A Bookish Gift Guide!

It’s time for the holidays again! I am of the opinion that books make excellent and thoughtful holiday gifts. So I’ve decided to put together a bookish gift guide that can help you pick out some great titles for the readers in your life based on other books, movies, TV shows, etc. that they like. Of course, I’ll also recommend which of my books would be the best fit for each reader based on interest! ūüôā

Here we go:

If they like Game of Thrones:

My book: Gift them a preorder of The Borgia Confessions!

Fiction: From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris; An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir; The White Queen by Philippa Gregory; Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King; The Cruel Prince by Holly Black; Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake; The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George.

Non-fiction: The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women and Power in Renaissance Italy by Leonie Frieda, Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood, Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry S. Strauss;¬†The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones; The Tigress of Forl√¨: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici by Elizabeth Lev.


If they like visual art or movies like Shakespeare in Love or shows like The Tudors:

My book: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Fiction: The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper; Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin; The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant; The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam; Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough; I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis; Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth; The Painter’s Apprentice by Laura Morelli.

Non-fiction: Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way by Kamin Mohammadi; The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence, and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee; Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson; Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis by Robert M. Edsel.


If they like music (especially classical music/opera) or The Phantom of the Opera:

My book: The Violinist of Venice

Fiction: The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell; And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer; Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones; Prima Donna by Megan Chance.

Non-fiction: Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque by H.C. Robbins Landon; The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824 by Harvey Sachs; The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer by Renee Fleming; Piece by Piece by Tori Amos and Ann Powers; The Violin: A Social History of the World’s Most Versatile Instrument by David Schoenbaum.


If they like Halloween, spooky stories, Tim Burton movies, and Hocus Pocus:

My book: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

Fiction: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox; The Witches of New York by Amy McKay; The Hunger by Alma Katsu; Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo; The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw; The Diviners by Libba Bray; The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe; The Family Plot by Cherie Priest; The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow.

Non-fiction: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey; Spooked: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach; The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff; I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara.


I hope this gift guide gives you some ideas for your holiday shopping! If you do buy anything you found on this list, do let me know – I’d love to hear what you picked. Happy holidays to all!


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – Release Day!

The day has finally come! The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is on sale now in the U.S., and will be available tomorrow (April 26th) in Australia.


I’m so thrilled and excited that this book is out in the world at last. As those of you who have been reading my blog over the last few years will know, I had a rather difficult time writing this book, due to second book syndrome and a multitude of other things. Yet perhaps because of that, I am so proud of how it turned out, and I can’t wait for readers to discover it and hopefully fall in love with Simonetta and her story just as I did while writing it.

This release day feels very different from that of¬†The Violinist of Venice.¬†Most notably, I’m much more relaxed this time around, and ready to just celebrate and have fun. The release of¬†Violinist,¬†while exciting and thrilling, was also very stressful and emotional: my book baby was out in the world, and I couldn’t take it back, and oh God, what would happen to it next?? It wasn’t all pleasant feelings. Yet this time, thankfully, I’m not feeling that way. I’ve just been enjoying the process and will continue to do so. After all, I’ve done this once before now. I know that, for better and worse, the world doesn’t stop spinning just because I have a book out. So while I don’t think this will ever stop being exciting, here’s hoping it will get less stressful every time, as it seems to be.

So what’s on tap for me today? I took the day off from my day job, so my plan is to hang out, relax after the pre-release hubub, probably work out, maybe do some reading, and then get ready for the book launch party later tonight. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m planning to enjoy every minute!

I hope you all love The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Happy reading!

The Inspiration Behind The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Perhaps the question that authors get asked the most is, “How did you come up with the idea for this book?” Inspiration comes in all kinds of ways – for instance, the idea for¬†The Violinist of Venice came to me in a dream, out of the blue. With¬†The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, though, the process was rather different and more gradual.

I can’t remember for certain, but I believe it was when I went to Italy the first time – when I was researching¬†The Violinist of Venice – that I first heard of Simonetta Vespucci, as I also went to Florence on that same trip as well. All I had, initially, were scraps of information (and as I would find when researching the novel, there wasn’t much more than scraps to be had): that she was supposed to be the woman in Botticelli’s painting¬†The Birth of Venus,¬†and that she had also supposedly been the mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici. I filed this away as a potential novel idea – something about her relationship with both Botticelli and Giuliano. When I got back from Italy, I found the idea had stuck with me, and so I poked around online and in the library to try to find out more about her.

One of the first things I found in my preliminary Google searching was that Botticelli had been so in love with Simonetta that he had asked to be buried at her feet when he died – AND HE ACTUALLY WAS. This COMPLETELY changed the novel idea that I thought I had. I no longer really cared about exploring whatever relationship Simonetta may have had with Giuliano (and the historical record is not certain on that score) and was instead interested in exploring the possible relationship that may have existed between her and Botticelli. Did not the fact that he was buried at her feet suggest more than a simple-artist muse relationship?

