High on a hill in the Tuscan countryside stands a castle of golden stone, home to Patricia O’Hara’s writers’ retreat – a serene hideaway where you can polish your prose by the pool, gain inspiration from your peers and eat the best melanzane in Italy, courtesy of chef Aldo. But, while the splendour of their surroundings never fails to wow the guests, huge maintenance bills and bad news from the bank threaten to close Patricia down. It’s make or break time for the Castello de Luna.
This August each of her seven aspiring authors arrives with emotional baggage alongside their manuscripts. But something is different. It may be just the prosecco, but soon lifelong spinster Mary is riding on the back of Aldo’s Vespa, and smouldering odd-job man Fabio has set more than one heart racing.
As temperatures rise, the writers gossip, flirt and gently polish their prose by the pool. But with some unexpected visitors to contend with, one thing’s for sure: neither the Castello, nor Patricia, has ever seen a summer like this.
Any book set in Italy is an instant must-read for me, so I was thrilled when I was invited to be a part of the blog tour for One Summer in Tuscany! From the blurb I was expecting a nice easy summer read, but what I got was so much more than that.
To keep the Castello afloat, Patricia O'Hara runs writers retreats, opening her doors to a select number of guests. Sightseeing, sunbathing and sampling the local cuisine are all on the agenda, as well as what the guests hope will be quality writing time. I was initially overwhelmed when they all arrived at the Castello, with so many names and back stories to keep track of. I suspect that this is deliberate though - like our hostess Patricia we are thrown in at the deep end quickly trying to make sense of who's who. I soon got it sussed , and really liked the fact that the story was told from the perspective of almost all of the characters at some point. We got an insight into all of their personal lives, not just through narration but through diary entries and emails too. This gave real depth to the novel, and made me empathise with even the initially unlikeable characters.
The age range and vastly different backgrounds of all of the characters made for an interesting dynamic; they are a group of people thrown together on a writing course who almost certainly would not have been friends in the 'real world'. From course tutor Jeremy Bullen, an author still riding on the coat tails of his bestselling novel from twenty years ago, to Mary McMahon, a retired civil servant with an unpublished manuscript she's been working on for three decades, each character has much more to them than meets the eye. Aldo was my favourite character by far. He may be a stereotypical Italian chef on the surface, but he had a heart of gold - and his food sounded amazing! Through him we saw a different side to Italy, the side the tourists don't often see, which again added another dimension to the story.
The Castello is a world away from reality, a romantic crumbling Gothic fantasy complete with its own ghost story. It is a refuge from life's problems - or at least that's what the paying guests like to think. It takes on a life of its own, becoming a character in itself. Tuscany too is depicted beautifully, from the dusty roads to the historic vineyards, and it certainly made me want to visit it for myself. The food, the landscapes, it is all so well described that I could picture it vividly. As luck would have it, I read this book during a rare UK heatwave, so I could almost pretend I was there with the guests. Almost. The heat, at times languid, at other times oppressive, builds a sense of tension that slowly intensifies as the summer wears on. I knew something was going to happen, but I had no idea what. It was this that made this novel so addictive, with short chapters that made it even easier to read.
One Summer in Tuscany is the perfect holiday read, no matter where you're heading this summer.
Follow the blog tour for more reviews of this brilliant book!