“Is Sicily the place to start again?”
Last year I received a lovely email via my blog from best selling and award winning British author Jo Thomas who wrote that she would be travelling to Sicily with her family on holiday and also for research for her next Summer book.
I was really happy as I was already a big fan of Jo’s romance novels and always hotly anticipated the next one to be announced. The first book I read by Jo was ‘The Olive Branch’ which was set amongst the olive groves of Puglia which I really enjoyed and inspired me to order her first book which was set in Ireland and pre-order her next book which was set in the vineyards of France. Since then Jo has written books set on a honey farm in Crete, a cherry orchard in Southern Spain and a winter book set in Lapland. Jo’s books are always a really good read and full of fun.
Jo always writes about food, family and love and her novels are always set in beautiful destinations and written in a way that brings the characters to life and makes you feel like you are transported to her wonderful locations. She always visits the places she writes about and intensely researches the area and its cuisine for inspiration for her books.
Jo asked me a few questions, explaining that she would be staying in a villa which was located in the countryside near Trecastagni, a small town on the slopes of Mount Etna but that she was looking for recommendations for an Agriturismo, not too far from Catania Airport, for her families first night in Sicily. Preferably one with lots of lemon trees and one where she could enjoy a cookery class to get an authentic feel of Sicilian food and cuisine. I excitedly exclaimed to my husband “I think that Jo Thomas’s next book is going to be set in Sicily and it will be about Sicilian lemons … Eeeeek, how exciting?”
During my time in Sicily I have got to know a lot of Agriturismi on the eastern side of Sicily as they are always a great place to go for a gastronomic lunch. For those of you who do not know what one is they are primarily a farm with a number of rooms for guests where you can enjoy the taste of local produce, wine and local dishes and be made to feel part of the family. Most often they are restored farm houses located on quiet beautiful terrain. One immediately came into my mind not to far from Catania which I thought would be great for Jo and her family.
Whilst in London attending the World Travel Market a couple of years ago in the Regione di Sicilia area I met a lovely family from Il Giardino del Sole, a biological farm with rooms who also offered activities such as horse riding and cooking classes. The family had invited us to visit and we enjoyed a wonderful day meeting all their beautiful farm animals and enjoyed a spectacular lunch. It was perfect for Jo.
With her stay at the Agriturismo sorted, Jo emailed me again with a “cheeky question” …
“Did I know any lemon farmers?”
I knew people with small plots of land with lemon trees or friends and neighbours who have them in their gardens, but I did not actually know any lemon farmers.
It was time to call on my Sicilian friends for recommendations and my friends who own the London restaurant Tasting Sicily UK Enzo’s Kitchen gave a name, Giuseppe at Azienda Brancati, an extensive century year old citrus farm near Catania.
Thereafter I received a message from Giuseppe telling me that Jo and her family were more than welcome to come and visit his beautiful citrus farm and he also invited myself, my husband and our dog Daisy.
Everything was set and Jo and her family happily headed off to Sicily.
After her trip I excitedly awaited for news of the title of her book and also I could not wait to see the cover, as all her previous covers had been so beautifully designed enhancing the essence of the destination, then earlier this year Jo emailed me to tell me the name of the book “My Lemon Grove Summer”.
So here is the book’s synopsis:
When life hands you lemons … is it ever too late for a second chance?
Zelda’s impulsive nature has got her precisely nowhere up until now. A fresh start in a beautiful hilltop town in Sicily looking for new residents, together with her best friend Lennie, could be just what she needs. And who better to settle down with than the person who knows her best?
But the sun-filled skies and sparkling sea can’t hide the shadow hanging over Citta d’Ora, which means not everyone is pleased to see their arrival. The dreams Zelda and her fellow new residents had of setting up a new life might be slipping away. But a friendship with restauranteur Luca could be about to unlock the possibilities that lie in the local lemon groves. And there’s a wedding on the horizon that might just be just what the town needs to turn it around …
Could a summer in Sicily help Zelda learn to trust her instinct and follow her heart?
Jo sent me an early marketing copy of My Lemon Grove Summer which I devoured on my roof terrace at home in Sicily under the watchful eye of Mount Etna.
I do not want to share too much about the story as I believe it will spoil the surprise for you.
In the book Jo brings to life the magic of our island including the scents, flora and fauna, the delicious food, the culture, the terrain and the characteristics of the local people.
Jo visited Sicily in springtime which is a wonderful season for citrus fruits and she captures the scents to perfection. I recently stopped at a local supermarket which is located next to a lemon grove and as the Sicilian sun started to warm the lemons the scent could have just been the most wonderful fragrance in the world.
Jo also captures the moods of our volcano Mount Etna and also the superstitious characters of the older generation of Sicilians, something that we experienced when we first bought our house in Sicily. But like Jo’s characters we too soon learned to be less English and be more Sicilianu, living life the Sicilian way.
She also uses inspiration from an article that was released recently about small Sicilian towns becoming ‘ghost towns’ looking for families to relocate to repopulate and renovate abandoned houses. In one chapter she shares Zelda’s experience of a wonderful ride on a scooter, something I myself could tell a few tales about.
Just like in the book, whilst I was reading it, Mount Etna decided to put on a delightful show showering us with a fine black volcanic sand on our roof terrace, then lighting up the night sky with fountains and rivers of lava. Perhaps Etna was showing her appreciation for Jo’s wonderful book.
My Lemon Grove Summer is a beautiful story about love at first sight with a very happy ending that brought a tear to my eye.
I would definitely recommend choosing this book for your visit to Sicily or even if you are not having the pleasure of visiting our beautiful island Jo Thomas will transport you there in spirit wherever you are in the world. A BIG Grazie to Jo for choosing Sicily as inspiration for her book, you were such a pleasure to help.
My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas is out now in Paperback from Amazon UK.
You can follow Jo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit her website