Book giveaway! to celebrate my trip to Italy next month

royalty-free-photo-antique-book-pile-375x500A while back I reviewed Chris Harrison’s  memoir Head over Heel–you can read the review here

I’m making another visit to Italy next month, and to celebrate, I’m giving away my copy of Head over Heel to some lucky blog reader. To enter, please comment, either here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. Tell me where in southern Italy is your favorite place–or the place you dream of going.

Please share the giveaway info with your friends, and good luck!

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Book Review: The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento by Mary Jane Cryan

cryan bookIn 2011, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy–the Risorgimento–author Mary Jane Cryan  produced a book about the Irish and English who participated in the process.

Yes, this is one of those niche interest books–and perhaps a very small niche. Only 200 copies of the book were produced, and they can be ordered from the author. But the book is ideal for uncovering the fine detail desired by, for example, a historical novelist or writer of narrative history.

Perhaps you, like me, were unaware that any Irish or English participated in the unification effort in Italy. The Irish mostly joined forces behind the Roman Catholic church and the pope, whose control of central Italy was threatened, though a few supported Garibaldi. For the English, who for more than a decade had hosted a number of well-known Italian exiles, Garibaldi was a hero.

Cryan describes the experiences of both groups, as documented in personal and official correspondence, news reports and editorials, and other contemporary sources. In addition to key players, Cryan includes the experiences of a wide variety of people who participated in various ways–soldiers, journalists, wives, fund-raisers. The views of these participants, mostly outsiders but actively involved, add color and interest to the book.

Did I say color? There are great color illustrations too!

Cryan’s sources include material brought to light in recent years, and the book has end-notes, appendices, and bibliography.

Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane Cryan has lived in Italy since 1965. From “About the Author”, Cryan “has been an international educator, journalist, and guidebook writer. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her contributions to historical research and cultural promotion…” Study of the Risorgimento is not new to her; it was the subject of her own doctoral thesis in 1985.

The book is for sale through Cryan’s website, Elegant Etruria, which includes articles on travel, history, and antiquing. She also offers services in travel consultancy and excursions.

Book Week: The Pope Who Quit by Jon M. Sweeney

PopeWhoQuitThose of you who know my interests in history won’t be surprised at all that I was eager to read a book about Pope Celestine V, elected in 1294. And with the recent resignation of Pope Benedict, Celestine’s abdication has been mentioned in news stories, editorials, and blogs around the world.

From the time I first heard of this book, a year or more before its 2012 publication, I felt an affinity with Sweeney. I spent years researching the events surrounding Celestine’s election and resignation, as I’m sure Sweeney did. And considering the wide-ranging sources and research on the subject, it’s not too surprising that we came to slightly different conclusions about some of the characters involved.

The book is essentially a biography of Peter of Morrone, who took the name Celestine as pope. Thorough, well-written, and not too densely academic, I enjoyed reading it very much–burning my Nook late into a few nights to finish it. Little is known about Celestine’s early life, and even up to middle age he was a man of obscurity, seeking a life of isolation. Sweeney presents this unusual life in a well-0rganized yet lively way.

My disappointments came with his presentation of corollary characters: namely, the succeeding pope, Boniface VIII, and the King most directly involved with Celestine, King Charles II of Naples. I admit, I have a bias against Boniface. (I am certainly not alone in this.)

My fists went up in the prologue when Sweeney describes Boniface (Cardinal Benedict Gaetani, prior to becoming pope) as Celestine’s “trusted adviser”. I suppose, technically, this is true. Celestine trusted his advice on various things, and depended on his help in carrying out his desire to resign. But in light of the subsequent betrayal–imprisoning Celestine for the rest of his life–the term “trusted adviser” stuck in my craw.

Then there is the negative portrayal of the king of Naples, Charles II. Here is a weak king, and a man at the mercy of the papacy. An earlier pope had established Charles’ father as “King of Naples” in exchange for fighting some of the papacy’s worldly battles, and his kingdom (which initially included the island of Sicily) was subject to the pope as overlord. Charles II himself spent years as a prisoner of war in those battles. While Sweeney presents Charles as manipulating Celestine, he omits entirely the fact that Charles’s three sons, including his heir, were prisoners in Aragon for the previous five years. Only the pope could confirm a treaty to free them, and by the time Celestine was elected, there had been a vacancy for more than two years in the papacy. The previous pope flatly refused to approve the treaty that both kings involved had agreed to. I view Charles as a man desperate to free his sons, and doing all he can to gain influence with the one man who can help him.

