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Review 🔍 Crime of the Ancient Marinara by Stephanie Cole

February 1, 2021


Nell Valenti is settling into her role of transforming the Villa Orlandini into a superb farm-to-table cooking school, and the time has finally come for a full taste test run. But when Chef Orlandini prepares to reveal his top secret marinara recipe for the first time to a group of American gastro-tourists, Nell realizes she might have bitten off more than she can chew.

Nell begins to suspect that one of the tourists is actually a private detective sent to spy on her by her overprotective father, and the fussy foodies are noisy and disrespectful from the very start of the Marinara Mysteriosa workshop. Even worse, when one visitor appears to be poisoned by the famous marinara recipe, Nell will have to work fast to uncover a killer and keep a lid on bad press before her fresh start is spoiled for good.

Release Date:
 Jan 26, 2021
Series: Tuscan Cooking School
Book: 2
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Berkley
Price: $7.99

Nell Velenti has relocated from the United States to the town of Cortona, Italy in the region of Tuscany. Her job is to design a world-class cooking school at the Orlandini family villa, a 500-year-old former convent. The school is run by renowned chef Claudio Orlandiini, his son Pete, and sous-chef Annamaria Bari. The job is more challenging that Nell expected due to the condition of the grounds and the language barrier. Now that it’s time for the first weekend of the cooking school, Nell is nervous but excited they’ll be hosting five students from America for four days. There are moments of chaos, but then things get even worse when one of the guests dies, an apparent victim of poisoning. Now it’s up to Nell to solve the crime and save the school from closing before it gets started.

This is the second book in the Tuscan Cooking School series, but the first I’ve read. The premise of a cooking school in Tuscany sounded wonderful and I was excited to read the book. The setting is as great as I had hoped and I enjoyed the Italian phrases that are sprinkled throughout the story to add authenticity. The set-up with a small group of students coming over for the class is also perfect for a mystery. Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with Nell, the main character. The first book may have explained more about why she took the position in Italy to begin with, but she complains about the job throughout the book. However, she also complains about her wealthy family back in the U.S., so I can’t tell if she wants to be in Europe or not and it’s hard to feel sympathy for her.

The investigation itself is interesting with Nell asking good questions to get to the truth of the murder. Between the setting and the premise, all the elements are there for a great cozy read, but I didn’t get a cozy feeling from the book. There is too much negativity from Nell, the chef, the sous-chef, and a few of the guests. The story is sometimes hard to follow and I don’t know if it is the writing style or the fact that I didn’t read the prior book. Most of the loose ends of the plot are wrapped up by the end of the book, but even when things are wrapped up, I was still confused about a few of the details. I think readers who liked the first book will enjoy reading about the cooking school’s first set of guests. However, I found the book promising, but ultimately disappointing.

~ Christine

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