#SixforSunday – Books Set In Italy!

Happy Sunday Bibliofriends!

We are continuing the Around the World in 80 Books theme this week on Six For Sunday by creating lists focused on books set ‘elsewhere in the world’ to the place that we live. I have a massive case of ‘pandemic wanderlust’ at the moment and due to lots of things popping up in daily life and giving me holiday flashbacks, I decided to focus my list this week on one country in particular… Italy! My friend and I travelled through Italy (quite a few years ago now) and we stopped off at lots of different places between Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome. It was the most incredible holiday and I hope I get to go back and spend more time there one day, it really is a beautiful country.
For those who don’t already know, Six for Sunday is weekly meme hosted by Steph over at A Little But A Lot. March’s theme is ‘Around the World in 80 Books!’ (which sounds like some exciting travel adventure I’d definitely be signing up for!).


Books Set in Italy!

  1. The Favour by Laura Vaughan
    This is the most recent book I have read set in Italy. It came out earlier this month and features a highly complex unreliable narrator called Ada who goes on an art-history travel adventure in Italy (definitely reminded me of my own trip!). I loved Laura’s description of the palazzos, museums and cities coupled with the dark, mysterious nature of the plot. It kept me guessing all of the way to the final sentence and that ending really did pack a punch and leave my brain spinning! You can check out my spoiler-free review here!
  2. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
    The Robert Langdon books are one of my favourite guilty pleasures. I’ve read them all and secretly believe that the conspiracies 100% factual. The Angels and Demons book is probably my favourite due to the setting and the whole idea of the treasure map across Rome. When we visited Italy I just had to retrace Langdon’s footsteps and visit all of the fountains and landmarks just to put the book’s description into reality. Bernini had also been one of my focuses in one of my degree modules as well so I definitely enjoyed geeking out on that adventure. Sadly, we didn’t find the pentagram and hidden passage inside Castel Sant’Angelo but we still enjoyed checking it out… just in case!
  3. Summer at the Lake by Erica James
    After our Italian escapades, my friend practically demanded that our next holiday would be a beach one (as opposed to literally running around different cities trying to pack as much in as possible!) so we went off to Cape Verde which brought some more fantastic ‘memory-of-a-lifetime-style’ adventures. I had packed 5 books in my bag, yet I found Summer of the Lake in one of the bookshelves in the hotel lobby – being set in Italy, and having a slight case of the bookish-kleptomania, it made its way into my bag and I read it whilst sat on the divine sandy beaches. I completely fell in love with Erica’s characters and how the setting of Lake Como fitted seamlessly into the narrative. It’s definitely one of my favourites!
  4. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
    It seems that all of my Italian books have a holiday-themed story related to them but I found The Savage Garden in an English bookshop whilst visiting my friend in Lanzarote. I bought it because of the setting of the Italian garden and the way they blurb had mentioned this secret message hidden in the garden’s architecture and design – almost like some kind of horticultural treasure hunt! I enjoyed the mythological aspect to the garden statues and the way they were incorporated to the whole mystery element of the story. It’s definitely different to any other mysteries I’ve read. You can check out a little bit more in my review here.
  5. The Immortal City by Amy Kuivalainen
    The Immortal City is the first book in a series called ‘The Magicians of Venice’. It’s centred around a character called Penelope who is trying to find the lost city of Atlantis but gets entangled in a murder mystery with some rather peculiar symbology. Her journey then intertwines with a group of immortal magicians (hence the title of the series) and they embark upon a quest to solve the mystery and save Venice from sinking at the same time. Obviously the setting was a winner for me but I was also completely engrossed in the storyline and the relationship between Penelope and Alexis (spoiler warning: it got a little steamy 😉). The second book in the series was released in September 2020 and it’s definitely on my TBR list! Check out my review here.
  6. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
    This was a super-cute, fun YA novel which I truly enjoyed reading. I enjoyed seeing Lina experience life in Florence (my retirement dream!) for the first time and again it threw me straight back into that amazing holiday nostalgia. It was a really sweet novel about finding yourself and the importance of family/home.

There’s my little fictional jaunt through Northern Italy. If anyone has some Italian based recommendations I’d be glad to hear them, I’m always on the lookout!

