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Cozy Wednesday with Stephanie Cole – Author of Al Dente’s Inferno (A Tuscan Cooking School Mystery) #GuestPost / #Review / #Giveaway @BerkleyMystery

Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!

I am delighted to welcome Stephanie Cole to Escape With Dollycas today!

My Inspiration for the Tuscan Cooking School Mystery Series

by Stephanie Cole
Post provided by Publicist

            For some people, inspiration happens in one single, gobsmacking moment when your imagination is positively alight with The Idea. In those five or ten seconds, your life appears to you in a different guise: suddenly you have better clothes, funnier jokes, the kind of memorable laugh that others will want to imitate. The inspired Idea has brilliance and gravitas. Your whole life has moved inexorably to this moment and will never be the same. You go from having had — when you really strip it down — a pretty good idea about something (say, why the hero is wearing a Mets cap), to suddenly seeing yourself as She Who is Inspired. A kind of permanent, enviable state.

Poor inspiration. We have such unrealistic hopes for it!

In my own writing life, inspiration happens in stages. Some part of an idea arrives, and I sit with it — or, as I go about mixing darks and whites for the laundry and trying to track down the smell in the fridge, it sits with me. A casual comment from someone may turn out to be the first piece. In the case of the Tuscan Cooking School Mystery Series, my agent, John Talbot, and I were having a beer together at Malice Domestic two years ago, after I’d been through a long stretch of failed proposals for mystery series. John up and said something along the lines of “Gee, I wish you could get back to something like the Italian Restaurant series.” (Note: I’m not sure about the “gee.”) A casual comment, right? But I felt something happen inside, a little thrill of what I called rightness. There was something right and exciting about what he said. Suddenly I had a direction for my next attempt to scale the publishing fortress.

stephanie cole al dentes inferno When I returned home, I had my next puzzle piece of information that sharpened the beginnings of The Idea. All I had was Italian cooking. What I needed was the premise. In my mind, I tracked cozy mysteries’ travels from the U.S.A. to the U.K. Cozies were going a bit transatlantic, weren’t they? Popular series set in Scotland and Ireland were cropping up. Ahh, said Inspiration in my ear, how long will it be before they jump the Channel and turn up in Europe? For once, I felt like I was absolutely on to something, and that I was ahead of the curve.

But where, where, where, to set a new cozy series set in Europe? It didn’t take me long to choose Italy. I’ve been, I’m going, I’ve got family there, I’ve read Donna Leon, and I like Italian cooking. It didn’t take long to choose. . .not Tuscany at first, oh no. Here’s an important point about inspiration: sometimes it isn’t.  My original premise: I would set the series on the Italian Riviera (a sentimental nod to my family) and my heroine/sleuth would own an olive estate.

Excited, I wrote up my new proposal, which included a series overview and sample chapters, and sent it off to John.

He and his partner, Gail Fortune, discussed it and got back to me with a key change that might make the difference between success and failure.  Another truth about inspiration? Sometimes it’s someone else’s. What they told me was this: Move it to Tuscany and make it a cooking school. And this simple shift in the premise felt like a thunderbolt to me. I knew instantly that they were right. I made the changes, moving the villa to Cortona, where Under the Tuscan Sun was set.

And Nell and Pete and Chef and Annamaria and her sisters who are Sisters welcomed me to the Villa Orlandini Cooking School. These characters were so clear and interesting to me. The final puzzle piece fell into place: It’s a cooking school at the villa of a world-renowned Chef, and its classes are designed for American gastrotourists (yes, it’s a word). Just think, in every book I have a delicious vanload of American foodies turning up at the villa to be either killed, suspected, or homicidally inclined.

A final observation about inspiration. It can start small, it can come to you in pieces and over time and even from someone else’s inspiration. It all counts because however, it arrives — even if it slams you with one single, gobsmacking Idea full of brilliance and gravitas — it sets you on the path of new work that can fill you with creative joy.


Thank you, Stephanie, for visiting today. 

Keep reading for my thoughts about Al Dente’s Inferno. 

stephanie cole al dente inferno
Al Dente’s Inferno (A Tuscan Cooking School Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Italy
Publisher: Berkley (February 25, 2020)
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN-10: 0593097793
ISBN-13: 978-0593097793
Kindle ASIN: B07TQKN23G

An American chef will have to serve up more than good eats if she wants to establish a successful farm-to-table cooking school in Tuscany, in this charming first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in Italy.


