Festive Greetings!

As a famously awful year comes to an end I think that I'll restrict myself to expressing the glib wish that 2017 will be a year less characterised by politicians lying and beloved celebrities dying.

From a less global perspective my own year was good, with plenty of trips and lots of art history course stimulation. The pre-renaissance concentration continued from my Early Medieval V&A course into a focus on (and trip to) Siena, as well as a (somewhat disappointing) trip to Durham and the very undisappointing exploration of the Romanesque churches of Cologne. And then there where the carved altarpieces of Hamburg.

Next year is starting more solidly Italian with trips to Milan, Bologna and Urbino planned. But my life-changing event of 2017 will be my 60th birthday, in March, when I'll start receiving my work pension, get free tube, train and bus travel in London, and cheaper rail journeys outside London. This last benefit I'm planning to parlay into visiting more English cathedrals. The free tube travel will save me more than £60 a month, even leaving aside the fact that it'll also encourage me to get out more.

A solid year for my churches websites, with The Churches of Venice continuing to grow in visitor numbers and generate most of the feedback. There was a sudden sharp spike in visitors in October and November, for some reason - a trend repeated on the Churches of Florence site too. A page devoted to the scuole was added to the Venice page, following my March visit to Venice and Padua, which also saw the Padua page much improved. And a Siena page is nearly ready to add to the Florence site.

A few personal downers included a missed flight home from Venice, a trip to Bordeaux cancelled because of exaggerated fears of travel chaos caused by an air-traffic controllers strike and our cat Peter's recent illness.

But, back to positivity, I acquired my first ever hat this month, as reported on my Cologne Trip page. I think that it suits, and has prompted no little personal re-evaluation. In the past few years I have become a keen art-history student, a traveller to very many European art capitals, a fan of Medieval and Renaissance Music, and now, maybe, a hat person. Life begins after retirement? I'd say yes.

With high hopes for good and new things in 2017 for all of us.


My Books of 2016
Elizabeth McKenzie The Portable Veblen
Sylvain Neuvel Sleeping Giants
Martin Seay The Mirror Thief
Sarah Perry The Essex Serpent
Jodi Taylor Just One Damned Thing After Another
Jonathan Carroll The Land of Laughs
Dominic Smith The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
N. K. Jemisin The Fifth Season
Robert Jackson Bennett City of Stairs/City of Blades
Francis Spufford Golden Hill
Robert Dickinson The Tourist

A year in which I indulged my weakness for the fantastical and the science fictional.
The more literary temptations seemed sparse and the need to escape the grimness in the wider
real world also probably played no small part.

My CDs of 2016
Kesang Marstrand For My Love
Oh Brother Big Sister Thanks & Praise
Lily & Madeleine Keep It Together
Band Of Horses Why Are You OK

Sean Watkins What to Fear
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
Jane Siberry Angels Bend Closer

My early music 'thing' this year was more focused on choral music, especially from further east,
and I was even drawn to some modern choral stuff too.

Capella de Ministrers Ramon Llull - Chronicle of a Medieval Voyage
Dialogos Dalmatica: Chants of the Adriatic
Schola Cantorum Reykjavik Meditatio - Hvild
Madrigal Chamber Chorus Documents Of Vocal Culture In Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania

Searching to see if there are any interesting novels set in Venice on the horizon I found a Kindle release I just have to pass on. It's called The Beatles in Venice and it's by one Alessandro Tonussi. The plot involves the 'Paul is dead' rumours of the late 60s, and the supposed substitution of a double, we are told in a blurb written in somewhat fractured English that does not encourage investigation.


In a burst of Donna Leon-related activity there's review of the unofficially-subtitled episode of the German TV series that I got hold of on the Brunetti TV page, I've updated the info there about forthcoming episodes, and there's the hot news that 2017's new Brunetti novel, published in April as always, is to be called Earthly Remains.

