The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

the-monster-of-florenceWhen Douglas Preston moves to Italy with his family, he soon discovers their new home is located uncomfortably close to the scene of a grisly, decades-old murder.  Soon, he befriends Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist who reported for years on the Monster of Florence, an infamous serial killer who targeted young couples in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  As he learns more about the killer’s terrifying patterns and the many botched arrests, Preston partners with Spezi to do their own investigation.  But as they examine the Monster’s trail, their own lives become embroiled in the case — and the Italian police begin investigating them. 

Quote:
“I listened, amazed at first, then astonished.  As a crime novelist, I fancied myself a connoisseur of dark stories.  I had certainly heard a lot of them.  But as the story of the Monster of Florence unfolded, I realized it was something special.  A story in a category all its own.  I do not exaggerate when I say the case of the Monster of Florence may be — just may be — the most extraordinary story of from and investigation the world has ever heard.”

Author:
Douglas Preston is an American novelist and non-fiction author.  His works include the Wyman Ford series, the Agent Pendergast series, and the Gideon Crew series (the latter two are collaborations with author Lincoln Child).  Mario Spezi is an Italian author and journalist, and reported on the Monster of Florence case for years.

Published:  2008
Length:  322 pages
Set in:  Florence, Italy

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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

neither here nor thereBill Bryson first backpacked across Europe with his friend Katz (hilariously familiar to all who’ve read A Walk in the Woods) in the early 1970s.  Twenty years later, he sets out to retrace their steps.  As in any of his travel books, no country, city, or cultural icon is spared the bite of Bryson’s humor.

Quote:
“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned.  I don’t want to know what people are talking about.  I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.  Suddenly you are five years old again.  You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life.  Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Author:
Bill Bryson is the author of various travel books, including A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country, as well as non-fiction such as At Home and The Mother Tongue.  Bryson currently lives in England with his family.

Published:  1992
Length:  254 pages
Set in:  Norway, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey

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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

without reservationsAfter her divorce, Alice Steinbach decided that she no longer wanted to be defined by her relation to other people — as a wife, a mother, a neighbor — and set off to Europe to discover who she was on her own.  On her way through England, France, and Italy, she enrolls in classes, forges new friendships, and finds an unexpected romance.

Quote:
“As I set out each day, I felt like a young child again.  One who hadn’t yet learned the rules of manmade time; the rules of clocks and calendars, of weekdays and weekends.  Except the primitive markers of day and night, time lay ahead of me in a continuous, undefined mass.”

Author:
Alice Steinbach is the author of The Miss Dennis School of Writing, Without Reservations, and Educating AliceIn 1985, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature writing for her work with The Baltimore Sun.  She currently lives in Maryland.

Published:  2000
Length:  295 pages
Set in:  Paris, France; Oxford, England; Milan, Italy

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The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

blind contessa's new machineBased in part on a true story, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine begins when a wealthy young woman, Carolina, discovers that she is steadily going blind.  Her parents and fiancé refuse to believe it; only her friend Turri takes her at her word.  When she finds writing without her sight almost impossible, Turri gives her a gift of his own invention – a typewriter.  As the new machine becomes the envy of all the women in her area, Carolina struggles to cope with her fading sight and changing feelings for Turri.

Quote:
“Her mind raced through the dark, throwing open doors, knocking over cabinets, searching for anything it ever remembered seeing.  Then the lightning flashed again.  Carolina captured it before it even struck land, a jagged scar of silver light suspended over the black chimneys of a sleeping city.  She narrowed her eyes at the incomplete bolt until it shimmered and broke.”

Author:
Carey Wallace is the author of The Blind Contessa’s New Machine and The Ghost in the Glass House.  Raised in Michigan, she now lives in New York.

Published:  2010
Length: 207 pages
Set in:  Italy

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A Thousand Bells at Noon: A Roman Reveals the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City by G. Franco Romagnoli

a thousand bells at noonA Thousand Bells at Noon chronicles one of Romagnoli’s lengthy returns trip to Rome, during which he reflects on his city’s many odd but endearing qualities.  Each chapter begins with a photograph of Rome and focuses on a single topic — Roman healthcare, Roman cuisine, Roman bureaucracy, and Roman death rituals, to name a few.  As a chef, Romagnoli’s passages about food are particularly compelling.

Quote:
“He proceeds to tell me the carciofo e buono e bello: in the artichoke, goodness and beauty go hand in hand.  ‘Look at it!’  He holds an artichoke at arm’s length, revolving it slowly.  ‘If nature had not invented it, I’m sure Leonardo da Vinci would have!'”

Author:
G. Franco Romagnoli (1926-2008) was a chef, author, cinematographer, and restaurant owner.  Born in Italy, he moved to the United States in the 1950s.  His last book, The Bicycle Runner, was published posthumously and chronicles his time as a messenger for the resistance in fascist Italy.

Published:  2002
Length:  232 pages
Set in: Rome, Italy

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Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

four seasons in romeSummary:
Anthony Doerr and his wife move to Rome after he is awarded the prestigious Rome Prize, which entitles him to a year spent writing at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Rome.  The couple bring their infant twins, Owen and Henry, and much of the book is filled with Doerr’s wonder at their antics: trying to eat electrical plugs, staying up all night crying, and reducing old Italian men to cooing, teary-eyed friends.  Through Doerr’s eyes, Rome is rendered in a romantic yet realistic hue.

Quote:
“It’s the puzzle of Rome that mesmerizes: its patience, its stratigraphy, Tiber mud gumming up the past, wind carrying dust from Africa, rain pulling down ruins, and the accumulated weight of centuries compacting everything tighter, transubstantiating all stones into one.”

Author:
Anthony Doerr was born in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to Four Seasons in Rome, he is the author of The Shell Collector, Memory Wall, About Grace and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See.

Published:  2007
Length:  210 pages
Set in:  Italy

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