Reading an Alexander McCall Smith book is like returning to one of your favorite haunts after months or years away and remembering why you liked the place so much to begin with. The atmosphere is relaxed and gentle, despite whatever pedantic prodding might occur throughout the story, and you’re always left with a little more optimistic view of the world.
In this standalone novel (which I guess has since spawned a sequel), McCall Smith focuses on Paul Stuart, a food and wine critic who has found success due to his down-to-earth and unassuming manner (aka because he’s Scottish). Due to his girlfriend leaving him for her personal trainer (which says all you need to know about her), Paul is on a precipice. He can either give in to his sorrows and wallow in misery, or he can move on with his life and finish his latest book. His editor and friend Gloria believes he should do the latter, and so Paul finds himself in the Italian countryside, learning not just about Italian cuisine, but about relationships and self-worth.
As with all McCall Smith books, the story meanders along as slowly as one of Paul’s jaunts on his rented bulldozer. It is never about the destination, but the journey. As Paul interacts with a host of colorful characters, he learns more about himself, about the world…and about his friend Gloria.
The book reaches a rather predictable conclusion, but not in a way that detracts from the story. Rather, it feels as cozy and natural as coming home after a particularly frustrating day of work.
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