Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review | Dreaming of Laughing Hawk by Linda Katmarian

While my reading time has been quite limited since the summer, I’ve had the pleasure of dipping into a wonderful story every moment I could with Linda Katmarian’s debut novel Dreaming of Laughing Hawk. With deep and fascinating characters and a storyline that drew me into the novel more and more with each page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

On a cold spring day in 1964, with the hope of escaping home and studying art at university filling her heart and head, Elizabeth Leigh skips out of high school early. In a matter of moments everything in her unsettled life changes. Her mother’s packed suitcase, broken promises, more lies, dreams shattered – and no one to tell her why.

With nothing keeping her in the place that wasn’t really ever home, Elizabeth accepts a fortuitous invitation from her cousin to spend the summer in sunny California. Life couldn’t possibly be more different at her aunt Caroline’s house, where Lizzy, as her family insists on calling her, settles into a beautiful home and comfortable lifestyle where she meets new people, led along by her gorgeous and bubbly cousin Melina.

While Melina is more concerned about summer fun, Elizabeth works to save money for university. Through family connections she starts a job as secretary for Collin Greenslade, a handsome and ambitious young man eager to get out from the overbearing grasp of his father’s business. The most unlikely of matches, Elizabeth and Collin both have a hole deep inside–a need to be loved–that draws them together. Collin offers Elizabeth everything she could dream of, love, comfort, beautiful things, and she falls for what is too tempting to resist – security.

But, there’s just one problem. Mark Laughing Hawk. A Native American from South Dakota and studying medicine at UCLA, Hawk is the roommate of Melina’s boyfriend Jake. When Jake gets in trouble with his civil rights activism in Mississippi, he calls in the help of Hawk to come and rescue him and tow his ruined car back home. Never one to miss out on a little fun, Melina concocts a story that allows her and Elizabeth to go with Hawk to Mississippi. This is no average road trip. It’s an adventure that sets in motion unstoppable events in the life of Elizabeth and Hawk.

There are choices to be made by the characters in the story, and they are certainly ones that resonated with me. Do you risk everything to follow where your heart leads you or do you hold on with all your might to the one thing you always thought you wanted? There’s a point in the novel where Mark Laughing Hawk says, “Your destiny is determined by the choices you make and the angels–or demons–you invite to accompany you.” As Collin, Elizabeth and Hawk make their decisions–some followed by angels and others the darkest demons–the story unfolds into one of deep, beautiful and fierce love.

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Find out more about Linda Katmarian and Dreaming of Laughing Hawk by clicking here.

Summer Reads for Amalfi Coast Lovers

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

The summer has arrived and with it comes some much needed beach time with a great book. I hope your summer brings you travels to a warm and sunny destination … perhaps even the Amalfi Coast! If you can’t make it to the Amalfi Coast this summer, I’ve put together a list of books set on or about the Amalfi Coast to inspire your summer travel dreams. These aren’t your guide books to tell you where to eat or park your sun umbrella. These are the books that make you dream of sailing off to explore the Amalfi Coast when you close your eyes. I’ve included some of my favorite novels, travel books and memoirs set here, along with some excellent works of non-fiction and some cookbooks if you’re feeling hungry for something Amalfi Coast inspired after all that reading!


Novels Set on the Amalfi Coast

My perfect beach read is a novel, one that captures the beauty of a place and weaves a story that you don’t want to leave behind when you finish. One of my favorite authors, Santa Montefiore, has set two of her books on a fictional town of Incantelleria – an enchanting place you won’t ever want to leave!

The House in Amalfi by Elizabeth Adler

Sailing to Capri by Elizabeth Adler

The Night Villa by Carol Goodman (Capri)

Stones of the Madonna by Jan Mazzoni (Positano)

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

The Italian Matchmaker by Santa Montefiore (sequel to Last Voyage of the Valentina)

The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners by Luanne Rice (Capri)

Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (Tuscany, New York City, Buenos Aires and the island Capri)


Travel Writing About the Amalfi Coast

If you’ve got the Amalfi Coast travel bug, you’ll enjoy following Chantal Kelly on her travels along the Amalfi Coast in Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore. Here are a few other choices to enjoy, too!

Amalfi Blue: Lost & Found in the South of Italy by Lisa Fantino

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Capri and No Longer Capri by Raffaele La Capria

My Amalfi Coast by Amanda Tabberer


Non-Fiction About the Amalfi Coast

Not a fiction fan or just curious to find out more about the history of the Amalfi Coast?

