. We get a sense of how other Italians saw things. And we understand how the ruling families, Roman and Italian alike, came together and built a state that would conquer the Mediterranean in all their…

From the list:

The best new books about the Roman Empire

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Book cover of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

By Jane DeRose Evans

Why this book?

This book has everything in it across 37 chapters: technology, landscapes, material culture, identity, and empire. It is one of the few volumes in this series of Companions and Handbooks from various publishers that takes an explicitly archaeological focus. It includes developments in the city of Rome over time, but broadens out to include Italy and Rome’s empire. The book benefits from drawing on the research of 37 leading experts, who present in concise sections key findings based on archaeological research – often from archaeological projects that they have led in the field.

From the list:

The best books on the archaeology of Roman Italy

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Book cover of Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean

Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean

By Sarah E. Bond

Why this book?

Not primarily a book about archaeology, but I’ve included this book because it explores the tricky matter of how we can gain access to the ordinary people of ancient Rome. Some of whom, such as the mint-workers, made the things that archaeologists discover in the 21st century in Italy. The author takes up the challenge of recovering these overlooked professions from funeral workers, through bakers and tanners, to criers who all featured in the ancient cities of Italy. There is a paradox running through the book that although these people were the ancient world’s “essential workers’, they were also…

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The best books on the archaeology of Roman Italy

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Book cover of Report to Greco

Report to Greco

By Nikos Kazantzakis

Why this book?

This Cretan writer, who is most often identified as a Greek, asks us to probe our deepest identity, to be honest with ourselves. I think that that should be the first premise of an honest writer…an honest person. When you are born you are told early what to believe. Why you should believe. Who you and what you should believe or not believe in. At some point in your own life, you must resolve what you yourself accept for your own belief system. You should determine what is or is not important to you. Only then can you live YOUR…
From the list:

The best books to read for a clearer understanding of many facets of the human condition

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Book cover of Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Factions in Friuli During the Renaissance

Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Factions in Friuli During the Renaissance

By Edward Muir

Why this book?

We often think of the Renaissance as a time of intellectual and artistic advances, elite cultural experiences, and royal courts or sober republican governments. It was also a time of violence – and attempts to control that violence. Muir focuses on a violent riot known as the Cruel Carnival of 1511, which took place in the remote Friuli region of northern Italy, then under the control of the Republic of Venice. He uses this event to explore vendetta conflict, factional violence, and peasant culture, showing a very different side of Renaissance Italy. This book is a fascinating exploration of ritualized…

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The best books on Renaissance Italy

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Book cover of Such a Good Boy

Such a Good Boy

By Marianna Coppo

Why this book?

I love Marianna’s work. She has been one of my students and since she left school she’s doing great! Buz is a lucky dog. He lives in a luxury house, he got someone taking care of him and he got good and healthy food. Buz is a good dog, but sometimes, he would like to be free of running wild and rolling in the mud.

From the list:

The best books starring characters with four paws

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Book cover of Emotional Arenas: Life, Love, and Death in 1870s Italy

Emotional Arenas: Life, Love, and Death in 1870s Italy

By Mark Seymour

Why this book?

To the many approaches of modern historians—the emotional standards of the Stearnses, the emotional regimes of Reddy, the emotional communities of my own work—Mark Seymour here adds an important dimension, a study of the places and media in which emotions are expressed, from the courtroom to the love letter. He shows not only how emotions aroused by one venue may mean different things to different people, but also how the clash of such emotions may help modify and mold new forms of emotional expression and create new objects of emotional focus.

From the list:

The best books in the history of emotions

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Book cover of The Silence of the Wave

The Silence of the Wave

By Gianrico Carofiglio, Howard Curtis

Why this book?

Arguably, this is not a book about surfing. The Silence of the Wave is about an Italian undercover police officer dealing with trauma and guilt. But within this hardboiled story of crisis and the dark and ugly undercurrents of our modern world, Carofiglio beautifully illustrates the lasting impact surfing can have on a person’s life. Like first love, surfing may be in your past, but it is never forgotten and often takes on a mythic quality that at once can feel like a dream and also lead you back to your true self.

From the list:

The best books about surfing (from a surfer)

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Book cover of La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

By Dianne Hales

Why this book?

If you love Italy—and if you don't love it now, you definitely will—after reading this engaging, vibrant tribute to Italy! Knighted by the President of Italy for her writing about Italy, author Dianne Hales describes the native, inherent passion of Italians—la passione italiana— as the source and nurturer of our civilization's love for art, music, architecture, cars, ceramics, sculpture, design, literature, film, food, and wine. Bursting with talent and passion, the legacy of Italian passion for life in our culture is ubiquitous and all-encompassing. Italy and its passion itself have taken hold of our imaginations, and your imagination…

From the list:

The best books to read so you can take a trip to enchanting Italy without having to book a flight

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Book cover of The Black Corsair

The Black Corsair

By Emilio Salgari, Nico Lorenzutti

Why this book?

