"Italy in Books" - January reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books" reading challenge 2011! What? You haven't joined yet? No worries, there is time to sign up until the very last day of the year...

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in January (via this link). I am sure that everyone will find it useful to learn about new and interesting reading ideas - in fact, I suspect that as a result of this challenge my TBR list will expand dangerously!

Whether you know the books that are being discussed or have never heard of them, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the blogs themselves. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not a mere competition, rather an opportunity to share ideas and bond over common interests!

And so, let's begin!

01. Mary Jo read and reviewed Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie.
02. Patricia read and reviewed Juliet by Anne Fortier.
03. Dorla read and reviewed The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
04. Jeane read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Scroll down to read her review.
05. Lisa read Due di due by Andrea de Carlo. Scroll down to read her review.
06. Juliet read and reviewed La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini.
07. Barbara read and reviewed Meet Me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler.
08. Pete read and reviewed Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence.
09. Parrish read and reviewed If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.
10. Lynn read and reviewed The Food of Love by Anthony Capella.
11. BJ read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Scroll down to read the review.
12. Kathy read and reviewed The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato.
13. Lara read Conta le stelle se puoi by Elena Loewenthal. Scroll down to read her review!
14. Gretchen read and reviewed Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc.
15. Lindy read and reviewed Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey.
16. Scribacchina read and reviewed Divorzio all'islamica a viale Marconi by Amara Lakhous.

Reviews by non bloggers:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
Il nome della rosa, written in 1980, was incredible.
The story starts in 1327 when Friar William of Baskerville arrives at a wealthy Northern Italian abbey. Umberto Eco describes in a wonderful, beautiful language the abbey, the suroundings and the lives of the monks. You can feel the sun shining while William and the novice Adso discover the Abbey and the first murder. Several other people die and in the middle of a shaken abbey there is laughter, a mysterious medieval library in the shape of a labyrinth which hides its treasures during night when most things seem to happen. All this is completed with a mix of heresy and Bacon.
William needs to find the murderer by asking questions to monks who are masters in silence, using logic and uncovering a library which is closed to everyone by orders of the abbot.
It feels like a classic which I finally read knowing absolutely nothing about the book before, but at the same time I can't believe the story was written in 1980. For many many years I wanted to read this book only because its writer is Italian and it is set in Italy. Love makes you crazy! Now exactly thirty years after being published I finally read it but it feels like a book published in 2010 and not 1980.
It was an amazingly strong story written in a beautiful language and through a very absorbing story. If all my books in 2011 will be as good as this one, then there are beautiful days coming! This evening it is time to watch the movie and if then my boyfriend keeps his promise, he will buy me the new Umberto Eco book!

