17 books set in Italy that offer a literary feast

17 books set in Italy that offer a literary feast

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

17 books set in Italy that offer a literary feast

Italy is one of those iconic destinations we all dream of exploring: wine tasting in Tuscany, devouring homemade pasta in Bologna, exploring the piazzas of Florence — the list of must-sees, dos, and tastes goes on and on. Of course, when you can’t be there in person, reading books set in Italy is the next best thing.

So here’s my gift to you: An armchair traveler’s guide to experiencing this beautiful and culturally rich country through books. You’ll find classics like A Farewell to Arms, contemporary favorites like One Italian Summer (my personal favorite), and moving memoirs like From Scratch.

All of these books take place in Italy, so rest assured they’re each atmospheric and idyllic in their own way.

1. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

If you haven’t been swept away by Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels yet, the time is now. An international sensation, My Brilliant Friend is the first in the series, and it became the first foreign-language show produced by HBO. 

There are few (if any) better books in recent years about the delicate and precious complexities present in female friendships, and it all plays out near Naples. 

Ferrante’s entire catalog is a treasure trove of novels set in Italy. Check out The Lying Life of Adults next.


2. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Close your eyes and picture yourself on the Italian coast. As you peer out at the expanse of sapphire-bright sea, you may well imagine that you are but a young innkeeper, seeing an American actress approaching in a small boat. 

And thus goes Beautiful Ruins, a tale that skilfully alternates between 1960s Italy and present-day Los Angeles. This is a book for the romantics among us who love the old Hollywood classics and historical fiction set in Italy.


3. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

When Katy Silver takes a solo trip to Positano, Italy, while grieving the death of her mother, she inexplicably encounters her mother’s 30-year-old self (as well as a handsome hero, of course). 

With its dreamy setting and message about deep love, Serle’s (In Five Years) time-bending, heartfelt story will appeal to every armchair traveler’s insatiable wanderlust.

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4. From Scratch by Tembi Locke

When Locke, a Black American actress, fell in love with a Sicilian chef named Saro, his family didn’t approve. Years later, after Saro’s untimely death from cancer, Locke and her daughter spent several summers in Sicily reconnecting with his family, largely through the healing power of food.

This moving (and mouth-watering) memoir of love worth fighting for, heartbreak, and rebuilding inspired a Netflix Original series starring Zoe Saldana. 


5. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Read this delightful, sunshine-filled story following four women who respond to an ad for a month-long spring holiday in an Italian castle. Although each woman is different as can be, both in temperament and background, they share a need to get away and leave their respective problems behind. 

The natural beauty of the Italian countryside offers a reprieve from the dreariness of Hampstead and a chance for self-exploration and connection.


6. Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop by Alba Donati

After building a successful career as a book publicist in Florence, Donati overhauled her life in 2019. She moved back to her small hometown (and by small, I mean less than 200 residents) to open a bookshop. This memoir-in-diary-entries recounts her journey, including her struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic.

This cozy read brims with love for literature, the Italian mountains, and community, and it’s an inspiration for any of us who dream of starting fresh.


7. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms is an enduring classic. It was also ranked as the best Hemingway novel by one of my fellow Everand editors — a long-time adorer of the author and a very reliable source, if I do say so myself. 

The book is a semi-autobiographical story about an American ambulance driver for the Italian army who falls in love with a British nurse. Lines like “Your blood coagulates beautifully” demonstrate Hemingway’s knack for descriptive yet clipped dialogue.

Prepare for an emotionally turbulent ride that, while not an airy escape, is an expansive look at World War I and a vital peak into Italian history (from a fictional perspective).

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8. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

In the 1980s, 17-year-old Elio meets 24-year-old Oliver, who’s staying at Elio’s father’s Mediterranean villa. Their attraction to one another is instantaneous, despite attempts to deny it, and their whirlwind summer romance changes their lives forever. 

Aciman (Last Summer in the City) recreates the intoxicating thrill of first love, made even richer by the sun-soaked Italian setting. The Academy Award-winning film adaptation stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, who also narrates the audiobook.


