Reviewed by Emma Crowley
The ovens are pre-heating, the Prosecco is chilling…and The Sunshine and Biscotti Club is nearly ready to open its doors. But the guests have other things on their minds…
Libby: The Blogger
Life is Instagram-perfect for food blogger Libby…until she catches her husband cheating just weeks before her Italian cooking club’s grand opening.
Evie: The Mum
Eve’s marriage isn’t working, but she’s not dared admit it until now. A trip to Italy to help Libby open The Sunshine and Biscotti Club might be the perfect escape…
Jessica: In Love with her Best Friend
Jessica has thrown herself into her work to shut out the memory of the man who never loved her back. The same man who’s just turned up in Tuscany…
Welcome to Tuscany’s newest baking school – where your biscotti is served with a side of love, laughter and ice-cold limoncello!
What a gorgeous cover the new book from Jenny Oliver, The Sunshine and Biscotti Club, has. It just screams read me now in the sunshine by the pool preferably in Italy as that is the location of choice for Libby Price’s hotel and food academy. Who wouldn’t want to be on that bike cycling through the glorious Italian countryside surrounded by lemon and olive groves as one makes their way to the hotel hoping for a good time and to indulge one’s love of cooking? Well that’s the idea anyway but perfection and an ideal are hard to achieve and not everything is plain sailing for Libby. She has dreams and ambitions after inheriting the hotel from her aunt and it needs an awful lot of work bringing it up to date not to mention the surrounding gardens and the area where she wants to hold cookery lessons and demonstrations and even supper clubs.
Things seem to be going OK with the renovations even if they are under time pressure but then everything goes rather pear shaped and sour for Libby when she discovers husband Jake had been online shopping for a mistress. Libby is hurt, shattered, angry and above all else lost, her dreams are crumbling before her eyes. Weren’t they in it together as a couple to make a go of the business and fulfill an initiative which they had long held dear? Obviously Jake wasn’t and to be honest he had the most pathetic excuse ever for looking for that little extra somewhere else. The hotel was too remote, it’s too much to cope with. I felt like telling him to grow up and get over himself .He shouldn’t have led Libby on like that I mean aren’t a husband and wife supposed to work together as one? Jake just seemed weak and spineless and I was glad he was quickly shown the door but wondered would Libby be able to resist if he wanted to come back and also how could she go on to renovate the hotel all by herself? Libby enjoys running a successful lifestyle blog but contemplates what is the point in going on and portraying a fake life now that it has come apart?
This line struck me as being quite sad that a woman could feel like this ’Who was this person, she wondered as she stared, if she was no longer one half of him?’. I know Libby’s hurt and revelations had only just occurred but no woman should not think they can’t be independent and strong without a man. There are plenty of us out there that are testament to that. After Jake makes his escape Libby decides she needs help if she wants the hotel and cookery lessons to be a success, so she calls on the women who have been her friends for years although time and circumstances and events have changed them there is still a tenuous connection there.
From here on the chapters alternate between Libby, Eve and Jessica and their names are written at the top of each chapter which was definitely needed otherwise it was too confusing. As well as her female friends several men made an appearance – Miles, Jimmy and Dex not to mention delectable Italian Bruno who runs the local bar near to the lake by the hotel. Honestly there were way too main characters in this book to keep track off. The women featured were fine and had strong storylines which I felt were worthwhile and I could follow but as for the men I could never remember who was who. There was never enough background information given on them or in fact to the group as a whole from their university days. It was as if we were supposed to fill in gaps for ourselves. I could never make out how certain people were connected as not much was revealed but it was as if the reader was expected to know what had happened previously. I like the element of mystery like any reader and could see that’s what the author was trying to achieve but it didn’t work and just felt disjointed. Every time a new chapter started I had to try and remember who the male character was and what woman were they connected with. It just was annoying every time trying to refamiliarise yourself with the male characters and I wondered could the book have done without them. Should the three girls been allowed to shine for themselves with just subtle additions of male characters? This was my only gripe with this book, OK it may have been a fairly significant one, but push that to one side and what The Sunshine and Biscotti Club does is conjure up fantastic imagery of food and the Italian setting and a solid storyline of working through the tough times with the help of friends and good company who are there for each other through thick and thin despite what obstacles life may through in the way.
Eve is married to Peter and has twins Noah and Maisie (who were adorable throughout the book every time she Facetimed they always brought a smile to my face with what they said). Eve has lost a little bit of her sparkle since becoming a mum, she loves her children but the old Eve misses her job creating perfumes. Things between herself and Peter aren’t great at the moment yet she can’t quite put her finger on just what is going wrong. ’There was something simmering underneath her and Peter’s relationship at the moment’. Then the old chestnut is thrown in of we need a break, to mend the chink in our relationship. Peter hasn’t been fully honest and feels time out to evaluate things might help them see things in a different light. So when Libby calls needing help Eve travels to Italy. Combined with the fact her marriage is in trouble and previous to that she wasn’t happy is the fact there has been a distance between herself and Libby. Yet Libby is her friend and friends always are there for each other. Eve was a character who was confused and needed to find her way back to the person she once was. Her creative side had become dormant and she needed inspiration and guidance. Will the landscape of Italy and all it has to offer coupled with Libby’s classes be the healing power she needs or will someone offer a slight temptation that might be too hard to come back from?
Jessica works alongside Dex at the Waverly Design Agency and she is a pure workaholic demanding perfection in everything she sets out to do. Spontaneity is not in her vocabulary, there are schedules and goals always in sight. She finds it extremely difficult just to let go and enjoy life or to partake in anything that finds herself going off track. When she is not working she really doesn’t know what to do with herself. Baking and helping Libby out wouldn’t be her forte but she is there and in such a relaxing place maybe she might be able to confront the demons that have been eating her up inside for so long? Jessica really was a closed book nothing was given away there were very minor hints as to something happening in the past that she hasn’t been able to let go of and the fact all the friends are reuniting to help Libby means they will be pushed together in close circumstances and surely something will come out into the open.
On the surface one would have thought The Sunshine and Biscotti Club would have been a light easy summery read but having been presented with such a complex cast of characters all with issues and hidden thoughts and matters most of which they are afraid to express meant that this book took on a more serious tone balanced with some nice comedic moments and of course glorious descriptions. All of the characters have issues firmly rooted in the past which are affecting how they act around each other once they meet up again and in ways are preventing how they live in the now and possibly the future. Aside from the issues between all the characters being dealt with the setting and the food had to take some sort of precedence and Jenny Oliver allowed it so shine. The gardens, woods, lemon and olive groves surrounding the hotel sounded so idyllic for a relaxing holiday and the lake provided a scene that brought the friends together in a fun and easy way. What about the food? Well Jenny Oliver had my mouth watering throughout with such tasty descriptions of spaghetti, tortellini, pastas, ragu, biscotti, cakes and so much more. It was a feast for the senses as you could visualise everything as the friends were cooking in the classes whether it was all successful is another matter altogether. Libby uses food as a form of healing just like Eve uses things around her nature to create wonderful scents and this aspect of the book was wonderfully written and very evocative.
Overall I enjoyed The Sunshine and Biscotti Club you get a lot more than you bargained for than at first glance of the cover and uncover a story of friends with a shared history who when times are tough and help is needed will come together and find some source of healing and answers. Will it all turn out OK, pick up the book and find out for yourself.