Mel's Top 9 Books From Season Four of the Strong Sense of Place Podcast

Mel's Top 9 Books From Season Four of the Strong Sense of Place Podcast

Tuesday, 6 December, 2022

I love all the books I recommend on our podcast for one reason or another. Maybe the book introduces me to a part of history lacking in my education — or the characters burrow into my heart and won’t let go. Or, perhaps, it’s simply a rip-roaring good yarn with a vivid setting.

But every once in a while, on very good days, I run into a book that is not only great for a particular destination, it’s just great. Full stop. In previous seasons, that feeling was inspired by the Gothic delights of Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, the magic of Madeline Miller’s Circe, the sensual pleasures of Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, the charm of 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, and the quirks of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. They’re all books I can’t wait to pick up to read again.

Below are my favorite books from Season 4. Taking the titles together, I see I was drawn to stories that tackle emotional issues, but temper their sorrows with love, redemption, and optimism for what’s still to come. There’s also a touch of magic and relatable dark humor woven into the narratives — and they’re all populated with people I’d be honored to find at my dinner table.

My favorite reading experience of the year was Still Life by Sarah Winman. It’s a love-and-life story set in Florence, hence the photo above. Because even in the rain, Florence is a beauty. — Mel


The Tricking of Freya - Christina Sunley

The Tricking of Freya
> Christina Sunley

I love it because… it tells stories within stories, plays with language, and tells a page-turning suspense tale wrapped in family drama.

Hear me talk about it: Iceland: Warrior Poets, Emo Horses, and Maybe (Probably) Elves

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it works. It begins as a childhood memoir and morphs into a thrilling outdoor adventure. But it’s also an immigrant story with a family mystery at its core. And it’s an examination (celebration, condemnation) of the power of story and language to shape our lives.

Our heroine and narrator is Freya Morris. For most of the year, she lives in Connecticut with her mother (her words: ‘a limbo to be endured’), but every summer, they make a pilgrimage to see their relatives in Gimli, a village in Canada that was settled by Icelandic immigrants.

The highlights of the trip are her grandmother’s cooking, the Icelandic Festival, and time spent with her Aunt Birdie. To 10-year-old Freya, Birdie is an enthralling combination of playful, dramatic, emotional, mysterious, and threatening. What young Freya perceives as mood swings are actually symptoms of Birdie’s mental illness. And one summer, during the Icelandic Festival, a tragedy changes all of their lives.

In the fallout, Freya distances herself from the family until she accidentally trips over a decades-old family secret. Then her only option is to leave all that’s familiar and head to Iceland to learn the truth.

Author Caroline Rea fills this story with wordplay, dark humor, and exhilarating descriptions of Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes. There’s symbolism and shout-outs to Icelandic sagas, and Birdie does a bang-up job educating Freya, and therefore us, about what it all means. {more}

Winter in Iceland, Freya min, was much longer and darker than here. Little work could be done outdoors-light was scant, the weather forbidding. Dark day after long dark day the Icelanders were trapped inside. How did they stand it? They read. Members of the household took turns reading out loud by the smoky glow of a lamp lit by whale oil: sagas and poetry and the Bible and newspapers and any books they could get their hands on. Books were passed farm to farm. The name for these evening readings was levoldvaka, meaning evening-wake. In Iceland in winter, words took the place of light. — Christina Sunley


Flames - Robbie Arnott

> Robbie Arnott

I love it because… it’s simultaneously completely bananas and makes perfect emotional sense. A magical realism road trip that’s a celebration of love.

Hear me talk about it: Tasmania: The Heart-Shaped Island at the Edge of the World

Pack a duffel and hop in the car. You’re about to embark on a magical realism road trip around the island of Tasmania. There will be ghosts and wombats, stunning landscapes, and challenging conversations along the way. Buckle up.

The story’s outline is deceptively simple: After her mother’s death and the subsequent crumbling of her family, 23-year-old Charlotte sets out on a journey around Tasmania. Mostly to escape her older brother Levi, but also, maybe, unintentionally, to find herself.

She visits beaches and a wombat farm and the snowy peaks of Cradle Mountain, and so many other places in nature, you could use this novel as a tour guide to scenic spots to visit in Tasmania.