The Mystery of the Duchess of Malfi by Barbara Banks Amendola

Art and Patronage in the Medieval Mediterranean: Merchant Culture in the Region of Amalfi by Jill Caskey

Positano: La città verticale by Romolo Ercolino (I have the Italian, but it’s available in English as Positano: The Vertical City)


Amalfi Coast Cookbooks

How about a slice of Mamma Agata’s famous lemon cake while you’re reading? Here are some cookbooks that highlight the local cuisine in easy to follow recipes so you can enjoy the flavors of the Amalfi Coast at home.

The Lemon of the Amalfi Coast: Recipes History Art by Ezio Falcone and Maurizio Apicella

The Amalfi Coast: A Collection of Italian Recipes by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

Mamma Agata: Simple and Genuine by Chiara Lima

Amalfi Coast Recipes by Amanda Tabberer


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You may have noticed that I’ve included books set on Capri in this list, but not Naples, Ischia and other spots in Campania. I wanted to keep this list focused just on the Amalfi Coast, but I love Capri so much that I had to squeeze it in. If you’re interested in more books set in this beautiful part of Italy, check out this fuller list of Books Set in Campania that I put together for My Bella Vita. My summer read just arrived in the mail, and I look forward to diving in. When I spotted That Summer in Ischia by Penny Feeny online, I knew it was a must read. I’ll be sure to report back with a review when I’ve finished. Enjoy your summer reading!

Book Review | At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

At Least You're in Tuscany Gemelli by Jennifer CriswellAs an expat in Italy, I’m drawn to memoirs by writers who have followed a similar journey of uprooting life and going in search of a new pathway in a new country. Naturally, if the book is about expat life in Italy, then it’s probably top of my “must read” list. I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of the latest release from Gemelli Press At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell.

In the case of Criswell’s memoir, you can judge a book by its cover! Just like the author, I have a weakness for those brilliant red poppies that dot the fields in Italy. Or, in my case, poke out of the cracks in the ancient stone staircases on the Amalfi Coast. I was captivated by the beautiful cover design from Gemelli Press and then laughed when I read the book’s subtitle: “A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life.” The title At Least You’re in Tuscany evokes the spirit of Criswell’s book, which is a refreshing and often hilarious read from an author who has captured the charms as well as the challenges of expat life in Italy.

At Least You’re in Tuscany follows Criswell’s big move from New York City with her beloved Weimaraner named Cinder to a new home in an apartment in Montepulciano, a beautiful Tuscan hilltown not far from Siena. The book follows her first year as she adjusts to the ins and outs and ups and downs of life in Tuscany. From learning Italian and slowly making friends to epic delays in paperwork and bureaucratic nightmares, Criswell shares with readers more than just the pretty views and stereotypical Italian experiences. Her stories and enduring sense of humor reveal that adjusting to life in another country and planting new roots isn’t all all about wine and fields of poppies.

While reading At Least You’re in Tuscany, one Italian word kept running through my mind – grinta. While it may not have the melodious and romantic sound usually associated with Italian, its hard sound is very appropriate. While the dictionary definition comes up as “determination,” for me it’s a mix of courage, stubbornness and eternal optimism. It’s Italian for oomph! And grinta is precisely what is needed when you pack up and move to another country. Criswell has grinta in abundance, and it’s what makes her story such a compelling read that I couldn’t put it down!

Although the title hints that the book might have a negative bent, I found Criswell’s sense of humor and determination uplifting. Whether she’s describing the time her laundry froze on the line or painstaking struggles with finding work, I found her sense of humor the perfect balance to the troubles at hand. Reading At Least You’re in Tuscany reminded me of the many adventures I’ve had adjusting to life on the Amalfi Coast. Humor is absolutely required! That and a good mantra to keep positive even in the most difficult moments. Criswell’s mantra, “At least you’re in Tuscany,” carried her through that first year of changes and challenges until Montepulciano finally became home.

If you’re dreaming of making a move to Italy one day, or simply enjoy reading expat tales, I’d highly recommend At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell. It’s a tale not only about life in Tuscany but also about having the determination to follow your heart’s desires – no matter what challenges life throws your way!

Now available at Amazon in Kindle version. Nook and paperback versions coming soon!

At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life
By Jennifer Criswell
ISBN: 978-0-09821023-7-4
Author’s website: http://jennifercriswell.com |  Gemelli Press website: http://gemellipress.com

Follow Gemelli Press on Facebook for all the latest news on upcoming releases!

