Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Monday, January 6, 2014

To Tuscany With Love by Gail Mencini (Author Interview / Book Review)

In association with JKSCommunications, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for To Tuscany With Love by Author Gail Mencini!

Author Interview

Welcome to Jersey Girl Book Reviews, Gail!

Is any part of “To Tuscany with Love” autobiographical?

The events and characters in To Tuscany with Love are products of my imagination and the places and people that are real are used fictitiously. I will, however, quote Garrison Keillor on this subject, “Bad things don’t happen to authors; it’s all material.” When a person travels, things happen that are not humorous at the time but later, in the recounting, are often hilarious. The novel is not autobiographical, but have I drawn from my experiences? Absolutely!

You use multiple points of view in the book. Was it difficult to keep the characters, and their voices, separate and distinct?

The characters have strong, unique personalities and I found they liked to grab the reins from their friends and tell their own story. To me, they are so different from each other that alternating voices was not a problem. Keeping track of the passage of time and age of the characters during each period seemed a more tedious, although essential, task. I enjoyed being able to view events from their different perspectives and plot how their friendship was the foundation for their growth as individual characters.

The characters in To Tuscany with Love are all interesting in their own way. How did you come up with their personalities?

For all my characters, their personalities are integrally related to their backgrounds and their families. Once I started fleshing out the characters’ names, careers, and what their homes were like growing up, their individual personalities flowed. I purposely plucked them from different regions in the country, with a variety of family dynamics.

I started with an Italian-American, Bella Rossini, which seemed a natural for a story set in Italy, and then my mind flew to two possible suitors with radically different backgrounds – a California athlete, Phillip, and a Southerner with a preacher for a father, Stillman. Rune, a man who grew up in Nebraska and escaped for a fast and loose life in Hollywood, presents an intriguing dichotomy and an element of humor. Having two sisters and a brother myself, I am interested in the dynamics and bonds between siblings, so including a set of twins fed that attraction. My husband is a physician and to show my respect for him, I wanted to include a physician character, although that is where the resemblance stops. Finally, I added Hope, a strong woman from Colorado who lives up to her name, as a tribute to my home state.

Breast cancer plays a part in the novel. Did you have a special reason for including this?

Breast cancer affects one in eight women in the United States. In Colorado, where I live, it is one in seven. Among the women in my neighborhood book club, the ratio is an alarming one in five. I am a breast cancer survivor myself, having undergone a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction in 2009. Early detection is the key to survival. If in any way by writing about people with this disease I can spur someone to do a self-breast exam or get an annual screening mammogram, I will have achieved my goal of helping others fight breast cancer.

To Tuscany with Love touches on many themes including lost love, friendship, regret and entering adulthood. Can you tell us more about the message behind your book?

It’s never too late to take stock of one’s work, relationships, and life. What dreams of yours are unfulfilled, and why have they been pushed aside? Sometimes circumstances or economics are the unavoidable roadblock to achieving your dreams.

When things are outside of a person’s control, all one can do is to evaluate how best to deal with these obstacles, and then take action. That was my personal approach when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The best thing about my cancer was that I realized how many people cared about me and wanted to help. I am not very good at asking for help and, unfortunately, many people are the same. Family and friends are a grossly underrated asset, which is why I centered To Tuscany with Love on a group of friends who help each other save, and forgive, themselves.

A surprising occurrence is that sometimes we ourselves, like my characters, have become the obstruction to achieving our goals. Passionately investing in your relationships and dreams is the first step to molding yourself into the person you dream of being and in the process, achieving happiness and fulfillment.

Have you visited the Tuscan cities and hill towns you describe in the book? Do you have a favorite place?

I have been fortunate to visit these lovely locales. A large city such as Florence has advantages as a base for your travels: proximity to an airport, ease of public transportation, and an abundance of historical and cultural sites. I have to admit, though, the charming, friendly hill towns of Tuscany stole my heart. When you read To Tuscany with Love, I suspect you will figure out which one of these hill towns is my favorite.

Do you have any advice for people traveling to Tuscany for the first time?

