Monday, April 2, 2012

Kate Forsyth on her favourite books set in Venice (includes international giveaway)

Today we are pleased to welcome Australian author Kate Forsyth to Historical Tapestry. In honour of her newly released book, Bitter Greens, she is sharing her Favourite Books Set in Venice.

Bitter Greens is a fairy tale retelling of the Rapunzel story which is set in 17th century France and Venice.

We are also very pleased to be able to giveaway a copy of Bitter Greens, and it is an international giveaway! See the end of the post for details of how to enter.


My Favourite Books Set in Venice

I don’t remember the first time I read about Venice. I seem to have longed to go there all of my life. The combination of enchanting beauty, ancient stones steeped in story, and the whiff of danger was irresistible. A book only needs a picture of Venice on its cover, or the mention of its name in its title, and I will want to read it.

I have always wanted to set a book in Venice, partly to give me an excuse to travel there again, and so my latest novel Bitter Greens is set partly in Renaissance Venice and partly in France in the 17th century. And yes, the cover has a gorgeous picture of Venice on it ...

Here are my favourite books set in Venice:

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

An absolutely fabulous historical novel, In the Company of the Courtesan tells the story of the escape of a courtesan from the pillage of Rome in 1527 – she flees to Venice and hopes to start a new life there. The story is told from the point of view of her dwarf. Sarah Dunant features the painter Titian and his most famous painting ‘The Venus of Urbino’, which is something I do in my own novel Bitter Greens, but we have completely different explanations for the story behind the painting. One of my all-time favourite books from one of my all-time favourite authors.

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

Another parallel narrative, moving between contemporary times and the early 17th century, The Rossetti Letter is a fabulous read. Claire Donovan is doing her Ph.d on the Venetian courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti, who wrote a letter to the Council of Ten warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. The narrative moves smoothly back and forth between the two protagonists, and is filled with romance, intrigue, mystery and suspense.

A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant

A long-lost packet of letters, found by the author's father in the attic of a palace on the Grand Canal, reveals a passionate and forbidden love affair between a Venetian nobleman and a half-English commoner. The world of 1750s Venice is brought vividly to life - masked balls, gondolas on the canals, gambling, dancing, making love in secret gardens. I really loved this book.

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

This novel has a parallel narrative, with one story taking place in 17th century Venice and the other taking place in contemporary times. Much of the story is set on Murano Island where the glassblowers worked and lived. It’s a quick-paced, vivid and absorbing historical mystery, with some fascianting details about the art of glass-blowing.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

John Berendt is best known for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book works in the same way, being a non-fiction book that uses fictive devices and a strong personal voice to bring to life a place, a time, and the people who inhabit them. It describes the events following the burning of the historic La Fenice opera theatre in 1996, as well as charting the stories of other writers and artists who were fascinated by Venice, including Henry James, John Singer Sargent, and Ezra Pound. A really fascinating, colourful book.

The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi's Venice by Laurel Corona

This novel is set in the Pieta, a Venetian hospital for founding children, during the time when Vivaldi was choir master. I had never heard of the Pieta before, and was so inspired by this novel that I decided to set a section of my own book Bitter Greens there. Abandoned babies were taken in by the nuns, and trained to be exquisite singers and musicians.

Many of them would never leave the Pieta in their lifetime, singing in the church behind high wooden screens. A really intriguing look at an unknown part of Venetian history.

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

This is another book set in the Pieta during the time of Vivaldi. I really loved this book – the writing was fluid and vivid, and the characters came dancing to life. The story about how the author came to write the book is just as fascinating – I’d really recommend this book too.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

One day, in Venice, Marlena de Blasi fell in love with a stranger. She decides to move to Venice to be with her new love, and this book charts (with lots of wonderful recipes and descriptions of food) her romantic adventures thereafter.

Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers

After her dearest friend dies, retired history teacher Julia Garnet does something completely out of character: she rents an apartment in Venice for six months.
An atheist, a Communist, and a virgin, Julia finds herself falling beneath Venice’s spell. She makes friends and falls in love for the first time in her life. Interwoven with her journey of self-discovery is the tale of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, which she sees painted on a fresco in a church. A really beautiful, unusual novel.

