At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life

I received this book in exchange for a review, and here it is!
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    By Jennifer Criswell

Published September 28th 2012 by Gemelli Press LLC

MY REVIEW:
“It was this trip, during which I learned to say “yes” to every adventure, during which I’d felt romance and trusted my instincts, that convinced me that if I could muster up a little courage, I could chuck my legal briefs and follow my heart. To write. And to write in Italy.”

Taking the first step in solo travel takes a hell lot of guts…especially so if you’re starting over in an entirely new place, with no friends, bad grasp of the native tongue and just your gut instincts to trust.

Jennifer Criswell earns my respect – when she finally leaves New York and moves to Montepulciano, Tuscany, with her dog Cinder, she throws herself into the thick of it all, tries it all, makes many memorable mistakes while living it up in Tuscany.

In reality, life never comes in pretty packages. Cultural difference and language barriers aside, she meets roadblocks such as terrible landlords, monetary shortages, food crises and many more. Finding new friends and strengths in unexpected places is what makes her experiences worth reading about.

Despite being a ‘somewhat disastrous quest’, the spirit of finding yourself isn’t about being in the most glamorous places, but about discovering your inner will to make it anywhere, no matter how terrible the circumstances. I thoroughly enjoyed her tales of Tuscany, a truly beautiful Italian destination of many dreams!

SYNOPSIS:
At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Diastrous Quest for the Sweet Life is Jennifer Criswell’s memoir about her first year in Montepulciano during which her dream of expat life meets the reality of everyday challenges and results in sometimes funny, often frustrating, always lesson-filled situations.

Jennifer Criswell’s move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial Sunday group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. But then she met the reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and, perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer’s first year in Montepulciano. During that time, her internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things—in Tuscany. Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace Italian culture, and lessons gleaned from small-town bumblings, help her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

Book Review: You Don’t Have to say You Love Me

Neve Slater’s self-esteem is buried somewhere underneath her size 32 waist-line. She battles to fit herself into a size 10 in order to finally attract the attention of her love interest William, and decides to enter a ‘pancake relationship’ with the sex-god celebrity journalist Max.

Max’s social reputation as a full-time jerk with the ability to charm the knickers off any woman was Neve’s sure-fire guarantee that she would never fall in love with him. So to gear up for WIlliam’s return to the country and back into her life, Max offers to be her ‘pancake boyfriend’ —- the first pancake relationship in her life which is bound to be imperfect and not made to last.

‘We both got so obsessed about that first pancake being thrown away that we forgot something really important,’ Max explained. ‘That first pancake tastes just as good as all the other ones. It’s not its fault that it was first in line and the pan wasn’t hot enough so it got a bit lumpy and misshapen.’
‘And when you’re really famished that first pancake tastes better than all the ones that come after it,’ 

Here we have a pair of perfectly compatible man and woman too busy coming up with excuses for how they should not be together, that they fail to see how right they are for each other. Happens a lot, no?

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“That was the worst thing about having a relationship with someone, even a pretend relationship. You opened up, let someone in, and when it was over, they had all the ammunition they needed to completely destroy you.” 

You don’t have to be a snarky bitch to love their verbal sparring and offhand flirtations. Manning’s fabulous plot is moulded by her wonderfully written prose with comedic interjections that made this novel so enjoyable. The shallow man-whore becomes the tamed romantic. The nerdette with oversized hips gains confidence through her unlikely pancake soulmate, and when WIlliam inevitably returns to the country, Max has to let go of Neve, to whom he eventually confesses that

“We don’t stop, not even when we reach the finish line. It’s a journey for life, Neve.”

I fell in love with the book cover (with the lips) the moment I’d laid eyes on it, and I’ve never even heard of Sarra Manning until I bought the book on impulse. I fell in love with it further when I found out that the male character Max has the typical outlook of a bad-boy I personally would love, with a secret mellow side he only shows to a selected few. Personally, I felt that Manning’s novel gives off a more realistic vibe in comparison to the plethora of chick-lit on popular best-selling shelves. I fell deeply in love with the book somewhere past the middle point with the ferocity with which Max was delivering the duties of being Neve’s trial lover. His conviction was the reason this make-believe relationship stood apart from commercialized versions of love. It was literally as if he was telling Neve: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.

