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The Last Enemy

by Grace Brophy

Rita Minelli grew up in Brooklyn, the only child of a narcissistic Italian mother and the GI she married at the end of World War II. After her mother’s death, Rita quits her teaching job and descends upon her poor but aristocratic relatives, the Count and Countess Casati, in Assisi. It is a while before they realize, to their chagrin, that Rita has come to stay. But when the family assembles to watch the penitents’ procession in the town square during Easter Week, Rita does not join them as planned. Her corpse is later found in the family mausoleum. Alessandro Cenni, a commissario in the State Police of Umbria, must unearth the secrets of the Casati family and their circle if he is to discover who killed Rita and why. But he is blocked by their powerful right-wing connections, and by a superior who would rather arrest a scapegoat than risk political suicide. Aided by a loyal staff in his quest for justice, he still must acknowledge that no one can defeat the last enemy, death itself.

A Deadly Paradise

by Grace Brophy

In the peaceful Umbrian village of Paradiso, the murder and mutilation of an elderly German woman is bewildering. That is, until Inspector Alessandro Cenni of the State Police discovers that this retired cultural attaché was not only a difficult tenant and a blackmailer, but a bisexual swinger who recently had a female lover in residence. The dead woman grew up in occupied Venice, and one of her secrets from World War II might have surfaced. And the bucolic village is not that innocent: it was the site of a scandalous murder 50 years earlier. Cenni’s boss wants a scapegoat, and the woman’s young former lover is the obvious target, but Cenni cannot bring himself to close the case without bringing the true perpetrator to justice.

Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love

by Justine van der Leun

Readers will delight in this tale of an urbanite who leaves her magazine job to move to Collelungo, Italy, population: 200. There, in the ancient city center of a historic Umbrian village, she sets up house with the enticing local gardener she met on vacation only weeks earlier. This impulsive decision launches an eye-opening series of misadventures when village life and romance turn out to be radically different from what she had imagined.

Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy

by Michael Tucker

The actor Michael Tucker and his wife, the actress Jill Eikenberry, having sent their last child off to college, were vacationing in Italy when they happened upon a small cottage nestled in the Umbrian countryside. The 350-year-old Rustico sat perched on a hill in the verdant Spoleto valley amid an olive grove and fruit trees of every kind. For the Tuckers, it was literally love at first sight, and the couple purchased the house without testing the water pressure or checking for signs of termites. Shedding the vestiges of their American life, Michael and Jill endeavored to learn the language, understand the nuances of Italian culture, and build a home in this new chapter of their lives. Both a celebration of a good marriage and a careful study of the nature of home, Living in a Foreign Language is a gorgeous, organic travelogue written with an epicurean’s delight in detail and a gourmand’s appreciation for all things fine.

Not in a Tuscan Villa

by John Petralia & Nancy Petralia

What happens if you decide to make a dream come true? Newly retired and looking for more than a vacation, John and Nancy Petralia intrepidly pack a few suitcases and head to the “perfect” Italian city. Within days their dream becomes a nightmare. After residing in two Italian cities, negotiating the roads and healthcare, discovering art, friends, food, and customs, the Petralias learn more than they anticipate–about Italy, themselves, what it means to be American, and what’s important in life. Part memoir, part commentary, quirky and sincere, Not in a Tuscan Villa is about having the courage to step out of your comfort zone and do something challenging in later life. The adventure recaptures the Petralia’s youth, rekindles their romance–and changes their lives forever.

Cry Wolf: A Mafia thriller set in rural Italy

by Michael Gregorio

Sebastiano Cangio has just accepted his dream job as a park ranger in the stunning Sybilline Mountains National Park in central Italy; it’s a unique opportunity to study and live amongst the wild mountain wolves he loves so much. But when a series of devastating earthquakes rocks the region, the dream looks set to become a nightmare. With the area evacuated, the Mafia seize their chance to move in to pursue their own sinister agenda – and Sebastiano finds himself the only person in a position to stop them. As he embarks on a lone mission to protect the beautiful, unspoiled landscape and ensure the survival of the wolf pack, Sebastiano finds himself up against a menacing trail of corruption: a trail that leads all the way to the top.