Now, you might not have heard of this one unless you’re Italian, and that’s really sad - The Black Corsair series is a Pirate Adventure masterpiece. In Italy, the Black Corsair is just as much of a pirate icon as Long John Silver in the English-speaking community, while Emilio Salgari is sometimes named “the Italian Jules Verne”.

The main character, Black Corsair Emilio Roccanera, is an Italian nobleman whose three brothers have been killed by the Duke of Wan Guld, now a governor in the Caribbean. So, the Black Corsair will stop at nothing until he’s gotten his revenge. Other…

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The best adventure books with morally grey characters

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Book cover of The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

By Mandy Hager

Why this book?

The Crossing is the first book of a trilogy. Many Hager is billed as a young person's author but I just adored this story set in the south pacific on a tiny atoll. The scene is set with a young girl called Maryam who has been raised to believe that she and her blessed sisters are special. Soon they will cross the sea and serve a Lord and his apostles. But Maryam is wracked with doubt. As we read on, we can see she has good reason to be. She is being lined up as a human sacrifice. But she…

From the list:

The best books for lovers of French and Italian history with romance and mystery

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Book cover of Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

By Mark Sullivan

Why this book?

At the beginning of this book, Pino Lella is a typical teenage boy, obsessed with girls, even though the world is falling apart. Benito Mussolini has allied with Hitler and the world is embroiled in World War II. Still, Pino’s main question about himself is, will he ever be able to attract the girl of his dreams? I related to that (Been there, done that!). In this book, Pino is forced to grow out of that mindset. The Nazi’s take over in Italy, and he ends up smuggling Jews across the border to Switzerland, as well as acting as…

From the list:

The best adventure stories which also explore the self

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Book cover of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

By Lori Nelson Spielman

Why this book?

This book has everything: love, drama, lush descriptions of a foreign country (essential now, when travel is so limited), and family curses. Having a sister myself, I loved how authentic the relationship between Emilia and Lucy felt; stronger than iron yet as fragile as glass. The unraveling mystery behind the so-called “curse” was just icing on the cake. Love truly is what life is all about---just not in the ways we always assume.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books about sisters that *might* make you ugly cry

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Book cover of If I Never Met You

If I Never Met You

By Mhairi McFarlane

Why this book?

Mhairi McFarlane is a go-to author for me. I love her witty turn of phrase, and her characters and settings are always so real and relatable. Laurie is a great female protagonist, with a meaningful career and a loyal circle of friends, and I like that she’s shown to have a full, rounded life outside of her romantic relationships. There’s sparky dialogue, emotional depth, a very hot leading man, and fantastic chemistry between the two leads that fizzes off the page. 

From the list:

The best fake relationship romcom books

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Book cover of A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms

By Ernest Hemingway

Why this book?

A Farewell to Arms is a great read, even today. Dialogue is Hemingway’s strength and the story of two star-crossed lovers who experience an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and ends in tragedy puts the reader right in the middle of the war. Lt Fredric Henry is an American who enlists in the Italian army as a Red Cross ambulance driver before the US formally entered the war. Nurse Catharine Barkley is a British nurse he falls in love with. Published in 1928, this novel deals with taboo subjects for that time in history (such as unwed pregnancy) and desertion, so certain parts…
From the list:

The best military romance novels for learning about history

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Book cover of Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

By Martha Cooley

Why this book?

As I entered the strange new territory of grief and a solitary life after 37 years of an unconventional marriage, I found myself looking for solace from authors who could show me the way forward. Martha Cooley’s retreat to a small, medieval Italian village brought the first tentative smiles to my early months of grieving. My husband and I shared a love of Europe and stayed in our own medieval village in Tuscany just a few years before he died. Cooley used her retreat to deal consciously but gently with the many deaths she’d faced over a traumatic ten years,…

From the list:

The best books by women about grieving the loss of a quirky marriage partner

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Book cover of Raphael, Painter in Rome

Raphael, Painter in Rome

By Stephanie Storey

Why this book?

Stephanie Storey brings Renaissance giant Raphael to life in this gorgeous and impeccably researched novel. We see Raphael’s early career through his time in Rome as painter to popes, and watch as he navigates the potentially deadly politics inherent in being an artist to the powerful. The novel also gives us an up-close and personal look at Raphael’s rivalry with his contemporary, Michelangelo. Raphael’s antics will entertain even as his lifelong question for perfection in his work will resonate with artists of every stripe – I know it did with me!

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Italy

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Book cover of The Rossetti Letter

The Rossetti Letter

By Christi Phillips

Why this book?