“She was so fed up with unrequited love and platonic love and all the other kinds of love that weren’t passionate, romantic, can’t-live-without-you, I-have-to-have-you-right-now, the-beat-of-your-heart-matches-the-beat-of-mine love.” 

This book is about finding your way around unfamiliar grounds and learning to push past perceived boundaries that any physical characteristics has limited you to.

Author: Sarra Manning
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Corgi (February 3rd, 2011)
Rating: 8.5 / 10

If this were to be made into a movie…

NEVE SLATER – bookish, good-natured fat girl: Scarlett Johansson
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MAX – celebrity journalist, smooth-talking ladies’ man: Justin Timberlake
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CELIA SLATER – the bubbly, devious younger sister: Karlie Kloss – always encouraging, fun, and effortlessly perfect
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WILLIAM – the long-time friend who is unattainably perfect: Matthew Lewis
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SYNOPSIS:
Sweet, bookish Neve Slater always plays by the rules. And the number one rule is that good-natured fat girls like her don’t get guys like gorgeous, handsome William, heir to Neve’s heart since university. But William’s been in LA for three years, and Neve’s been slimming down and re-inventing herself so that when he returns, he’ll fall head over heels in love with the new, improved her.

So she’s not that interested in other men. Until her sister Celia points out that if Neve wants William to think she’s an experienced love-goddess and not the fumbling, awkward girl he left behind, then she’d better get some, well, experience.

What Neve needs is someone to show her the ropes, someone like Celia’s colleague Max. Wicked, shallow, sexy Max. And since he’s such a man-slut, and so not Neve’s type, she certainly won’t fall for him. Because William is the man for her… right?

Somewhere between losing weight and losing her inhibitions, Neve’s lost her heart – but to who?

Travel-diary: Salzach River, Salzburg Austria

Along Makartsteg, a bridge over the Salzach River:  photo DSCN3326.jpg
It is the ‘Pont Neuf’ of Salzburg’s city centre, where lovers lock down physical embodiments that signify the fidelity of their love.
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Makartsteg Bridge was named after the 19th century Historicist painter Hans Makart, born and raised in Salzburg, who became famous as a painter of the Viennese Historicism.

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Salzach River is 225 kilometres (140 mi) in length. Salzach, the name, is derived from the German word Salz, meaning “salt”. Until the 19th century, shipping of salt down Salzach was a crucial part of local economy.
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With Salzburg being a university town, the bridge was dominated by lots of students in the afternoon, chilling with their picnic lunches and beers. What a life! Makes me wanna go back to being an undergraduate all over again.

Travel-diary: Mirabellgarten of Salzburg, Austria

Gorgeous flowers in a heart of a beautiful city.
Couldn’t help falling in love with the immaculate garden, the Papagena fountain and greenhouse Orangerie  photo DSCN3291.jpg

The very garden where Sound of Music was filmed
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Gates to the horticultural masterpiece
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Mirabell Palace, which houses the offices of Salzburg’s mayor and the municipal council
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The palace where flowers are so well-kept and completely photogenic
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The Grand Parterre is embraced by a marble railing decorated with vases by Fischer von Erlach.
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On the balustrades themselves you will see statues of Roman gods from 1689: Diana, Flora, Minerva, Ceres, Pomona. Venus, Vesta, Juno and Chronos, Bacchus, Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Vulcan, Hermes and Apollo. These statues were made by B. van Opstal.
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With my awesome Salzburg companions: Grace and Samm!
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The Pegasus Fountain, a work by Kaspar Gras from Innsbruck, installed in 1913. The four groups of statues around the fountain were sculpted by Ottavio Mosto in 1690 and symbolize the 4 elements: fire, air, earth and water.
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Open year-round, the Mirabell Palace and Gardens are free to the public! A really short walk to the east from Salzach River and a great way to rest your feet, away from the hustle and bustle of town. Am so glad to have finally found my way here 🙂

September Reads

These couple of chick-lit came in the mail from Book Depository!
A cosy, much-desired break from heavy literature. Can’t wait to lose some sleep over them.
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Easy – Tammara Webber
Hubble Bubble – Jane Lovering
I Heart New York – Lindsey Kelk
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris – Jenny Colgan
Unsticky – Sarra Manning

“Sometimes we get so used to not really feeling anything, just going with the flow, that we forget how it feels to be really happy or sad.” 
― Lindsey KelkI Heart New York

Travel-diary: Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

Built circa 1080
Milan, Northern Italy
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The walls of the Basilica
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The confession chamber.
Speak the truth, even if your voice quivers. photo DSCN2560_zps663663cf.jpg
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There’s something about churches that illuminate the unspeakable calm
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One does not need to be of a certain religion to appreciate the beautiful monotony of rites
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The Basilica also houses the tomb of Emperor Louis II, who died in Lombardy in 875.
A crypt built in the 9th Century houses the remains of three venerated saints: Ambrose, Gervasus and Protasus.
It just didn’t feel right to take any photos of the bodies and urn.