9. Honeymoon For One by Portia MacIntosh

Romance novelist Lila’s dreams are dashed when her fiancé cheats (with one of Lila’s friends, no less). Heartbroken and desperate for an escape, Lila embarks on her Italian honeymoon solo, only to find her ex-fiancé and his new beau at the same resort. Fake dating a movie star seems like the perfect solution to her fury and humiliation. 

This romantic comedy draws readers in with sizzling flirtations and funny mishaps, all backdropped by the spark of true love.


10. Teach the Torches to Burn by Caleb Roehrig

Looking for YA books set in Italy? Try this one that re-envisions Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet — with a queer spin to boot. (Pun intended.)

Teach the Torches to Burn, part of the Remixed Classics series, unfolds in Verona, where Romeo feels stifled by his family’s heteronormative expectations. On a rebellious whim, Romeo infiltrates a party held by his family’s rivals, the Capulets, where he meets Valentine. Their mutual attraction is instantaneous, but their love is forbidden. Not only is Valentine a Capulet, but he’s also a boy.

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11. Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Nothing sounds more delightful than a summer escape to Tuscany, right? Well, not for 16-year-old Lina, who’s just lost her mother and must visit her estranged father. 

But everything changes when Lina discovers her mother’s journal chronicling her own experiences in Tuscany. As Lina’s eyes are opened to the beauty and bounty of her surroundings, she also sets out to solve a family mystery, aided by her cute Italian neighbor, Ren.

Charming and romantic, Welch’s YA romance is an ode to young love, family, and all things Italy. The Netflix Original movie adaptation takes place in Rome.

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12. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Death at La Fenice is the first book in Leon’s long-running Commissario Brunetti series — perhaps the most popular mystery books set in Italy. 

When conductor Helmut Wellauer dies by cyanide poisoning during intermission at La Fenice opera house, Brunetti is tasked with finding the killer. But the case soon becomes a complex web of suspects, as Wellauer wasn’t just renowned — he was also hated by many.

Leon weaves atmospheric descriptions of Venice into this cozy mystery.

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13. The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Hawkins (author of favorites like Reckless Girls and The Wife Upstairs) delivers a loose retelling of the true events that inspired Mary Shelley’s seminal Frankenstein.

Childhood friends, but lately estranged, Emily and Chess plan to reconnect over a vacation at an Italian villa, but the manor’s dark past comes back to haunt them. Moving between one fateful summer in the 1970s and modern day, The Villa is an eerie story of betrayal ideal for readers interested in contemporary thrillers set in Italy.

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14. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Brown’s propulsive thriller — an adventure that whisks readers through the sites and hidden corners of Rome — inspired a 2009 blockbuster film starring Tom Hanks.

After a physicist is murdered and left with an eerie message carved into his body, symbologist Robert Langdon uncovers a plot to blow up the Vatican at the very moment the College of Cardinals is set to elect a new pope. It’s up to him and the late physicist’s daughter to follow the clues and stop the attack on the Catholic church.

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15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Experience Imperial Rome through the eyes of its fourth emperor during his odds-defying ascension to power and beyond. Graves’ quintessential, genre-defining work is far from a dry account. He frames this story as a fictionalized autobiography written by Claudius himself.

I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God, inspired several adaptations, including a BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning BBC miniseries. 

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16. Rome by Matthew Kneale

Rome has a history so rich and complex that any author would struggle to encapsulate it all in one book. Kneale finds an interesting angle to overcome this by framing his history of the Eternal City around seven sackings by outsiders, from the Celtic Gauls to the Nazis.

With each takeover we get a glimpse of the city at that point in time, making Rome a fascinating portrait of the evolution of Italy’s capital. 


17. SPQR by Mary Beard

How often do you think about the Roman Empire? If you’re on TikTok, probably more now than ever, and if you read Beard’s book, that’s not going to change. SPQR (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, or “The senate and people of Rome”) spans a millennia of Rome’s history, chronicling how the city rose to be a cultural and geopolitical powerhouse. 

Highly entertaining, myth busting, and thought provoking, Beard recounts what we know about Rome’s leaders and ponders what we don’t, using historical documents and artifacts to puzzle out the lived experiences of women, slaves, and the working class.

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About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.