A person should define their goals for any trip up front. What are your priorities? Some examples are: seeing as many (historical, religious, or cultural) attractions as possible, sampling the cuisine, relaxation, touring with an athletic focus (biking or hiking), successful traveling with children, or what I term “piazza sitting and watching the world go by.” Determining one’s goals and likes, dislikes, budget, and special needs makes planning a rewarding and enjoyable trip much easier. I like using public transit, especially for a first-time visitor, because you travel shoulder-to-shoulder with the native Italians and are immediately immersed into their everyday life.

Your professional background is mainly in accounting and tax planning. Did you always secretly want to be a writer?

The creative arts were always a passion for me, but once I started reading Mary Stewart novels set in Greece, I was hooked: I longed to write and travel. With my husband’s encouragement and belief in me, I was able to take the overwhelming, terrifying, and thrilling first step of tackling book-length fiction.

How did you learn how to cook gourmet Italian food?

Learning to cook was easy, as I apprenticed under two accomplished and adventurous cooks, my mother and grandmother. I developed my expertise in gourmet Italian cuisine in several ways: gathering tips from my many Italian relatives, wanting to recreate the foods I savored in Italy, and having a shameless love of cookbooks, especially those featuring Italian cuisine—my collection overflows the bookshelf!

Describe the most memorable meal you ate while in Italy.

Picking only one of the many memorable meals is a challenge! My husband and I were in Piedmont and Tuscany during the floods that devastated northern Italy in 2000. Following a turbulent flight from the U.S., we drove through the rain with double shots of espresso and the thought of a hot meal sustaining us. When we finally arrived at our destination, we happily parked our car, requested a recommendation for a ristorante that catered to locals, and walked through the rain to dinner. We greeted our waitress with our rustic Italian and the gracious woman took one look at our weary, jet-lagged faces and suggested she select our food for us. We trusted her, and it was comforting, simple, delicious, and perfect: tomato bruschetta, feather-light tortellini in chicken broth, melt-in-your-mouth papparadelle with a sauce of wild boar and porcini, a house salad of field greens dressed with a light vinaigrette and freshly shaved parmesan cheese, and finally, lemon sorbetto and amaretti cookies. Magnifico!

Are you working on another book? Will it take readers on another trip to Italy?

I have another book underway already and am having fun scheming up new dilemmas for my characters. My next book, the second in the Tuscany series, takes place primarily in and around a charming Tuscan hill town not visited in To Tuscany with Love, so my readers will have the pleasure of new Italian experiences in another small area of Tuscany. One thing I will reveal, though, is that the delightful Tuscan cuisine and wine are certain to play a memorable role in this book!

About The Author

Gail Mencini makes her literary debut with To Tuscany with Love (January 2014, Capriole Group) an adult coming-of-age novel set in central Italy.

Born in rural Nebraska, Mencini graduated with honors in 1976 from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, where she majored in accounting, economics and business administration. She holds a Master of Laws of Taxation degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

Mencini co-owned an accounting firm and practiced for 15 years in public accounting, specializing in tax law related to mergers and acquisitions and real estate. She also spent time in the higher education field, working as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado and Metro State College, as well as the University of Denver College of Law. She was a repeat speaker at national continuing education seminars and a featured presenter in a real estate conference in the Caribbean.

In 1990 when she married her husband, Mencini became an “instant mother” of three boys plus another son two years later, which opened the doors to becoming a full-time mother and igniting her long-time passion for creative arts, gourmet cooking and traveling.

She went on to become a contributing editor and photojournalist for Buzz in the ‘Burbs, writing monthly cooking columns featuring dinner themes, recipes and complementary wine suggestions. She also served as interim director of marketing for Wine Master Cellars as the company transitioned to new leadership. She has been a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for nearly 20 years as well as the Pikes Peak Writers for over 10. She most recently joined Author U based in Aurora, Colo.

She writes and cooks in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and family who are always ready to critique her abundance of story ideas and recipes.


Book Review

To Tuscany With Love by Gail Mencini
Book 1: Tuscany series
Publisher: Capriole Group
Publication Date: November 5, 2013 / January 7, 2014
Format: Paperback - 400 pages / Kindle - 2388 KB /Nook - 2 MB
ISBN: 193859200X
Genre: New Adult / Contemporary Women's Fiction 

BUY THE BOOK: To Tuscany With Love

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by JKSCommunications.

Book Description:

Can one college semester abroad change the course of your life?