Fans of the Marco Vichi's Inspector Bordelli series, set in Florence in the 1960s, will be pleased to know that the English translation of number five, Death in the Tuscan Hills, is out in the UK and US next week. The last one appeared in 2013 so it's been a while. Also I'm well into Martin Cruz Smith's The Girl from Venice, also out in the UK next week - it's been out in the US for a few weeks - so expect a review soon. And (spoiler alert!) expect it to be a good one.


Tomorrow to Florence! Not so much of a box-ticking church research trip this time, more of a holiday. But the new big Duomo Opera Museum will need a visit, as will the Spedale degli Innocenti, which has also reopened recently following much work. Ditto the Misericordia, promising fourteen rooms of art, furniture, manuscripts and everyday items. A correspondent also recently pointed me to the new-looking website of the Piccoli Grandi Musei of Florence which provides opening times for the Diocesan Museum next to Santo Stefano al Ponte (which I've never found open) and the museum at San Sebastiano dei Bini in via Romana. OK, so maybe some box ticking. The only slight downer is the possibility of bumping into Tom Hanks, as the world première of the film of Dan Brown's Inferno is in Florence this Saturday.

Keep it to yourself but I've managed to download an unofficially subtitled version of the German Brunetti TV series episode from 2015, 21. Beastly Things. The subtitles look to be a bit machine-translated, with a tendency to nonsense, but it still looks pretty watchable. I'll do so and report back.

Siena & Pisa


I've not hitherto read anything by Martin Cruz Smith but I have heard of him, and novels set in Venice (and Florence) by authors you've heard of come but once a year, on average. The Girl from Venice is published on the 18th of  October. Another familiar name is Brandreth as Gyles Brandreth was an annoying 'celebrity' with a misspelled name way back before reality TV and such phenomena supplied us steaming piles of them. (He wrote a novel set in Venice too, which I've never been able to bring myself to read.) So the fact that The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare novel is by one Benet Brandreth pits memories of Gyles and his annoying jumpers against the fact that it's well reviewed. Benet's own website tactfully doesn't mention that Giles is his dad, for so I find to be the case, on the Daily Telegraph website, of course. I intend to read and review both, but admit that such promises from me have rung a bit hollow lately.


Way back in 2010 I started The Venice Questions a page where authors were interviewed about their (usually new) books and answered questions about what Venice meant for them. It was meant to ingratiate myself and my site with publishers but became a bit too much faff for the fun. I mention this because Hallie Rubenhold, the last subject grilled, has a new book out, called French Lessons. It's the sequel to Mistress of my Fate and moves Henrietta Lightfoot's fraught life to Brussels, briefly, and Paris. I'm enjoying it at the moment and you can expect a review soon. I'll be dusting off my Related Works page to accommodate it, as it comes between her London and Venice-based adventures. The author's Lady Worsley's Whim was filmed by the BBC in 2015 as The Scandalous Lady W and stared Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones fame. This raised Hallie's profile even more than appearing on this site, and may explain why the new book's cover comes with recommendations by telly history types like Simon Sebag Montifiore and Lucy Worsley.

It's always good to hear from authors, and Stephanie Storey has been in touch this week regarding my difficulty (as I reported back in February) with getting a review read of her novel about Leonardo and Michelangelo called Oil and Marble. I had since acquired a copy, as it happens, through a sequence of events, emails and dubious downloads I'd decided not to torture you with the telling of. Anyway, expect a review in the not too distant.

And so June is upon us, a.k.a. 'The Month With No Trips'. But there's always books. Any novel whose blurb name-checks David Mitchell and Umberto Eco has got to be worth investigating, even if you end up chuckling at the chutzpah. The Mirror Thief, a debut novel by Martin Seay, also attracts attention by being set in three Venices - the Venice Hotel in Las Vegas, Venice Beach CA, and the real one - and in involving three time periods. Expect a review soon. No, really!

