The Temptation of Gracie is a lovely read, the kind of the book to enjoy while wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea. It’s the story of three women — Gracie, who has lived the past 40 years in a sleepy village in Devon, her high-powered and workaholic daughter Carina, and Carina’s 17-year-old daughter Anastasia — who travel to a castle in Italy for a weeklong cooking class. What Carina and Anastasia don’t realize is that Gracie has lived in Italy before, and that this castle is linked to a passionate romance from Gracie’s past.
First of all, I love the idea of a weeklong cooking class in an old Tuscan castle. How incredible would it be to learn how to cook delicious pasta dishes — made with fresh, all natural ingredients! — in such a beautiful, evocative setting? The class is run by a mother-daughter duo, which just adds to the intimate, homey feel, and I love the idea that such an experience can shift your whole relationship with food and eating.
I love the family dynamics as well between Gracie, Carina and Anastasia. I love how they were all somewhat distant from each other in the beginning, but the location and the food help them let down their defences and become closer to each other. I found it sweet how Gracie and Anastasia bonded over a boy Anastasia had met in Tuscany. To Carina’s concern, Gracie responds that it’s good for young people to have at least one wild, passionate fling even though it’ll more than likely end in heartbreak, and that youth of Anastasia’s generation are savvy enough to know how to be careful. I found that whole subplot sweet, and love how the experience of love can forge bonds across generations.
One thing that fell short for me was the romance from Gracie’s past. I wanted to be swept away by this storyline, and I wanted to believe in a youthful passion so strong that Gracie still remembers it 40 years later. And to some extent, the affair was passionate. Gracie was certainly in love with a wealthy, powerful man, and he broke her heart (of course) due to external circumstances beyond his control. But I never quite bought into his love for Gracie (at least until the very end of the book, where it was a bit too little, too late). He makes Gracie do something that she feels conflicted about, and the way he convinces her to do it anyway made me wonder if he liked her for herself or for what she could do for him (in this case, have revenge on a greedy family member).
The present-day update on this romance also fell short for me. The conflict in the present-day hinges on a big reveal that comes courtesy of Anastasia and close to the end of the book. The problem was that this reveal was pretty obvious to me early in the book, and so it was more frustrating than anything that Gracie kept missing the signs and misunderstanding the situation.
I also wasn’t a fan of the subplot featuring a busybody from Gracie’s village in Devon, who wanted to organize a grand funeral for another resident, but hated not having Gracie around to do the grunt work. This character and subplot bookended the main story, and while it added atmosphere as well as provided insight on Gracie’s life in Devon, it just dragged on too long, particularly at the end. I would have much preferred to see how Gracie’s life turned out myself rather than hear about it secondhand in the midst of a flurry of activity over a funeral for someone we never even met.
Still, overall, I enjoyed the story. The Temptation of Gracie is a feel-good book that’ll make you emit a happy sigh and want to cook spaghetti with your family members. The conflicts and drama are heartfelt but fairly light, and you can just imagine what a beautiful movie this would make.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.