romeitaly

Traveling Through Books: Rome, Italy

Summer holidays have begun and that means: traveling to another country! At least for some us.. Because of all the moving I’m not going to travel this summer, which is really sad. But fortunately there are books that can take me anywhere I want to go. This summer I’m going to list books for you that can take you to a certain city or country. Do you have any other recommendations? Please let me know by leaving a comment, because I’d love to learn more about foreign literature!

#1

Author: Dan Brown
Title: Angels & Demons
Series: Robert Langdon #1
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Corgi
Publishing Date: 2000
Pages: 713

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When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol—seared into the chest of a murdered physicist—he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati … the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy—the Catholic Church.

Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.

Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair … a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.

#2

Author: Robert Harris
Title: Imperium
Series: Cicero #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arrow
Publishing Date: 2006
Pages: 480

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Of all the great figures of Roman times, none was more fascinating or attractive than Marcus Cicero. A brilliant lawyer and orator, a famous wit and philosopher, he launched himself at the age of twenty-seven into the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics. Cicero was determined to attain imperium, the supreme power in the state. Beside him at all times in his struggle to reach the top — the office of Consul — was his confidential secretary, Tiro. An accomplished man, Tiro was the inventor of shorthand and the author of numerous books, including a famous life of Cicero, unfortunately lost in the Dark Ages.

In Imperium, Robert Harris recreates Tiro’s vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero’s rise to power, from radical young lawyer to first citizen of Rome, competing with men such as Pompey, Caesar, Crassus and Cato

#3


Author: Irving Stone
Title: The Agony and The Ecstacy
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arrow
Publishing Date: 1958
Pages: 777

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Irving Stone’s powerful and passionate biographical novel of Michelangelo.
His time: the turbulent Renaissance, the years of poisoning princes, warring popes, the all-powerful Medici family, the fanatic monk Savonarola.
His loves: the frail and lovely daughter of Lorenzo de Medici; the ardent mistress of Marco Aldovrandi; and his last love – his greatest love – the beautiful, unhappy Vittoria Colonna.
His genius: a God-driven fury from which he wrested the greatest art the world has ever known.
Michelangelo Buonarotti, creator of David, painter of the Sistine ceiling, architect of the dome of St Peter’s, lives once more in the tempestuous, powerful pages of Irving Stone’s marvellous book.

Guestpost: L.S. Watchman on inspiration and writing

My real name was once described as being “unpronounceably Dutch”. This, and other things, have led me to adopting a pseudonym, when it comes to writing.

Hello, I am L.S. Watchman, author of The Sunken ‘Panesian, a fantasy novel about a pirate fleet. Outmanned and outmanoeuvred by bigger fleets at every turn, the Swifttide Fleet is forced to turn its back on its home, and brave the open sea, in search for a new port. The sea is not without her dangers, however, both magical and mundane… and not all threats come from outside the fleet. The story follows Gerris, third in command of the fleet’s flagship. A simple man, indebted to the fleet for longer than even he can remember, and right in the middle of it all.

Wendy from Wensend has asked if me whether I would like to do a guestpost, so today, I’ll be telling you about one of the many ways of writing a novel. This one centres on a little project called NaNoWriMo. And then goes beyond that. This post will be a bit of a mix between a guide, and a short report of my personal experience.

You can find Wendy’s review here

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, takes place every November. Signing up is free, and hundreds of thousands of people participate, from all over the world. The challenge is to write fifty-thousand words, in only one month. You are allowed to prepare, of course (I already have a Word file with ideas for next year’s novel, and I tend to work with extensive outlines), but you start on the first of November. Professional authors drop by to write peptalks, a plethora of companies offer rewards for those who make it through the month, the forums are packed with supportive fellow-participants, and there are neat graphs that let you keep track of your progress. It gets really interesting when you have friends participating, and compare those graphs. Nothing like a bit of competition to keep you writing (“What?! She wrote five-thousand words today? Dammit, she’s caught up. Cancel everything, I need to write!”). Last year I was one of the 400.000 participants, and a few days before the deadline, I reached the big 50k. Mostly because I didn’t want to fall behind on my friends. Only, I wasn’t done at fifty-thousand.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to get started. You produce a lot of raw material in a fairly short time, but the emphasis lies on the word “raw”. The style of writing necessary for NaNoWriMo is rushed. Most participants, myself included, did not go back to read what they wrote, at least not during November. Indeed, one of the tenets of NaNoWriMo is to “lock up your inner editor”. But you need to let him out, eventually, unless you want your final product to be riddled with typos and plotholes the size of a small country.

