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 | 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!

Book Review | Among the Cloud Dwellers by Giuliana Sica

Among the Cloud Dwellers from Gemelli PressEvery life deserves a little magic. If you feel like yours is missing that little spark, then boy oh boy do I have the book for you! One of my favorite summer reads so far has been Among the Cloud Dwellers by Giuliana Sica (published by Gemelli Press). This book is a beautiful blend of romance, travel, wine and good food – sprinkled with a little bit of magic.

Porzia Amard has inherited something she never expected from her French grandmother, a family gift of unusual spiritual insight and powers. Returning from her grandmother’s funeral in France to her adopted home in Pensacola, Florida, Porzia is not sure what to do with her unexpected legacy. With the help of her spiritual mentor, Porzia takes the risk to gamble with destiny and follow where fate will lead her, even at the risk of breaking her own heart.

Trying to develop her career as a food and wine journalist while at the same time balancing the confusing emotions revealed in a past life regression that offered a glimpse of her soul mate, intense romance and violence, Porzia sets off to the other side of the world to cover the release of a new Shiraz at a vineyard in Australia. Gambling with fate means accepting the places it chooses to take you, and Porzia finds this out when she sits down next to famous off-road racer Gabe Miller on the overseas flight. The attraction is immediate, the connection deeper than a lifetime of love could create, and before long Porzia is wondering if she has found her lost soul mate.

Giuliana Sica carries readers along through Porzia’s travels through the Australian outback, in search of voodoo recipes in Savannah, Georgia, the Oregon wine country, the enticing scents of New Orleans and the beauty of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Sica was born in Siena, Italy, and her passion for Italy shines through in Porzia’s French-Italian roots and her love of cooking and wine. Food and wine lovers will savor Sica’s exquisite descriptions of delicious recipes matched with the perfect wines. This is truly a gourmand’s romance!

It’s no secret that I love series books. Once I get into a good story, there’s always a sad moment when I’m just pages away from the end. Knowing that Giuliana Sica is at work on the next book made it a little easier letting go of the magical world and characters in Among the Cloud Dwellers … and I can’t wait for Porzia’s story to continue!

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For more information, visit Gemelli Press or find Among the Cloud Dwellers on Amazon. (Kindle edition, too!)

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!

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!