Cover Image: Al Dente's Inferno

Al Dente's Inferno

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Member Reviews

A fun first in series!! I really loved the unique setting and the Italian characters made this cozy really stand out from others. The main character Nell was likable and the author included enough twists and turns that had me guessing until the very end. The tantalizing recipes at the end of the book were a welcomed bonus!!
I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series!
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This was a fun start to a new cozy mystery series! I loved the characters, the setting, and the food! I really enjoyed the mystery, and I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.
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Eccentric chef's and making your way in a new life... what's not to love.  Nell and her new friends are fun and give the book's mystery a believable edge.  Enjoyed this first and look forward to the next Nell mystery.
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the book sounded very intriguing from the description.  I found it quite stilted and could not get into it at all.  Persevered for a few chapters but found my mind wandering.  I could not finish it.
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This was a quick, light, fun read. It hit everything I look for in a cozy. I liked the characters and the storyline.
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I struggled a bit with this one. I loved the setting, but the characters were more aggravating then charming. Nell had a few fun snarky comments, but generally the conversations did not flow well. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book, which I voluntarily chose to review.
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The murder mystery in this one was very light as I figured out the ending before it happened.  I did love the setting and the characters but the story itself just didn't do it well.  As for cozy mysteries this wasn't the best one that I have read.
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The book itself isn't what made me DNF it but I think the format I was reading on wasn't for me. The characters were enjoyable and I did feel a connection to them. The writing was easy to follow along but again I think I need a physical copy of the book to really get into the story. When I do get a physical copy I will probably pick this up again.
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Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie

What do a dead cow, a murdered filmmaker, and a missing, bocce-playing chef have to do with each other? Al Dente’s Inferno is a fun, witty first in a new series set in the lush beauty of Tuscany. The characters are likable, quirky, and defined as needed. The mystery is confounding; I had a hard time choosing a suspect.

Chef Nell Valenti’s re-created life as a cooking school start-up designer is going well; she has been offered a position to help set up a farm-to-table cooking school for her hero, Chef Claudio Orlandini, an acclaimed Italian chef. She successfully directed a start-up farm-to-table cooking school in the Berkshires at the Prajna Retreat Center and had an unsuccessful relationship with Bu, who she thought was someone seeking Buddhist enlightenment.

The first thing she sees of the future cooking school is the Villa’s vehicle, an older three-wheeled enclosed Vespa with a flatbed. Chef’s son, Pete, arrived in it to pick her up at the train station. Hopefully Pete, who has lived in various places around the world and now cares for the olive grove on the vast 50-acre property, better represents the Villa than the Vespa. Or the neighbor’s dead cow in Pete’s olive grove amidst a small area of trees that look blighted.

Nell’s tour of Villa Orlandini is lacking. It is a 16th century convent that includes an old cloister, a crumbling fountain, a mossy common area reeking of mildew, and a dormitory with an invading porcupine that hasn’t been lived in for decades. The former chapel is beautiful with its original stained-glass windows and is now used as an elegant dining room. At dinner Nell learns that the chef and his sous-chef, Annamaria, are preparing dinner the following evening for three dignitaries to celebrate the beginning of work on the cooking school. Joining them is a Netflix documentary filmmaker and his assistant to add the Villa to a documentary on European school start-ups. The common area, where they wish to entertain, is a complete disaster. Oh, and one other little glitch. The renowned filmmaker is none other than Bu, the guy Nell had the unfortunate fling with at her last job.

The next day is a flurry of Pete and others calling in favors – rental furniture for the common area, removal of the porcupine, removed moss from the wall and many other details. Annamaria, who with Pete ensures that anything worthwhile at the villa happens, does not speak English, and Nell speaks little Italian. Watching them converse in charades is hysterical, especially with many misinterpretations!

Bu greeted Nell enthusiastically. He and his assistant, Ember, film throughout the villa. In the kitchen during meal prep, Bu trash-talks to everyone in an insulting manner as he films them, especially Annamaria’s sisters who are nuns, there to help wherever needed. Nell kicks Bu, knocking him down, not wanting her new working family insulted.  Pete tells Bu that if he harasses any of the guests or the Villa family, he would personally take care of Bu.