The story is told through an exchange of letters and the records of a hard-boiled female detective. There’s also a personification of fire, a river rat who may or may not be a god, and a tender, life-changing friendship between a fisherman and a seal.

There are also gorgeous, vivid descriptions of scenery and weather — all of which make the setting come to life as a character but are also a metaphor for the emotions of the characters. This would be far too heady and literary were it not so readable and engaging; author Robbie Arnott is a magician of the highest order. {more}

Charlotte begins her offer: she will pay, she will work, she will scrub decks, she will clean fish, she will de-cling barnacles and limpets, she will hoist sails and shimmy down masts, if this boat will take her to Melaleuca. The grey man lifts a hand to say something, but Charlotte won’t be stopped. She will lasso albatrosses. She will harpoon whales. She will re-paint the yacht whatever colour he likes. She goes on and on and her breathing becomes a ragged, shallow tide… — Robbie Arnott


Metropolitan Stories - Christine Coulson

Metropolitan Stories
> Christine Coulson

I love it because… it’s an engrossing story that weaves together museum lore, love of art, and messy humans. And it made me use the word ‘enchanting’ more than once.

Hear me talk about it: Museums: A Gathering of Muses, A Clutch of Curators

If you ever fantasized about getting locked in a museum overnight — or imagined that when a portrait’s eyes seem to be following you, it really is watching — this is the novel for you.

Author Christine Coulson worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for more than 25 years — with this charming, moving novel, we get to go there, too. The story unfolds in a series of interconnected vignettes that celebrate the art and the workaday parts of the institution: the storerooms, the corridors, the cafeteria.

The Met’s collection includes more than 2 million objects: paintings by Picasso and Pollack and Titian. Mary Cassatt. Vermeer. Sculptures, musical instruments, costumes, and weapons. Period Rooms that recreate different types of rooms through time and place with furniture, knick-knacks, and lighting. There’s an enormous gallery with a reflecting pool and the ancient Temple of Dendur built around 15 BCE.

It’s an awe-inspiring place, and each object has a story to tell. The tone is set from the start, when the book begins with a confessional piece from an 18th-century armchair that once tenderly cradled the derrière of Louise-Élisabeth of Parma. The chair poignantly describes life in the family home, the heartbreak of being kept in a storage closet, and the near-joy it feels when a toddler almost makes it past the velvet rope to climb onto its pink velvet seat.

In other chapters, we meet security guards and the men responsible for changing the gallery lightbulbs; at the Met, the maintenance team is essential to the art, too. There’s a comical scene in which an administrator desperately searches for the right muse to be at his side during an important meeting with a fashion designer. He interviews all the muses from various artistic eras and genres of art — it’s a fun poke at the politics of museum life and a primer on art history at the same time.

Tender and elegant and funny, this is the kind of book you press into your friend’s hand so they can experience the magic, too. {more}

‘Do you ever get cold near the Washington Crossing the Delaware painting? Or feel a breeze near that eighteenth-century Indian watercolor of the huge bat in the Islamic Galleries, like it’s flapping its wings?’ Radish smoothed his pants, knowing that he wasn’t getting any traction with Maira.

‘No, Henry, I don’t,’ she smirked, ‘And you sound like a lunatic.’

Radish didn’t mention that he could also hear the complaints of the boys in Washington’s boat as they crossed the Delaware: This was a crap idea, the soldiers grumbled as Radish shivered.

‘Right. Of course. It’s just, well, they are great paintings, I suppose. Powerful stuff…’ Radish stammered. He stood up and tucked his shirt into his pants for the third time since they’d sat down. ‘We should probably go,’ he said to end the conversation. — Christine Coulson


A Parisian Cabinet of Curiosities: Deyrolle - Prince Louis Albert de Broglie

A Parisian Cabinet of Curiosities: Deyrolle
> Prince Louis Albert de Broglie

I love it because… it recreated the feeling from childhood of getting utterly lost in a colorful book.

