With the weather the way it is at the moment (rainy, windy and generally miserable) a bit of escapism has never been more needed and with The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas, I was not disappointed.
Ruthie Collins has just split up from her long term partner. Feeling out of place and alone, she impulsively buys an Italian farmhouse online in the hopes that she can make a fresh start for herself. It’s a doer-upper to say the least, but she wants to prove to her family and her ex that she can do it.
She has her work cut out for her when she arrives at her new home which includes a territorial goat, an overgrown olive grove and fiery neighbours who do not want her there.
Tired of running away from her problems, Ruthie throws herself into her new project, making new friends along the way but also having to work hard to convince the rest of the community that she belongs there.
Speaking at the Rooftop Book Club, Jo said that when writing, she likes to get the food identity of a place, and this becomes the basis of the story. Set in Puglia, Italy, The Olive Branch paints tasty imagery of fragrant olive oil, juicy tomatoes, fresh baked focaccia and the other mouth-watering delights of simple Italian food. You get a great sense of the location, not only through the food but by the setting descriptions and some traditional Italian characters that I loved to read about.
Ruthie is one of those main characters that you can’t help but like; she’s kind of scatty and impulsive and sometimes you want to shake her to her senses, but she has a heart of gold and you do want her to get her happy ending. I’m not the biggest fan of romance, but in this book, it’s a slow build between the stubborn characters and after everything that happens, Ruthie deserves a bit of love.
With this kind of idyllic, escapist read, it’s nice that generally things work out, especially when the road to get there is so bumpy, as in real life. Italy is one of the places I’ve always wanted to go and this book had me daydreaming even more. I was Googling masserias and trullos – not to buy online like Ruthie! – but to get a better picture of scenes in the story and after reading about such wonderful sounding food, I may have to have a go at some authentic Italian cooking as well!
There is a fair bit about olive farming which I found very interesting, and you can tell that Jo spent time in Italy from all the research and the realistic characters. This novel is warm and funny and a perfect read to while away a rainy day.