I certainly thought so, and still do think so, though we will never know the truth of their relationship for sure. What I did know was that this would make a stellar story, and was the perfect premise for a historical novel that I wanted to write. Yet with all that said, at this time I was working on my final revision for¬†The Violinist of Venice before I was ready to start querying, and so I was in no position to start a new novel just yet. Even after¬†Violinist¬†was being queried and was later on submission with publishing houses I didn’t start writing my Renaissance Florence story, though I was playing around with some other ideas. For whatever reason, it just didn’t feel like the time was right. I also knew that I would want to go back to Florence to do some further research for it, so the timing would need to be right for that too, both personally and financially.

What I did do almost immediately, though, was write the last two lines of the book. I typed them out in a note on my phone, which I still have. They’re maybe my favorite lines in the book, and they have not changed through all the rounds of revisions since. I would share them here with you, but that would give away the ending ūüôā So you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out to see them!

Then¬†Violinist¬†sold, and not only that, but I was offered a two-book deal with St. Martin’s, which I obviously accepted. As I talked about at the time in my post on second-book syndrome, this sent me into a bit of a panic. What to write next? What could I write next that my publisher would love as much as¬†Violinist? And hey, what about the fact that I had been (partially) paid for¬†a book I hadn’t written yet?

At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my second book. None of the ideas I’d been playing around with while¬†Violinist were on submission were really grabbing me; they just didn’t feel developed enough yet to be my next published book. So I dug out my idea about Simonetta and Sandro and thought, hmmm, maybe this is the time for this idea. I wrote some initial pages that seemed to go well and shared them with my agent, who liked what I had done. I had a phone call with my editor, where I described a basic outline of the idea, and she gave her blessing.

There was lots of struggle in writing¬†The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence,¬†which you can read about here and here and also here. But I pushed through it, and as a result have a book that I’m perhaps even more proud of. As I mentioned above, researching the book was rather frustrating at times because we have only the barest facts about Simonetta’s life, and even a few of those are in dispute or uncertain. Yet this also gave me a lot of freedom as a fiction writer: I took those few facts and built a framework on which I could speculate and write scenes of my own invention. And I did get to go back to Florence for research, and saw a lot of the locations where the story takes place, and also the artwork that figures into it (I actually added even MORE artwork into it after visiting Florence again).

Aside from all the second-book syndrome stuff, in hindsight, what I now realize is that when I initially started drafting¬†The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence,¬†I had a good story, but I wasn’t hearing Simonetta’s voice yet. I realized the exact moment when her voice finally broke through, when I finally began to hear it and felt like I really knew her as a character, and then it became much easier.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – release date and synopsis!

I have some exciting news today about my forthcoming second book with St. Martin’s Press,¬†The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.¬†The novel will be released in the U.S. on April 25, 2017!

Also, below check out the synopsis to learn some more about the book!

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de‚Äô Medici‚Äôs glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence ‚Äď most notably the rakish Giuliano de‚Äô Medici – become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most.

Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.

I am SO EXCITED for this book to make its way into the world for everyone to read. I hope you will all enjoy it when you do get the chance to read it!

I have seen the cover for this book as well, and hope to be able to reveal it soon – it is absolutely GORGEOUS and just perfect for the book, and I’m sure you all will love it as much as I do!

Stay tuned for more fun book 2 things coming soon!

Halloween Reading List

Halloween is absolutely my favorite holiday. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid and, even though I can (sadly) no longer go trick-or-treating, I still love it. For me, Halloween is a whole season, rather than just a holiday. I love watching creepy movies and TV shows (though weirdly I am and always have been a baby about horror movies), decorating my house, and partaking of all things pumpkin spice. And one of my favorite things to do leading up to Halloween – for the whole month of October, pretty much – is to read creepy, scary, and spooky books. I refer to this as my Halloween reading, and every year I have a list of new books to get to as part of it. More often than not I will hear about a wonderful, creepy-sounding book that is coming out at some point in the year and that I know will be right up my alley, only to force myself to wait to read it until October and Halloween reading time comes around, when I’ll be perfectly in the mood and will have just the right atmosphere.

So, to celebrate the first day of October, I wanted to share some of my favorite past Halloween reading list picks (in no particular order or rank), and also to share what I’m hoping to get to this year. If you are looking for some Halloween reads for yourself, then look no further!


The Diviners by Libba Bray

If you haven’t read this fabulous and oh-so-creepy YA novel by the exceptional Libba Bray yet, then now is the perfect time. Completely eerie and masterfully incorporating elements of the supernatural, this book is also a top-shelf example of historical fiction, and 1920s New York City both sparkles in all its Jazz Age glory and festers with violence, injustice, and discrimination. And good news!Book 2 in the series,¬†Lair of Dreams,¬†was just released in August (and is also wonderful), so you can pick that one right up after finishing this first installment.