What country or destination has you flipping the auto-buy switch in your brain? What are some of your favourite countries or places that you’ve been to or are on your travel bucket-list?
As always, leave your links below to your own posts or drop me a comment to chat!

T xx

Biblioshelf Musings – The Favour by Laura Vaughan

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings took me a dark, deceptive trip down memory-lane to the fascinating art-world of Italy. The Favour by Laura Vaughan is a tricksy, mind-bending novel filled with a cunningly unreliable narrator, an insight into the lavish lifestyles of the social elite all framed with the overarching question, just how far would you go to fit in? Huge thanks to Readers First and the publishers Corvus for providing me a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.


Book: The Favour by Laura Vaughan
Genre: Fiction (Thriller / Mystery)
Publication Date: 4th March 2021
Publisher: Corvus
Pages: 325
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

My Musings

At the start of the story we are immediately thrown into Ada’s world of grief and upheaval as she faces leaving behind her lifestyle and ancestral home upon the death of her father. After a move to London and a generous offer from a wealthy relative, Ada embarks upon an art history adventure travelling through Italy as a Dilletante. For Ada, this is the break she has always desired, to discover her true purpose and destiny within a world of like-minded people. The trouble is, fitting in with the social elite isn’t always as easy as it seems (not when you have secrets to hide) – and after a tragic accident at a party, the relationships between the travel buddies is severely tested as they return home and try to go on living their usual lives amidst its aftermath. 

Ada was a thrillingly complicated and unreliable narrator. Her character arc was spectacularly crafted and took me on an incredible journey of shifting emotions. My empathy towards her varied greatly at different episodes in the story. Her feelings of mis-identity and that strong yearning to fit in with her fellow Dilletantes showed you this sense of loneliness and vulnerability which she must have been feeling – but then in the next breath, her fabrication of particular gestures or her backstory and her yearning to fit in has you wondering just what type of person she truly is. Her voice gave off a sense of dissociation which was intriguing; was she actually witnessing her life from outside of her body or was she truly experiencing all of those emotions and events from within her own head? In part, it reminded me of Eleanor’s narrative voice in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

“Attempting to make myself indispensable had hollowed me out.”

As we got deeper into the plot and some of the Dilletantes started to reveal their true motives, it really made me wonder what kind of reality Ada was missing out on due to her tunnel-visioned focus into this lifestyle that she’d only ever been on the periphery of? The way the ‘favour’ masked Ada’s guilt at being an accomplice and her vehement self-denial was the flipside of a split-personality which just craved friendship and belonging. The multi-facetedness of her character and the tantalisingly dark plot twists gave this novel an unpredictability which I found fascinating to read.

Being set in Italy was such a draw for me. Travelling to Venice, Florence and Rome was one of my favourite and most memorable holidays so it was almost like journeying back to the past to see those places again through Ada’s eyes. I was immediately transported into those gloriously artisan surroundings with tavernas, canals and piazzas oozing with creativity and delicious food (and wine!). Vaughan’s lyrical writing helped to bring that Italian world to life in a way that made me want to keep on reading and exploring those galleries and museums with their beauty and Renaissance charm.

The technicalities of the artwork were expressed in a way which I found intriguing without being too overwhelming. I still couldn’t define for you what a pentimento is, but I enjoyed the way that some of those art techniques and famous paintings/sculptures tied in to the themes and plot of the novel.

I loved how sentient the ‘favour’ seemed to be and how it was used and moulded by several different characters all for their own motives. At first, the favour seemed to be created out necessity and tragedy, an act of quick-thinking combined with the desperation of trying to protect someone whilst at the same time cementing your place within their world. As the plot unravels, that same favour spiralled and shifted out of control leaving you to wonder who was the real puppet-master manipulating its strings. All of that drama made for such mind-bending reading and the plot twists came thick and fast right up until the very end.

“The Welsh have a word: hiraeth. It’s basically untranslatable, but it means the grief you feel for the lost places of your past. And something more: a longing for a home or time that may have never been.”