Hear me talk about it: Museums: A Gathering of Muses, A Clutch of Curators

This beautifully rendered hardback (with a slipcover!) has a satisfying heft — like something a Victorian might have passed down through the generations. Through gorgeous color photos and conversational text, it tells the history of Deyrolle, a definition-defying hybrid of natural history museum and boutique found in Paris since 1881.

Deyrolle was founded in 1831 by Emile Deyrolle, the fifth naturalist in his family. They published educational charts and books for other researchers and schools. Emile thought it was essential to engage kids’ curiosity while educating them, so all of the Deyrolle output came from a place of enthusiasm, a desire to inspire wonder.

Every page of this book is filled with that wonder.

Geometric compositions made from butterflies and insects look like images shot through a kaleidoscope. There’s a stuffed ostrich wearing aviator goggles and a full-sized unicorn with wings. On another page, a fuzzy monkey contemplates the skull he holds in his tiny hands. Another two-page spread features an assembled menagerie in a room painted spring green, a gilded chandelier overhead with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Paris street.

Providing captions and context for the images is the Deyrolle story — from its inception as an education company through the devastating 2008 fire that destroyed its collection and its subsequent restoration, thanks to the love and support of artists. There are also charming details about the institution’s relationship throughout the decades with filmmakers and artists, including Salvador Dali and Wes Anderson. {more}

Deyrolle is a cabinet of curiosities where each open drawer is a manifestation of the world. Curiosity does not clamor for fortune but demands something called wonder, which is much more precious. And in this one-of-a-kind boutique where everything coexists without excessive aesthetics and overstatement, it is not uncommon for a customer to cross boundaries, with a question leading them behind the counter, or even usurping the place of the employee who is never ruffled by interruptions. — Prince Louis Albert de Broglie


This is Paradise - Kristiana Kahakauwila

This Is Paradise
> Kristiana Kahakauwila

I love it because… the story ‘Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game’ broke my heart in a rewarding way.

Hear me talk about it: Hawaii: Bring a Bottle of Gin for Pele

This remarkable story collection will transport you to Maui, Oahu, Kaua’i, and the Big Island. Sure, the islands can be a vacation paradise, but for the people who live there year-round, it’s simply home — the place they work, love, struggle, survive, and triumph.

Author Kristiana Kahakauwila is a hapa writer of native Hawaiian, German, and Norwegian descent. She brings a seriousness of purpose and undeniable warmth to her stories. She also possesses a magical gift for describing the version of Hawaii that natives experience in their everyday lives without losing the wonder of the place. It’s a neat trick to make something seem familiar and extraordinary at the same time.

The story ‘Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game’ is a standout; it’s worth the book’s purchase price for this story alone. Told in the form of a bleakly funny, gut-wrenching list, it’s a portrait of Hawaiian family and tradition set at a grandmother’s funeral.

The story begins with a simple, incisive, dark-as-pitch rule:

1. Take a drink each time the haole pastor says hell.

2. Take a drink each time he asks if anybody in the room wants to go there.

3. Take a drink each time he looks at one of your uncles when he says this.

As the story unfolds, the items on the list grow longer and more involved, increasingly more poignant, weaving in family history and food and the awkward, nothing-to-do-but-laugh truths that come up at a funeral.

We won’t spoil the ending, but number 39 is well worth the trip. This is a beautiful story, very well told.

All of the stories address universal themes, but they arise out of things that are specifically Hawaiian. Kahakauwila is a compassionate tour guide as she explores the beauty and heartache underneath the allure of paradise. {more}

We pause outside the Banyan Hotel, the warm light from the lobby casting our shadows across the water’s edge. The tide sucks at the sand beneath our toes like a vacuum. We look into the hotel, and we can almost understand why here, in Waikīkī, the world appears perfect. The hotel lobbies are brimming with flower arrangements and sticky with the scent of ginger. The island air is warm and heavy as a blanket. And the people are beautiful. Tan and healthy, with muscles carved from koa wood and cheeks the color of strawberry guava. These people — our people — look fresh as cut fruit, ready to be caressed, to be admired. These are people to be trusted. This is not New York or Los Angeles. No, Hawaiʻi is heaven. A dream. — Kristiana Kahakauwila


The Shipping News - Annie Proulx

The Shipping News
> Annie Proulx

I love it because… Quoyle should be a lost cause, but he’s restored by good friends and an unforgiving landscape.

