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HaBO: Italy! Ciao, tutti!

Bitchery reader Elizabeth writes:

I’m a literature major about to graduate.  In my third year of college I A) discovered your website, and B) discovered I loved Italian history.  I wanted to go to Italy after I got out of school, but with the economy gone to crap I don’t think I’ll be going for a while, so I was hoping the Bitchery could help me visit the country vicariously with some historical romance set in my favorite boot-shaped country—or to be more precise, a book that’s set in one of the many regions of Italy before unification. 

I only managed to find one historical set in Italy (it was in Florence, I don’t remember the title) but it was disappointing, and everything else on the shelf was set in England or Scotland with a couple of France thrown in.  Searching Amazon was daunting since I’m so new the the genre and don’t know how to pick the good stuff from the bad without the book right in front of me.  I’m hoping for something well written and well researched.  I don’t have a specific era in mind (just not modern) so any recommendations would be great!



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  1. 1
    SarahT says:

    Loretta Chase’s new book, Your Scandalous Ways, is supposedly set in Venice.  I haven’t read it yet but it’s supposed to be really good.

    Lydia Joyce’s Music of the Night is also set in Venice.

    The Savage Garden by Mark Mills is more of a literary mystery than a romance, but it’s definitely worth checking out.  It’s set in Tuscany in 1958.

  2. 2
    Julianna says:

    Wings of the Falcon by Elizabeth Peters is great – set in Italy in the 1880s, during unification.  It’s suspense/romance, really; give it a try!

  3. 3

    It’s supernatural rather than straight-up historical, but Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Spirit Ring is set in Renaissance Italy.

  4. 4
    jmc says:

    Is WWII too modern?  The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella is a lovely novel, set in Naples.

  5. 5

    Amanda McCabe’s A Notorious Woman is a Renaissance Venice-set book that is very, very good.

  6. 6
    BevQB says:

    Elizabeth Amber has a trilogy of historical erotic paranormals set mostly in Tuscany. This Kensington Aphrodesia series is about three Satyr brothers, Nicholas, Raine (not for the faint-hearted), and Lyon, who guard the gates between the human and fey worlds while locating and marrying the three half-human daughters of the king of the fey.

    The major appeal, to me, of this series is that I haven’t met these characters or read this story a thousand times before. I like it a lot.

  7. 7

    Here’s another vote for The Wedding Officer.  I adored that book. Madeline Hunter’s excellent Lessons of Desire is a historical (Regency era) mostly set in Italy.

  8. 8

    Try Lord of Night by Susan Wiggs.  An excellent historical set in Italy.

  9. 9
    MaryKate says:

    I’ll second the Lydia Joyce recommendation, and also Colleen Gleason’s Gardella Chronicles are set in Italy in books 2 & 3.

  10. 10

    I adore Susan Wiggs’ historicals, and I’m not really into historicals.  I’m going to have to try that one out. I found it on Amazon:

    But you have to buy it from private sellers, Amazon doesn’t have it. Her writing is so fabulous, it’s worth reading anything of hers. The two reviews give you a feel for the book and are raves.

  11. 11
    Rachel says:

    Michelle Jaffe had two historical romances set in Renaissance-era Venice, The Stargazer and The Water Nymph. Both were pretty enjoyable! Plus she has a Ph.D from Harvard, so the historical accuracy was really impressive.

  12. 12
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I adore Wiggs’ Lord of Night, so I second that. Up with Unusual Historicals! Now back to my Venetian pirate WIP…

  13. 13
    Robinjn says:

    Okay, I’m going to go HABO. I read a book I loved years ago, probably in the 1980s. I thought it was actually by Alexandria Ripley, but now I can’t find it. It was set in Florence and was about Lorenzo de Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent. It was told through the eyes of the woman who becomes his lover. I can’t remember if she was originally a serf or what. But it captures the time and place beautifully. I know that it talks about him having terrible arthritis. I know it also delves into the artists of that era, especially Botticelli.

    It’s a historical romance novel, sort of in the style of Sharon Kay Penman, but not her either. Darn it, I wish I could remember it, I read it several times.

    death36??? Wow. I’m way beyond that.

  14. 14
    Suze says:

    Laura Kinsale‘s For My Lady’s Heart (set in mostly England, but with very Machiavellian-ish goings-on) and especially its sequel Shadow Heart, which is set mostly in Italy.

    I don’t have enough caffeine in me yet to seduce you into the delights of the Kinsale universe, but seriously, read these books.

    Heh. Spamword: europe58

  15. 15

    I’m not normally an Anne Rice fan, but Cry to Heaven was a good book (about a castrati and not very romance-like, but good historical fiction).