Book Review | InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi

Italy Book Reviews InterRail Alessandro Gallenzi
There is something inspiring in a train station. The coming, the going, the energy of the crowds or the sadness of an empty platform – everything adds to the air of possibility and adventure. And freedom, of course. It’s all three of these that entice Francesco, a university student living outside Rome, to buy a month long InterRail pass and set off to explore Europe. Based in part on the author Alessandro Gallenzi’s  adventures traveling around Europe by train, InterRail follows Francesco’s journey as he travels from Italy to Germany, Denmark, Sweden, to disaster in Amsterdam, sleeping on the streets and falling in love in London and the most unusual experiences in Paris before arriving back home in Italy again.

Although Francesco visits some of the most popular travel spots in Europe, InterRail is a novel more about the people you meet and experiences you have while traveling more than a travelogue about place. While Francesco criss-crosses Europe, it’s the chance encounters, new friends and strange acquaintances he meets that guide his travels and teach him the most.

The tagline on the cover of the book caught my attention before I even started the story: “A novel about the joy of being young and the infinite paths our lives can take.” Since I’m constitutionally incapable of simply jumping on a train and traveling across countries with little information and even less planning, I enjoyed traveling vicariously through Francesco’s mishaps and adventures. His openness to exploring some of those “infinite paths” that life spreads out before us was certainly an inspiration.

As an expat who was drawn to Italy for love, I know just how unexpected those paths in life can be. While my unexpected pathway didn’t happen while traveling by train, it certainly did happen while traveling. There are infinite paths that surround us every day, but when you travel they spread out to horizons you may have never imagined. Sometimes the only way to see that there really are an infinite number of directions life can take is to get out there, take a good look around and be brave enough to walk down a path when it feels right. It takes courage to pack up a bag like Francesco and set off with only an InterRail pass, a few changes of clothes, a map of Europe and a small amount of money – all of which he loses, except, of course, for his InterRail pass!

Whatever it takes, you’ve got to go. If you’re open to change and discovery, life’s adventures might just change the rest of your life. That’s the beauty of travel. The passion for travel and a sense of discovery is just one of the undercurrents in InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi. If traveling is part of your life, or you simply enjoy a good armchair travel read, you’ll have fun following Francesco’s adventures in InterRail.

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Find out more and purchase InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi on the Alma Books website.

Book Review | Todo in Tuscany

Todo in Tuscany The Dog at the Villa Book ReviewThere are a lot of reasons to fall in love with a house in Tuscany. A sweeping view across the rolling Tuscan hillsides, finding a piece of Italian history going back generations or a setting in a charming Italian village. While Louise Badger and Lawrence Kershaw found all those things in Poggiolino, a unique home near Lucca, what this husband and wife found was that there was only one Todo in Tuscany. Todo the dog that is.

After holidaying in Italy together for years, Badger and Lershaw decided it was time to live the dream. The timing was right in 2007 to make the dream a reality, and the two were off to house hunt in the Tuscan countryside not far from Lucca. There very first house viewing turned into a memorable experience when they were greeted by a brown ball of excitement they soon learned was named Todo. With a smiling face and enthusiastic demeanor (and one very swishy and happy tail!), Todo quickly charmed Badger and Kershaw, who were also moved by Todo’s sad story.

When Carol MacAndrew died two years earlier, she left behind her beloved home and garden Poggiolino and her faithful companion Todo. Although Todo had been alone for two years when Badger and Kershaw first met him, he had refused to leave the home where he had passed so many happy years with Carol. It was decided that whoever bought Poggiolino got Todo as well! But, as Badger and Kershew found themselves asking, “Who buys a house with a dog?”

The answer came immediately after returning home to London. They did! Although the house wasn’t quite what they initially had in mind and required more work than expected, they couldn’t get Todo’s sad face when they left out of their minds. Todo had been waiting for two years for someone to return to Poggiolino and bring love and life back to his home.

In Todo in Tuscany: The Dog at the Villa, Badger and Kershaw share their story of meeting Todo, discovering his and Carol MacAndrew’s fascination history, meeting new friends, working through all those renovations and making their dream of living in Italy a reality – with Todo cherring them along every step of the way!

An honest and heartfelt story told from Louise Badger’s point of view, Todo in Tuscany is about the ups and downs of moving and making a new life in Italy and the joys of falling in love with a place … and one very special dog named Todo!

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Visit the Todo in Tuscany website for more information, photos and stories. You’ll also find Louise Badger and Lawrence Kershaw on the Todo in Tuscany Facebook page or @TodoinTuscany on Twitter.

Can’t wait to get your paws, er, hands on a copy of Todo in Tuscany? Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso has one copy to give away to a lucky winner. Just click here and enter before Tuesday, July 31st at noon (Italy time). You still have a couple of days!