Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Book Review: Al Dente's Inferno by Stephanie Cole (Tuscan Cooking School #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun setting and characters with a strong mystery
Cons: Language barrier not handled well for the reader early
The Bottom Line:
Nell starts life anew
Murder in foreign country
With strong mystery

Nell’s Move Comes Complete with Murder

I try to keep an eye on all upcoming books I think I will enjoy, but I almost missed Al Dente’s Inferno, the first in a new series from Stephanie Cole.  With a culinary theme, but set in the Tuscany region of Italy, I had to pick up the book.

Nell Valenti has turned her love of food and her training as a chef into a career helping establish farm to table cooking schools.  When she is offered a job setting up a school for Chef Claudio Orlandini in Tuscany, she jumps at the chance.  Not only is she looking for some changes in her life, but Chef Claudio is her culinary idol.

However, Nell is shocked upon her arrival to discover that the villa Chef Claudio owns is in worse disrepair than she expected, meaning the transformation is going to be more work than she’d expected.  Then comes the news that a kick off dinner with some local dignitaries is scheduled for the next evening.  Even worse, the dinner ends with some of the guests dead and Chef Claudio missing.  What has Nell gotten herself into?

The idea of a cozy series set in Tuscany was really appealing to me.  I liked the idea of something set in Italy, and what’s not to love about that region?  The setting comes to wonderful life.  The scenery sounds beautiful, and the pace of life seems slower even as Nell is rushing around to get stuff done on a tight deadline or figure out who the killer is. 

Writing a book set in a foreign country, especially one that doesn’t speak English, is tricky for an author.  They have to balance writing a book we’d understand with the reality that not everyone is going to speak English.  Unfortunately, this book doesn’t quite get the balance right.  Nell is just learning the language herself, so she naturally has people translating for her.  But there are still times that Italian is thrown out, and we are left to figure out the meaning in context, or not given the translation right away.  It made the book a bit of a struggle to get into.  Fortunately, this seemed to go away as the story really got going.

We’re treated to a good mystery with plenty of suspects and motives.  I was surprised at who the killer turned out to be, and yet, as Nell was piecing it together at the end, it all made sense.  The clues had been in plain sight but the red herrings were so confusing I completely missed them.

And the book is populated with good characters.  We don’t get to know all of them well in this book, but there is a solid core that we come to care for before the book is over.  Nell’s character growth feels like a natural part of the situation she’s found herself in.  The other characters are interesting, and I’m sure we’ll come to know them better as the series unfolds.

There are some laughs along the way as well.  A couple times, the events caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud.  A few other times, I was smiling at what was happening on the page.

Of course, we get a recipe, too, and it sounds delicious.  Then again, when doesn’t Italian food sound good?

While it took me more work to get into the book than I was hoping, I am glad I picked up Al Dente’s Inferno.  The characters, plot, and setting of this debut are fun.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.  I will pick the winner Tuesday, February 25th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 2/24.  You will have until midnight on 3/1 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 3/2.


  1. I've always been hesitant to read a book that takes place in another country. I always feared I'd have trouble understanding it or it just wouldn't make sense. I'm glad to hear this one seemed to get better as it progressed. I've always wanted to visit Italy and I'd love to win a copy of this book. jdzchaotickittie (at) yahoo (dot) com

  2. This sounds like a very interesting storyline.. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood and learned a bit of Italian.. I even made my youngest daughter's wedding at the Mafia Central Catering Hall in QUeens, NY (but that's a whole other story)..

    So yes, I'd love to win this book for my home library and to share with friends.

    NoraAdrienne (at) gmail (dot) com

  3. I'd love the chance to visit Italy by reading this book. Thanks for the giveaway!
    turtle6422 at gmail dot com

  4. To me, Italian is the most beautiful language. And, I like cozies with several murder prospects and a challenging mystery.
    browninggloria(at)hotmail(dot) com

  5. Thanks for a such a well done review. I really want to read this one. doward1952(at)yahoo(dot)com

  6. Sounds interesting! I would love to read this one. brensbooks48@comcast.net

  7. Great review and the book sounds really interesting!Thank you for the chance.

  8. I saw this one recently and wondered how I missed it. It definitely looks like one I'd enjoy and I"m glad to see you enjoyed it! I like that there were some laugh out loud moments.

  9. Sounds like a great start to a new series. Like the Tuscan setting. Adding to my TBR list.

  10. Lol the title! Thanks for the chance! booksnpugs(at)gmail(dot)com

  11. I agree, the setting of Tuscany seems like a great locale! And it sounds like persevering through the language issues are worth it, thanks for the chance to win!

  12. This is a book I have been super excited to read! Thank you for the chance! aiellorima@gmail.com

  13. This sounds really good. Legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com

  14. I like the idea of a cozy set in Italy too. Thanks for your review and the giveaway! mbradeen [at] yahoo [dot] com

  15. This book looks so good plus I like physical copies of a book

  16. I love reading where it takes place in another country or at the beach....love being transported to another place....cindyrv6612@yahoo.com
    Thanks so much!

  17. I've seen this book in passing on FB and have been wondering about it. I do like it's set in Italy. Thanks for your review. nani_geplcs@yahoo.com

  18. I'm a fan of foodie mysteries, especially when set in a country foreign to me! Italian food? Italy? Oh yeah!!


  19. A culinary mystery set in Italy sounds really appealing.

  20. This one keeps catching my eye. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.