Conversion by Katherine Howe

This ripped-from-the-headlines story about high school girls suddenly exhibiting strange behavioral ticks and having seemingly inexplicable attacks is paired with a historical narrative about one of the afflicted girls from the Salem Witch Trials – a group of girls who exhibited very similar symptoms. This book is scary in a real-world sort of way, and deals with confronting the scars of the past as well as the uncertainties of the present, and with the fear that surrounds anything that can’t immediately be explained – in this case, a disease.

-We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

A relatively short novel by one of our great writers, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is perhaps not as well known as The Haunting of Hill House (which I actually have yet to read Рsee below!) but is absolutely masterfully written. I only came to read it myself because a co-worker of mine recommended it and lent me his copy, and I am glad he did. This book is wonderfully creepy and unsettling, and continues the great tradition of the Gothic novel.

The Fall by Bethany Griffin

Speaking of Gothic novels, this right here is a good modern one. As a big-time Edgar Allan Poe fan and former English major, as soon as I heard that this YA book was a retelling of¬†The Fall of the House of Usher from Madeleine Usher’s point of view, I knew I had to read it. In Griffin’s retelling, the house itself is alive, and determined to keep its denizens in its thrall. This book moves along at a slow burn, but the tension is marvelously maintained throughout.

America’s Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places by Eric Olsen and Theresa Argie

Sometimes nonfiction works its way onto the Halloween reading list. I love those Most Haunted Places type-shows that come on channels like the Travel Channel in October, and as this is basically that in book form, I knew it was right up my alley. This is an interesting and informative about both the history behind some of our country’s iconic locations, as well as accounts of paranormal experiences and the evidence collected at such locations. Some I was already familiar with, such as Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Kentucky, or the Queen Mary that’s docked in Long Beach, CA; yet others I had never heard of before.

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Creepy, vivid, and heart-wrenching, this is an original and unforgettable read. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving any its twists and turns, so just trust me when I say that this book is wonderful and unlike anything you’ve ever read before!

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Set during the Great War and the influenza epidemic of 1918, this book has its fair share of ghosts – spirit photography is central to the plot – as well as evoking the very real fear of an infections disease that is striking people down everywhere. The heroine, Mary Shelley Black, is unforgettable and resilient as she struggles to come to terms with the shattered world in which she is suddenly forced to survive.

-Help for the Haunted by John Searles

Teenaged Sylvie’s parents found their calling in helping haunted souls find peace – until the night they are murdered. The novel follows Sylvie as she tries to cope with life in the aftermath of their death as well as discover the truth behind the murder. It also delves into the past to interrogate the events leading up to that fateful night. This is a book about ghosts in the literal sense, sure, but perhaps more so about ghosts in the metaphorical sense. I read this book in early October last year and it has stuck with me ever since.

-Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Savannah, GA is torn apart in the aftermath of a horrific hurricane, yet in some ways the true horror is yet to come when teenaged Dovey learns that the hurricane was more than just a natural disaster – that there were far darker forces behind it than she could possibly have imagined. This atmospheric nail-biter will absolutely send chills down your spine and keep you guessing with all its twists and turns.

Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

For God’s sake, take it from me and read this one in broad daylight. Even then you’ll still want to sleep with the lights on. One of the scariest books I’ve ever read,¬†Welcome to the Dark House is the story of a group of teenagers who win an essay contents about their worst nightmares. Their prize is a behind-the-scenes look at horror director Justin Blake’s newest film. Except things seem somehow off as soon as the group gets there…

-The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

I was getting a bit of a jump on my Halloween reading list this year and actually just finished this book recently. I absolutely loved it and could not put it down. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that this book took a turn that I did not expect, and in addition to being a creepy ghost story also delves into some heavier themes about loss, family, and grief. I highly recommend this one!

Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

Holy crap, is this book scary. Monahan puts a new twist on the classic urban legend of Bloody Mary, the ghost who appears in the mirror to scratch your eyes out. In this YA horror novel, Mary is all too real, and a group of friends has to face her after one of them insists upon summoning her. I was leery of all reflective surfaces in any room I walked into while reading this book! And book two, Mary: Unleashed was recently released, so make this a two-part Halloween read!

-The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

As I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone, this book is not for the faint of heart. By far the most terrifying book I’ve ever read, I was having nightmares two weeks after finishing it. But it was absolutely worth it, because this is also one of the best-written books I’ve ever read. Blatty masterfully leaves everything open to interpretation in this novel and leaves it up to the reader to decide what to make of the events that are depicted, yet by the end you somehow find yourself with almost no choice but to believe. The ideas presented in this book about faith, good, evil, and fear will stay with me forever.


