The Italian Girl by Lucinda Riley


  Rosanna comes from the back streets of Naples.  She doesn’t particularly have a burning desire to shake off her lowly-born tag, but she does have a wonderful voice.  Thanks to opera singer Roberto, she’s able to go to Milan and become a world famous soprano.  Roberto has seduced a very long list of women, including Rosanna’s sister and best friend, and seems to have come straight out of a Jilly Cooper book, but he and Rosanna marry.

Meanwhile, Rosanna’s best friend really loves Rosanna’s brother.  He loves her too, but he wants to become a priest.  A definite touch of The Thorn Birds there.  There’s also a rather odd sub-plot involving some stolen artwork.

It’s all a bit tropey, but it’s a very entertaining read if you’re after something light, and there are some nice descriptions of places.   Not bad at all.


The Larkins (Series 2) – ITV


It’s wonderful to have this back.  There’s been nothing on on Sunday nights for weeks, other than the Strictly Come Dancing results show!   It’s just nice, gentle, easy watching.

The posh new family are rather silly and caricatured, but never mind.  In fact, a lot of it’s a bit OTT, even farcical, but the village setting’s so lovely, and there’s no doom and gloom.  It’s just nice.  And there aren’t a lot of “just nice” things about.

Merchants of Virtue by Paul C R Monk


This is set in France just before and after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and shows just how bad things were for Huguenots, who even had their children taken away if they refused to convert to Catholicism.  We have a marked tendency to look at situation from the viewpoint of how it influenced events in England, so it was good to find a book which was purely from the viewpoint of French Protestants themselves – and which also showed some of the issues faced in any era by refugees, something which we’re sadly seeing yet again with people fleeing Ukraine. We see the characters, those who escaped imprisonment or forced labour, effectively facing a choice between becoming Catholics or trying to leave for England, Protestant parts of Switzerland or America – easier said than done with Louis XIV trying to stop the departure of Huguenots, many of them skilled craftspeople or businesspeople, from his kingdom.

It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s worth reading as a reminder of just how bad religious persecution in Europe was, well into the early modern period.   It was only really in the 19th century that the rights of religious minorities came actually to be respected, and not even then in some cases.

The persecution of Huguenots was a big stain on the reign of Louis XIV, which in so many other ways was glorious; and the book, the first in a trilogy (many loose ends are left untied) gets it across very well.

Henna House by Nomi Eve


This was a fascinating book about Yemenite Jews and their unique culture and recent history; but could have been so much better had the last few chapters not been so rushed.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic kingdom was set up in the area which we would later know as North Yemen, and a decree passed which enabled the state to remove orphans from Jewish families and place them with Muslim families.   In order to escape this fate, children were often betrothed at an early age and married as soon as they reached puberty, but, in this book, the family of main character Adela were unable to find a husband for her.  In the meantime, she grew close to her aunt and cousin, henna artists in a culture which prized henna, especially for brides, in a manner similar to that of Hindu and Sikh culture.

The first five-sixths or so of the book was filled with wonderful, rich descriptions of the lives and customs of Yemenite Jews, but then it suddenly started galloping along.  Over a decade, including the Second World War, the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel and the airlift of Jews from Yemen to Israel, passed within 25 pages.

Prior to that, we’d seen Adela and her family move to Aden, British South Yemen, with the journey and their new life there described as vividly as her childhood in the Kingdom of Yemen.  But then suddenly everything was in a rush – marriage, betrayal, divorce, emigration, remarriage, trying to integrate into Israeli society, learning of relatives’ fate in Europe … all within a few pages.  It had been so good up until then, and I can’t think why the author rushed the rest of it so much.

It was an interesting subject for a book, and it could have been very good if only the pace of the story had remained the same and it had been a third or so as long again.  It was excellent for about 260 pages out of 300!