4 out of 4 stars
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"Jacoby felt as peaceful and inspired as he had in months. Maybe ever. The best two meals of his life had been over the first two days in Italy. The country itself was more beautiful than pictures could capture. The people spoke a lovely language and wore elegant clothes. It was all good. And he wanted in." So begins Jacoby Pine's love affair with Italy portrayed in Andrew Cotto's third novel, Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure.
When former musician turned PR consultant Jacoby loses his job and confidence in New York, he agrees to accompany his finance, Claire to spend a year abroad in Italy where she is on an extended assignment, as a travel writer. Though she has eaten at some of the world's finest restaurants, it is Jacoby who has what his finance refers to as "a golden palate," a gift he attributes to cooking and dining with his lonely father who died the previous summer. When he discovers an old photograph of a woman in an elegant dress dated 1939, Floria-Zanobini, in a box of his mother's belongings, Jacoby is intrigued. He wonders if it is fate, and his secret agenda becomes finding his connection to the woman in the photograph. After researching the location of the villa, Jacoby purposely rents a renovated barn for their stay in the nearby hills south of Florence, despite Claire's misgivings. As he endeavors to uncover the secret behind the photograph and heal his strained relationship with Claire, Jacoby falls in love with everything about Italy. From its breathtaking scenery, abundance of delicious cuisine, and the interesting locals he befriends, Jacoby feels a sense of belonging and becomes determined to stay.
Cotto's writing style is eloquently descriptive, and I savored this book as one would a fine meal. I was particularly moved by his poignant description linking Jacoby's strongest childhood memory of his mother with the lingering aroma of baking cookies from the Nabisco factory behind their home when he was just a toddler. He traces this memory to making the connection between smell and taste but also expresses the sadness the scent triggers.
Typically a homebody, I'm not usually prone to wanderlust, but I was so captivated by Jacoby's experiences as he embraced Italy's scenery, cuisine, culture, and people that I found myself longing to visit the country. Without revealing any plot spoilers, I thought the circumstances involving how Jacoby lost his job were quite realistic, as was the way the loss impacted his sense of identity.
Cotto's character development was also spot-on. The protagonist, Jacoby is transparent regarding his flaws and often deflects his insecurities with humor, making him likable and relatable to readers. He is surrounded by a diverse cast of well-rounded supporting characters including three strong females; Claire, her cousin Dolores, and Helen are no shrinking violets. I also admired the author's ability to convey social issues through the relationships between characters including sexism, ageism, and homophobia. Jacoby sensitively deals with each as they are presented without the subject feeling forced or preachy. For example, he befriends Bill, who shares some of the obstacles he has faced as an older gay man.
I'm pleased to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It was professionally edited, as I didn't not any errors, nor can I highlight any areas for improvement. It was a pleasure to read from start to finish. I recommend the book to fans of romantic, travel-inspired adventures such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love. Please note, it is intended for mature readers, as it includes some R-rated profanity and sexual innuendos.
Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure
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