Dreaming of Summer Days in Italy

Another great read for these cold, wintry days is Jennifer Probst’s Our Italian Summer. Pre-Covid, my family and I visited Italy nearly every summer so I’ve really been missing our travels. While we don’t have any plans to visit this year, it was wonderful to take a virtual trip via this book!

Probst weaves a lovely and emotional tale about three generations of women seeking to reclaim happiness in their lives. Sophia Ferrari is struggling with an illness and no longer feels close to her daughter Francesca; Francesca is a workaholic who barely has any time to spend with her own daughter Allegra; and, Allegra is getting into all sorts of trouble as a result. The Ferrari women are all in need of reconnecting with each other, and Italy is the perfect place for this to happen. The interactions feel real and not forced, and Probst does an excellent job of depicting the often fraught relationship between mothers and daughters. And, I loved how all of the women reconnected while exploring Italy. Filled with gorgeous descriptions of the Italian countryside and some heartfelt romances along the way, Our Italian Summer was the perfect escapist read during this rough winter!

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Books for my digital copy in exchange for an honest review.


The Four Winds

Happy New Year! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and I’m so glad we’ve turned the page on 2020. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I have hope for 2021.

I just finished Kristin Hannah’s forthcoming novel The Four Winds, and it was a riveting read. I have to admit, it took its toll on me emotionally because it’s a sobering look at the realities of families that survived the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. It also feels extremely timely with the global pandemic we’re facing — the dust storms seemed to come out of nowhere and affected so many people (with rippling effects on the economy as the disaster occurred during the Great Depression). We have yet to determine the lasting effects of COVID-19 on our economy and the emotional trauma wrought upon families across the nation.

In The Four Winds, Elsa Wolcott never felt like she belonged in the small town of Dalhart, Texas–at age 25, she felt unattractive and unloved by her family, and she had also never experienced first love. That all changed when she met Raffaello (Rafe) Martinelli. Immediately charmed by him, she falls quickly in love and they get married when Elsa realizes she’s pregnant. While she doesn’t have a happy marriage (and is disowned by her family), she discovers a deep love for Rafe’s parents, their land, and her children, Loreda and Anthony. But after suffering five years of drought and devasted by the Great Depression (and abandoned by Rafe), Elsa and her children set out in 1935 for what they hope is a better life in California. What follows is an epic tale of love, loss and ultimately redemption. While parts of the book felt bleak, that is only because this era was bleak for so many people. Elsa tries again and again to make life better for herself and her family, and it was impossible not to be moved by Elsa’s journey and to feel hopeful for a brighter future for all of us.

Blog tour with author Ellen Alpsten

Today, I’m participating in a blog tour with Ellen Alpsten, author of Tsarina (available from St. Martin’s Press).

Ms. Alpsten was gracious enough to share her thoughts on feminism in 18th century Russia. Please see below. Hope you enjoy! And, be sure to support your indie bookstores. You can buy the book here on Bookshop.org.

Feminism in 18th century Russia

Both researching and writing Tsarina made me think a lot about women and the lives they had had – despite ‘my’ Catherine I. setting the scene for an hitherto unprecedented and never repeated century of female reign, it is hard to speak of ‘feminism’ as such in 18th century Russia, which was still a world away from the ideals and ideas of enlightenment. Women were beasts of burden: People often speak of the ‘good old days’, thinking of social cohesion and man’s limited horizons, which make for a simpler and easier life, but for women those were frankly terrible days.

Think about it – no education other than household chores, early marriage (sometimes at the age of 12!) to a man who suited your parents, annual childbirth, which was a gamble of life and death, seeing half of your children die due to the harsh climate and lack of healthcare, no privacy, no me-time, no dreams, your frustrated husband probably turning violent with drink, just toiling, toiling, toiling from dawn till dusk. Life was marginally better for women of high standing and the Petrine laws of inheritance changed their situation substantially – ‘The Great Northern War’ was next to its immense cost and suffering a harbinger of progress and modernity. If all men are out in the field, the women have to run the trade and the shops. If all sons fall in battle, an unmarried eldest daughter must be allowed to inherit, whilst a widow will have property.

The Italian newspaper ‘La Stampa’ published a glorious review of Tsarina, pointing out the ‘female condition’ as a strong point of the novel: the misery of being born a woman in those days. The reviewer sums Tsarina’s’ attitude up: “Her voice overcomes a fate raging against her.” Thus, in Catherine’s life we witness a milestone in female emancipation and empowerment. It is the ‘ultimate Cinderella story’, as Daisy Goodwin called it, but bears testimony of the strength of the human nature and the absolute will to survive. Every possible card in the world was stacked against her, yet she rose to the most unimaginable height of history. But not only her psychological strength is impressive, her physical condition, too: she bore the Tsar thirteen children, only to see most of them die. She traveled with him all over Russia and Central Asia and accompanied him into the field. Even though she accepts his straying and his affairs, their relationship is also very modern: Peter the Great and her were lovers, but above all great friends. He loved her courage, her practical jokes, and her level-headedness. He also appreciated her mildness: she often softened the blows of his anger. When we look at her portraits today, people might struggle to see her appeal – though that is a very modern message, too. You can make it happen without adhering to a beauty ideal. If a contemporary wrote: ‘She wasn’t beautiful, but as warm as an animal,’ he speaks of her sex appeal, but above all about her indomitable spirit!

