Book Review | Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

The beautiful Amalfi Coast, travel stories, history, traditional Campania recipes and, of course, gelato – I think I fell in love with Chantal Kelly’s book Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore before I finished reading the back cover. It was a joy to dive into the story and join Chantal Kelly as she takes readers along with her on a seven day tour in Campania, with stops in some of the region’s most iconic spots like Capri, Sorrento and the villages of the Amalfi Coast. Along the way Kelly shares a nice balance of historical details and personal anecdotes from her previous travels in Campania.

The book opens in Rome where her group of 10 women arrive to tackle jet lag while discovering some of the city’s ancient and modern treasures. On their transfer to the Sorrento Peninsula in Campania, the group stops off for a visit to explore the ruins of Pompeii. The next day they’re off to discover Campania’s ancient Greek heritage at Paestum. A brief stop at Vietri sul Mare gets the ladies in a flurry of ceramic shopping excitement, but it’s not until their third day in Campania that they get the first full taste of the Amalfi Coast’s beauty by visiting Positano.

As their travels continue to Capri, Sorrento, Ravello and Amalfi, with wine tasting in Positano and a morning cooking class in Sorrento, readers are also enticed to fall in love with this special part of southern Italy. I enjoyed reading Kelly’s stories from her travels, and loved how they reminded me time and time again of my first trip to Campania in 2007 with my mother. One of her descriptions of the Amalfi Coast particularly hit home with me, and I imagine it will for anyone who has visited here.

“The Amalfi Coast is simply spectacular, divine, stunning, fascinating, splendid and breathtaking. These adjectives are often used to describe this stretch of the Campania coastline, considered one of the most impressive in Italy, if not all Europe. However, dazzling words cannot begin to arouse the feelings that only a visit can inspire. On site, you will simply succumb to the alluring charms of the Amalfi Coast just as I did, and your sojourn, after you leave, will linger forever in your memories as one of the most wonderful in your life.” – Chantal Kelly from Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore

One could say I’ve made a career out of doing just this. Trying to capture in words—which somehow always seem insufficient no matter how “dazzling” they are as Kelly describes them—that way in which the natural beauty and particular qualities of the Amalfi Coast change something inside of you. There is a shift, sometimes imperceptible in the moment, that you feel has changed you forever. In my case, from the moment I stepped on the tourist bus in Amalfi that sunny February day in 2007, I felt how this place had already begun to stir something deep in me that I am still discovering day by day.

Inscribed at the beginning of Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore are the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “One never really knows how much one is being touched by a place until one has left it.” No place in the world does this ring truer for me than the gorgeous landscapes that you’ll find on the Amalfi Coast, on the coastline surrounding Sorrento and the island of Capri. These are places that seem somehow just too beautiful to be true when you first see them. The American writer John Steinbeck captured this sentiment perfectly in an oft-quoted description of Positano written in 1953, “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Nearly sixty years later, Kelly’s book proves that the Amalfi Coast’s allure is as strong as ever. Whether you’ve always dreamed of coming to this stunning part of southern Italy or you’ve been time and time again, you’ll enjoy joining Chantal Kelly on her journey to Campania in Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore. And just to tempt you a little more, here’s the lovely book trailer to enjoy!

Visit www.chantalkelly.com and www.gelatosisterhood.com for more information, and be sure to stop by Chantal Kelly’s Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore Facebook page for updates, stories and events!

 

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DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author. The opinions expressed here are wholeheartedly my own.

NOTE: The links in the post are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will earn a small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. Thank you in advance for your support!

A Writing Life

Not long ago, I changed the tagline of Ciao Amalfi from “Savoring Daily Life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast” to “A Writing Life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.” This small change reflects a significant shift within myself, one that has been happening so gradually over the past four and half years that I had hardly even noticed.

View of Ravello from Scala

Life in a new country is all about savoring.

As you look around and absorb your new home—slowly finding your own place and how you fit in—all you can do is enjoy the flavors of new foods, struggle your way through understanding a new language and discover the beauty of another landscape. Such a dramatic change of scenery takes time to absorb, and even more time to begin to see how it has changed you.

As I struggled to find my way in the world of freelance writing two years ago, I brought the daily act of writing into my life in a new way – work. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience, but let’s just say that some days have been better than others. Over time, however, the good days have far outnumbered the difficult days. Along the way, something unexpected happened. Writing became a part of my daily life, something essential to be savored and crafted, much like cooking dinner each night.

Since this past summer I’ve been pursuing some other projects that have kept me away from home and all those daily habits. This time away has allowed me to reflect on where exactly my passions lie and what I need to do to pursue them. The biggest hole I have felt over the past summer is the loss of my writing time each day.

Old Stone Building on the Amalfi Coast

Just as I’ve been discovering the depth of my passion for writing, this morning brought me a perfectly timed treasure of inspiration from Diana Strinati Baur at A Certain Simplicity, as she shared about the experience of writing her novel and the decisions we make each day to pursue our passions.

Decide to do. Forget about trying. Just do it. Give it your heart and soul and mind and time, whatever it is.  – Diana Strinati Baur from Decide

So what is it for me?

To write and publish the novel with my mother.

There it is in all its simplicity and complexity – the thing that I am giving my heart and soul and mind and time to. Over the past months I have been slowly pulling away from the commitments that keep me away from my writing desk. I’m making decisions and changes with one thing in mind – the novel. It’s time. I’ve felt it coming for many months now, but it is finally time to be done with the trying and get busy with the doing. I am grateful every day to have such a passionate and inspirational companion to share this creative journey with – my mother.

If you are in the process of working toward a goal or passion, wherever your creativity may lie, I recommend reading Diana’s post called Decide. It is a gift of inspiration that I know I will return to again and again. I look forward to sharing our writing adventures with you, and I hope you will share your creative journey, too!

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!