Bella Rossini, a vivacious college junior, lands in jail overnight with acquaintances whom she mistakes for friends. Shipped off to Tuscany by her mother, Bella is suddenly thrust into living with seven strangers during one life-altering summer.

Meet Hope, the sturdy and practical girl, steadfast in her loyalty to her boyfriend; Meghan and Karen, identical twins with an eye for fashion and beauty to match; Stillman, haunted by his hard past, and Phillip, an athlete, both fueled by competition; Lee, by family mandate in pre-med; and Rune, the Hollywood-bound wild child. All add sizzling chemistry and rebellious humor to the mix.

 In one whirlwind summer, while uncovering the charms of Italy, they discover both friendship and love.

After their summer together, life – and loss – happens.

Returning to Tuscany 30 years later, their dreams, anger, secrets and disappointments create an emotional kaleidoscope. Their reunion sends them on a startling collision course that none of them could have predicted.

Set against the allure of Tuscany, with an irresistible fusion of heartbreak and humor, this debut novel, To Tuscany with Love, explores the fear of letting the past determine the future and the power of friendship.

My Book Review:

In her debut novel, To Tuscany With Love, author Gail Mencini weaves an intriguing new adult coming of age tale about eight American college students (for men, four women), who meet while studying abroad for a summer semester in Italy. After their summer abroad, the story then follows the eight friends through the next thirty years detailing their life experiences, culminating in a reunion that will reveal how their summer abroad thirty years ago had a life-changing and shaping effect on how they would live their lives. It is a compelling story about entering adulthood, love, loss, life experiences, regrets, successes, midlife observations, and the power of friendship.

Written in the third person narrative, this is a wonderful story that transports the reader to the panoramic beauty of the Italian countryside, where a lifelong friendship is formed by eight college students studying abroad for a summer semester. From guided walking tours, classes, activities, romance and love triangles, the reader is easily drawn into this captivating story of friendship and coming of age. The author masterfully interweaves the life stories of the eight friends that alternates between the past and the present, providing the reader with snapshots from their individual lives for the next thirty years, detailing their life experiences: loves, losses, passions, successes, and regrets. The power and bond of friendship comes full circle when these eight middle-aged people are brought back together for a reunion thirty years later.

I loved the story's message that it's never too late to take stock of one's life, relationships, passions and dreams. When life's experiences presents obstacles and circumstances beyond your control, don't waste your chances, do an evaluation and decide what action to take. And never forget that your family and tight circle of friends will be there to provide love and support. This is a compelling and realistic story that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, it provides much food for thought.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the stunning description of the Italian setting. The author provides the reader with a richly vivid setting that reads like a tourist guide. From large cities to panoramic countrysides to old world hill towns; to guided tours of cultural historical sites and quaint shops; the author does a phenomenal job of describing the sights, sounds and smells of Italy. You can't help but feel like you are with the eight friends as their summer abroad provides them a chance to explore and create memories from a European country that will last a lifetime.

To Tuscany With Love is a touching story that captures the essence of friendship and life experiences. It is a heartwarming story that will resonate long after the last page has been read. Kudos to author Gail Mencini on a wonderful debut novel.

To Tuscany With Love is the first book in the Tuscany series.


To Tuscany With Love - Book Trailer

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tour Schedule:

January 3
Spotlight and Promotional Giveaway at C Mash Loves To Read

January 5
Interview at As the Pages Turn
Author Q&A Feature with The Page Turners Book Club

January 6
Review at Celtic Lady’s Reviews
Review at Jersey Girl Book Reviews

January 7
Spotlight and Giveaway at Under My Apple Tree
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Little Miss Train Wreck

January 8
Guest Post at Jorie Loves a Story

January 9
Interview at Manic Readers
Review at Kritters Ramblings
Review and Promotional Giveaway at Nightly Reading

January 10
Review and Promotional Giveaway at Manic Readers
Review at Afternoon Bookery
Review and Promotional Giveaway at Bless Their Hearts Mom

January 11
Review at Bunny’s Reviews
Live Web Chat on the Read On Series at Crossroad Reviews 

January 12
Interview at Literary Lunes

January 13
Review at Mandi Kay Reads
Author Interview at Infinite House of Books

January 14
Review and Spotlight at So I Am a Reader!
Review at TiffyFit’s Reading Corner

Also on the Tour:
Review and Promotional Giveaway at Therian

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