It is time for another book vacation, and this time I am packing my shelf and traveling to Italy—the land of romance, food, family, and compelling stories. These ten books will have you sipping wine in Tuscany or traversing the ruins of Rome all from the comfort of your favorite couch. No passport or plane ticket needed.
This memoir broke my heart and then put it back together again. FROM SCRATCH is a book about both grief and healing—through one Sicilian recipe at a time. Tembi Locke recounts the three summers she spent in Sicily with her daughter after her husband’s tragic death. While living in the small town her husband was born in, she slowly pieces herself back together. She reconnects with her estranged mother-in-law and finds strength and nourishment at the family’s table. This is an incredible story about loss, love, and finding home.
This Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller is “a captivating story of love lost and found” (Kirkus Reviews) set in the lush Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hours.
It was love at first sight when actress Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of his marrying a black American woman. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forged on. They built a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships, and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopted at birth. Eventually, they reconciled with Saro’s family just as he faced a formidable cancer that would consume all their dreams.
From Scratch chronicles three summers Tembi spends in Sicily with her daughter, Zoela, as she begins to piece together a life without her husband in his tiny hometown hamlet of farmers. Where once Tembi was estranged from Saro’s family, now she finds solace and nourishment—literally and spiritually—at her mother-in-law’s table. In the Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing gifts of simple fresh food, the embrace of a close knit community, and timeless traditions and wisdom that light a path forward. All along the way she reflects on her and Saro’s romance—an incredible love story that leaps off the pages.
In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. “Locke’s raw and heartfelt memoir will uplift readers suffering from the loss of their own loved ones” (Publishers Weekly), but her story is also about love, finding a home, and chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and those who needed a powerful reminder that life is...delicious.
A historical mystery set in Italy sounds like the perfect adventure to me. This book has all of the elements to transport the reader first to Siena and then back 1347 to solve an ancient mystery. I felt like I was right alongside Beatrice every step of the way. Needing to step back from her work as a neurosurgeon, Beatrice takes the unexpected opportunity to travel to Siena after her brother’s passing to resolve his estate. After stumbling upon a 700-year-old conspiracy and a startling painting with her face on it, Beatrice wakes up in 1347 in an Italy she doesn’t recognize. But when she meets a mysterious painter, Beatrice finds herself falling in love with him and the simplistic nature of medieval life. But a looming plague threatens her existence and will force her to choose which century she really belongs in.
King beautifully captures Italy during the Renaissance through its religious fervor and its food. When legendary chef Bartolomeo Scappi dies and leaves his entire estate to his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni, he also leaves him his secrets. With strict instructions to burn the contents of two strong boxes, Giovanni is instead compelled to explore their contents. Putting his life at risk, Giovanni dives into his uncle’s journals and reveals a history of betrayal, murder, and an illicit love affair. The best word I have to describe this novel is delectable.
A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.
When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.
As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.
With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.
This book is an epic romance that spans generations, set in both London in the 60s and the coast of Italy just after World War II. Desperately unhappy with her life of leisure and unfulfilling lovers, Alba discovers a portrait of her long-dead mother and is determined to learn more about her. She picks up her life and moves back to the Amalfi coast of Italy. The story of Alba’s mother, Valentina, becomes one of decadence, deceit, and murder between Nazis, peasants, and counts. But what Alba really finds is the possibility of happiness. Montefiore does a fantastic job of weaving the stories of these two women and two time periods together. I’ve never actually been to the Amalfi Coast, but after reading LAST VOYAGE OF VALENTINA, I feel like I have.
Set in London during the swinging sixties and Italy’s Amalfi coast after Word War II, The Last Voyage of the Valentina is an epic romance with a dark uncercurrent of suspense from an author the Daily Mail (UK) has declared “is the new Rosamunde Pilcher.”
Exotically beautiful but desperately unhappy, Alba lives on a houseboat on the Thames, where she enjoys a life of leisure and entertains an endless and unfulfilling succession of lovers. But then she discovers a portrait of her dead mother, Valentina—a woman she'd hardly known, whose story has been kept from her by her still grieving father. Determined to learn the truth about Valentina, Alba returns to the olive groves of the Amalfi coast of Italy. There she uncovers a mysterious tale of decadence, deception, murder, and betrayal involving partisans and Nazis, peasants, and counts. Alba's journey leads her not only to the truth of her mother’s hidden past but to the possibility of happiness in her own future.