As the years go by finds of 'new' films set in Venice get fewer and further between. When they crop up they usually have titles that don't have the words 'Venice' or 'Venetian' in them, to explain their slipping through the net for so long. Which is the case with Le Cadeau, which became Bankers also have Souls in the US and was never released in the UK. It stars Pierre Mondy, a French comedy actor whose fame hasn't travelled well, as a bank employee who gets given a prostitute as a retirement gift. He doesn't realise, of course, thinks she's just attracted to him, and all sorts of hilarious misunderstanding ensues, we're told. I don't feel massively drawn to it but I promise to watch it and report.


      & Padua

Brescia, Bergamo & Monza

Off to Brescia tomorrow, flying to Milan at the crack of dawn, literally - a 6.25 flight fergawdsake! I'm back Sunday night, so (fingers crossed) expect gory details and lovely photos next week. The Rome-trip gout-afflicted toe is now almost utterly pain-free and the cold has settled into an occasional annoying cough. Improved health and the Spring beckon!

(For those whose first language isn't cockney I may need to begin by pointing out that 'dodgy' is, where I come from, a euphemism for 'illegal'.) So, having told you a while back that I'd had no luck acquiring a review copy of the new Donna Leon you may be perplexed to notice that a review has appeared. This is due to my having found a dodgy download. And the review copies I mentioned on 29.2 looked to be in the bag but the publisher's press person, after confirming that I would accept e-books, has gone all silent on me. I'm not holding my breath, and advise you to respirate as usual too.

As Spring slowly approaches so does the prospect of the publication of the new Brunetti from Donna Leon. I managed to get a rare review copy last year, but of the two PR people involved one's email bounces back as non-existent and the other has not replied. And trying to find the person now responsible for William Heinemann press by working through the divisions and levels of the PenguinRandomHouse Megacorp hurt my brain and proved fruitless. But I've just placed a reserve with my local library!

If you've ever had your interest tweaked by my page devoted to Constance Fenimore Woolson and Henry James in Venice you might be interested in the just-published Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux. Ms Rioux has also edited a new volume of CFW's stories just out, called Miss Grief and Other Stories.

A couple of new novels which look to be up this site's street, both reviewed on the same page in the New York Review last weekend and both from the same publisher. There's The Weeping Woman by Zoe Valdes, which promises to explain why a spurned lover of Picasso should decide to withdraw from the world following a trip to Venice with a pair of gay male fans of said artist. There's only really the Venice bit that appeals, but I hope to have my anti-modern-art prejudices confounded. The other is Oil and Marble: a novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by Stephanie Storey which requires less explaining, and has a gorgeous cover. Review copies have been requested. (A positive response initially, and a promise of ebooks, has been followed by silence. Oh well.)


I'm heading for (Baroque) Rome tomorrow. Expect some trip reporting when I return - next weekend - as the hotel's the same one as last year and so probably still blocking uploading. Toodle-pip until then.

I've just started to read Ascension by Gregory Dowling, mentioned just before Christmas, and it's started with one of the most intriguing and encouraging first chapters I've read in a long time. Add to that my discovery that Tonya Macalino has written a sequel to Faces in the Water, which I liked a lot, called Stealing Lucifer's Dreams, and of a similarly fantastical novel called The Serpent, the first in something called the Gameshouse series by Claire North, and we have a winter of juicy Venice reads in prospect.

In these deadish days as real life slowly starts up again surprises are even more welcome than usual. Through the letter box this morning came a very good one. Called Jones & Sawers' Map of FICTIONAL LONDON, it's a wacky idea calligraphically and tastefully realised - a folding map of London where streets and parks and buildings are labelled with the books that mention them. It comes courtesy of theliterarygiftscompany.com. On today's trip into town, for example, I started out with Dracula and Piccadilly Jim, through Vile Bodies, Possession and A Society, where I took some library books back; then through The Greek Interpreter and The Drowned World to The Well of Loneliness, where I bought a cake. The back of the map lists all the books with the relevant sentences. It also lists eight 'useful and interesting' related websites including...well I said it was a morning for nice surprises.

