True to the title, Rosanna Chiofalo's latest novel is a bittersweet tale that begins in Santa Lucia del Mela, Messina, Sicily.
When Claudia Lombardo, a seasoned food writer and journalist, arrives in the small Sicilian town on assignment, she immediately wants to get down to business. Sorella Agata is a nun who runs the famous pastry shop at the convent - Santa Lucia del Mela Convent. The reputation of her deliciously sweet Italian pastries spread like wildfire. But the most famous of them all? Her cassata cake. Everyone wants in on her secret - including Claudia. But much to her dismay, Sorella Agata is quite hesitant to talk.
We are then transported to Sicily in 1955, where a teenage Rosalia is surrounded by her loving parents and siblings. While her older brother Luca had gone to a neighboring town to become a priest, Rosalia decided to stay home and work at her father's tailor shop. However, things quickly turn dark when she is kidnapped from her family by a young man named Marco.
Thankfully, things turn around when the nuns from the Santa Lucia del Mela Convent rescue her. Although her path to recovery is not quick, she eventually finds joy again through the art of pastry making. But one thing still tugs at her heart, and it is her family that she was separated from and wants nothing more than to be reunited with.
While Claudia had only aimed to find out about the famous cassata cake, Sorella Agata reveals so much more - a heartwarming story that reminds us there is always something we can find joy in, and to always hold onto the faith that things will work out for our good.
I have been a huge fan of Rosanna Chiofalo's novels since her very first - Bella Fortuna. She brings each character and their families to life, and takes you deep into their family history that each of us can connect with on some level. Rosalia's Bittersweet Pastry Shop begins with the heartbreak of Rosalia being kidnapped and taken away from her family. Throughout the novel, even when she enjoys things such as pastry making, her mind always wanders back to her family, and understandably so. Thankfully, through the guidance of Madre Carmela at the Convent, Rosalia learns to find joy again and to never lose faith that she would one day be reunited with her family.
Rosalia navigates through her newfound life at the convent, even finding love with a young apprentice Antonio, and we see her blossom into find her life's true purpose. One of her most admirable qualities from beginning to end was her relentless determination and faith to find her family - which is something we can all learn from.
The uniqueness in this novel that sets it apart from Chiofalo's other novels is her vivid descriptions and details of the various Sicilian pastries. She even includes ten recipes which you'll be eager to try once you read the book and learn the stories and history behind the pastries. Spoiler alert: yes, she even includes the recipe for cassata cake!
Rosalia's Bittersweet Pastry Shop will pull you in from beginning to end. With many characters with stories you will connect with, and Chiofalo's vivid descriptions that will transport you to Sicily, this is one novel you do not want to miss.
About Rosanna Chiofalo
Rosanna Chiofalo has penned Stella Mia, Bella Fortuna, and Carissima. Rosanna is a first generation Italian American, which plays a large role in her novels and their settings. You can learn more about Rosanna and her work at www.rosannachiofalo.com.
The Sweet Paisana