When Nell Valenti is offered a chance to move to Tuscany to help transform an aging villa into a farm-to-table cooking school, she eagerly accepts. After all, both her job and her love life in America have been feeling stale. Plus, she’ll get the chance to work under the acclaimed Italian Chef Claudio Orlandini.


But Nell gets more than she bargained for when she arrives. With only a day to go until the launch dinner for the cooking school, the villa is in shambles, and Chef O is blissfully oblivious of the work that needs to be done before a group of local dignitaries arrive, along with a filmmaker sent to showcase and advertise the new school. The situation only worsens when Nell discovers that the filmmaker is an ex-boyfriend, and he’s found murdered later that night. Even worse, Chef O has disappeared, and accusations of murder could shut the school down for good.


As tensions reach a boiling point at the villa, Nell must throw her chef’s hat into the ring, and investigate the murder herself. Because if she fails to solve the case, her career, or even her life, could be next on the chopping block.


Dollycas’s Thoughts

American chef Nell Valenti needs a break from her family, job, and love life in the States so she jumps at the chance to set up a farm-to-table cooking school in Tuscany. The icing on the cake is that she will be working alongside acclaimed Italian Chef Claudio Orlandini.

Her arrival is a little bumpy but she is finally picked up and transported to the villa where the cooking school will be located and where she will be staying. It is nowhere near what she imagined and clearly sees she has her work cut out of her. Sadly, she seems to be the only one that sees the disorder around them and all the repairs and renovation needed to fulfill the needs of a cooking school. Chef Claudio is so excited he has invited a group of dignitaries for a launch dinner. There is also a filmmaker coming to film the school to use in future advertising.

As the guests arrive Nell is shaken to her core. The filmmaker is her ex-boyfriend that she left back in America. The dinner is filled with fits and starts but after it breaks up, the filmmaker is found dead and Claudio is nowhere to be found.

Nell knows her history with the deceased could make her a prime suspect so she decides to investigate the murder herself. An American in the country for only a few days she does her best to find the killer because even with the school in disarray she needs the job and hopes to stay. That is if she survives.

Stephanie Cole has introduced some interesting characters in this story. Nell is a character I could grow to love. She sees she has a mountain to climb in turning an old rundown villa into a cooking school and she doesn’t run off at her first chance, especially when everyone else seems to be wearing rose-colored glasses when they look at the place.  She also hides her shock when meeting Chef Claudio Orlandini. Her hero certainly does not look or act as she expected. Nell becomes attached to the Chef’s son as he gives her the tour of Villa Orlandini, introduces her to all the staff, and translates as needed. They do make a good sleuthing team. We also meet the staff but the author has left plenty of room for growth for all the characters in future stories.

I loved the Tuscan Cooking School theme of the book/series but it is not without a couple of pitfalls.

Setting the series in Tuscany does present a language problem. Most of the characters are going to speak Italian as their first language which means the book is full of translations. This really messed with the flow for me. Sometimes the translations immediately followed in the text, other times we were on our own. I wished I was reading it on my Kindle instead of in paperback because I would have been able to highlight the words and have them quickly translated.

As with most first books in a new cozy series, a great deal of time is spent introducing the characters and setting the scenes for the story, so the mystery is not too complex. There were twists and turns but I figured it out pretty early. I did enjoy the way Nell took on the case.

Ms. Cole’s descriptive talents were on her full display as her words illustrated the villa and everyplace Nell went masterfully.

I did enjoy the liberal use of humor throughout the story. A couple of times I caught myself laughing out loud.

The food descriptions were fantastic too. I wish there had been more recipes at the back of the book. Italian dishes are my faves.

This story had good bones and with a few tweaks, I can see this being a long-running series. Nell and Chef O. are characters I want to get to know better. I also can’t wait to see Villa Orlandini become all it can be. I hope the author takes her time developing a romance for Nell although we can see where it is headed. Nell has enough on her plate without taking on another man. If the filmmaker, Buford Kaplan is the typical man she gets involved with, the girl needs a good long break. 🙂

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About the Author

Stephanie Cole is an active member of the mystery writing community. Writing as Shelley Costa, she was nominated for both an Edgar and an Agatha award, and she co-founded the Northeast Ohio chapter of Sisters in Crime. She teaches creative writing workshops and lectures on American literature in the greater Cleveland area. For fun, she takes violin lessons, studies Art History—and eyes them both for murder plots.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Craving For Cozies Cruisin Thru Cozies E-Book Challenge Giveaways Great Escapes Book Tours Literary Escapes Reviews 2017 You Read How Many Books Challenge