A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria

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In 1989, novelist St. Aubin de Teran (Slow Train to Milan) and her family began to restore their “dream house,” the dilapidated ruins of a villa near the small village of San Orsola in the Umbrian Valley of Italy. This book chronicles their first year of impossibly hard work amid the pleasantries of rich harvests and continuous celebrations. Orginally from England, St. Aubin de Teran gives the reader vivid impressions of Italian life, social customs, bureaucracy, and culture, presenting a setting where food and wine are the daily religion. Her book conveys a strong sense of place, with lush descriptions of the gardens, countryside, weather, and the family’s active social life. The year culminated with a habitable villa; a full larder, including walnut liqueur and medicinal herbs; a New Year’s Eve dance at the villa; a wedding; and a new baby. Recommended for the armchair traveler.

On the Road with Francis of Assisi – A Timeless Journey Through Umbria and Tuscany, and Beyond

by Linda Bird Francke

Francke (Ground Zero; Growing Up Divorced) invokes the legendary 13th-century saint as a spiritual tour guide of Italy, tracing Francis’s footsteps to illuminate his spiritual and physical journey to sainthood. Submerged in the region’s rich history, Francke traverses the country as Francis did for 20 years, lingering in Assisi (his birthplace), Venice and Rome, visiting chapels and devotional spaces bearing relics of his life or visual homage to the myths he inspired. Her vivid reimaginings create a window into Francis’s life, which is blessed with an intriguing backstory that Francke skillfully revives in scenes of drama, despair and passion, as when Francis stridently severs ties with his father to a tittering crowd while “in the buff.” She also lavishes attention on St. Clare, the feverishly devout nun who submits to the Franciscan order and falls desperately in love with its leader. Francke peppers her reverent yet witty account with local color and amusing anecdotes that usher history into the present, noting, for instance, that Peter Jennings kept on his desk a statue of St. Clare, as her miraculous witnessing of a Christmas church service marked history’s “first live broadcast.”

The Road To Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis

by Paul Sabatier

Over a century after its 1894 release, this excellent biography of Francis of Assisi has been re-released with some delicate editing by Jon Sweeny. In his Introduction, Sweeney pays tribute to author Paul Sabatier, making it clear that this biography remains timeless due to the French biographer’s extensive research as well as his ability to capture the true humanity of St. Francis. Sweeney, who is editor-in-chief of Skylight Paths Publishing and the author of The St. Francis Prayer Book, believes that the story of Francis presents an opportunity for personal transformation, and this opportunity is more accessible if readers relate to him as a human being rather than a distant icon. This is why Sweeney so admires Sabatier, who emphasized St. Francis as a flesh-and-blood character. At the same time, Sabatier embraced the many mystical legends surrounding Francis as ways to understand the depths and mystical possibilities of Christian faith. When Sabatier reports the story of Francis seeing a winged seraph and then perceiving on his body “the stigmata of the Chosen One,” he explains that this is not a story that should be subject to literal scrutiny. “Before these soul mysteries, materialists and devotees often demand precision in the things that can least endure it.” Instead he asks readers to use this legend as an opportunity to ponder the possibilities of Christian devotion, much as one would ponder the moment when Jesus took a loaf of bread and asked the disciples to eat of his body. One of the highlights of this new edition is Jon Sweeney’s sidebar commentary, which adds a satisfying layer of depth and richness to Sabatier’s text. Sweeney also includes an index, glossary of terms and list of recommended reading.

Luca Signorelli: The San Brizio Chapel, Orvieto (Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance)

by Jonathan Riess

A major monument, Luca Signorelli’s Orvieto Cathedral frescoes rendered with vigor and invective the most ambitious consideration of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment in Italian Renaissance art. In a fresh interpretation of these frescoes, Jonathan Riess explores the intriguing, violent style and complex iconography and places the works in their richly faceted historical setting. Begun by Fra Angelico in 1447 and completed by Signorelli at the turn of the century, the frescoes reflect the turmoil within the Papal States, the suffering brought on by a surge of natural disasters, the fear of the Turks, and the anti-Judaic campaigns of the day. The book centers on the mural depicting the Rule of Antichrist, the single monumental portrayal of the subject during the Renaissance and a revealing indicator of widespread apocalyptic obsessions. Drawing on historical, theological, literary, and artistic sources, Riess examines the reasons behind the commissioning of the murals and considers the broad meaning of the program. The Rule of Antichrist, for example, is seen as a summa of the doom-laden worlds of Rome and Orvieto and as a blistering condemnation of the political realm. Signorelli’s references to Dante, Virgil, and Cicero and to contemporary theology and dramatic performances come into play as Riess interprets the monument as a representation of the struggle between a penitential Christianity and the forces of heresy and tyranny.