Posts Tagged ‘italy’

In 1525, Simonetta di Saronno is a young widow who has lost her husband Lorenzo to the Italian wars.  After his death, she discovers that Lorenzo has spent all their money, and she must find a way to make more if she wants to keep hold of her grand home.

Bernardino Luini is a highly talented apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, who is hired to decorate a church, and offers to pay Simonetta if she will be his model for the Madonna.  Although they initially feel hostility towards one another, they soon end up falling in love,  but their love brings disgrace upon them, as people feel that she has disrespected the memory of her husband.

In a further bid to save her home, Simonetta enlists the help of Manodorata, a Jewish money lender, who helps her to create a drink from the almond trees that grow on her estate.

Will Simonetta and Bernardino ever find happiness together, and will Simonetta manage to save her home?  And what effect can a mute, almost dead soldier have on Simonetta’s future?

I was not sure what to make of this book.  Initially I thought I was going to struggle with it, but I did start to enjoy it.  However, I never felt that the characters were particularly well drawn, and I was not able to connect on any level with them.  The story was interesting enough to hold my attention, but I did guess the twist very early on.

The most interesting and shocking part of the story was the ill-treatment of Jews by the Christians at the time.  Although this was something that I was aware of, it is portrayed very strongly in this book, and for me, this was far more effective than the romantic aspect.

I think most fans of historical fiction would probably enjoy this book, and although I wasn’t as captivated by it as I might have hoped, I would probably read more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I’m not sure whether this is a World War II movie with a romantic backdrop, or a romance with a World War II backdrop. Either way, it is thoroughly entertaining. William Holden is Joe ‘Pete’ Peterson, a Sergeant in the American Army, stationed in the Italian mountains. While on leave in Naples, he meets WAC Eleanor MacKay (Nancy Olson) and a romance develops. However, Joe still has obligations to the army, and it becomes doubtful whether he will return alive or not…

William Holden and Nancy Olson made four films together, including the brilliant Sunset Boulevard. They obviously had chemistry on-screen, and it comes into play here. Holden – an under-rated actor – is superb as Joe, combining bravery and heroics with vulnerability and hesitation, that makes for a fully rounded and believeable character. Holden was also one of the most beautiful actors around at the time that this was filmed (and before his looks were sadly ravaged by alcohol, although alcohol certainly never affected his talent for his craft). Nancy Olson also does a great job as Eleanor, somehow bringing both warmth and coolness to the role!

The romantic aspect – if slightly rushed (as often seems to be the case in films from this era) – is luscious and I did care for both characters. The war scenes are disturbing, as soldiers get picked off arbitrarily, and men see their friends dying all around them.

The blending of the two genres works well here. The film is very tender and sweet, with a perfect ending (which I won’t spoil). Definitely recommended – in fact, it has jumped straight into my top ten films of all time.

Year of release: 1951

Director: Michael Curtiz

Producer: Anthony Veiller

Writers: Orin Jannings, Richard Tregaskis

Main cast: William Holden, Nancy Olson

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It Started in Naples is a 1960 romantic comedy, starring Clark Gable (it was his penultimate film, and the last of his films to be released during his lifetime) and a young Sophia Loren. Gable is Mike Hamilton, a lawyer from Philadelphia who has come to Naples to settle the estate of his deceased brother, who deserted his family ten years earlier. Upon arriving in Naples, Mike is stunned to discover that his brother had an eight year old son, who is currently being brought up by an aunt named Lucia (Loren). Mike dissaproves of Lucia’s bohemian upbringing of the boy Nando and thinks the boy would be better off brought up in America. However, he soon begins to fall for the beauty of the country, and the charms of Lucia…

I really enjoyed this film. Gable is terrific as Mike – some reviewers have said that the age difference between him and Loren spoiled the film, but as far as I could see, he definitely still had that twinkle in his eye, and I thought there was definite chemistry between them (although they did not get on terribly well off-screen).

Sophia Loren was – well! Talk about va-va-voom! She looked absolutely stunning, and played the part of Lucia brilliantly. Although she was flirty and fun-loving, it was easy to see that she genuinely cared about Nando.

The little boy himself was utterly charming – it’s no wonder that Mike also grows to love him.

The setting of the film is perfect – it was filmed on location in Italy, and is mainly set on the Isle of Capri, which looked beautiful, and definitely made me want to visit there (I wonder if it is as breath-taking over 50 years later?).

Plenty of humour is to be found in this film; the scenes that Gable played for laughs worked very well indeed, and it is really a perfect film to kick back and relax with. Definitely recommended.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Melville Shavelson

Writers: Michael Pertwee, Jack Davies, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Melville Shavelson, Jack Rose

Main cast: Clark Gable, Sophia Loren, Marietto

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This is the second book in the Big Stone Gap series.  I really really liked it, just as I liked the first one. This book picks up 8 years after Big Stone Gap ended. Ave Maria and Jack Mac have been married for 8 years, and their daughter Etta (a delightful character) is growing up fast! However, it’s clear that the years between this book and the last one have brought tragedy and grief to Ave and Jack, which has had an effect on their marriage. Ave finds herself growing nervous when a predatorial woman comes to town, with her sights set firmly on Jack, and it isn’t long before rumours are flying around the small town of Big Stone Gap, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Etta struggles to decide what she wants out of life and marriage, and ends up going to Italy for the summer to see her Italian family. However, events in Italy take an unforeseen turn…

As before, the book is populated with eccentric and lovable characters. However, I think less time is focused on the supporting characters than in the first book of the series. This book does not suffer for that – Ave is a flawed but very likable character, and it is difficult not to root for her.  Jack and Eva are also entirely believable, and even at this stage of the series, the characters start to feel like old friends.

A lovely read – ideal for curling up with on a cosy Sunday afternoon!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a very good read, although I wouldn’t say it was fantastic.  It is set in 1958, when Adam Strickland, a talented Cambridge student is sent to the mysterious ‘Villa Docci’ in Italy, to do a thesis on the 400 year old memorial garden attached to the villa.

As Adam starts to unravel the story told in the memorial garden, he realises that he is investigating a 400 year old murder.  He also finds himself trying to solve a more recent murder – that of the Docci family’s eldest son Emilio, who was killed 14 years earlier.

Adam finds himself getting drawn further and further in by his fascination with the garden and the Docci family – this leads him into a web of deceit and intrigue, where nothing and nobody is quite what they seem.

I did enjoy this book a lot, although I felt that some parts of it were very improbable; however, if this does not bother you, then I would definitely recommend this.  The characters weren’t explored in any great depth, but this didn’t really matter, as the book is more plot-driven than character driven.

A lighter and easier read than I expected – also made me interested in reading Dante, at some stage in the future, as Adam takes much of his inspiration from The Divine Comedy.

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