It's a new year! And tomorrow normality returns after the gruelling and dingy grey break. And with the new year comes news of the new Donna Leon Brunetti novel. It's called The Waters of Eternal Youth, and so an unusual non-cliché-derived title. It concerns a cold case resurrected by Brunetti following pleas from a Contessa friend of his wife's mother. Her daughter nearly drowned 15 years ago, saved but suffering brain damage that sees her still mentally a teenager. Brunetti's discoveries are described as dark and murky, you won't be surprised to learn. Sounds juicy though. Out in April.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Brescia - a painting
in  the Santa Giulia museum.

Festive Greetings!

Education, change, and travel are all good things, I think you'll agree. In the four years since I quit work I have spent more time being talked to about art then in my whole life before that date, and I have been on 23 trips to cities to see art. I say all this not (just) to make you insanely envious, but to illustrate my contention that change is good.

This year saw an unprecedented, and unrepeatable I think, tally of 10 trips. At times in the Spring there were less than two weeks between them, which leaves very little time for battery-charging (real and emotional) and smalls washing. On the other hand I only read and reviewed 6 novels set in Venice in 2015. This falling off of obsession may explain why the number of visitors to Fictional Cities also declined. But, as I say, we all change and our priorities and enthusiasms evolve. More gratifying was the growing popularity of my Venice Films page, which took up plenty of the slack. Previously this site's most visited page had consistently been a side-interest one devoted to London's Secret Tunnels.

The Venice Churches site's popularity continued to grow, though, and my 'content' this year spread to a newspaper, a French TV documentary about Casanova and possibly to apps too. I've also just found out that 2016's new edition of the Rough Guide to Venice, and the Pocket Guide version, will contain recommendations for my sites. Next year should see, aside from the usual gradual improvements and revisions, the addition of a page devoted to the scuole to The Churches of Venice too, and maybe even the long-promised book, which I now have a firm (and good?) idea for. The Verona and (especially) Padua pages need work too, and hopefully will get improved in 2016. On The Churches of Florence I got Fiesole done, but other bits still need work. The process of giving the best and most interesting Venice churches their own (expanded) pages has been achieved, and it's happening to the Florence ones too.

My art-history course focus slipped back to the early medieval period this year. Early Christian imagery, manuscripts and mosaics were the unsurprising affection grabbers, Anglo-Saxon jewellery's appeal was more of a shock. This whole process is encompassed by 2015 being the year that the V&A and then the British Museum became my London haunts of choice. The National Gallery did return my email (of complaint) but has yet to fully win back my love.

A heartening year health-wise too, which I'll share with you. At my yearly check-up in 2014 my doctor had warned of the irresistible approach of diabetes, due to my blood pressure and the ageing process, and sent me on a course. He said he'd wait a year to let me make lifestyle changes before prescribing yet more medication. So I approached my Summer 2015 check-up with trepidation, but a certain amount of confidence as my blood pressure was stable and I'd had to make a new hole in my old bought-in-Venice black belt. The crucial blood test revealed blood- sugar levels that I had not only kept at 2014 levels but had returned to their 2013 levels. I'd tamed these sugar levels without too much deprivation of chocolate and cakes, just by cutting it out of meals and decreasing choc and cake portions, and thereby beating the aging process! Many more years of travelling and reporting on foreign cakes are therefore in prospect for your correspondent.

Wishing you all health and happiness in 2016 too.


My Books of 2015
Tom Rachman The Imperfectionists
Marta Maretich The Merchants of Light
Ben Lerner Leaving the Atocha Station
Karim Miské Arab Jazz
Natasha Pulley The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Sara Taylor The Shore
 Philip Kazan The Painter of Souls
 Iain Pears Arcadia
 Tonke Dragt The Letter for the King
Patrick DeWitt Undermajordomo Minor
David Mitchell Slade House
Rupert Thomson Katherine Carlyle
Ursula K. LeGuin The Wizard of Earthsea series
Sloane Crosley The Clasp

