The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

my realBook – Patricia Cowen is confused. “Very confused,” it says on her medical chart most days. She forgets things. But she remembers things, too. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Now” and getting married and having his four children. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Never” and traveling in Florence and raising three children with Bee. She isn’t sure which one of them is right, or if both of them are, but she’s sure it means something.

My Real Children is one of those novels that could only be written by Jo Walton. It’s science fiction insofar as it’s about one woman and two different lives she could have had, both of them in worlds that are not exactly our own. (The split occurs sometime in the early fifties, and history progresses in sometimes surprising ways.) But the real story, the point of the story, is about Patricia – Trish in one lifetime, Pat in the other – and her life and her family. It’s a little bit about might-have-beens, but more about the small choices that you make that make big differences, both to yourself and to other people. I loved it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

passion of artemesiaBook – The Art Institute of Chicago is currently featuring a special exhibit, Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes”  displaying her sensational painting on loan from Florence through January 09, 2014.   Artemisia was as beautiful and strong as the women in her paintings, frequently using herself as a model.  This fictionalized account of her artistic life gives readers insight of this true Renaissance woman and the obstacles and conflicts that she overcame to be one of the most famous and skilled painters of the Baroque era, a woman centuries ahead of her time. Artemisia’s mother died when she was twelve and was raised and apprenticed by her artist father, Orazio while living in Rome.  At the age of 18 she was raped by her father’s friend Agostino.  Though he is brought to trial, she ends up being publicly humiliated, shamed and betrayed by her father.  She feels that she has no other choice, but to leave Rome and agrees to marry Pietro Stiatessi, an artist in Florence. Her marriage soon develops rifts as Artemisia begins to have some success.  She wins the patronage of the Medicis and is the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell’Arte before her husband.  She continues establishing herself as an artist, acquires more commissions and friendships with intellectuals including Galileo. Pietro is jealous of his wife’s success and they soon separate and she continues her life as a working single mother, unheard of for an admired reputable woman during that time period.  Art truly is Artemesia’s passion and Vreeland beautifully conveys that in her book. Other books by the same author include Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and others.