Sticking with a story is hard, perhaps the hardest part involved in writing a novel. For most people, the fun lies in the writing, not the editing, the formatting, the countless rereads… I can definitely understand that. When, after November, the heaps of support and motivation provided by the program are suddenly gone, most people just walk away, only to return a year later to start all over again.

There are people who do stick with their stories, of course, but they aren’t common. I have to admit December was not my most productive month either. But I picked up the pace in January. For me, it helped to envision my goal: a physical book, with my story, in my own bookcase. I finished the story, ending at 64.000 words or thereabouts. Those last 14.000 took about as long as the first 50.000. After that came a few editing runs, where I looked for plotholes and typos and whatnot. Of the former there were few, luckily, but by the gods the amount of “saw”s instead of “was”s was horrifying. When you start to get comfortable, I would suggest finding a proofreader, preferably someone you trust and who enjoys the genre (and has some spare time). It’s definitely scary, the first time you send out a manuscript for someone other than yourself to read, but a fresh pair of eyes really helps the story along. You also get a lot of valuable information. Sometimes, a scene is crystal clear… in your head. It doesn’t always translate to the page as well as you’d think, and it’s best to rewrite those sections, I have found. On the other hand, there are also times where the reader responds in exactly the way you intended them. Those moments were, for me, the highlight of getting a proofreader.

With the proofreader’s feedback you can go through the story again, from a different perspective, and do one last round of editing. Some people find it tempting to keep editing indefinitely, because they don’t feel their stories are “exactly right”. The problem with “exactly right”, however, is that is not a constant. Your ideas about the plot and characters whilst writing might be radically different from your ideas after three rounds of editing. After a while, you just need to step back, or the story will never truly be finished.

When your story is complete, all you have left to do is turning it into a book. This takes some time, but it is surprisingly easy, much easier than it sounds, in fact. All you have to do is find a proper format (because who wants to read a book with A4-size pages?), create or commission a cover, and find a company to print your book for you. Printing a book is generally not much more expensive than buying a book. Alternatively, you could try and get the attention of a publisher, but that tends to cost a lot of money. True, you could earn it back, if you’re lucky, and you might get a wider audience, but that was never what I intended. I just wanted to tell a story, and have something of my own in my bookcase. All things considered, that worked out great.

If you want to know more about me or my book, or perhaps even want to read the book (the ebook is available for free, and paperbacks can be arranged as well), I would direct you to my own blog, to be found here. Thank you for taking the time to read my guestpost, and thanks to Wendy for hosting me. Bye for now!

Review: The Sunken ‘Panesian by L.S. Watchman

Author: L.S. Watchman
Title: The Sunken ‘Panesian
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Indie
Publishing Date: June 30, 2014
Pages: 208
Source: Author

Downloadable for free here

The Swifttide Fleet is the least impressive of the four factions that rule the city of Narapan, a nest of pirates, cutthroats and thugs. For years, the competing fleets, stronger one and all, have been driving the Swifttide Fleet closer to the wall. Their numbers, funds, and territory shrink by the day, and unless they act soon, the Fleet might well collapse.

Gerris, third in command on the flagship, is a simple man. He’s been indebted to the Fleet for years beyond count, and has spent the majority of his life in service of the Fleet. When the Fleet’s last chance at survival is revealed, Gerris has no choice but to pack up his scant possessions, and line up at the docks.