In a similar way, Ada’s ancestral home, Garreg Las, almost became one of the characters itself – always waiting there in the depths of Ada’s subconscious, an explicit reminder of how the house ties itself to Ada’s sense of identity and belonging. Sometimes it could be a status symbol to prove that Ada was a part of the Dilletante world, whereas at other times it was a refuge, a little corner of Wales that Ada felt she was truly home. I loved the way it would appear at different intervals within the narrative, like a guest star who makes special appearances and has to ensure they find their way into the encore before the final curtain fall.Overall, The Favour is a tremendously well-constructed story with Vaughan giving you teeny segments at a time whilst slowly building up to that spectacular final twist. Ada’s narration had me constantly second-guessing if I could trust her or whether in some ways she truly is a victim of her own making or sheer circumstance. Combining that dark and twisty narrative with the wondrously charming Italian surroundings made The Favour such a compelling read, and although at the start of the novel I was readily signing myself up a Dilletanti Discoveries style adventure… let’s just say I’d definitely be a little warier about trusting my fellow travel buddies after reading this!

Why Should I Read This?

For a superbly written unreliable narrator who has you questioning her motives right up to the end.
For the richly decadent Italian settings – the perfect wanderlust quencher in a lockdown world.
For the psychological questioning of friendship and what it truly means to belong and fit in.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Author’s Website |

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Biblioshelf Musings – The Savage Garden

Hello Bibliofriends,

There are so many hectic things going on in my life right now that I’m getting waaaayyyy behind on all of my scheduled blog posts! 🙈 Normally, I get into a good habit of scheduling posts a week or two in advance but with a house clearance and Parents’ Evenings at work there has been very little time for reading or blogging! 🙃

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills is a book I picked up at an English language bookshop whilst visiting my friend in Lanzarote. I was immediately sold by the fact that the story is set in a large Memorial Garden near Florence in Italy (my favourite city ever!) and bought it straightaway. I’ve been trying to get through my gigantic, colossally mammoth large collection of books as part of my house clear-out so it seemed a perfectly good time to pick this one up.


Book: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 388
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The story of two murders, four hundred years apart – and the ties that bind them together.

From the author of the acclaimed national bestseller Amagansett comes an even more remarkable novel set in the Tuscan hills: the story of two murders, four hundred years apart-and the ties that bind them together. 

Adam Banting, a somewhat aimless young scholar at Cambridge University, is called to his professor’s office one afternoon and assigned a special summer project: to write a scholarly monograph about a famous garden built in the 1500s. Dedicated to the memory of Signor Docci’s dead wife, the garden is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills, and classical inscriptions. But during his three-week sojourn at the villa, Adam comes to suspect that clues to a murder are buried in the strange iconography of the garden: the long-dead Signor Docci most likely killed his wife and filled her memorial garden with pointers as to both the method and the motive of his crime. 

As the mystery of the garden unfolds, Adam finds himself drawn into a parallel intrigue. Through his evolving relationship with the lady of the house – the ailing, seventy-something Signora Docci – he finds clues to yet another possible murder, this one much more recent. The signora’s eldest son was shot by Nazi officers on the third floor of the villa, and her husband, now dead, insisted that the area be sealed and preserved forever. Like the garden, the third-floor rooms are frozen in time. Delving into his subject, Adam begins to suspect that his summer project might be a setup. Is he really just the naive student, stumbling upon clues, or is Signora Docci using him to discover for herself the true meaning of the villa’s murderous past?

My Musings

Now I’m not just saying this because it’s set in Italy but the setting and the Memorial Garden featured in this novel really hooked me in – right from the map of it on the very first page! The fact that the whole plot basically spirals out of the design and layout of a garden was a pretty unique concept and it’s probably this element of the story that I enjoyed the most.

Like with my love of treasure hunts and all things Robert Langdon-esque, the way each of the statues and groves related to Greek mythology and provided clues for the murder mysteries at the centre of the plot was intriguing – whilst the references and links to Dante added that extra layer of geeky literary goodness.

Overall, the main character Adam was a good narrator. He didn’t reveal all of his findings directly to the reader which made the suspense and guessing last a little longer, but he did reveal enough to let you wonder how he was going to then ‘tell-all’ to the other characters in the story. There was enough action and character conversation balanced with Adam’s internal dialogue to keep the pace moving quick enough. What I also loved was the way that the story didn’t just end as soon as the culprits had been discovered, there were additional twists near the end of the story which made me respect the whole book that little bit more.

If you’re on the lookout for a gently suspenseful mystery filled with a little Dante, a dash of Greek mythology and set against a glorious Tuscan landscape then you might enjoy spending a little time with The Savage Garden!


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