My CDs of 2015
Rae Morris Unguarded
Great Lake Swimmers A Forest of Arms
The Staves If I Was
Odessa Odessa
My Morning Jacket The Waterfall
Low Ones and Sixes
Downpilot Radio Ghost

Egidius Kwartet & College The Leiden Choirbooks
Margaret Little & Sylvain Bergeron Doulce Mémoire
Biber's Rosary Sonatas
This last collection was a surprise joy in various versions,
of which three came out this year, the best by
Rachel Podger, Lina Tur Bonet and Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen.
German Baroque lute music was my other big old thing of 2015, played by the
lutenist likes of Miguel Yisrael, Alberto Crugnola and Bernhard Hofstotter.


As far as celebrity endorsements go there's no beating an uncompromising religious fanatic dead these 500 years. Savonarola surely had the future creation of this very website in mind when, in a sermon of the 1490s, he urged the citizens of Florence to call to mind the beauty of Florence and maintained that this mental image would be more beautiful than the real thing, and that spiritual enlightenment would thereby result. This could well be my mission statement.

A tame author this week wrote and pointed me towards moviedetective.net, a treasure trove of (mostly) old and foreign-language films on DVD, all for around $12.50. So, to begin with, expect reviews of Cronaca Familiare, Cronache di poveri amanti , Dove vai in Vacanza, Anonimo Veneziano and Nudo di Donna pretty soon.


The news that the Cohen Media Group have acquired the rights to restore and release thirty Merchant Ivory films is not particularly exciting, you might think, especially as it doesn't include the biggies, like site-fave Room With a View. However, this total does include nine documentaries, including Venice: Themes & Variations which we've been hearing good things about for years.

And somewhat belatedly (it's been out since August!) I've caught up with the TV movie/pilot of Casanova, produced for Amazon and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of Amelie, Alien: Resurrection, The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen fame.
And very relatedly, the Secrets d'Histoire French TV documentary about Casanova that I supplied some photos of the church of San Samuele for was broadcast last Tuesday and is watchable online, if you live in France, or know how to make your computer pretend that you live in France.
I've been back a week, from Venice, and have been busily feeding the fruits of the trip into The Churches of Venice. Photos, facts, upgraded observations, previously unvisited churches revealed...and I've started giving the more fascinating churches a page to themselves, which allows me to expand the coverage and photos of the art.



Just hours before I'd read the version of the famous Florentine Madonna-defacing episode in the The Painter of Souls I'd been asked if I could supply some photos for this article. Which was a spooky enough coincidence. But then it turned out that the article in question was written by the author of the novel!

A new novel telling the story of the life of Filippo Lippi, called The Painter of Souls, by an author whose previous - also Florence-set - novel we liked a lot, Philip Kazan, and it's been out since the 16th of July! I'm slacking, but expect a review before too long. I don't anticipate it will surpass Linda Proud's  A Gift for the Magus, but that one was special.


A film which has more than a hint of the fantastical and stars Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly and Shirley Henderson has got to be worthy of our attention. Add to that Tuscan and Apulian settings, including some Florence scenes and I'm definitely interested. It's called Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti), it premiered at Cannes and is the first English-language film by Matteo Garrone, who wrote and directed Gomorrah. It's not out in the UK until next June but there are some downloads knocking around already.



I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that for a while now my reading and visits have reflected an attitude towards Venice that can best be described as 'getting a broader perspective'. But, whilst I'm still of the opinion that there's much more to life, literature and art appreciation than that which Venice contains and inspires, I am spending a week there in September (and another in November) so expect a fair bit more content devoted to a city we all rank near the top.




Sometimes it takes news as mind-boggling as the fact that a church you've never been in in Venice is currently open, and hosting an art installation comprising ranks of fridges, to make you realise you've got to get yourself there, soon. Sadly said exhibition ends today, but I'm booked and going anyway, in mid- September. There are other churches specially open, and five new rooms in the Accademia too, you see.