Hear me talk about it: Atlantic Canada: For There Blow Some Cold Nor’westers on the Banks of Newfoundland

This novel will envelop you in the cold fog and roaring wind of the Newfoundland shore. And you’ll be transported to the (fictional) harbor town of Killick-Claw, where you’ll eat a squid burger and join in the local gossip.

The story, tinged with Canadian magical realism, revolves around a strange hero named Quoyle. He’s a sad, quiet man beat up by life. The book’s first page tells us everything we need to know about him: ‘Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns. Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing… At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.’

This adult coming-of-age story is flush with stories of heartbreak and resilience, suspense, and adventure. The storms that batter the rocky shore are so powerful, they seem like sentient beings. There are also drownings and drunken brawls and a house dragged across the ice with ropes. There are pirates, a maybe-ghost, and a mysterious death. There’s also a strong sense of community and isolation at precisely the same time.

The Newfoundland described in this compelling tale is a hard land populated with scarred people who have, somehow, found a sense of ease and acceptance. Quoyle is transformed by his experiences there and is also Quoyle to the end — tender and haunted by family trauma. {more}

‘It never leaves you. You never hear the wind after that without you remember that banshee moan, remember the watery mountains, crests torn into foam, the poor ship groaning. Bad enough at any time, but this was the deep of winter and the cold was terrible, the ice formed on rail and rigging until vessels was carrying thousands of pounds of ice. The snow drove so hard it was just a roar of white outside these windows. Couldn’t see the street below. The sides of the houses to the northwest was plastered a foot thick with snow as hard as steel.’ Quoyle’s teacup cooled in his hands. Listening. — Annie Proulx


Crow - Amy Spurway

> Amy Spurway

I love it because… Crow, who is on the verge of death, showed me how to squeeze life out of every moment and laugh while doing it.

Hear me talk about it: Atlantic Canada: For There Blow Some Cold Nor’westers on the Banks of Newfoundland

This story is narrated by our heroine, Crow. Her real name is Stacey Fortune from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. But she’s left behind her small-town life to be a career girl in Toronto. She’s got a fiancée, works in marketing, and wears high heels. It’s all happening. But then things fall apart. Her heart is smashed to bits, and she learns she has three inoperable and unpredictable brain tumors.

So she returns to her childhood bedroom in her mom’s trailer, where her tumors cause rainbow-colored hallucinations, rubbery limbs, and frequent vomiting.

The novel’s conceit is that Crow is writing her memoir, and her voice is pitch-perfect: ‘How do I tell people that my secret to dropping the extra twenty pounds I lugged around most of my life wasn’t hot yoga or detoxing? And then how do I fake optimism and pretend I haven’t leapfrogged over the normal seven stages of grief and invented my own single stage: Surly and Reckless Resignation to Being Doomed.’

On her way to maybe dying, the universe throws a ton of life at Crow. She’s reunited with old friends and old flames, butting heads with her gossipy Aunt Peggy and lovingly bickering with her mom. She gets high by the sea and goes on a date.

This book is peppered with insight into small-town life in Nova Scotia, with lush descriptions of the landscape and what it means to Crow. She has a strong attachment to the wharf and the surrounding mountains and Loch, the changing seasons, the fresh air. She also vividly describes the industrial part of Cape Breton and its downhill slide after the collapse of the coal industry. Known as Town Town, it’s where locals shop at the mall, and Crow visits the hospital where she endures tests and bad news.

Despite all of that, this novel is a genuinely good time. Crow is the friend who shows her snarky side to most people but reveals her soft underbelly to you. So you forgive her when she messes up and will fiercely defend her against all comers until the end. {more}

How to buy: You can order this book online, directly from the publisher Goose Lane Editions: ebook, paperback, and audiobook.

