on March 6, 2003
OK--Many of the customers who wrote previous reviews about Bella Tuscany have some valid complaints. It is several chapters too long and we do get tired of Mayes' whining. We have little pity for her trying to restore two houses at once and we don't need to hear about every meal and shopping excursion. It certainly does not surpass her first effort, "Under the Tuscan Sun." Still, as someone who has never been to Tuscany (or Italy for that matter), many of the descriptions in "Bella Tuscany" are little treasures. Who wouldn't want to live where you can go to one local farm for ricotta, another for pecorino romano and a third for wine? Or where Roman and Etruscan ruins are to be found in so many unsuspecting places? Or where fabulous meals can be made with only the simple ingredients you grow in your garden? Or where every small local church has a major work or art or two? I do have two recommendations that would have made this book more enjoyable; a map of Tuscany and Italy would have been helpful in identifying the many places Mayes visited. Also, I would have enjoyed more photographs other than those on the dust jacket. Maybe the few "teaser" pictures are to whet our appetite for her 3rd book, "In Tuscany." In any case, while this book has some character flaws, I think potential readers need to try to overlook these and to dig deeper for the jewel within.
on February 14, 2001
This book was not as engaging as "Under the Tuscan Sun" which was Frances Mayes first book on her experiences in Italy. I found the chapters to be way too long. I don't know why this matters, but it just struck me that way. Maybe some ideas were "over covered"? However, this book had it's own charm.
I did find her discussions of meals and food to be a bit too much at times. I guess too many details that attempt to display her growing knowledge of the local cuisine, that are not useful facts to me as a reader. Also the recipes are limited for use in the average suburban home here, as the ingredients are not that common. However, this was true for Under the Tuscan sun as well. It just did not seem to be emphasized as much.
Her momentary concentration on the "Mafia" in Italy, I was prepared for as I read previous reviews. Her vehemence struck me as been one that one feels when they find a flaw in a cherished item. Her illusions of Italy are ones of an idyllic place and the presence of the Mafia or anything that does not fit that, obviously struck a dissonant chord with her. She may very well be relating the opinions and attitudes of the people around her and not just her own. I find it hard to think that these opinions as a foreigner here were not influenced by the local people she deals with. Some of the comments struck me as ones only a local could perceive.
What I did find a bit rude was her characterizations of some of her visitors. I certainly hope this was shared with them prior to publication. Like Ann Landers says you can't be taken advantage of if you don't allow yourself to be (or something like that).
If you are looking for more on Bramasole, this book may disappoint. This book featured more of her trips beyond Cortona and even into Venice. Some people may find her self-absorption a bit over done at times, as she relates bits of her childhood and life outside of Italy. However, I found it interesting to see how the "other half" lives. I liked her way of relating her current thoughts with past actions. Like collections and family life. It is nice to get into her head. I think we all do that to some extent and when we get a glimpse of what another thinks, it shows first that we are not so weird after all, but just how different or similar another's experiences are.
I guess what makes these books special to me is her way of describing the day to day surroundings as an American would see them. This I feel makes them real for me. She is going in with American expectations and when these are different she relates this. I then feel like I have been there right along with her. I wonder how a local feels when they read some of this?
All in all, it was a decent follow on to Under the Tuscan sun. Not as good, but close. The couple of pictures on the dust cover and the diagrams inside helped flesh out the area she was referring to. The engagement calendar, does an even better job at that.
I have bought the next book she does on her life in Italy (In Tuscany)and am about to start it. I feel she has a lot to offer as a writer. In Bella Tuscany, she experimented a bit more in her writing, with some successes and failures. I hope to see how she reacted to Bella Tuscany's impact with "In Tuscany". Also I'm looking forward to the pictures included in "In Tuscany" to further flesh out this world.
on July 22, 2000
While I loved "Under The Tuscan Sun," Mayes' first tribute to Italy, I was enthralled for the first 3/4 of the book with it's complete focus on the farmhouse restoration, but she changed focus so much toward the end (traveling, food, etc.), that I was disappointed (just a little bit....). But, with "Bella Tuscany," Mayes had much more of a consistent weaving in and out: focusing equally on the farmhouse, travels, people, food, and her "other" life in California, that I really got caught up in HER life. I'll admit there were times when I had to put the book down, for sheer envy of her, but I also got to see her life in another sense this time. Like "normal" people, she had her share of losses and tragedies, and those annoying "friends" who suddenly wanted to visit her to have a free place to stay in Tuscany - hilarious! I laughed, cried and vowed to see Italy next year - especially Venice - her description made my mouth water! I found her candor about admitting she had stereotyped Sicily and her willingness to be "Un PC" refreshing. I can't wait for her next set of adventures in Tuscany to be published!
