Book Review | Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

A few years back now, my mother read Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother- Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. I don’t recall now just how it happened–chance, a recommendation, a gift–but I do know it was a treasure. As she read the story and shared about it with me, it became an important part of our own mother-daughter story. I’ll always think of my mom when I enjoy the strange sweetness of a pomegranate.

That year she gave me the book, and I’ve had it sitting in a treasured spot on my bookshelf waiting for just the right time to read it. How would I know just the right time? I couldn’t have told you if you asked, but I knew I would feel it. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that it would be August 2011, but it did turn out to be just the right time.

As I read this beautifully written mother-daughter memoir, I found myself associating on so many levels with both Sue and Ann. The daughter as she struggled to discover and let blossom her passion for writing, and the mother for her search for peace within herself, especially finding peace with the desire to write fiction. Both Sue and Ann write about their travels together in a compelling, deeply thoughtful and personal way. As they explore ancient religious sites in Greece, Turkey, France and also cope with major changes in their personal lives in South Carolina, both mother and daughter find themselves coming together. As the perspective changes from Sue to Ann, we see their relationship deepening and widening. The beautiful settings form a backdrop to the real action happening inside both of them. With their simple and captivating writing style, it’s an extraordinary experience to be able to join them on this journey.

While reading I came back time and again to my relationship with my mother, the most influential and treasured relationship in my life. It’s difficult to express the gratefulness I feel for having my mother and my best friend as a companion in life’s adventures. They are deep feelings that are hard to put into words, and I treasured having the chance to hear two talented writers explore this moving topic.

As she does many moments throughout the story, Sue Monk Kidd finds the perfect quotation to end the book that pulls together and captures the spirit and love that both mother and daughter express through their writing in Traveling with Pomegranates. Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.”  To taste life once through the eyes of a talented writer is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Two at the same time is a rare joy.

Book Review | The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore

The French Gardener by Santa MontefioreI’ve just finished reading a delicious book, with a story so good that it lingers in my thoughts and I don’t want to let it go. I picked up The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore on a whim in the Omaha airport last March, when my carry on was already loaded down with too many books. I had heard rave reviews of her writing style from my mother, and I reasoned there was always room to squeeze just one more book into my bag.

On another whim last weekend, I tossed the book into my beach bag before heading out to Positano. I’m so glad I did! Using the book to shield out the too hot sun, I was easily lost in the story from the captivating prologue that sets the scene for this romantic tale in the English countryside.

The story takes place in one very special garden, and moves back in forth in time to reveal how it changes the lives of two families, at first so strikingly different, but moved in many ways by the same need for love and family. Miranda and David Claybourne are the stereotypical city couple moving to the country for all the stereotypical reasons. As Miranda’s husband drifts apart with his busy work schedule in the city during the week, she finds herself discovering the beauty of her children and family life in the country. Intent and bringing the estate’s gardens back to their former glory, she is helped by one very charming French gardener who shows up mysteriously one day. As her own marriage falls apart, she is lost in the romantic story of Ava Lightly, the former owner of the house who had created the beautiful gardens … and left behind a scrapbook telling the story of her intense love affair many years before with that same enigmatic Frenchman tending her gardens.

You’ll have to pick it up for yourself to find out what happens next, as it’s too enjoyable a read to give away more details. I can easily say that this won’t be the last book that I read by Santa Montefiore, and next on my list is her book the Last Voyage of the Valentina that is set in part on the Amalfi Coast.

One of the aspects of Montefiore’s writing that struck me the most were her vivid characters. The talented Maeve Binchy wrote once about the importance of creating characters that are interesting to readers. She wrote, “We have to care enough about the people to follow them through to the last page.” (From The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club.) I agree wholeheartedly. But, as someone who is constitutionally incapable of not finishing a book, I’d had to add one more thing. For me, good characters have to do more than just carry me to the end of the book. I’ve followed many a dull character to the end of a mediocre book, and then watched as they easily slipped away from my memory without any sadness.

Santa Montefiore has the gift as a writer to create characters I would want to get to know were they real. While I was reading The French Gardener, the characters popped up in my thoughts throughout the day, and I found myself wondering how they were doing and what they would do next. Now that is character driven plot, I realized! I didn’t wonder what would happen next, but instead I found myself emotionally connecting with them and worrying about what they would do next. I felt a sadness come over me when I turned the last page of the book, not ready yet to let go of the characters and their stories.

In addition to inspiring me to get out in the garden more, the wonderful characters and a beautiful love story that will linger in your memory are just two reasons I would recommend Santa Montefiore’s The French Gardener!

Looking Up to Infinity

Atrani and Ravello from Sea

Recently, I’ve been writing about one of my favorite towns on the Amalfi Coast over at CharmingItaly.com – Ravello! While looking through my photos, this one that I took last summer while out on a boat caught my attention. You can see the beautiful little town of Atrani, and, high above, the very tip of the promontory where Ravello sits. That white house clinging to the cliffside is the Villa La Rondinaia, meaning Swallow’s Nest, which was owned for many years by Gore Vidal. Follow the line of trees up to the left and you’ll see the Villa Cimbrone’s stunning Terrace of Infinity. I’ve stood on that terrace looking out to the sea so many times, but it’s fun to see it from the other side! To read more and see more photographs, I invite you to read my articles on Ravello and on the Villa Cimbrone on Charming Italy!