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Donna Leon is an American crime writer who lives in Venice, and has written a whole series of books featuring the endearing, food-and-wine loving detective Guido Brunetti. Death At La Fenice is the first in the series, and it’s really worth reading them in order because the book is as much about Brunetti’s wife, family, and friends as it is about solving crimes in modern-day Venice. I love this books and buy them religiously – I have never once been disappointed.

Then, just quickly, my favourite children’s books set in Venice:

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Absolutely wonderful, a must read book!

The Madman of Venice by Sophie Masson

A marvellous romantic adventure set in 1602, and filled with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. Sophie Masson is an Australian writer too, though her imagination is never bound by geographic limitations.

Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli

My favourite novel by Donna Jo Napoli, this slim book bring the life of 16th century Venice vividly to life

Stravaganza – The City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

A time travel book to a magical city very much like Venice ...


Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of 25 books for children and adults, translated into 10 languages.

Her latest book for adults, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of one of its first tellers, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Australian Bookseller & Publisher described Bitter Greens as “magnificent” and said that Kate “has an extraordinary imagination”.

You can read more about her at .


Thanks to Kate for sharing her favourites with us. And now, a chance to share Bitter Greens with all of you.

In order to be entered into the draw leave a comment below sharing either your favourite read about Venice OR your favourite fairy tale!

Rules of the giveaway:
- to participate, just leave a comment sharing your favourite read about Venice or your favourite fairytale and your email address
- one entry per household
- closes 15th April midnight GMT


  1. This sounds like a really interesting retelling of a familiar story and I'd love to win a copy.

  2. My favorite reading about Venice so far is The Rossetti Letter and The Thief Lord.


  3. I have only read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, and liked it. Bitter Greens sound so interesting!

    Here is my e-mail: elsa_maran [at] yahoo [dot] com

  4. I love The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It was my favorite as a child. My e-mail is

  5. I'm reading the Midwife of Venice and so far it's the book I like best set in Venice-thanks for a fun giveaway!


    Rexmoy at gmail dot com

  6. What a great post, I've added most of the books to my wishlist! My favourite book set in Venice is The Book Of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric, a really gothic tale. Please enter me in the giveaway.

  7. I really enjoyed The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker, set in Venice and involving girls from a famous orphanage/music school.
    Thanks for the giveaway.

  8. Out of all of the books that Ms. Forsyth listed, I've only read the Dunant book, which I really, really enjoyed. I see a lot of books here that I need to add to my TBR!


  9. I loved The Company of the Courtesan. Even though its been years, I can still remember her beautiful descriptions.

  10. I loved the Glassblower of Murano! I also really enjoyed Shylock's Daughter, when I read it in high school (retelling of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, with a focus on Jessica)...I think I'm going to have to look some of these up! :o)

    Bitter Greens sounds amazing - I LOVE fairy tale retellings, and while my favorite of all favorites is Beauty & the Beast, I love them all :o)


  11. In the Company of the Courtesan was a book I liked very much. I'd love to note these books and try to get to them eventually. They all sound fascinating.

    Thank you for opening the competition to all. Much appreciated.


  12. The Thief Lord has been one of my favorite books ever since I first read it. I also enjoyed In the Company of the Courtesan. I have added the rest of the books to my TBR list. I hadn't heard of many of them before.

    Thanks for a great post.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  13. I loved many of the books you posted - Miss Garnet's Angel and The Rossetti Letter being particular favorites (although, like another commenter, I also enjoyed The Venetian Mask).

    I have to mention Dorothy Dunnett's "Niccolo" books; several describe early Renaissance Venice in beautiful detail.

    Last - my favorite fairy tale is "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (or any riff on the Beauty & the Beast motif).

    Thanks for the chance to enter this contest! My email is krista[dot]mercer[at]gmail[dot]com.

  14. The covers of these books are so decadent! I have never been there but I would imagine Venice would be too, so much history.

    I had not really thought of it, but I suppose my favorite fairy tale would be Beauty and the Beast. I suppose it is for the same reasons I also love the Phantom of the Opera.

    Thanks for sharing the contest!

  15. I really enjoyed In the Company of the Courtesan and have added the rest of the books to my TBR list! I would love the chance to read Bitter Greens; thank you for the giveaway!