As for what’s on my Halloween reading list for 2015? Check it out below:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

Haunted Buffalo: Ghosts of the Queen City by Dwayne Claud

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Return to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

The Visitant by Megan Chance

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys –¬†an anthology of stories by various YA authors

Daughters unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

Among the Shadows: 13 Stories of Darkness and Light – another YA anthology


Clearly, this is a very ambitious list, and I may very well not get to all of it. But that’s okay – there’s always next year!


Why I Write Historical Fiction

In my experience, people who call themselves writers write for many different reasons, and often for one simple one: they have a story (usually stories) burning to be told. I’m no different. Yet you may well ask: why did I choose the genre of historical fiction? What is it about stories in the past that draw me more than any other kind?

Believe me, sometimes I ask myself that question too. There are definitely days when I wished I wrote a genre that doesn’t require quite so much research. But, luckily, those are not most days.

One of the reasons I write historical fiction is a simple one, and perhaps the most obvious: I love history. I always have, something for which I credit my father. He’s a big history buff (WWII being his preferred time period) and always impressed upon my brother and me the importance of studying history, so that we (both individually and as a society) can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them, can see the patterns that repeat themselves throughout humanity. (I wish more people in the world would take this lesson to heart, but I digress). So I grew up with a strong sense that history was important. I always enjoyed the subject in school, and here and there – but with much more frequency once I hit my late teens – I began reading books of history for pleasure, and to learn on my own. Since I was a kid I loved to read historical fiction, and a pattern I picked up – and one that persists to this day – is that I will read as many historical novels as I can get my hands on about a certain time period/historical figure, and then I will delve into nonfiction on the subject.

In high school it was the Tudors, then the Borgias. The Borgias led me to a deeper interest in the history of the Italian Renaissance, and from there to Italian history in general (something that should come as no surprise, given the novels I’ve written!) I also tend to like royal history in general (be it English, French, Spanish, what have you) – a couple years ago I went on a series Wars of the Roses binge. The Salem Witch Trials are another event that particularly interests me and that I’ve read quite a bit about (I’ve even been to Salem twice). Lately, Italy during WWII and the Spanish Civil War are two periods that I’ve gotten interested in and am planning to read more about – just for the heck of it. Maybe a novel will come of it at some point, and maybe not.

So having a love of history certainly put me in to want to write stories set among the historical periods I loved so much and, as I alluded to above, I’ve always read a lot of historical fiction. It started when I was young, with series like Dear America and the Royal Diaries, and authors like Ann Rinaldi. When I was in high school I discovered Philippa Gregory, and that sort of sealed the deal for me. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my high school cafeteria, reading¬†The Other Boleyn Girl for the first time, and thinking, “This. I want to do this.”

I definitely had the makings of a historical fiction author early on. But there’s more to it than even all those things, for me. History, whether consumed in strictly nonfiction form or through a historical novel, is a lens for all sorts of things. Something that I try to keep in mind when writing about characters that lived hundreds of years before I was born is that we are all human beings. People three hundred years ago wanted, at a basic level, the same things we want today: love, respect, freedom, financial security, the ability to live the life of our choosing. Some of them, of course, wanted power, wealth, control, fame. Just like today.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of fiction is its ability to hold a mirror up to ourselves, the way it allows us to see ourselves reflected in different characters. Historical fiction, in many instances, allows us to see ourselves reflected in people from the past, in people and circumstances from time periods we never lived in, in places and countries we’ve never been to. At least, to me, this is what well-done historical fiction should do. And this allows us – as reading of any kind will – a greater capacity for empathy for people in the past and present alike.

On a larger scale, another thing I love about historical fiction is its ability to allow us to reflect on the circumstances of our own time, on how far we have come on certain issues and how far we still have to go. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the issues that affect us personally clearly, because we’re so close to them. Sometimes we need the distance that historical fiction can provide to get a closer look at these things.

My second book (which I hope to be able to share some more information about soon!) ended up being something of a meditation on questions of female beauty and objectification. I didn’t intend for that to happen; they’re themes that emerged organically as I wrote (and I love when that happens!) It was something of a sobering and thoughtful moment for me when I realized that the questions my protagonist was asking about these issues, back in 1470s Florence, are questions that we still do not have the answers to today. So if, when this book finally makes its way into the world, I can provoke some thought among my readers about these questions and issues, then I have done at least one of my jobs as a writer.

In¬†The Violinist of Venice¬†(which you all will be able to read SOON!) I think (I hope, anyway) that there is a place for readers to reflect on lots of different things, namely the way the world worked for women in the past, and how that differs or not from today. I think perhaps readers might consider things like what it means, truly, to be happy, and what it means to have the strength to live a life of one’s own choosing. I think it definitely communicates the power of music, which is something that, to me, is timeless.

And maybe that’s what historical fiction shows us best: what things, what questions, what aspects of being human are truly timeless.