Writers have been busy in recent months, especially the literati yearning for Florence or all those shuttered in medieval palazzos during the darkest days of these pandemic times. This autumn, indulge in one of these many Florence-inspired reads on your flight back to Peretola or ensconced in your armchair. It’s time to welcome back the bookish season with these new Tuscany-centric reads.
Angels of Mud (Harbour Books) jumps through time between the interwoven stories of mother and daughter. Readers are immediately transported to Clerkenwell soon after the end of World War II, where they learn Mary’s story about her marriage and the upbringing of her daughter, Cara. Through this narrative, author Vanessa Nicolson, daughter of an Italian mother and British father, paints a vivid picture of women’s lives in one of London’s Italian communities. Cara’s story begins in 1966 when she accepts a job in Florence and witnesses the catastrophic Arno flood, which killed over 100 people and destroyed millions of artworks and rare books. It is a pivotal event in Cara’s life and she becomes one of the volunteers, a Mud Angel, helping to recover the damaged artefacts. Great personal turmoil takes place in times of national disaster, and Cara is faced with important questions about who she is and who she wants to be. This tale, with its twists of thwarted love and concealed sexuality, offers fresh insight into the daily lives of Fiorentini at a key time in the history of the city, while also providing a vivid picture of life in post-war Clerkenwell. Vanessa Nicolson captures raw emotion and the complex nature of mother and daughter relationships and how easily and unwittingly a daughter can find herself following in her mother’s footsteps. She writes with an acute historical sensitivity about the two cities, both of which she knows well.
Dark Dante (Troubador) unfolds in Florence in the spring of 2000, exactly 700 years after Dante Alighieri set his Inferno there. In this engaging mystery thriller by Milan-based teacher and playwright Maggie Rose, a string of murders is committed in quick succession. Seeing that the Italian police are making little headway finding the culprit, Maria, the niece of the first victim, Peter Farrell, decides to investigate. A family feud meant that she never met Peter, an art history specialist who lived in Florence most of his life. A theatre director from Manchester, Maria shrewdly exploits her professional skills and knowledge of Shakespeare’s theatre in her attempt to solve the murders. Caught in a web of mystery and grappling to understand the mindset of the Italians she encounters, this unusual detective follows the Dante trail, in the conviction that somebody obsessed by Dante in Florence may have decided to mete out the punishments described in the Inferno centuries before. A blossoming friendship with one of the detectives on the murder case leads Maria to reconsider her priorities in life. About to leave for England, she resolves to return to Florence soon to see her new friend and hopefully discover more about the enigmatic figure of ‘Dark Dante’.
Canadian author Lisa Rochon’s debut novel Tuscan Daughter (HarperCollins) is a tale of beauty and inspiration about a young and defiant female artist searching for her mother. Sixteenth-century Florence glitters with wealth and artistic genius, but it is also a place of fierce political intrigue. In this moment, a peasant girl finds herself alone after her father is killed and her mother disappears. Young Beatrice must dare to enter the city to sell her family’s olive oil in order to survive, but also to search the streets and opium dens for her missing, grieving mother. Walking barefoot from her outlying village, Beatrice is given grudging permission to pass through the city gates to sell olive oil to the artists who toil to elevate the status of the Florentine Republic. While desperately searching the city for her mother, Beatrice befriends the upstart Michelangelo as he struggles to sculpt the David. She also comes to know a cloth merchant’s wife, who is having her portrait painted by the aging Leonardo da Vinci. Set during five epic years in the early 1500s when Florence was rebranding itself through its creative geniuses, Tuscan Daughter reveals the humanity and struggles of a young woman longing to find the only family she has left and be an artist in her own right, and the way she influences the artistic masters of the time to stake everything on the power of beauty to transform and heal. The book is about to be published as La moglie del mercante di stoffe (Compton & Newton) in Mondadori throughout Italy.