The Rossetti Letter is absolutely my favorite book of all time. This dual-timeline novel tells the story of Alessandra Rossetti, a 17th-century Venetian courtesan who becomes embroiled in dangerous political intrigue. In the present, PhD candidate Claire Donovan is writing her dissertation on Alessandra and the letter she wrote to warn the leaders of the Venetian Republic about what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618, and tries to uncover the courtesan’s role in the plot. I’ve never read a book that better describes my favorite city, Venice, more perfectly, both past and present. I reread this book about…

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Italy

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Book cover of Transient Desires: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

Transient Desires: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

By Donna Leon

Why this book?

With this book, we get to visit Venice which might be my favorite Italian city. Ms. Leon has written a long-running series always set in Venice. It features an Italian detective (Commissario Guido Brunetti), his professorial wife, two children, an incompetent supervisor, and a secretary that is an IT geek. I like the series as I can feel myself walking down the streets of Venice Island over bridges, and in boats on the canals. The inspector goes home for lunch most days, something that you don’t find in America. She does a good job of describing a way…

From the list:

The best mysteries that let you explore the major cities of Italy

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Book cover of Napoleon: The Song Of Departure

Napoleon: The Song Of Departure

By Max Gallo, William Hobson

Why this book?

This is a fine work of fiction that forms but the first installment of a four-book masterpiece. Max Gallo was a herculean figure in French post-war life. In this volume, he tells the story of Napoleon’s life from his birth in Corsica to the moment in 1799 when he topples the ineffective Directory. I love this book because the author puts us inside Napoleon’s head. We think his thoughts and savour his words. He has put the flesh on the bones of history, conjuring a sympathetic tyro at times plagued by doubts but also willing to take daunting risks. This…

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The best books for getting inside Napoleon Bonaparte’s head

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Book cover of Playing the Part

Playing the Part

By Jen Turano

Why this book?

Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Turano's historical romances. Playing the Part is my favorite; it is about a 19th-century New York City actress who hides away at a friend's country estate. Every character is quirky and engaging. I laughed out loud, over and over, at the myriad of crazy situations they got themselves into.

From the list:

The best historical novels that are light and silly

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Book cover of Beside Still Waters: Words of Comfort for the Soul

Beside Still Waters: Words of Comfort for the Soul

By Charles H. Spurgeon

Why this book?

Over the past 15 years, I’ve walked through layers and layers of trials – including chronic illness in myself and all four of my children, special needs in one of our kids, a degenerative ankle that has led to six ankle surgeries, depression, and several seasons of financial struggle. During times when I haven’t had much capacity to read in large chunks, I have found Beside Still Waters to be a comfort and encouragement. Charles Spurgeon writes with profound insight and eloquence, but in a down-to-earth way.

From the list:

The best books on finding hope and comfort in difficult times

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Book cover of Leading Men

Leading Men

By Christopher Castellani

Why this book?

If there is something written by Tennessee Williams that I’ve not read, I’d be surprised. All I’ve known about his personal life is that he was gay, but what that meant to him, or how he expressed it, were mysteries to me until I read Leading Men, a fictionalized account of Tennessee Williams’s 30-year love affair with Frank Merlo. Set largely in Italy, it’s filled with dazzling characters and backstage intrigue. It’s also a heartbreaking novel about life in the shadows of greatness. A book that hasn’t left me since I read it and I’m sure to read it…

From the list:

The best contemporary gay novels set on the Mediterranean

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Book cover of Underground Religion: Cult and Culture in Prehistoric Italy

Underground Religion: Cult and Culture in Prehistoric Italy

By Ruth Whitehouse

Why this book?

This is a bit more of a technical archaeology book dealing with the archaeological interpretation of prehistoric cave use, but focusing on the Grotta di Porto Badisco and its Upper Paleolithic use by secret societies (in Whitehouse's interpretation). But it ranges far wider, looking at related finds from other areas and times in Upper Paleolithic Europe. Ruth Whitehouse places the use of this cave and others in their ritual and prehistoric contexts, but also examines their social, psychological, and even structuralist relationships. It is a unique and important publication from these perspectives and has been very influential in my own…

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The best books on prehistory and what life was like in the Stone Age

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Book cover of Next Ship Home: A Novel of Ellis Island

Next Ship Home: A Novel of Ellis Island

By Heather Webb

Why this book?

I personally enjoyed this book for the courage found by the Heroine in a world where women were considered 2nd class citizens, but she, through strength of character and love of a sister she loses due to illness and no monies to save her, gives her that impetus to forge ahead through unconventional, but effective ways and new friends of wealth in America. It could be called a Cinderella story with illegal immigrants as heroines.

A book of 1902, about a young woman who had been abused by her father to the point that a nun suggested she find refuge…

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The best novels to grab when needing excitement or the comfort of a caress

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