Dear Mr. Capella,
I’m so glad your editor persuaded you to write this book. And for the positive buzz at various other romance review sites that brought it to my attention. I’ve also heard that it’s already been optioned for a movie and after reading it, I can see why. The descriptions of Italy and Naples put the reader right on the scene, the characters (even the secondary ones) are three dimensional, the humor is delightful yet you manage to convey what war was doing to these people and this country. It also brought to mind something I read while preparing an Advanced American History report when I was in high school. One British general is said to have remarked about the mingling of soldiers and prostitutes of Naples, “Some of you chaps stick your privates in places that I wouldn’t even put the ferrule of my umbrella.”
Captain James Gould arrives in wartime Naples assigned to discourage marriages between British soldiers and their gorgeous Italian girlfriends. But the innocent young officer is soon distracted by an intoxicating young widow who knows her way around a kitchen…Livia Pertini is creating feasts that stun the senses with their succulence–ruby-colored San Marzana tomatoes, glistening anchovies, and delectable new potatoes encrusted with the black volcanic earth of of Campania–and James is about to learn that his heart may rank higher than his orders. For romance can be born of the sweet and spicy passions of food and love–and time spent in the kitchen can be as joyful and exciting as the banquet of life itself!
Poor James has no idea what he’s getting into when he arrives in wartorn Naples. As the “Wedding Officer” he quickly learns that his job is not to facilitate weddings between British troops and their local fiancees but to prevent them. He’s also supposed to clamp down on the rampant bribery and blackmarket sales that always seems to accompany troops in any war throughout history. The locals are flumoxed by this new officer. He can’t be bribed with money, sex, flattery or any of the other things they’ve used in the past. What he is susceptible to, though they doubt he even realizes it, is food.
James finds the food of southern Italy to be far beyond merely unusual to his 1940s English palate. It’s vibrant, tantalizing and practically orgasmic to him. In fact, he finds it much as he does the lovely, earthy and sensuous Signora Pertini. Livia, on the other hand, has to be talked into working for the Allies even though she’s near to hungry exhaustion. The German occupation, though annoying, is nothing compared to what the Allies have put Livia and her family through. The scene you use to show this is gut punching and my hands were shaking by the end. The almost casual violence and depravity make it even worse than it is.
Once she begins to cook for the Field Security Service, Livia slowly begins to revise her opinion of the Allies in general and James in particular. After a false start in guessing his sexuality, Livia finds that she can love this gentle, polite young man while James falls even more deeply under Livia’s spell as their courtship moves from food to tantalizing “near sex” during lazy afternoon siestas. James, a virgin, is given hints as to how to satisfy Livia, a widow, through both cooking instructions and eating of the delectable results. The food of Naples takes center stage throughout the story and more than once I found my stomach urging me into the kitchen after reading about yet another of Livia’s feasts.
The horror of the war is never far away yet your gentle humor serves blunt it somewhat as in the following snippet which shows James serving as translator for Jumbo, an English officer, and his Neapolitan girlfriend (who’s actually a prostitute).
"Actually,” Jeffries said, "I wanted to talk to you about Elena. There's a bit of a language barrier, you see.”
James tried to look as if this possibility had only just occurred to him. "Really?”
"I need a few phrases translated. Only some of it's a bit delicate.”
"That's all right,” James said dubiously.
"For example, how would one say, 'I'm feeling a bit tired actually'?”
"Adesso son un po'stanco.”
"And what about, ah, 'That's very nice and all that, but I'd really rather you didn't'?”
"Well, it's difficult without knowing the exact context, but it's something like, 'ÃƒÆ’Ã‹ï¿½ molto bello ma preferirei che no lo facessi.'”
"And what about 'It's actually getting rather painful now'?”
"Sta diventando un po'doloroso.”
"And 'Please stop'?”
"Smettila, per favore.”
Jeffries's lips moved as he silently practiced the unfamiliar phrases. "Well, that should cover it,” he said at last.
Elena rejoined them, her nose sufficiently powdered. She and Jeffries smiled at each other coquettishly, holding hands across the table. "Tell me, James,” she said in Italian, "how do I tell him 'Aspetta!'?”
"Er–"'Wait,' I suppose.”
"Wet?” she said, trying it for size.
"Wayt. Wayt! And how do I say 'Non smettere!'?”
"And 'Facciamolo ancora ma piÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ¹ piano lentamente'?”
"That would be–"'Let's do that again but more slowly.'”
"Slewly,” she repeated. "Slooowly. Good. And 'Svegliati, caro'?”
"Wake up, please, darling.”
"Wek erp plis dah'leeng. OK, I think I have everything.”
"Anything else I can assist with?”
"No, I think I'm fully kitted up now. Thanks.”
I did wonder at the last seven chapters. It’s not that they’re badly written or not compelling to read, it’s just that they seem almost as if they’re from a different book. Sort of like they’ve been cobbled onto what comes before. Do all books have to take a dark turn right before the end? Well, it’s not enough to lower the grade from more than an A to an A-. This is one book that was almost effortless to read and which I was sorry to see end.