For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting ready for Easter. Having something to look forward to during these long, cold months is essential to my well-being, so I find myself daydreaming of Italy quite often. Here is what I’ve been reading:

A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A bittersweet adventure – Marlena de Blasi

a thosand days in tuscany marlena di blasiAmong all the daydreaming about my holiday, I might have also had real dreams of Italy or, more specifically, Italian food. I blame Marlena de Blasi’s book for that.

I know there’s a lot of literature out there about relatively privileged people quitting their jobs to move to an exotic and/or romanticised location (Provence, Tuscany, India, Southern Spain… anywhere!) and live the simple life. I also know that they are mostly the same; couple buys ruined house, couple makes a home out of said house, couple has visitors from their previous life who frown upon their new lifestyle choices, couple meets quirky locals who seem to be stuck in the 19th century… you know the deal.

What makes this book different is that the writer knows her way around food. De Blasi used to work as a chef and she has authored several books on Italian cooking. In fact, every chapter of A Thousand Days in Tuscany includes a recipe at the end. Her descriptions of food made reading this book before bedtime a truly terrible idea. If that wasn’t enough, she goes mushroom picking, herb gathering, chestnut picking, olive picking, and every other kind of food-related picking that takes place in Tuscany. Oh, and she also goes swimming in thermal lakes.

Although not terribly original, the book was a quick and entertaining (and mouthwatering!) read. And the recipes were a definite plus.

Reunion with Death – Sheila Connolly

If there is anything worse than a high school reunion is a college reunion. I mean, who cares? Maybe it’s because over here we don’t have that alma mater pride that I see in American books and films, but I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s because my generation has attended university as if there was no other option in life, so the idea of having a college reunion doesn’t sound like anything exciting because practically everyone has been to college. I don’t know, but in the past week I’ve watched a film and read a book whose plots began with a college reunion and I find it totally odd.

Anyway, what sounds worse than a college reunion? A college reunion that lasts ten days during which a couple of extremely annoying ladies have planned every single day down to the second. That’s what happens in Reunion with Death. A bunch of 60-year-old American women who haven’t seen each other for forty odd years go on a trip to Italy together because apparently women can’t travel alone.

As if meeting your university “friends” after 40 years wasn’t bad enough, a former professor kindly joins the group to give a lecture on Italian literature. A shady (but charming and apparently good looking) character. The kind of man who thought that, if women are wearing short skirts, then it’s no wonder bad things happen to them. Eyebrows are raised, gossip is exchanged, disgusted looks are thrown across the room.

In an entirely unexpected plot twist if you haven’t read the book’s title, somebody dies. And in another totally unexpected manner, the death seems to be far from accidental. Oh, boy.

Oh, yeah, and this happens in Tuscany, where food is eaten, churches and Medici villas are visited and quality leather goods are bought.

When I was reading the book, I kept thinking that this whole college reunion thing was not believable at all, but that part of the book happens to be true. Are we crazy or what?

Despite the fact that this reunion thing kept bugging me and that I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters, the book was entertaining enough to keep me glued to it for a few hours. It’s not a must-read, but it did the job.

Tuscany photo credit: Phil Dokas