  16. I have to say my favorite fairy tale is Snow White - the setting, the characters, the villain - I love it.

    Thanks for the opportunity - this book looks fantastic!


  17. I like to read books set in Italy and it was great to get all these wonderful recommendations. I have read The Thief Lord and The Glassblower of Murano and thoroughly enjoyed them. I'm looking forward to reading Bitter Greens.

    Thanks for the opportunity to enter the competition.

  18. I fell in love with Venice through photos and made sure when I studied abroad as an undergrad that I visited the city. I was not disappointed! Since then, I have bought every historical fiction novel I could find set in Venice - always drawn by the beautiful images of the city set on the book's covers.

    My list is pretty similar to Kate's and my all-time favorite is Sarah Dunant's In the Company of the Courtesan.

    Thank for your the giveaway!

  19. I forgot to ask - will Bitter Greens be released in the US?

  20. My favorite Venice read is definitely The Rossetti letter. It has everything: mystery, history, and romance.
    Really excited about this giveaway!

  21. Fabulous post. I have read some of Kate's favorites set in Venice, but not all of them. I must read Bitter Greens. It sounds like she wrote it just for me. Thanks Kate!
    I would love to win a copy.
    My favorite all-time historical set in Venice is: The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker.

  22. The only one I can recall is Death at La Fenice. Thanks for the giveaway.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Thomas Mann - A Death in Venice. Thanks for the giveaway, much luck to all

  25. I loved In the Company of the Courtesan. It was actually the first audio book I ever listened to. Thanks for the giveaway!


  26. I have to say, my favorite so far would be "In the company of the Courtesan for a favorite read about Venice. The description of the environment was just evolving and I enjoyed the book a lot. As for my favorite fairy tale I really like "Vasilisa the beautiful" a Russian tale that introduced to me a lot of the Russian folklore, so rich and full of characters.
    Thanks for the giveaway! Good luck everyone :)

  27. Robert Dessaix's book Night Letters had a good amount of very interesting information related to Venice and I really enjoyed his history and descriptions of it.

  28. Rapunzel is my favorite fairy tale. I read a wonderful re-telling of the story in 2009: Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes, 2007, which won the first annual HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest. Here's a teaser I posted from that book:

    I'd love to win Bitter Greens.

    emerging DOT paradigm AT yahoo DOT com

  29. Great post, I'd have to say Hansel & Gretel was my favourite fairytale growing up. Thanks for opening up the giveaway to international followers, I'm an Aussie and it's great to be able to participate. My email address is:

  30. My favourite read about Venice is "Watermark" by Joseph Brodsky - brilliant synthesis of poetry and prose.
    Thanks for giveaway worldwide open :)

  31. I really liked Vivaldi's Virgins. My favorite fairytale is the little match girl even though its really sad. Thanks for the giveaway :)

  32. I can't recall reading any books about Venice put would love to read this. Thanks for a great review. There are so many fairytale books that I have read I cannot pick just one. Thank you for the chance.
    :) Jeanne,

  33. My favorite fairytale is the tale of a mermaid who gave her voice for legs by Hans Christian Andersen.

    spamscape [at] gmail [dot] com

  34. I know I'm late for the giveaway - but I still wanted to get in on the conversation. I have been so behind on reading blogs!

    So many of the books she lists about Venice I currently have on my book shelf to read. I think the only Venice book I have read tho is The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin. I really want to read both of the Vivaldi based books listed above.

  35. I've read 'The Venetian Mask' by Rosalind Laker and 'Night Letters' by Robert Dessaix too and really enjoyed them both. I should have included them in my list! Thanks for reminding me about them. The other recommendations are ones I've added to my list - thanks so much to everyone for posting! BTW, I'm afraid I don't have a release date for Bitter Greens in the US yet - but keep an eye out for it!

  36. I loved Stravaganza!--a recommendation I got from Ms. Forsyth's website after I fell in love with the world and characters of Eileanan. :) Waiting impatiently for Bitter Greens to be available in the US, so I'd love to win a copy. Thanks!

  37. No one has mentioned the childrens book set in Venice. A trilogy starting with Lionboy by Zizou Corder. A wonderful tale of a boy who can talk to cats.