Cookbook Review: “Mamma Agata – Simple and Genuine” by Chiara Lima

Sometimes you happen across a cookbook that you know you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. That’s how I felt when I first looked through Chiara Lima’s beautiful cookbook Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” Italian Family Recipes. I’ve written many times here on Ciao Amalfi about my adventures discovering and learning about cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Chiara Lima, director of the Mamma Agata Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast, had written a cookbook of her mother Agata’s traditional family recipes. Here was a chance to step inside a family kitchen and learn about real home cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. And you couldn’t find a warmer or more welcoming kitchen than Mamma Agata’s to step in to!

Image courtesy Mamma Agata Cooking School

More than just a cookbook, Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” is a labor of love, telling the story of Agata’s life in Ravello, cooking up her wonderful dishes for movie stars and sharing her talents in the kitchen at the cooking school founded in 1994. Throughout the book you also meet Agata’s family, including her daughter Chiara who writes with passion and love about her family’s history and cooking traditions.

One of the hallmarks of Mamma Agata’s recipes, which is reflected in the title of the book, is that good food doesn’t have to be complicated. To make authentic home cooked Italian dishes all you need are fresh ingredients and the know how to accentuate and combine flavors. The recipes in this cookbook take you step by step through the process of preparing Agata’s signature dishes. The photography throughout the cookbook is extraordinary and leaves you yearning to move right in with Mamma Agata at her beautiful home in Ravello. Each recipe is accompanied by step by step photos that make following the recipes easy and natural.

One of my favorite touches in the cookbook are the sections called “Mamma Agata’s Recommendations” and “Mamma Agata’s Secrets” that are interspersed throughout the recipes steps. While I’m cooking her recipes, it really feels like Mamma Agata is there looking over my shoulder and offering little tips and suggestions to make sure I get it just right. Cooking isn’t simply about following a recipe, and I learned some really handy tips about cooking from these recommendations.

 

Mamma Agata and her family refer to their beautiful home and cooking school as “The Hidden Treasure,” and it truly is a magical spot on the Amalfi Coast. For those who have visited the cooking school and all the rest of you who might dream of visiting some day, this beautiful cookbook will be a real treasure. I can tell you that it has quickly become one of my most prized resources in the kitchen. It’s already been splattered by tomatoes bubbling away on the stove and filled with notes as if I’ve already owned it for a lifetime. Anyone who has traveled to and enjoyed the wonderful cooking here on the Amalfi Coast will also treasure this wonderful resource.

 

Psst… Don’t miss meeting Chiara Lima on her USA BOOK TOUR!

For those of you reading in America, Chiara Lima will be traveling to many locations on a book tour during the month of November, including stops Bernardsville, New Jersey and New York City before continuing on to Chicago and then Dallas. Check here to see all the details on the dates and event venues. Best of luck to my sweet friend Chiara on her book tour to America!

Weekend Reads: “The Wedding Officer” by Anthony Capella

Is there anything better than disappearing for a weekend with a good book? I love stories that pull you in and transport you to another world, especially if that world is someplace in beautiful Italy! For Weekend Reads, Lisa Fantino from Wanderlust Women Travel is here to tell us about one of her favorite books, which is set in Naples, Italy in the 1940s. This book is a wonderful weekend escape, but I’ll let Lisa tell you all about it.

Welcome, Lisa!

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Anyone who’s ever been to London knows that you are up and down, and down and up, on an endless wave of moving stairs taking you to the subterranean Tube, which then moves you to and fro beneath the streets above. It’s a lot of time spent moving and ad agencies in London take full advantage of that by plastering the tube walls with posters for everything from safe sex and a lot of West End shows to books. That is how I discovered Anthony Capella and fell in love with “The Wedding Officer.”

 

Wedding Officer Anthony Capella

London is my second home but Italy is where my heart and soul reside and as my journey to London neared an end, I needed a book for my next flight to Athens. The adverts for “The Wedding Officer” so intrigued me that I purposefully made my way to Oxford Street and grabbed a copy at the Waterstone’s near the Bond St. tube They had such a sale that I grabbed 3 more novels to lug home. But I digress……………….

Capella had me at “ciao,” to butcher another writer’s line! This author is wonderful at blending the Italian language, its nuances and passions, into a slow simmer with its culture and the foreigners who come to love all things Italian. He captures the smallest references to the Napoletani’s wariness of outsiders and how that evolves into an inevitable acceptance if the foreigner manages to be resilient enough to withstand the scrutiny.

Capella’s love affair with food is at once erotic and sensual, as when James’ love interest, Livia, fights with others in a street market to grab a swordfish for dinner (afterall, the best is always worth fighting for) or she dances a passionate tarantella in the center of the piazza! It’s an ongoing dance between the couple, as he struggles with her language and customs, and she strains under the religious morals of 1940 Naples to realize her sensual potential.

Yet, this is also a story of war and the losses suffered and the love that helps people survive. Very few writers are as gifted as Capella in conveying both historical facts and passionate dreams in the same breath. He draws you into a place and a time that you never want to leave. It took me a year after reading “The Wedding Officer” to visit Campania for the first time……..and it still takes my breath away each and every time!

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Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney. She is the creative force and Italian travel concierge for Wanderlust Women Travel and the Amalfi Coast destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings. She recently launched Amalfi Blu, gifts and jewelry inspired by the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. In her spare time, she also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.