Irish wakes are pot luck. But no egg, tuna, or lobster salad sandwiches will be allowed at mine. And no mystery squares or funeral hams. My buffet table will groan with the weight of all my favourites, from the days when I didn’t give a shit about factory-farmed meats and non-GMO organic kale and MSG hangovers and the mid-life spread: suicide spicy chicken wings, donair pizza, poutine, bacon-and-cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped cheese balls. Deep fried. Dipped in butter. Foods that Stacey-Fortune-in-Toronto avoided because she was scared they’d kill her or make her chubby. But Dying-Crow-Fortune-in-Cape-Breton doesn’t give a fuck. My throng of family, friends, and fans can expect an eclectic mix of my favourite music. Nothing sappy. It’s my party, and you won’t cry if I don’t want you to. Besides, it’s bad luck to start the keening too early. I’ll save the real tear-jerker tunes until the end, just before my wake transitions into the big sleep. — Amy Spurway


The Kingdoms - Natasha Pulley

The Kingdoms
> Natasha Pulley

I love it because… I’m a sucker for lonely lighthouses, charming scoundrels, dangerous adventures, tortured romance, and a happy ending.

Hear me talk about it: Secret Passages: Down the Rabbit Hole

Forget everything you think you know about historical fiction and time-travel stories. Natasha Pulley is a gifted illusionist, conjuring rich new worlds from the ether of the familiar. Although fantastic events drive the events of this novel, the story is really about its stalwart characters and their abiding devotion.

When we meet our hero Joe Tournier, he’s in a muddle of confusion, enshrouded in case of amnesia — and our footing is equally shaky. It’s 1898 in England, but street signs are written in French, and the English language is outlawed. We’ve stepped off a train, not in London, but Londres, and the Tube is now the Métro. Alongside Joe, we’ve somehow arrived in an alternate version of the capital of what’s now a French colony. (The ‘somehow’ is revealed in a timely fashion.)

Joe’s only clue to his past is a 100-year old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides. The words ‘Come home, if you remember’ are written in careful script on the postcard; it’s signed with only the letter M.

A combination of caper and quest, this is the story of Joe’s mission to figure out who he is and where he belongs. His adventure takes him from French-ruled London (and a confounding dinner with a secret society) to the rebellious wilds of Scotland, and that intimidating, isolated, atmospheric lighthouse.

All of the spectacle — the time jumps, the plot twists, the action scenes, the political intrigue — is in service to a sweeping love story that slowly reveals itself. {more}

Eilean Mor was the largest of the islands, and high on its flat top was the lighthouse. He could only just make it out through the mist. Nearer to them, talons of rock ploughed down into the water. The trawler crept further around. Beyond a spar was a miniature cove, hardly anything but a bite in the cliffside. A set of steep steps cut an uneven zigzag into the stone. There was a jetty and a winch to take supplies up the cliff. The tower windows weren’t broken. There were no birds in the lamp room, and no greenish gauge of the storm tides on the walls. The lighthouse was as whole as the morning it was finished. Something under his liver turned over. He had been sure, yesterday, that it was in ruins. He climbed over some lobster pots and a clutter of fishing floats to lean into the cabin. — Natasha Pulley


Still Life - Sarah Winman

Still Life
> Sarah Winman

I love it because… reading it filled me with an ache that felt like homesickness and an unrequited crush blended together. It delivers yearning and reward in equal measure — like life.

Hear me talk about it: Italy: A Bottle of Red, the Tuscan Sun, and Il Dolce Far Niente

This story of found family set in Florence in the first few decades after World War II will change the way you think about the world and make you glad to be alive.

When the story opens, it’s 1944, and we meet our hero, a British soldier named Ulysses Temper. A thoughtful young man with a strong sense of self and unfailing optimism, he’s stationed in Italy. Although he’s dodging bombs and seeing first-hand the devastation of the war, he keeps his heart open to the beauty around him.

Along with Ulysses, we meet his boss and friend Captain Darnley and a 64-year-old art historian named Evelyn Skinner. The three of them enjoy an unforgettable evening together in a cellar that’s been turned into a would-be nightclub for Allied officers. Afterward, as they’re making their farewells, Evelyn says to Darnley, ‘Thank you for tonight. Keep your head down and stay in the world, if you please.’

