Top 10 books set in the Med …

Brrrrr, it’s cold.

I haven’t blogged here for a while, because I’ve been busy working out how to write the new book, and then putting the book aside and enjoying a family Christmas and New Year, and then picking the book up again and – with my wonderful editor’s help – fixing some problems with my first draft and getting on with it again.

In fact, 2014 wasn’t a big blogging year for me on You Read It Here, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t blogging. Because I was. Oh yeah. And as we hit 2015 with all our new year’s resolutions fresh in our hearts, I thought I’d share some of those pieces with you. Because I worked on them a lot. And because one of my resolutions is to share more of my writing life again – as well as just doing it.

Given how cold it is, I thought I’d start with one of my favourites – I piece I wrote for the Guardian in the summer, about my top 10 books set in the Mediterranean. Here are the top 8. If you want those final 2, including the all-important adventure story that helped inspire me while I was writing The Castle, check out the original article on the Guardian website.

The Castle by Sophia Bennett

Here’s the rest …

“Italy, on a good day, is a lot sunnier than England on a bad one. As it was tipping down with rain when I started writing The Castle, I fancied spending some time in the sun – if only in my imagination. The Amalfi coast, where a lot of the book is set, is so impossibly beautiful that if you weren’t feeling slightly car sick, whipping round all those hairpin bends on the coast road, you’d hardly believe it was real.

The Med seems to bring out the adventurous spirit in writers and it provides a thrilling backdrop for tales of mystery, love and death. Here are some of the best …

1. Meet Matisse by Jean-Vincent Senac

Matisse was a master at capturing the dramatic light and colour of the south of France, and there’s a stunning exhibition of his cut-outs at the Tate Modern in London. Through this activity book you can copy his techniques and create your own cut-out works of art. If you can, visit the exhibition too. It’s a delight.

2. The Usborne Illustrated Stories from the Greek Myths

There are many versions of the myths for children out there, but I was particularly wowed by the beautiful illustrations in this one. My seven
year-old loved the gore. Every rock and island, it seems, is the site of some mythical triumph or tragedy, often involving monsters being killed in various gruesome ways, or by sailors getting eaten. Perfect bedtime reading for the not-so-squeamish.

3. The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence

Caroline’s wonderful detective series for pre-teen readers has all of my favourite ingredients: clever kids, friendship, puzzle solving, and a window into another world – life in the Roman Empire. Also, the stories are set in some of the best Mediterranean locations, from Pompeii to Alexandria. They bring the Roman world to life better than any other books I know.

4. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

This was one of my favourite funny reads growing up and still makes me laugh. By chapter one, young Gerry, his eccentric mother, brothers, sister, dog called Roger and various caterpillars have left the dreary cold and rain of England for the “bright, looking-glass world of Greece”. They settle in a strawberry-pink villa in the Corfu hills, and Gerry’s adventures as a budding naturalist begin. It’s a must for any animal lover, and now you know how Clare Balding’s autobiography (My Animals and Other Family) got its name. See what she did there?

5. A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

“The sea, the sparkling sea: from the mountains they have come right across the sea again. It is beautiful.” Love, idealism and tragedy are thickly mixed in this story of the Internationales, who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Lydia Syson writes gripping historical UK YA, set in the twentieth century. Look out, too, for the beautiful covers of her books, which echo the strong design aesthetic of the time.

6. The Iliad by Homer

The war between the Greeks and Trojans over Helen of Troy is somewhat older. How can a three thousand year-old poem about it possibly still be interesting, or relevant, or a good read for teens? Well, I recommend giving it a go. A bit like The Hunger Games, with chariots, ships and gods. By all means just skip to the battle scenes if you like.

7. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

If that’s all a bit too energetic on a summer’s day, picture Hercule Poirot in cream linen, travelling up the Nile on an old-fashioned cruise ship. Agatha Christie was inspired to write the story while on a steamer that you can still cruise on. There is something about a very hot sun and a very wicked murder plot that just seems to work.

8. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Talking of wicked murder plots… Tom Ripley is sent to from America to Italy to bring back Dickie Greenleaf, a rich college kid who’s fallen in love with a lifestyle of sun, sea and jazz, and won’t come home. Trouble is, Tom comes to love Dickie’s life there as much as Dickie does…

Patricia Highsmith has a habit of making you root for the bad guy. Tom Ripley is of the most compelling serial murderers you will get to meet in fiction, and this is where it all begins.”

So those are the top 8. The other 2 are waiting for you here. Why not wrap yourself up on the sofa with a story, and send yourself off to the Med for some adventure and some hot summer sun … ?

Happy 2015!

sophia xxx

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