Due di due by Andrea de Carlo. Read and reviewed by Lisa:
Due di due tells the story of a friendship that develops slowly. We are in Milan, in the mid-seventies, years dominated by revolutionary movements in many European countries; years marked by an increase in wealth and welfare, but also by a growing gap between social classes and increasing uneasiness and restlessness, especially among young people. Against the backdrop of student protests, demonstrations, school and university occupations the friendship between two very different boys develops and grows stronger. Different boys sharing the same need for freedom and for an escape from the hubbub of the modern world, rules and compulsory choices. Guido is charismatic, he attracts the attention of girls and the curiosity of those around him, he is the soul of meetings with his non-conformist and anarchist speeches and he has a special way to communicate – or to remain silent. Mario is fascinated by him; after meeting him, he begins to express his desires more clearly, he tries to hide his shyness, he becomes interested in politics and participates in meetings. Guido decides to leave high school and goes travelling around the world looking for places, things and people to make him happy – despite never finding them. Mario finishes high school with some apathy, uncertainty and difficulty in understanding what he wants to do with his life. While Guido is travelling in Europe, Australia and America, Mario finds his path. He decides to move to the Umbrian countryside, far from hostile, gray and loud Milan. Here he can relax, build a house, a family and do something he enjoys.
"I was thinking how much our lives have been different in these years, and also similar; two of two possible paths that originated from the same crossroad," Mario says.
Two paths, two choices, two adventures. An extraordinary and unforgettable friendship that is not destroyed by distance. On the contrary, it continues to grow despite the passing years and the different ways of living and feeling. Sometimes I think of how precious a friend can be: a comfort during hard times, someone who understands and supports you when nobody else does. A friend has something of you, something that resembles you, and can represent another side of you.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Read and reviewed by BJ:
This was actually a re-read. I read it about 10 years ago but never got around to reading the sequels. So having decided to read the sequels this year, I went back and re-read this one to start. I am attracted to books about people who buy homes in countries other than their own, particularly Italy and France, and tell the stories of restoration of those homes, the highs and lows of it, their travels about their adopted country, the foods they eat, the people they meet, so I really liked this book! I love words and Frances Mayes truly has a way with them. Her descriptions make you see, feel, taste what she is describing. I've never been to Italy, but through her words, I am transported there, seeing the colors and feeling the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. Like many Americans, I eat way too much fast food and junk food, but through her words, I taste the food, the wine, the olive oil and want to cook and eat more healthfully, using more fresh foods and simple preparation. Through her eyes, I have been to Bramasole and can't wait to go there again. If you've seen the movie but not read the book, the movie is really nothing like the book and the book is so much better. I am now looking forward to reading the other books following this one. I have no way of knowing if Italy is really the way she describes it, but she makes me want to go there.

Conta le stelle se puoi by Elena Roewenthal. Read and reviewed by Lara:
If only the darkest and most terrible moment in XX century history would have never happened. If only Shoah would have been a word without meaning. If only Jewish families would have never experienced deportations and death. If only towns and places would have never witnessed destruction provoked by war… Conta le stelle se puoi uses a high dose of imagination to tell about a future and hypothetical memory: what it might have been if. What if World History in XX century would have never passed through the nightmare of the 2nd World War? Everything would have been different, quieter, maybe more boring. Families, people, a gallery of portraits and memories would have survived. Towns as well would be different, proud about their history, without showing the need to delete something that is too terrible to keep alive in memory. The Jewish community who lived in Turin did not have the chance to live such a boring and quiet reality; the price paid, in terms of human lives, has been too high and today there is not much left to say. However, that is why the book is so interesting: Elena Loewenthal depicts what Turin might have been if the course of history would have been different. Turin and its inhabitants, lively people, great workers, attached to traditions: a little Jewish universe in a changing world, the beginning of a new industrial era, with the establishment of FIAT factory.The town is going to grow industrialized, rich, multicultural, and people who are skilled and know how to run their business can give their contribution to town prosperity. Moise Levi, the “grandfather”, a sort of patriarch, leaves his village at the age of 23, heading to Turin. He will not reach immediately the destination: he will get lost, wandering across Piemonte countryside for some years, necessary to make him a mature and wise man; as soon as he arrives in Turin he already knows how to run clothes business and is ready to become entrepreneur. Along the years, his family will grow and grow, like stars in the sky: daughters, sons, nephews, nieces, two wives…a constellation of lives and events. Browsing the pages of Conta le stelle se puoi makes a different effect if the reader knows Piemonte and its Jewish reality one century ago. The writer herself is well aware of this circumstance and, with this purpose in mind, helps the reader in drowning into the narration, making it possible to “recognize” a familiar environment. When the story starts, the ghetto in Turin has just been closed; the protagonists’ house is located in Via Maria Vittoria, close to the Mole Antonelliana, that is going to be completed and that, originally built to be a synagogue, will become a museum dedicated to cinema – a tribute to narration and imagination. The landscape is an element of the story: we appreciate the contrast between countryside of Piemonte, the protagonists’ birthplace, so quiet and peaceful, the warmest place in the coldest nights, mirror of a concrete and comforting society; on the other hand there is the town, wide, noisy, open to a process of continuous development. A book to read, this Elena Loewenthal’s novel: moreover, I would recommend it for the undeniable pleasure to discover a skilled author, by enjoying her elegant and accurate writing.