I'm off to Madrid tomorrow, mostly to soak up the Flemish Primitives in the Prado, and their current Rogier van der Weyden exhibition. Toledo and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are on the list too. It's my first trip to Madrid, and indeed to Spain. I'll report back when I get back.

About a year ago I reported that Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, This Must Be the Place) was filming his new one in Venice. Youth, which premiered at Cannes a few weeks back, tells the story of two old geezers Fred and Mick (played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) one a director and the other a conductor, who go on holiday together. It has been released in Italy, but there's no UK release date as yet, the USA release being December 4th 2015. I've managed to scan through a rubbish video recording made with a video camera in an Italian cinema, with no subtitles yet, of course. Not a lot of Venice-set content, by the look of it, but a dream sequence involving drowning in rising waters in Piazza San Marco looked striking. Moving along to Florence, the new season of Hannibal has moved its action there, and taken Gillian Anderson along too. And Eddie Izzard's in it! Jumping in at Season 3 goes strongly against my completist instincts, but that's what I'm planning.



Off to Amsterdam tomorrow but I'm thinking of travelling light, with just my new and lovely small (Dell Venue 8 7840) tablet and so putting up the trip report when I get home, thereby not posting daily by choice rather than because of the hotel's darn wifi restrictions - a recent phenomenon. We're not going for any particular exhibitions but because both the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis have had big rebuildings of late. And it's been nearly 20 years since our last visit!


I mentioned a few months back that Edward Sklepowich's Urbino Macintyre mysteries, which are set in Venice and which we like a lot, were to be published in ebook form. Well they were, and you can get them on Amazon, but annoyingly not in the UK yet.

An English Man in Paris
Due to technical problems (like in Rome) I wasn't able to do daily updates from my hotel, but it's all there now!

Jeff in Florence

Well, Fictional Cities has had a bit of a quiet March and April reviews-wise but things are about to get a little manic trips-wise. Visits to Florence, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid are all coming soon, with barely fortnights in-between.

Personally I wouldn't have thought that we needed another film about Casanova, but it seems that Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the somewhat unprolific director of Delicatessen, Amelie, and TS Spivet and stuff, is in pre-production with Amazon on a TV film of Casanova's escape to Paris.

In case you were looking forward to eventually watching the most recent episodes (19-22) in the Brunetti TV series I've just been told that  MHz, who broadcast and make the DVDs of the subtitled versions, are saying that Donna Leon has contractually forbidden them from releasing them in non-German-speaking territories. How disappointing is that?

Back from my trip below with a worthy cause to publicise. If you've read Ali Smith's fine novel How to be Both you'll have been intrigued and enthused by the fresco cycle at the heart of the novel, painted by Francesco da Cossa. They are in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Mantua and the one fascinatingly focused on in the novel depicts the month of March coincidentally. If you've been there you'll remember the refreshing little garden behind the palazzo and it's tastefully quaint and ramshackle cafe. Well the garden and the cafe are now threatened with demolition and building over. The area around the place is pretty run down and I noticed many empty buildings but no, the plan is to spoil one of the city's major attractions, and one destined to become more popular as Ali Smith's book is discovered by more people. Not as guaranteed as it would be if we were talking rubbish by Dan Brown, but still. If this annoys you too I have a petition form I can send you a scan of if you can rustle up the signatures of maybe a dozen art and literature fans and scan and email it back.  It's all being coordinated by the artist who also runs the cafe - I have his email address but hesitate to post it here and subject him to a spam blizzard. Nothing online yet, but it can only be a matter of time.

Another trip, but a short one:
Mantua & Ferrara

Today I speak of wonders, and of their continuing not ceasing. Yesterday I sent an email to Heinemann asking for a review copy of Falling in Love, Donna Leon's new Brunetti, due out on the 9th of April, and this morning lo, it came through my letterbox. A cheering turn of events, to be sure, as it's been many a year since one of my emails to them has even been answered.  My love of publishers and their press officers has increased no end. Expect a review before the weekend's out.