    If you want classic romantic comedy (which is only partially set in Italy) A Room with a View is lovely.

  16. 16
    Lara says:

    The Palace by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is historical fantasy with a shot of romance—a vampire living in Italy during the time of the deMedicis and that nutty priest Savonarola. I’m not fond of how Yarbro tends to demonize Christian characters, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless. Last I saw, it was in print and available at libraries.

  17. 17
    Angela says:

    I was about the recommend that book, Robin!

  18. 18
    Robinjn says:

    And a series that’s not Romance but fabulous all the same—The Lindsey Davis historical mysteries set in ancient Rome. Marcus Didius Falco is the protagonist. Full of meticulously detailed facts delivered with humor and richness, I recommend these to anybody, on any level. They bring Rome and the ancient Italians to life.

  19. 19
    Adah says:

    Gaelen Foley’s Ascension series is set in a fictional Italian kingdom, called Ascension, off the Southern Italy coast. They’re pretty good books, I’d say B material. The first one, The Pirate Prince, is the best one.

  20. 20
    Amanda says:

    Isn’t Loretta Chase’s Captives of the Night set partly in Italy?

    I also recommend the Michelle Jaffe books. I really enjoyed that series, including the two other books Lady Killer and Secret Admirer.

  21. 21
    Wendy says:

    How about paranormal historicals?  Susan Squires’ two most recent books, One With The Shadows and One With The Darkness both take place in Italy…..

  22. 22
    Mala says:

    The Wind Dancer, by Iris Johansen takes place in 16th century Italy. I own that one and its sequels, which I don’t think take place in Italy at all.

  23. 23

    I definitely second Johansen’s “Wind Dancer” and Jaffe’s “Stargazer”.  The Alexandra Ripley is called “The Time Returns”, and is definitely worth hunting up—Lorenzo de’ Medici is the hero and various key Renaissance figures put in cameo appearances.  Rosalind Laker’s “The Venetian Mask” is also fun, and I think it’s been reissued recently.  I’d also recommend Laurel Corona’s “The Four Seasons”, set in Venice in the early eighteenth century.

  24. 24
    Cat Marsters says:

    Robinjn, I was going to mention that Alexandra Ripley book, too.  I found it on Amazon: The Time Returns.  It’s kind of in the family saga mould, but fascinating in its detail.

    How about ancient Italian history?  There are probably some Roman-set romances…didn’t Harlequin have a couple recently?

  25. 25
    Kate Hewitt says:

    The Borgia Bride is a good historical with romantic elements, although I wouldn’t classify it as a romance per se.

  26. 26

    p.s. this is modern, rather than historical, but Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ “Breathing Room” always makes me want to run away and move to Tuscany.  It might make a nice counterpoint to all the Renaissance-set stories.  : )

  27. 27
    fiveandfour says:

    spinsterwitch, I thought of Where Angels Fear to Tread (also by EM Forster) instead of A Room with a View and didn’t even realize it until I saw your comment.  I don’t know why that would be since Room was made into one of my favorite movies, ever. 

    I quite enjoyed The Birth of Venus; it’s set in historical Italy.  It’s not really a romance, though a love story is a feature of the book.  Sarah Dunant really brings the historical period alive and makes it interesting, which counts for a lot for me.

    [And to close out this random comment, a part of Captives of the Night is set in Italy, but it’s a pretty small part.  I’d recommend the book, just not on the strength of the Italy connection since the greater part of the story takes place in England.  If that was the only reason a person picked it up, they might be disappointed.]

  28. 28
    Mala says:

    fiveandfourCaptives of the Night almost put me off Loretta Chase for life. Thank goodness I read Lord of Scoundrels and cleansed my brain.

  29. 29
    Melissandre says:

    I would recommend the Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman, starting with Stravaganza: City of Masks.  This is YA and fantasy series, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The plot features British students who can travel to a parallel world based on Renaissance Italy.  There’s lots of Machiavellian intrigue, as well as an amazing amount of detail about Italian culture (I learned more about Venice from reading this book than any book set in the real city).

    If you enjoy fantasy, you might also like Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey.  It takes place in Venice, but in an alternate reality (in this world, the Great Library did not burn and magic and demons exist).  There are a lot of characters and side plots to keep track of, but there is also a lot of Venetian color to the story.

    Finally, I would agree with everyone who has recommended Michelle Jaffe, Loretta Chase, and Laura Kinsale.

  30. 30
    Tibbles says:

    You might want to try Gayle Feyrer’s Prince of Cups if you can find it.  It is set during the Savonarola, Machiavelli, and Borgia (15th Century) time in (I believe ) Florence.  You can usually find used copies of it on Amazon.

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