If You Can't Go There, At Least You Can Read About It: Books on Italy

I have decided to begin a new series of 'thematic' posts on my blog (as if I didn't have enough already). Currently I have my main "Travel Bucket List" articles, my "Backyard Bucket List" posts about traveling around my home province of Alberta, and my "Foodie Bucket List", which currently consists of one post about eating haggis in Scotland. (I need to write about food more, but it makes me hungry and then I get distracted - hence why only one of those posts has been published...)

My new series will be entitled "If You Can't Go There, At Least You Can Read About It", and in it I will share some of my favorite travel-themed novels. I am an English teacher after all - I need to pass on some of my day-job wisdom to you!

This post is based on some of my favorite stories with a distinct Italian flavor - Italy is one of my favorite all-time destinations, so of course, I own a ton of books on the topic. I will present to you my top 5, and hopefully one of them will call to you! They are mainly fictional stories: they hold vibrant and visual descriptions that will engage all of your senses much more effectively than traditional travel books. Enjoy!

#5: A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein

A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein

A book with an interesting blend of characters, philosophies, and even recipes, "A Time of Angels" was a hit for me. It had a strange look on the Christian faith, but if you can overlook or even embrace that, you will love the plot twists and turns. Basically, it is a love story at heart - two best friends fall for the same woman. Primo marries his friend Pasquale's ex-girlfriend, Beatrice, who eventually goes back to her first love. Primo is devastated, and tries to come up with a fitting revenge that involves invoking the Devil (accidentally, but as it turns out, fortuitously for the readers as he is one engaging character). Chaos inevitably ensues.

I selected this book for its wonderful spin on Italian culture. Pasquale is the owner of a delicatessen and is basically a butcher. His segments in the book come with rich and colorful descriptions of the foods in his shops, and other traditional Italian dishes. He is also a Holocaust survivor, which brings to the novel some depth and history. I learned a few great Italian phrases from this book as well - there is an entire glossary in the back to help you memorize your favorite expressions.

Buy it here! (Amazon affiliate link): 

#4: The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

Whatever you wanted to know about the history of Venice, you can glean from Marina Fiorato's novel on the city, which is set in 1681 at the height of the Republic. Venetian glass is famed throughout the world and valued more than gold, and the glassblowers responsible for making it coveted immensely. They are virtually held captive on the small island tucked inside Venice's lagoon.

The story follows a headstrong Corradino Manin from the 1600s, and his descendant, Leonora Manin from present-day. As Leonora strives to learn more about her ancestry, she discovers some of Corradino's dark entanglements with ancient royalties - entanglements that could still affect her today.

I loved this story for the amazing descriptions of Venice - even Leonora's dinky rental apartment held glamor for me. As she scoured the city looking for clues about Corradino's life, I longed to be there beside her. I wasn't quite as taken with the descriptions of the 17th century city, but all-in-all it was still an amazing read.

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#3: Ardor by Lily Prior

Ardor by Lily Prior

This book is sheer madness, but I couldn't put it down. It is a love story, a "novel of enchantment", and a total riot, all tucked into a beautiful Italian countryside setting full of rolling hills and olive groves.

Let's see - how shall I begin to describe to you the fun that is "Ardor"? For starters, there is magic fruit that causes the consumer to fall in love with the first person he or she lays eyes on, a donkey smitten with his own owner (guess how that happened), a talking baby angel, and a murderous butcher with a cleaver. All of this is written with that Italian gusto that we know and love. It is also narrated from the donkey's point of view, which seems odd, but luckily the donkey is quite witty.

This is an easy read, charming, and whimsical. Don't expect to learn much about life - just enjoy the fanciful ride!

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#2: The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

Yup, I know it is not 'proper' to choose the same author in a top 5 book list, but I simply could not stop myself. Ms. Fiorato nailed it for me in this book. I love Italy. I love beautiful descriptions of fascinating places. I love mysteries. I love romances. And I REALLY love Sandro Botticelli - so this book had it all for me.

I won't even presume to think that I can outline the entire complicated plot of this novel for you in one paragraph. This book had too many twists and turns, and I would hate to give any of it away for you, because I just know you are going to head straight to the library after reading this and check "The Botticelli Secret" out. I will give you the movie trailer version: a "Da Vinci Code"-esque mystery involving a stolen painting by Sandro Botticelli, a prostitute redeemed, a church in upheaval, and a medieval forbidden love story - what more could you ask for? Top it off with a sassy and fun main heroine (who just happens to be the aforementioned 'lady of the night') and you've got yourself a total page turner! Highly, highly recommended!

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#1: A Vineyard in Tuscany by Ferenc Mate

A Vineyard in Tuscany by Ferenc Mate

This is the only book on my list that is not a work of fiction. It is a memoir written by an expat-New Yorker who is living my dream. He and his wife moved to Italy, purchased an abandoned thirteenth-century friary, and transformed 70 acres of woods and fields into a successful vineyard, all with no problems or hiccups along the way.

Just kidding. There were loads of problems, but Ferenc and his wife Candace slogged through all of them, often with hilarious or heart-warming results. Think "Under the Tuscan Sun" but less girlie.  With the help of many new Italian friends, the couple manages to restore the ancient friary into a beautiful home, and get the Mate vineyard up and running into a successful business.

I loved this book so much that I spent at least three months after reading it scouring Italian real estate web pages, determined to purchase an old castle or monastery and make it my own. I am serious. My husband was considering putting a hold on my bank account, just in case I started buying properties. My Facebook page was full of pictures of old, decrepit, tumble-down buildings and the captions "This is the one" or "The price is just right!". That's what this book does to you.

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So there. Those are my Italian-themed picks. Let me know what you think - have you read any of them?  Do you have suggestions for me? Do you like this book-themed travel series? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I think a book themed travel series sounds great! I'll definitely give those books a try.

    1. Awesome - if you liked it, then I will certainly do a few more posts on this theme. If you lived any closer, I'd simply lend the books to you! ;) Hope you can find them in your local library!

  2. Also add in Halfway to each other: A book about a family from California that moved to Nervi, Italy and how it changed their lives http://www.susanpohlman.com/content/images/pdf/about-susan-pohlman.pdf

    1. Sounds right up my alley! I will order it from the library ASAP! Thanks for the awesome suggestion! :)