Discussions during my Rome trip suggested that my received downer on Martin Randall tours might be misplaced, so I'm going to try them out in November with a Venice trip. 'But Jeff' I hear you cry 'we rely on you for your compendious and reliable knowledge of Venice, what can a veritable sage of Venice learn from taking a tour'. Well, I say, with a smug but accepting smile, the trip concentrates on palazzos, some privately owned and not commonly visitable. Also I'm not so well versed in the palazzi, and the tour is led by Michael Douglas-Scott, who impressed and entertained on a one-week course on the Northern Italian Courts at the Courtauld last year. It also includes a private visit to the Basilica San Marco (so I can plug that self-conscious gap in the Churches of Venice) and even a gondola trip up the Grand Canal.

If you're on my mailing list for irregular news bulletins you would have got one from me a few days ago via a service called Mail Chimp. This was the first time I'd used this method, forced on my by bt's limits on the number of emails possible in any single batch, and it worked fine, mostly. Teething problems like it not being immediately obvious who the message was from and the instructional bit towards the end can mostly be blamed on the service not giving me the expected opportunity to review the mail before sending it. Apologies for any confusion - the next one will be perfect!

A bonus was the scaring up of emails from site friends I'd not communicated with in a while. So I can tell you that there will be a new edition of the Rough Guide to Venice early next year, there's been another novel about Vivaldi and the Pieta girls called Isabella's Libretto and that Roberta Rich is working on the final draft of the third book in her Midwife series, which we have loved so far, called The Trial of a Midwife and set in Venice (after the second book's action's shift to Constantinople) and in a Palladian villa on the Brenta. Also the San Marco press have a biography of Lord Byron in Venice out, called Byron - Venice, which also covers his journey through Europe and his time in Ravenna. Expect a review soon.

Due to technical problems I wasn't able to do daily updates from my hotel, but it's all there now!

Some quiet weeks, as is pretty usual for this time of year, with a few books reviewed and some tasty cakes added to the London Cakes page. But trip season is upon us, a little earlier than usual this year. Next Wednesday: Rome!

Change of plan - I was going on an art tour taking in Assisi and the Piero trail in April, but instead I'm now going to Rome at the end of February. I'm promised frescoed churches and villas, the Forum, the Capitoline Hill, St Peter's and, wait for it, a private evening visit to the stanze and Sistine Chapel. I can't wait.

Searching for recent and forthcoming novels set in Venice got me a couple of possibles onto the Kindle amongst the self-published masses. Most of these don't make their way onto my list, which is becoming less blindly comprehensive now - I'm no masochist, but maybe if I was it would make me more likely to read some of the numerous BDSM novels set in Venice that have been published recently. This year's release of the 50 Shades of Grey film will presumably do nothing to staunch this flow.

In less spanky news, I was happy to get an email from Edward Sklepowich last week informing me that his excellent Venice-set Urbino Macintyre series is being republished as ebooks by Mysterious Press later this month. He also tells me that although he is working on a new novel in the series he is nearer completion of a mystery set in the old medina of Tunis during the early days of the revolution. To my shame I don't know what any of that means, but we shall see.

A downside of late-2014’s glut of new novels by big names (and personal faves) is that 2015 is looking like a lean year for new fiction. Maybe just in comparison, but I think not. We wait until March for Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, his first novel since Never Let Me Go ten years ago. It’s the story of a couple’s journey across post-Roman Britain and their encounters with ordinary people and strange creatures, it seems, and looks the best hope for something juicy and new before the Summer. Runner-up possibilities are provided by Sarah Hall, Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler, Kate Atkinson and Neal Stephenson. We Brunetti fans will be waiting with trepidation for Falling in Love in early April to see if Donna Leon can see off the doubts engendered by the disappointing By Its Cover, and its seeming to end many pages before its ending. But all of this is overshadowed by the UK General Election in the spring and the long build up to the new Star Wars film in December. (Enoch Powell removes his shiny black helmet and says ‘Nigel, I am your father!’)

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