The Nun - Simonetta Agnello Hornby I finished The Nun & would give it 3.5 stars. I'll bump it up to four stars for the meticulously-researched historical details in this lovely novel. The book moved at a languid, meditative pace (completely in keeping w/ the ideas of nuns & monastic orders). Each part was like a little piece of colored glass -- beautiful, intricate details (of life in a convent, of life in an Italian town in the mid-1800s, of life in Italy as a country during times of turmoil), all unfolding to give a kaleidoscopic view of a small window in history. I think the setting (more than the characterization) was the star of the story. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
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My comment after reading the first few chapters:
The thing I love about historical fiction is finding out new facts about different times & places (& sometimes things that are still true). I've just barely started this book which opens in Messina in 1839 during the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The annual religious procession still takes place in Messina & there are various photos & videos posted online. The machine used in the procession is a huge, pyramid shaped creation that includes rotating parts depicting the sun, moon, and various angels. During the time of "The Nun", apparently real infants were used in this machine to portray the angels -- 7 or 8 hours in the hot sun, rotating high above street level....Of course, these days, infants are no longer used and statues are in place instead. Anyway, this is just one of the neat history tidbits I've picked up from this book. If you are interested, here are a few photos I found & a video that shows what I'm referencing:
http://www.thoughts.com/backpackernews/la-vara-festival-in-messina-sicily
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9bBBgeZ65o&feature=related

Do you find yourself looking up things (photos, maps, videos,...) when reading historical fiction? :-)