The title tells it all: this book really is a beautiful story about the one that got away and reclaiming lost love. In 1962, an idealistic Italian innkeeper instantly falls in love with the American starlet who appears at his hotel. The story picks back up 50 years later as he shows up on the back lot of a movie studio looking for the woman he still loves. This story is so human, and so filled with emotion that I could not put it down. The alluring and deeply believable characters Walter creates make this novel wonderfully rich.
Hailed by critics, loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, and featuring what is arguably one of the most iconic covers of recent years, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline in 1962. Funny and romantic, the beauty and wisdom of Jess Walter’s writing in the last chapter alone will leave musical lines of prose engraved in your memory.
This is an excellent story of friendship set in Naples in the 50s and 60s. Filled with a large cast of characters, drama, and intimate prose, this book had the same effect that spending an extended period of time with my large Italian-German family does. At those family gatherings, meals are cooked, hardships are shared, and there’s usually an uncle or two who I absolutely don’t remember meeting before, but it’s also home. The story follows Lila, who is perfect, talented, and beautiful, but stuck working for her father’s shoe business, whereas Elena has a chance to escape her life through education. On its surface, it’s the story of two best friends, but beyond that, it is the story of a neighborhood and the story of a nation.
Stuart’s Fictional Dinner Party Guests: Elena and Lila
I’d like to host a dinner with an eye on close friendships. Friendships are fascinating because they are the one relationship in life that you aren’t required to be in because of birth or bound to by law. Those in attendance would ideally have a multiple-decade friendship like Elena and Lila of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND. And even though he’s not fictional, I’d love for my best friend to be sitting at the table, too.
It really is fitting that most of the books on this list are epic love stories because, in my mind, Italy is all about love. And in this case, it’s also about gelato, which I also love. Of course, unlike me, Lina does not want to spend her summer in Tuscany. Lina is only there to fulfill her mother’s dying wish and get to know her estranged father. But her whole perspective changes when she receives her mother’s old journal. Suddenly, Italy becomes a place of magic, art, and love. With the very charming Ren by her side, Lina follows in her mother’s footsteps and uncovers a shocking secret about her parents and herself. This book is, in all sincerity, just so sweet and so cute, and honestly, if I could have immediately hopped on a plane to Italy after finishing this book, I would have.
A New York Times bestseller
A summer in Italy turns into a road trip across Tuscany in this sweeping debut novel filled with romance, mystery, and adventure.
Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.
But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything Lina knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.
People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
Kirkus Reviews called Love & Gelato “a sure bet for fans of romance fiction,” while VOYA said readers “will find it difficult to put this book down.” Readers are about to discover a new place, a new romance, and a new talent.
Yet another summer romance set in Italy, but whereas Love & Gelato is pure sugar, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is sad, intoxicating, and intimate. Aciman is a master of prose and delivers this unique love story with a startlingly frank outlook. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME chronicles the blossoming summer romance between two adolescent boys on the Italian Riviera. Despite both boys initially acting as if they don’t care, their fear, fascination, and obsession cultivates the passion between them. Despite their romance barely lasting six weeks, both boys’ lives are changed forever.
This is another Italian memoir that brings family and food to life on the page. Every Thursday night, five friends gather in a stone house in the hills of Italy and they cook, eat, drink and talk. They talk about everything from lost loves, mafia drama, and aging to family feuds and recipes. These five women are complicated and beautiful. Everything about this book makes you feel as if you are sitting at the table with them learning about their struggles and offering advice. This book not only brings Italy to life but the food, too. You will be able to taste and smell every dish.
Stella’s childhood was plagued with near-death experiences to the point where her own family thinks she’s cursed. Stella is beautiful, smart, and alluring, but cold and rebellious. Her toughness becomes a shield for herself and her baby sister, Tina. Her insolent nature invokes the ire of her father who believes that women should be subservient, but Stella believes life is worthless without her independence. When her family emigrates to the United States on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina are forced to face new hardships and expectations. Now the two elderly sisters live in Connecticut, and a younger family member tells their story in hopes of understanding what caused the rift between the two sisters. THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA really captures the heart of this strong Italian family.
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