Photo Credit: Andreas Stringberg

Blog tour coming up….

I’m hosting a blog tour with author Ellen Alpsten on November 11th–stay tuned for a Q&A about her fascinating book, Tsarina. Bestselling author Daisy Goodwin says the book “makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme.” What better endorsement is there than that? As the nights get colder, you’ll want to curl up by the fire with this tantalizing read.

My Reading List

I’m reading advance copies of two great books at the moment–Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten and The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. So excited about these reads! On November 11, I’ll be doing a blog tour for Tsarina so stay tuned for a post written by author Alpsten. So far, this is a really juicy read about Catherine Alexeyevna’s rise to power in 18th-century Russia.

I’m also a huge fan of Kristin Hannah (I loved The Great Alone in particular), and am thrilled to have an early chance to read this novel set in the Dust Bowl era. Stay tuned for my impressions.

I could not put this book down!!

I received an advance reader’s edition of The Exiles and could not put this book down! One of the best historical novels I’ve read in recent years. Christina Baker Kline did extensive research for this book and it shows. She paints a grim if ultimately hopeful picture about the hardships of nineteenth-century Australia. The book follows the intertwined experiences of three women: Evangeline and Hazel, both of whom are exiled to Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia, and Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of an Aboriginal tribe who is taken forcibly from her land by Van Diemen’s governor and his wife. The descriptions of Evangeline and Hazel’s time in prison in London and onboard the rough seas to Australia were harrowing and gripping, and it was devastating and eye-opening to read about Mathinna’s experience as “a cockatoo in a gilded cage.” I went to sleep thinking about these characters and felt emotionally connected to them and their fate. 

I’ve read Orphan Train and now can’t wait to read A Piece of the World. The Exiles is a beautiful book that made me want to learn more about Australian history. Highly recommended.

An expertly crafted, well-paced thriller

I raced through this edge-of-your-seat thriller—what a treat! I’ve read a few of Kimberly McCreight’s earlier thrillers—*Reconstructing Amelia* and *Where They Found Her*—and love her style of writing: expertly crafted with believable dialogue and full of well-paced twists. *A Good Marriage* does not disappoint. McCreight examines all facets of what “a good marriage” really encompasses—is it the couple that communicates best? The couple that has “equal” responsibilities in the home? The most affectionate partner? And yet, all couples have secrets and McCreight explores that from all angles.

Lizzie Kitsakis is a lawyer (with marital problems of her own), when she gets the call from a former Penn Law School classmate, Zach Grayson, who is the prime suspect for the murder of his beautiful wife Amanda. Lizzie doesn’t want to take on a murder case, but she’s persuaded by Zach and she’s also looking for a reason to escape the issues she’s experiencing with her own husband, Sam. What Lizzie isn’t prepared for is to be drawn into the darkness of the otherwise tranquil Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn. She learns that Zach and Amanda both had troubling secrets and that their close friends (a group of parents at the posh Brooklyn Country Day school) also may have something to hide.

McCreight really gets inside the mind of her characters, offering nuanced portraits of couples’ marriages. I just heard that Nicole Kidman will adapt the book for an Amazon series and I can’t wait to see this smart read set to the small screen. I did not want this book to end!

*I received an advance reader’s copy from the publisher.

Currently reading…

Lately, I’ve been catching up on some blockbusters. Little Fires Everywhere (2017) has been everywhere lately because of the new Hulu series. So far, it’s absorbing and provides an in-depth look at complicated family dynamics. And, The Silent Patient (2019) has been on my reading list for awhile. I’ve heard it’s a really twisty thriller and I can’t wait to dive in on this cold and rainy day!

Review: Anne of Green Gables (graphic novel)

Anne of Green Gables was hands down one of my favorite children’s books growing up. Aside from reading the entire Anne of Avonlea series, I’ve read so many different versions of the original Anne of Green Gables. So I was really excited to read Mariah Marsden’s inventive take. This graphic novel version of L.M. Montgomery’s lovable heroine was exactly what I needed during this time of crisis–it was both calming and engaging, and stayed true to the original while offering its own spin. Plus, Brenna Thummler’s illustrations are bright and vivid and invite the reader into the scenery. I always loved the verdant descriptions of nature throughout Anne of Green Gables and Thummler’s drawings don’t disappoint. Anne fans will scoop this up as well as any reader who appreciates a good story with stunning illustrations. Simply magical!

Please note my copy was provided by the publisher.