#Review / #Giveaway – Fatal Facade by Wendy Tyson – Great Escapes Book Tour

Fatal Facade
by Wendy Tyson

Fatal Facade (An Allison Campbell Mystery Book 4)
Cozy Mystery/Suspense
4th in Series
Setting – Italy
Henery Press (June 13, 2017)
Paperback: 278 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1635112238


Allison Campbell accepted a dream assignment: a visit to the Italian Dolomites to help Hollywood socialite Elle Rose reinvent herself. A guest cottage on the grounds of Elle’s historic castle promises to be a much-needed respite from Allison’s harried life on the Philadelphia Main Line, and the picturesque region, with its sharp peaks, rolling pastures, and medieval churches, is the perfect spot from which to plan her upcoming wedding.

Only this idyllic retreat is anything but peaceful. There are the other visitors—an entourage of back-biting expats and Hollywood VIPs. There’s Elle’s famous rock star father, now a shadowy recluse hovering behind the castle’s closed doors. And then there’s Elle’s erratic behavior. Nothing is as it seems. After a guest plummets to her death from a cliff on the castle grounds, Allison’s trip of a lifetime turns nightmarish—but before she can journey home, Allison must catch a killer.

Dollycas’s Thoughts

This story takes us off to Italy when Image Consultant Allison Campbell takes on Elle Rose as a client. Elle lives in a castle near the Italian Dolomites and has offered Allison, Jason and Grace, Allison’s niece, a guest cottage on the property. Since Jason needs to go to Austria for his new job it seems like an ideal assignment. She never imagined the castle would be crowded with so many people all there supposedly to work with Elle’s father. A father who is apparently very ill and who is rarely seen.

Allison is dismayed by her clients behavior and unwillingness to put in the work to upgrade her image. In fact she is thinking about quitting. Then one of the guests is found dead at the bottom of a sheer cliff. The death looks suspicious and the authorities demand Allison not leave town. She decides to do a little investigating herself with Vaughan and Jamie’s help. Everything they uncover leads them in several directions but they all know there is a killer in the castle.

I must first address the setting – a castle and vast grounds that include several cottages, a spa, a pool, woods with hiking trails up and down and around the Dolomites. A picturesque place that for me would be a very hard place to leave. But then with a killer on the lost, probably not so idyllic, right now.

All the characters I loved from previous stories are back. Not everyone is in Italy though.  Mia and Vaughn arrive a few days after Allison, Jason and Grace. They relationship is still a little rocky and Allison and Jason may take the plunge into marriage again. Jamie has stayed home but he uses his skills pretty well from there. I really enjoy the way the characters continue to grow in each book in this series. They are very engaging and believable.

The search for the killer was much like a closed room mystery. It has to be someone staying on the property. Between the guests and the staff there are plenty of suspects. The motive for the murder was very hard to determine and it could be connected to another recent death. Seriously at one time or another throughout the story I had then all pegged as the murderer. Heck, one of the goats could have pushed her off the cliff. It is only when some key information is discovered that things start to make sense. Tyson had us on a twisty trail to figure out this mystery and I loved it.

This trip to Italy was a Perfect Escape! You should book your trip today!

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About The Author

Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs.  Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.

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Author website    Facebook     Goodreads 

Twitter: @WendyTyson

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Tour Participants

June 13 – Cozy Up With Kathy – SPOTLIGHT
June 13 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – INTERVIEW
June 14 – Island Confidential – INTERVIEW
June 15 – StoreyBook Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
June 15 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – REVIEW
June 16 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW, CHARACTER INTERVIEW 
June 17 –  Nadaness In Motion – INTERVIEW
June 18 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW
June 19 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW
June 20 – A Blue Million Books – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
June 21 – Queen of All She Reads – REVIEW
June 22 – Sleuth Cafe – SPOTLIGHT
June 23 – Books,Dreams,Life – INTERVIEW
June 24 – Lori’s Reading Corner – SPOTLIGHT
June 25 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too! – SPOTLIGHT

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Just For Fun Challenge Reviews 2015

The Body in the Piazza by Katherine Hall Page – My May Just For Fun Read!