Nestled in the rugged terrain of Mount Amiata, Castello di Potentino was a skeleton with great bones when Charlotte Horton and her British family discovered the abandoned castle 22 years ago. Following the challenging process of purchasing it from 22 different owners, they set to work renovating the 11th-century structure with its collapsed roofs and no running water or electricity. A Tuscan Adventure, Castello di Potentino: The Restoration of a Castle (Rizzoli) is the enthralling account of revitalizing the castle into a thriving vineyard, bed and breakfast, and vibrant arts center. With evocative photographs by the late British fashion photographer Michael Woolley and Horton’s engaging text and anecdotal stories, the book offers readers an intimate portrait of the renovation and life at Potentino. From a vaulted entrance hall to a starry ceiling mural, the interiors delight,and a chapter dedicated to the land— complete with a vineyard and olive groves—displays the estate’s ethos of self-sufficiency. Lovers of Italian architecture and the Tuscan lifestyle and anyone dreaming of restoring a place in Italy are bound to enjoy this publication.
Former Sky News weather presenter Hazel Murray’s Covid Chronicles. Lockdown Tails in Tuscany is a diary of almost three months spent “cocooning” with her dogs and cats near Cortona. Forthright and free- minded, Murray’s account consists of thoughts about the health emergency in her native England and to-do list items around her Tuscan home. Imagine Bridget Jones’s Diary crossed with James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, laced with a generous taste of Tuscany, and always with a view on the virus worldwide. The slim, 110-page, self-published edition is peppered with photos from the lockdown journal and all proceeds go to Canile di Ossaia, a local stray dogs’ home where Murray volunteers. Under The Tuscan Sun author and fellow Cortona dweller Frances Mayes is a fan: Brava, Hazel, and all the great volunteers who so generously and lovingly support the rescue home for dogs. This mission is truly important and deserving of support. Murray describes her lockdown DIY disasters, both flooding and then almost setting fire to her kitchen, and cogitates on subjects as diverse as snails, mice and bumblebees, finding wonder in nature in all its guises. She talks about the ups, and occasional downs, of working at the kennels; and most importantly, the joy of living with and observing her animals during those strange days.
The Little Lark Still Sings: A True Story of Love, Change & an Old Tuscan Farmhouse (Morgan James Publishing) by American author Victoria Smith is a true story of a quest for Italy’s sweet life gone awry, then becoming better than the dream. When Victoria and Larry, happily married for two decades, move to their favorite hilltown in Tuscany, what was a romantic adventure becomes an unexpected drama of perseverance and change. New Italian adventures unfold every day: beauty, art, architecture, food and history. But so do unexpected challenges of managing daily life in a foreign culture, surviving the chaos of construction, navigating narrow roads, longing for friends, stumbling with language, obeying rules they don’t understand or agree with, all struggles that undermine Victoria’s confidence which, in turn, wear Larry’s patience thin. Though they share a dream, they discover their personal goals are different. From the joys and near disasters of renovating an ancient stone farmhouse to celebrating their first Italian dinner party, Victoria learns about Italy, herself and their marriage. In The Little Lark Still Sings, she shares their humorous and character-stretching experiences with insight and wisdom, offering lessons that enchant, encourage and uplift. Proceeds from the book go to financing the restoration of Luca Signorelli’s Tondo, in the MAEC-Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona.
Told from the perspective of American journalists, Tied by a Florentine Knot: The American Press on Giorgio La Pira (New City Press, Fondazione La Pira) analyzes the coverage of pious Florentine mayor Giorgio La Pira as he transformed into an international diplomat and peace feeler during the Cold War and Vietnam War era. La Pira’s message reached the farthest corners of America, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, breathing new life into his legacy of hope, charity and love. From his tireless work in resolving labor disputes to advocating against communism and fascism, plus winning the office of mayor in one of the world’s most famous cities, Giorgio La Pira was portrayed as a colorful character by the American press from the beginning. A defender of the poor and champion of just social causes, La Pira, through his transcontinental journey, attempted to tie a knot that would bind all of humanity. Father and daughter Ryan and Molly McAnany teamed up to pen this insightful testament to one of Florence’s most memorable leaders.
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