on November 1, 1999
Having spent a week in Cortona prior to reading both books I was able to see the clay color hues of the hills of Cortona again,taste the fresh "al dente"vegetables found there like fried baby purple artichokes,long dark wild asparagus, and ounce again climb the steep rocky narrow streets praying that no cars would come thru and get angry at you for taking all the space. I love the simplicity of the Italian life which still finds pleasure in one plump fruit,one crisp vegetable or an aromatic flower,regardless of what others may think of such.We live in a world of excesses,of complicated gourmet dishes with so many ingredients that at the end we have lost the flavor of the main ingredient!I guess you have to be a romantic from the South to like and enjoy the smell of old houses,old vines,old jars and to gladly go thru the pain of renovation finding the end result so rewarding. I only wish I could sit with Frances and enjoy more stories that did not get to the book , watch the olive trees grow and sip red dry ValdeQiana wine under the Tuscan Sun.
on June 17, 1999
This book had an important characteristic which I believe all good books require: It was so descriptive and colorful, that I was able to lose myself within the pages. I have been to Italy many times, and have family in Lucca. Bella Tuscany, as well as Under a Tuscan Sun describes the differences in personalities and lifestyles between America and Italy. As far as her critism of house guests goes,I think she did a good job of defining the difference between a good guest and a bad guest.The way she talks about what she enjoys eating, and what she likes to buy, and where she likes to travel serves a purpose; and that is to make the reader want to experience the same things- to leave their lives of Starbucks, McDonald's and Wal-Mart and try something different. Nothing can be more shocking than to go to Italy, and be surrounded by relaxed, open-minded people and return to America's phobia of anything different or foreign. I have to admit, I was sometimes jealous of her, but who wouldn't be!!
on April 28, 1999
I have to admit that I am one of those readers who just loved Under the Tuscan Sun and was eagerly awaiting the release of Bella Tuscany, hoping for more of Mayes' stunningly poetic writing.
I found Bella Tuscany a little slower, even, dare I say it, boring in some parts, however it still held all those elements I loved about UTTS. In this book we learn about the pros and cons of italian style gardens with some beautiful sentiments borrowed from Pliny about gardens, happiness and life spent in elegant, intellectual freedom. I loved the idea of this and realised that this must strike a cord with the moneyed, intellectual Mayes.
Once again my mouth watered with Frances' descriptions of gastronomic feasts and then marvelled over the simpler pleasures of cooking with unfamiliar greens growing wild amongst your garden. I loved the historic feel to the book also. Ideas and thoughts borrowed from the inspiration of Roman roads, Renaissance landscaping and Sicilian/Tuscan/Venetian history.
Mayes spends more time in this book acquainting us with the ever-present yet somehow elusive Ed. We get more of an idea of the things they like to do, eat, see, explore. If you bought this book because you enjoyed the renovation of the farmhouse in UTTS you may be disappointed to find that they spend a good deal of time away from Bramasole. However, if you wanted to dip back into the lives of Frances and Ed and follow and join them as they explore "their" Italy, you will find this book every bit as enjoyable as UTTS.
on March 15, 2000
I really can't understand why so many reviewers have complained about this sweet little book. Although I'm French, not Italian, I have traveled all over Italy and I found Bella Tuscany to be a sweet and interesting book that provides a few evenings of lighthearted and entertaining reading. In Bella Tuscany, Mayes travels to regions outside Tuscany, such as Sicily and Venice, as well as to the many castle towns, fishing villages and islands. Many reviewers have complained about the chapter on recipes, but I found them quite interesting and delicious! Although I don't think Mayes captures the essence of Tuscany with quite the wit and verve of Peter Mayle, writing about Provence, Bella Tuscany is still a sweet and lighthearted look at one of the world's most beautiful regions.
on July 24, 2000
I read Bella Tuscany while I was living in a villa for a week in an area very close to where the author was living. It was magical for me to be reading about and experiencing the same quality of life simultaneously. I think Frances Mayes did a superb job of capturing community and daily life in these small hill towns. She was able to put into words my impressions and experiences. Being of Italian descent, able to speak the language, and having lived in other parts of Italy at different times, I thought Ms. Mayes was masterful in her ability to capture the esssence of life in this small community. As I was reading, I was wishing I could talk with her. If you have some familiarity with Tuscany, I think the book will come alive for you.
on December 4, 2001
I randomly picked this book out of a friend's collection and was not expecting anything special. Little did I know that I would find an absolute treasure of a novel. Mayes' descriptions of the Tuscan countryside and the other Italian regions she visits (Sicily, Venice...) are totally engrossing. It makes you long to hop on the next flight to Italy! I adored the lush description of her home in Cortona and the local recipes included in the book. More than that, I was really struck by how much Mayes loves not only her own Tuscan home, but the people and the culture of Italy. Her deep affection for her Cortona neighbors gave this book a strong emotional core, and I was really moved by the experience of reading it.
on July 13, 1999
Yes "Under a Tuscan Sun" was better, but "Bella Tuscany" was definitely enjoyable. I found myself lost in the atmosphere of the Italian landscape, longing to travel to Italy. I laughed out loud when Mayes complained about her rude house guests. I savored the details of their trip to Venice. My mouth watered when she described their meals. And as always, I love to hear about a wedding. Give it a chance. Do not fret when Mayes steps (physically or mentally) outside the Italian border. This book is not only about a place, it is about a persons life forever changing and growing. I just loved it when she didn't recognize that certain someone. READ IT AND FIND OUT!