And that’s it. They part without knowing if they’ll ever see each other again.

After the war, Ulysses returns to London and his neighborhood pub to be among his old friends and family. Then one day, he learns he’s the recipient of an unexpected inheritance that takes him back to Tuscany. The rest of the book is a thoroughly absorbing depiction of how his life unfolds.

Fair warning: This story may make you homesick for fictional people and places you’ve never been. It’s tender and sweet, but never twee, and explores every emotion: joy, sorrow, jealousy, forgiveness, gratitude, but mostly love in all its different flavors. {more}

So, time heals. Mostly. Sometimes carelessly. And in unsuspecting moments, the pain catches and reminds one of all that’s been missing. The fulcrum of what might have been. But then it passes. Winter moves into spring and swallows return. The proximity of new skin returns to the sheets. Beauty does what is required. Jobs fulfill and conversations inspire. Loneliness becomes a mere Sunday. Scattered clothes. Empty bowls. Rotting fruit. Passing time. But still life in all its beauty and complexity. — Sarah Winman


Plus Two All-Time Favorites…

The Inn at Lake Devine - Elinor Lipman

The Inn at Lake Devine
> Elinor Lipman

I love it because… it feels so nice to spend time with Natalie, her friends, and her family — even when they’re making mistakes. The entire enterprise is infused with love.

Hear me talk about it: Hotels: The Liminal Space with M&Ms in the Mini-Bar

Our heroine Natalie Marx is a firecracker. Her personal hero is Anne Frank, and she shares the diarist’s stubbornness and innate sense of self and justice.

While the catalyst of the action is the gently-worded, oh-so-polite anti-Semitism of the 1960s, this story is really a love story. With light humor and a few moments of devastating heartbreak, it’s all about family, forgiveness, and the grace inherent in every kind of love.

The misadventures begin when Natalie’s mom requests accommodations at a vacation spot in Vermont. The reply from the proprietress infuriates 12-year-old Natalie: ‘The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles.’

These two sentences set Natalie on a course that changes her whole life. Along the way, the story delivers laugh-out-loud moments, a shocking surprise, and complicated, rewarding relationships among a cast of unforgettable characters. You will fall in love and have your heart broken — and then healed — right along with Nat. And the story spans all the seasons, with a particularly memorable Christmas spent at the inn. {more}

It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews. — Elinor Lipman


A Room with a View - E. M. Forster

A Room with a View
> E.M. Forster

I love it because… Cousin Charlotte makes me laugh out loud and watching Lucy bust out of her constraints is immensely satisfying, inspiring, and thrilling.

Hear me talk about it: Italy: A Bottle of Red, the Tuscan Sun, and Il Dolce Far Niente

The story opens in the Pension Bertolini in Florence, an inn for traveling English gentlefolk that is so British, ‘it might be London.’ We meet Miss Charlotte Bartlett — chaperone, stifled, judgmental, lonely — and Miss Lucy Honeychurch, her niece, on a trip abroad for finishing. The inn and their rooms — significantly, without a view — are a disappointment to both Charlotte and Lucy. The travelers are further disillusioned by the other guests at the inn who are deemed unfortunate by the uptight Charlotte; she holds particular ire for the uninhibited Mr. Emerson and his fanciful son George.

Despite Lucy’s intentions to be good — that is, to be quiet, humble, respectable — our heroine is almost always in a muddle. She lives a tidy, ordered existence, but she’s naturally curious and, deep down, wants to fight against a society that labels overt kindness as indelicate. When she plays Beethoven on the piano with heated passion, it inspires another character to remark: ‘If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.’

But nothing — not a scrape with death, nor a stolen kiss in a field of wildflowers — gives Lucy the courage she needs to defy convention. She returns to the cool, well-understood drawing room of her family home at Windy Corners in Surrey and succumbs to the comfort of a respectable fiancé and an conventional life. But, as we all know, books are powerful things, and the chance reading of a passage in a scandalous novel jolts Lucy out of her muddle. What she does next unbalances Lucy and everyone around her in the best way possible. {more}

It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road. — E. M. Forster


Top image courtesy of Tolga Kilinc/Unsplash.

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