And remember, two January reviewers are in for a chance to win a copy each of a great debut novel! Buona fortuna!


  1. Beyond the pasta makes me be there right now... . I loooove the views, the panoramas, everything but god the food.... . Great choice!

  2. I have started my choice for January today.
    Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey and will have my review up by the end of the month.
    Beyond the Pasta is also on my list when I am able to obtain a copy.
    Juliet, I think I like the sound of this one from the review, but not sure.
    The English Patient - Security settings would not let me read this review, but never mind, already read and enjoyed this one!
    The Name of the Rose - As the reviewer discovered this is a great story already a modern classic.
    Back soon with my own link and review.

  3. Me again, sorry! Is it possible to see a full list of the January titles chosen sometime? Also where can I find a full list of participants in this challenge?

  4. Your book title sounds interesting! Just like you I would like to have a copy of Beyond the pasta, which is now on my list too. :-)
    I agree with your comment about the name of the rose, a modern classic which feels like it was just written in 2010!
    Hope you are enjoying your book!

  5. I, also, will be submitting my review soon. Meet Me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler! I am so excited to read all these reviews and to get more and more recommendations for books taking place in Italy!!!

  6. thoroughly enjoyed writing my impressions of Italo Calvino's - If on a winters night, and have just finished reading Umberto Eco's Serendipities, Language, & Lunacy.

  7. loved this book when i read it, in fact read many more Eco's because of it, the latest being- serendipities, language & lunacy.

  8. When are you going to update the list? I have seen a number of other bloggers have now posted their January reviews. I have now finished mine and will write review and post before the end of the month. I have sent you a message with details as instructed.

  9. Hello everybody! I was on holiday for the past ten days and had little chance to update the blog. Now that I'm back I'm catching up with all your messages and updating all the lists related to my reading challenges.

    As soon as I have more time I will comment on all your reviews. I'm loving the new titles coming up and looking forward to receiving more!

    Lindy, if you have a look at all the posts with the "Italy in Books reading challenge" label you will find all the lists that you need. The only list you won't find is that of the titles chosen by me as I am deciding what to read as I go along!

    Parrish, just a quick reminder that the books need to be set in Italy or be about the Italian language and culture to qualify for the challenge.

  10. I almost clicked on te review for The glasblower of Murano but didn't as I have it waiting to read and am so curious about how it will be. I haven't read Under the Tuscan sun but so twice or three times the movie and love it. If the book is nearly as good as the movie it will be treat to read!

  11. Jeane, you should be aware that Under the Tuscan Sun is very different from the movie, in some rather fundamental ways.

    The movie was a sort of "chick flick", but the book was a true-life story of Frances Mayes' restoration of her villa, Bramasole, with the help of her husband Edward. It's not a novel at all, but a sort of memoir built around the renovation.

  12. Dear Jeanne and LindyLouMac,
    Thanks for expressing an interest in my book "Beyond the Pasta."

    I know that LindyLouMac is in Italy and I am working with Amazon.UK to get the book "over the pond." Amazon.it is just starting out and, because they are small, they have already made their inventory purchases...which, at the moment, does not include my book. I am hoping that once I get Amazon.UK to carry it that Amazon.it will become a natural extension.

    If you are in the states, "Beyond the Pasta" is available through all kinds of online and select in-store locations. For that information, visit http://beyondthepasta.com.

    Currently I am reading "La Bella Lingua" by Dianne Hales and really enjoying it. When I am finished, I'll post a review on here. Thanks for taking an interest in my book - and, LindyLouMac, we'll figure out how to make copies available to the European market soon.

    Ciao e a presto~

  13. Oooooooh, even better! Thanks, Now I have this urge to read it and as I don't have it here it would mean buying it....... :-)

  14. Mark I will get in touch with you about your book. I have a copy of La Bella Lingua and reviewed it last year, love it:)

  15. Jeane and LindyLouMac...
    My book "Beyond the Pasta" is now available to order from Amazon.co.uk! I hope this helps you get a copy easier and at a more cost-effective price than shipping it from the states!

    A presto~


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