In The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston recounts Mario Spezi’s role in the hunt for a serial killer. Working as a reporter, Spezi, though he didn’t know it at the time, found himself in the midst of a real-life thriller. Over the years, dozens of couples would be found murdered throughout the Italian countryside. Though the investigation spanned decades, and a variety of suspects and leads were examined, the killer was never discovered.
I’m going to Brooklyn to visit my daughter, and as with every excursion to the “Big Apple,” I make a list of must-see places. Usually I include a tea house, a photo gallery, and a farmer’s market. (If you’re a locavore, NYC’s markets are BEYOND compare!). But this time I’m making a reservation at Prune--Gabrielle Hamilton’s acclaimed West Village restaurant. Coincidentally, Hamilton is also the author of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Her book, like her food (or so I’ve heard), is exceptional!
Hamilton’s childhood in rural Pennsylvania was unconventional and idyllic. Her father was a stage designer, frequently involved with Broadway productions; her mother, French and a former dancer, spent her days aproned in front of a six-burner stove. The clan lived in a crumbling, 19th-century silk mill. They regularly hosted legendary parties—complete with spring lamb roasting on a spit and an endless variety of creative themes.
But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.
First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.
Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
The hospital's treatment has left Lucien sick in his bed, hardly able to keep anything down, let alone move. It's been months since he felt any joy in living, and, as the days drag on, he's finding it harder and harder to speak. But he can't help but see his parents' eyes fill with tears as they watch him fade away. The chemo might be enough to help him. Nothing but time will tell, and, for now, Lucien has lots of that.
When his dad brings him a handsome notebook, found in a derelict house on the outskirts of London, Lucien is intrigued. It's a very old piece, the work of a master craftsman. Its thick paper and marbled cover feel good to the touch. The pages are blank, but somehow it still comforts him as he slips into his first deep sleep in many days.
The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
Being a permanent part of the King’s Royal Procession isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, particularly when the realm’s magic depends on him tromping up and down the countryside to keep the Isle of the Blest blessed.
Tomie dePaola (pronounced "Tommy de -powla") was born just as the hard times of the Great Depression were coming to an end in 1934. When Tomie was a boy, there was no television, but he never missed it! He stayed glued to the radio to listen to his favorite show, Let's Pretend. Every week, the actors on Let's Pretend acted out stories of heroes, goblins, princesses, and talking animals. The show fired Tomie's imagination. By the time he was four years old, he knew he wanted to be an artist.