Ah…Italy!

HPIM2060 I recently took a trip to Italy with close friends, and as I strolled the streets of Rome or admired the views in small Tuscan villages, I couldn’t help wondering why I don’t find more romances set here. Alpha male Italians feature in the Harlequin Presents line, but it’s otherwise fairly difficult to find a good Italian-set romance. The history of the place would lend itself to all manner of lush and romantic tales, and having seen cities such as Venice, I can easily envision a swoonworthy courtship happening along the canals, or in the Boboli gardens or amidst the bustle and grand historic buildings of Rome.

Since I loved the romantic cities and sights of Italy (not to mention the food and wine!), I frequently thought of books set in Italy that I had enjoyed. My days in Florence and hiking in Tuscany brought me several Room With a View (E.M. Forster) moments. And, though perhaps a little melodramatic, Lord of the Night by Susan Wiggs remains one of my favorite Italian historicals. Set in Renaissance Venice, this tale of a young woman determined to become a celebrated courtesan and the older man she falls in love with stuck with me long after I first read it. Having walked along the canals, walked the Bridge of Sighs, and toured the Doge’s Palace, I can more strongly envision Sandro and Laura’s world.

And what a deliciously romantic world it is! The canals of Venice as well as the piazzas and the architecture with hints of Byzantine and Moorish influences about it seems like the perfect setting for being swept off one’s feet. In addition to the Wiggs novel, I found myself remembering a Silhouette Shadows novel by Barbara Faith called A Silence of Dreams. Though I haven’t reread the book in ages, I remember it as a moody gothic romance with a Venetian setting that certainly added to the mood of the book. For more Venetian settings, Heidenkind compiled a short list and there are a couple on here that I certainly plan to explore.

When we came to Rome, I found myself adoring the city. I just loved wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere of the place. I loved how one could walk through a busy modern city street, turn a corner, and suddenly see ancient ruins. I found myself daydreaming about scenes from Roman romances I had read. Sadly, there are all too few of these, but I have enjoyed books by Michelle Styles such as The Gladiator’s Honor and I also greatly enjoyed The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw. As I walked through parts of Rome, I felt as though I had wandered straight into the world these books’ characters inhabited.

However, as I think on Italian book settings, I feel one thing missing – the contemporaries. I know that there are a fair number of category romances set in Italy, but I have to admit that I have not read many of them. I tried a few Italian-set Harlequin Presents at various points, but most of them just fell flat for me. If anyone can recommend some good Italian-set category books for me, I’m a sucker for series romance, so I’m all ears!

The same goes for single title romance. I did enjoy The Rome Affair by Laura Caldwell, but that novel is more dark suspense than romance. Italy would lend itself well to contemporary romance and given some of my adventures in Italian train stations, humorous capers as well. If anyone knows of some good books with Italian settings, I’d love to read them so please post them in the comments!

– Lynn Spencer

16 thoughts on “Ah…Italy!

  1. Late to the party, but I´d like to mention an old category romance by Laura Leone: “The Bandit King” It´s a contemporay and takes place on Sicily.
    Unusual setting and unusual plot with insights into the mafia and omerta.

  2. Lynn, I couldn’t agree more as I’m an Italian fan of romance and guess what ? even Italian writers of romance don’t ( or can’t?) set their books in Italy most of times! Unbelievable, isn’t it? As far as romance is concerned it seems that Italian readers are so used to Anglo-Saxon settings (and stories written by American/English writers) that publishers don’t want to risk proposing anything else!

    But, As you stressed perfectly in your post ,Italy’s history as well its beautiful sights would be such great settings for a romance! Sure I would appreciate a book set during the Italian ‘Rinascimento’ or the stormy years of the nineteenth century, a time known in Italy as ‘Risorgimento’ when people of all parts of the country fought to become citizens of a single state. There would be hundreds of stories to tell and the reason why such stories remain untold is just a mistery for me! Editors should tell me.
    A friend of mine who knows a famous American romantic suspense writer told me that when she decided to set one of her books ( one in a series) in Italy, her editor discouraged her to do so and told her to stick to the Southern America setting of the others!

    As I’m myself a fan of that writer I must say that I’m a bit fed up of reading stories always set in the same places, why not Italy for a change?

    Francy

  3. I second the recs…The wedding Officer and Night Fire. Would also add…The Stargazer by Michele Jaffe set in Renaissance Venice. Also, the sequel…The Water Nymph which, IMO isn’t as good, but still a decent book. One more…LaCucina by Lilly Prior.Set in contemporary Italy..not a romance novel,but a romance anyway. Another book about cooking, the heroine is a chef who’s heart was broken years ago, then she meets another man who is also a chef who she names l’Inglese.Such a nice book.

  4. Hey Lynn,
    Italy, sounds really good.
    I haven’t been to it, but your description is capturing.

    Well, I too just love romance, and am really looking forward to make a friend who has same choices as mine in romance books.
    You seem like a nice choice. LOL

  5. Donna Leon’s mysteries are jewels and make you want to fly to Venice and move downstairs from the Brunetti’s. I’m reading a third book by Marlena de Blasi – A Thousand Days in Venice – a true life love story. Her book, That Summer in Sicily, another true story, I highly recommend. Ah, Italy!

  6. I second quite a few of those recs. SEP’s Breathing Room is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it book, but I was on the love it camp. The Food of Love is amazing, and the two Lisa Marie Rice titles are good as well. Season of Storms is one I loved, with a very vivid setting. You Scandalous Ways is not a contemporary, but the setting is fantastic (Lydia Joyce’s Music of the Night is another excellent Venice-set historical).

    I’ll add a rec for a book by Kristin Harmel, Italian For Beginners. Most of the action takes place in Rome, and I loved it. I reviewed it here: http://rosario.blogspot.com/2010/06/italian-for-beginners-by-kristin-harmel.html

  7. There are two romantic suspense books by Lisa Marie Rice/Elizabeth Jenning set in Italy that I enjoyed: ‘Dying for Siena’ and ‘Port of Paradise’

    In another vein I love the Donna Leon mysteries featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. They read like love letters to Venice and the Italian way of life.

  8. Barbara Samuel’s “Night Fire” is an historical that takes place partly in England and partly in Italy. The hero and heroine are correspondents, and each thinks the other is much older and much less attractive than they turn out to be. When they meet, sparks fly. t’s very romantic, and the setting is part of it. I do wish she’d write about the rest of the heroine’s family, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with your premise, Lynn: More Italian based romances would be great, especially in the historical genre. In fact, I volunteer to go on a research trip to Italy, just as soon as I can convince hubby that really, we don’t need to pay all those pesky bills, lol.

  10. While “The Food Of Love” and “The Wedding Officer” by Anthony Capella are not straight romance they are probably as close as mainstream fiction ever comes to it. The former is a contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac (with a happy ending), set mainly in a food lover’s Rome, and the latter takes place in Naples and the slopes of Vesuvius toward the end of World War II. Both sing with warmth, humour (often comedic), and amore. “The Wedding Officer”, especially, appealed to the romance reader in me. Here is the first paragraph from its back cover: “It’s 1944, and Captain James Gould arrives in Naples, assigned to discourage marriages between British soldiers and their gorgeous Italian girlfriends. And the innocent young officer may succeed – if he isn’t distracted by an intoxicating young widow who knows her way around a kitchen…”

  11. I believe ‘Your Scandalous Ways’ by Loretta Chase is set in Venice–at least if I remember correctly.

  12. Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, set in Tuscany, I believe. I too really enjoy contemporary romances set in different locations, and am always on the lookout for them.

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