Yes, I know. I’ve slipped from book review to historical rant. As you can see, what happened in history is far from settled, even though the events are long past. The true motivations of those involved are rarely known with certainty, and always subject to nuances of interpretation.

The end notes are thorough and interesting, mentioning numerous of Sweeney’s sources. There is no bibliography or index, but that’s not unusual in a book presented for public rather than scholarly interest. I most appreciate Sweeney bringing Celestine into the public view, more than he has been in a while. And I suppose I should thank the former Pope, Benedict, for his recent resignation which revived the interest in Celestine even more.

The Pope Who Quit is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the thirteenth century, church history, or the medieval Kingdom of Sicily/Kingdom of Naples.

Book Review: The Generosity of Strangers

Thomas Antonaccio heard stories all his life about his mother’s childhood experiences in the village of Fornelli in central Italy. A few weeks ago, he published “The Generosity of Strangers: When War came to Fornelli” which retells many of those stories in the first person, through the voice of Lucia, the little girl who lived them.

Lucia is introduced as a young child with a fascination for the simple life in her rural village. She loved catching butterflies, and loved to hear her father play the concertina and sing. When World War II breaks out, taking many people away from the village and bringing others in, life changes dramatically. Lucia’s story let’s us see the historical events from a new perspective.

The storytelling is simple and suits the character of Lucia. The book is described as a children’s non-fiction history book. It would be a good way to introduce children to significant events of 20th century history in Italy. It is a fairly quick read, available on Amazon for Kindle.

Book Review: Strega Nona’s Gift

The most recent in Tomie dePaola’s long series of Strega Nona books, Strega Nona’s Gift (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2011) describes the many festivals connected to Christmas celebration in Italy. In her Calabrian village, Strega Nona cooks her way through the season, cheering up the townspeople when they need it with her own happy magic. Big Anthony wants to help, but can’t seem to stay out of trouble. By the end of the celebration, though, he sets thing right.

This beautiful picture book is a great way to share Italian Christmas traditions with young children. The colorful and varied illustrations are in classic dePaola style, as charming to adults as to children.

Tomie dePaola has written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books during a career of more than 40 years. He is likely the best known Italian-American writer for children, and in 2011 was honored with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contribution to children’s literature. Strega Nona: An Old Tale Retold, published in 1975, won the Caldecott Award in 1976, and several other Strega Nona books round out the story of the old lady who uses her magic to take away warts, give people good dreams, and many other kindnesses.

So early bird Christmas shoppers, this is your heads-up. If you know young children you want to share Italian traditions with, this book may be the perfect opportunity.

Book Review: Stumbling Through Italy

Niall Allsop and his wife Kay of Bath, England, began vacationing in Italy after making friends with Vittorio and Ivano Capetti, owners of an Italian restaurant in Bath. Their initial forays took them to Tuscany, but they came to their senses soon enough, and began to explore the Italian south.

I like the way these people travel: Not rushing from monument to museum, but making friends, meeting people. Many of these people happen to own or work in restaurants, because like most of us headed for Italy, they love the food. But their secret to successful travel in Italy is not just making friends with the waiters. It is also adapting to the rhythm of Italian life–which means taking the early afternoon ‘siesta’ along with the rest of the country. It’s learning to speak a bit of the language, at least. It’s driving like an Italian when driving in Italy.

I enjoyed wandering through Sicily, Sardinia, Naples, Apulia, and Calabria with them, and previewing some travel experiences I’d like to have myself. They found the trulli houses of Alberobello trulli disappointing, and delighted in the performance of Euripides’ play Ecuba in the classical Greek theatre in Siracusa. They discovered, from one of their hosts, a recipe for orange-coffee liquor, which they kindly included in the book. They were willing to be sidetracked from the usual travel highlights by people and places not found in the tourist guidebooks.

Especially helpful–a chapter on Italian language tips for the novice, and a chapter on driving in Italy for the brave, though some might say foolhardy.

Niall Allsop’s writing is more serviceable than brilliant, but he leads us on an enjoyable stroll, a passeggiata through southern Italy, which you might enjoy, as I did.

Book Review? It’s your turn!

The fourth Friday each month is when I usually post a book review of something related to southern Italy. But this week, it’s your turn!

What has been your favorite book dealing with or set in southern Italy? Please share in the comments section. Any genre is welcome–fact or fiction, memoir, children’s books, poetry…. do tell!

I’d love your recommendations for books I might review. And after you’ve shared, enjoy the summer weekend with a good book.