Outside on the church grounds:
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An afternoon of absolute peace and zen, navigating my way around the church-grounds amidst curious stares from locals on religious missions.
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart)
stone’s throwaway from the church
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The smell of books, libraries, canvas satchels and sneakers…
reminiscence of a life I already miss.

From Milan to Venice

Fresh off a 12-hour flight to Milan,
we hopped onto a three-hour railway tram into Venice.

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Grabbed lunch at the train station
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And off we go
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Our stop: Santa Lucia
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Buon Giornata, Venezia
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One of their prime, very beautifully hand-crafted, tourist rip-offs
which are too elegant and gorgeous to look at to be of much practicality. photo DSCN2150.jpg

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Big on Masquerades photo DSCN2154.jpg

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Dinner at Trattoria
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Mr Keith Chow, Milan buddy!
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Yes just take my breath and heart away
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At one of the many bridges over the canal
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Italy – the start of my gelato frenzy
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This is how they entice people to stay the night at their B&B
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With Paolo Sarpi
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GONDOLES – great way to spend a lazy afternoon drifting down the canals of Venice
but just beware of the speedboats
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More Gondoles
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Heading back to Milan at sunset…
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I must have left my heart behind…

Coeur qui soupire n’a pas ce qu’il desire

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Strong girls may protect themselves by being quiet and guarded
so that their rebellion is known by only a few trusted others.
They may be cranky and irascible and keep critics at a distance
so that only people who love them know what they are up to.
They may have the knack of shrugging off the opinions of others
or they may use humor to deflect the hostility that comes their way.”
― Mary Pipher

“Coeur qui soupire n’a pas ce qu’il desire.
The heart that sighs does not have what it desires.”
― Sarah StrohmeyerSmart Girls Get What They Want

 

the best memories

The best memories remain when the worst are forgotten.
None is as great a peacemaker as time,
that simmers sharp pangs to a dull ache of the heart
and wipes all slates clean when the pain comes to pass.

The best memories upholds the smile when the tears are gone.
A gunshot with its reverberations
inadvertently ends with drawn-out silence.
Nothing that lasts an eternity is worth fighting for.

I am
Sincerely wishing everything that’s only the best
for the people who have made the biggest impact on my life
without having to remain in it forever.
The best memories are the candles that once lit up the darkest rooms in your heart.

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

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PS. Brief trip down the memory lane,
I found myself smiling.

my beautiful reality

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Ought to be asleep to be in good shape for flight

but I’m still running on caffeine!
Overdosed as usual.
What’s new.

Day out with my one of my favourite batchgirl Dia
and I’ve found my favourite coffee fix!
Affogato – espresso with vanilla icecream at 1-Caramel Dessert Boutique!
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Talking it out, making new plans
and shopping for books really cleared my head
I’m totally ready for everything that’s coming my way.
Really excited about cafe-hunting in Perth…in about 17 hours’!!
So it’s breakfast in Singapore,
lunch in Perth.
And the following day’s dinner back home in my sunny island.

Gonna be working hard towards becoming my own boss!
No matter how hard I have to work,
I’ll get there 🙂
If we strive towards claiming our rightful dream,
we can all create a beautiful reality.
Believe in yourself.

’em little things

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“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie,
“something complicated and hard to get.
Yet, what little things can make it up;
a place of shelter when it rains –
a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue;
for a man, a cigarette for contentment;
a book to read when you’re alone –
just to be with someone you love.
Those things make happiness.”

― Betty SmithA Tree Grows in Brooklyn

178. sylvia plath

coldheart

 

“It’s getting so I live every moment with terrible intensity.
It all flowed over me with a screaming ache of pain…remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now.
Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.
When you feel that this may be good-bye, the last time, it hits you harder.”

“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated.
But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.”
― Sylvia Plath