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It’s been a while since I’ve read any fantasy, but here it finally is: another fantasy review! I happen to know this author on a more personal level, but I can assure you this has not in any way influenced this review or the rating I gave the book. ;)

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum! Fantasy stories often talk about ships and their crew, but I don’t think I’ve ever read an actual pirate story. There’s a first time for everything though. This one is about Gerris, one of the pirates on The Fleet. The Fleet has lost almost everything and now they’re seeking revenge, har har. The Fleet is threatened both from the outside and the inside. This makes The Sunken ‘Panesian not only a fantasy story, but also a mystery.

While reading the story, you get to know more and more about the characters. I loved Gerris, Wenerras and Enna and the way they interacted with each other and the other characters. Still there could have been more character development within the story. Sometimes the characters felt more like archetypes of characters than like actual characters. Nothing is more unpredictable than a human being, but Watchman created a certain pattern according to which the characters responded to certain situations. Each character has its own pattern, so that’s what made them sort of flat. Watchman made up for that by fitting them well into the story and by giving them their own voices. That’s why I’d love to see more of them in a sequel and see how they will change when other things happen.

Furthermore, The Sunken ‘Panesian is not what you might expect from a pirate story: sure, there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of rum, but these pirates do not swear that much and there’s also not that much sex involved. On the one hand this is refreshing. Women are a part of The Fleet and do the same work as the men do. They also have approximately the same amount of high ranks within The Fleet as the men do (yay feminism!). On the other hand: The Fleet is home to both men and women and they only have each other. Shouldn’t there be more sexual interaction between those characters? I think that kind of essential feature of life should be woven into the story, even it’s only indirectly mentioned, because I refuse to believe that so many people on a fleet of ships don’t have that kind of feelings.

So The Sunken ‘Panesian happens to have lovely characters, equality between men and women and a great background story. This makes the story a likeable read if you happen to love pirates and mystery. Still there’s one thing I couldn’t bring myself to overlook. Watchman is a Dutch writer who writes in English. He has a good grip on the English language and especially an exellent choice of words, but at some points I found his sentences a bit awkwardly formed. There was an extensive amount of comma’s that weren’t necessary and that annoyed me and some sentences didn’t have a verb. I think this could have easily been solved by letting the story proofread by someone who actually has English as a first language. Apart from language issues I found the story lovely and likeable and I’m looking forward to a sequel.

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Author: Markus Zusak
Title: The Book Thief
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Black Swan
Publishing Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 560
Source: Borrowed

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HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH.

It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES.

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Okay, okay. I know I’m late to the party! But when The Book Thief movie was in theaters I just couldn’t bring myself to actually read the book, because I tend to really really really dislike hyped books. So I decided I should wait for a while, let the hype fade away and THEN read the book. And what a great decision that was!

I found it hard to get into this book, especially because of the way of narration. I like books that have a slightly weird narrator, but… Death itself, really? Also the fact that Death speaks to you directly and is some kind of omniscient teller of the story took some time to get used to. Even when I was at page 200 I was still telling people through Twitter (you can verify that!) that I was disappointed in The Book Thief. My initial fear came true: this book was so hyped that I didn’t like it.

So I was pleasantly surprised when after page 300 I had grown into liking the book. And I mean really, four stars, liking it. The Death character is human-like, makes comments on other characters and life in general and is actually just being his sarcastic (and sometimes annoying) self. This is why Death is my most favorite character in this book. Zusak did a great job giving him a distinct voice. Also Liesel, the main character, is amazing. She’s not your mainstream little girl living during times of war. She’s different, which makes her extremely likable when you get to know her more throughout the story.

I can’t tell you exactly what it is that I liked about The Book Thief, especially not because I didn’t like it at first. I think character development, even when it comes to the minor characters, throughout the story is one of the most essential elements of a great book and Zusak happens to be an amazing character developer. Hence the four stars. Also the story itself (come on, she’s a book thief!) couldn’t be more perfect for booklovers. So why not five stars? I’m still not sure what to think of the way Death, even though the character itself is awesome, speaks to you directly and I wasn’t that fond of the lists in between chapters  and the way the chapters were formed. Yes, that’s something I think important. ;) All in all I’d recommend this book to everyone who likes a moving story about love and war and isn’t afraid of trying something different.