just for fun 2015I am behind on this challenge as this is only my 3rd Just For Fun Read this year. I have loved this series from the start and it was one I had to catch up on especially when I was asked to organize a Great Escapes Book Tour for The Body in the Birches that was released on Tuesday. I will be reviewing that one next week as part of the tour.

bodu piazza
The Body in the Piazza:
A Faith Fairchild Mystery
(Book 21 in Series)

Publisher: William Morrow (April 30, 2013)
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0062065506
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0062068569
E-Book ASIN: B009NG24RO

Faith Fairchild and her husband are celebrating a big anniversary with a trip to Italy, filled with exquisite indulgences—the art, the Chianti, the food, the Ferragamos! After a weekend in Rome, they’ll travel to Tuscany, where Faith’s former assistant Francesca has opened a cooking school.

But, along with pecorino, panna cotta, and prosecco, it looks like murder and mayhem are also on the menu! On their fist night in the Eternal City, the Fairchilds stumble upon a dying man in the Piazza Farnese. Mysterious characters from Rome resurface in Tuscany. And somebody is intent on sabotaging Francesca’s new business. It’s up to Faith to put everything right—and still whip up a mean Spaghetti a la Foriana, of course!

Dollycas’s Thoughts

The last book in this series, The Body in the Boudoir, was Faith remembering how her life with minister husband started as she was traveling on a plane to Italy. In this installment the plane has landed and Faith takes us quite a tour of Italy from the foods to the amazing architecture. She also meets up with her old friend, Francesca who is opening a cooking school.

I have loved this series since it started but this was not one of my faves. The author went way overboard with the lengthy descriptions of everything Faith saw, did, cooked and ate that is really took away from the mystery. There was more than one time I stopped reading wondering if I wanted to continue. But the mystery was good and I wanted to see how it played out so I kept reading. I enjoyed how the killer could be someone they were traveling with and trying to figure out if that was true then who could it be. Taking the series out of the New England area was  a nice change as well if only the focus had been more on solving them crime than the settings.

I truly thought this was the last book in the series so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about The Body in the Birches. I hope that we get back to the kind of story I expect from this author, but I do admit if I was lucky enough to travel to Italy I would want to tell everyone I could all about it. I think that is what happened here. The author had a fabulous trip and she just wanted to share it with her readers.

still at the beach but not as tranquil3 STARFISH

Your Escape With A Good Book Travel Agent

kathy083About This Author

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” In addition, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.

Author Links:

*This book was from my personal collection.

Posted in Literary Escapes Reviews 2013

Review: Grace Takes Off by Julie Hyzy

grace takes off
Grace Takes Off
(A Manor House Mystery)

4th in Series
Cozy Mystery
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group (July 2, 2013)
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illustration by Kimberly Schamber
Cover Design by Rita Frangie
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0425259665
E-Book File Size: 681 KB



Grace Wheaton and her boss Bennett Marshfield take a trip abroad after solving another murder back at home. Before heading back to the states they stop to visit one of Bennett’s oldest friends, Nico Pezzati, at his Italian villa. While there Bennett notices some problems with his dear friends art collection. But before he can investigate or share his knowledge with Nico it is time to return home. That is where the real trouble begins. Grace catches another passenger trying to poison Bennett and by the end of the plane ride there are not just one but two dead bodies. Grace knows her boss is still in danger so it is up to her to find out the real story and just who is trying to kill her wealthy benefactor before they succeed on the ground what the couldn’t in the air.

Dollycas’s Thoughts
I have learned quickly that Grace always catches the killer and she is not a woman to mess with. This time they are after her boss and she is not standing idly by. Grace is a fantastic character and her behavior rings true to real life. This is what makes Julie Hyzy’s books so delightful to read. The reader can identify with Grace and almost feel that they are a part of the story. Sending us on a virtual trip to Italy was just icing on the cake.

The plot lines are tight, the characters are terrific, the setting both in North Carolina and Italy in this installment is ideal. Hyzy is a master storyteller and I love to read everything that she writes!!

a perfect escape

Your Escape With A Good Book Travel Agent

All About Julie*
Julie Hyzy is the New York Times bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries. She won the Barry and Anthony Awards for Best Paperback Original for State of the Onion in 2009, and the Lovey, the Derringer, and the Phobos awards for her novels and short stories. Her first Manor House Mystery, Grace Under Pressure, earned a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly. Julie loves to read, eat out, and watch old movies and TV shows with her husband and three daughters. Find out more at and








Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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