When the dignitaries – Ernesto, international food critic, the Contessa, a wealthy Roman socialite, and Benedetto, the local chamber of commerce director arrive, Nell hears Bu have less than cordial private greetings with each as if they know each other. The dinner starts well, then Nell notices partway through that Chef has disappeared. After dinner is complete and the guests are gone, Nell goes outdoors, and finds Bu lying on the ground. He isn’t drunk as she suspected – he is dead, clearly murdered, and nobody has found Chef yet.

We learn enough about Nell’s background to like her and enjoy her dry humor. It takes courage and determination to travel over 4,000 miles and live in a country with a different language and customs! On the plus side, she will work for her hero and expand her start-up experience. Pete is very personable and does his best to interpret for her with everyone else. We learn a bit of Annamaria and Chef’s backgrounds, but little of anyone else.

Nell and Pete are determined to find the killer and get Chef – then Nell – off the suspect list. They clearly have minimal experience even reading mysteries, as their initial attempts to solve the murder and disappearance of Chef are almost painful at times. They learn the cause of death of the cow in the olive grove. The reader is treated to beautiful descriptives of the countryside and laugh-out-loud humor. 

Plot twists slowly reveal suspects and motives, but it seems a very slow process. I was unsuccessful at selecting the real bad guy until seconds before she was identified, showing me how well-plotted the mystery is. For now, cooking, and even preparing the school, are not front and center; the mystery, the characters, and even the truffle dog are the heart of it. This first in a new series may have a slow start but overall is a solid start. I highly recommend it!

*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*
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A very good new cozy series starter! Set in a beautiful rural Italian estate where Nell Valenti has arrived to help set up a new cooking school, she quickly realizes that the place is going to need a lot more upgrading and effort than she thought- and this is before her former fling shows up to film for a documentary. When he ends up dead, there is a long list of suspects- Nell, of course, among them. The setting is lush and beautiful to read about, and the cast of characters are interesting. This series is off to an excellent beginning with this one!
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Solid mystery. I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this and the frequent use of Italian phrases (which made sense for the setting) interrupted the flow of the story for me. This was - unfortunately - easy to set aside and not pick back up for awhile.

There are some great moments - a little humor, a good love interest for the main character, and a fascinating backstory for her with her parents that I would have loved to explore more - but I would have liked more of them. I'd still try a second book to see how things develop over time - especially if Nell's parents are going to be involved.
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Al Dente’s Inferno by Stephanie Cole is the beginning of A Tuscan Cooking School Mystery series.  I enjoyed the word imagery of the Tuscan countryside and the dilapidated Orlandini villa.  I had to laugh when Nell found mold and a critter in the public rooms.  Nell thought she was just upgrading a farm-to-table cooking school.  Instead, it seems she is starting from scratch.  Unfortunately, the launch dinner for the local dignitaries is the next evening.  Then someone kills the filmmaker which could put the kibosh on the cooking school before it opens.  While I enjoyed the Italian setting, I was not a fan of the multiple Italian words and phrases in the story.  Some of them are explained, but many of them are not.  I quickly tired of them as it disrupted the flow of the story plus I had no clue what they meant (unless I used the translation feature on my e-book).  The clichés were another annoyance (way too many).  I believe they were meant to be humorous.  There are some interesting characters in the story, but I found background information to be lacking.  I thought Al Dente’s Inferno was a slow starter.  The murder does not occur until you are a third of the way into the story (way too late).  If you are a frequent reader of cozy mysteries, you will have already identified the killer by the time the dufus (i.e. the filmmaker and Nell’s ex-boyfriend) turns up dead.  There are good clues to aid readers in solving the crime and I liked Nell’s approach to the investigation.  It was straightforward with a Jessica Fletcher type reveal at the end.  I liked that most of the focus of Al Dente’s Inferno was on cooking and the whodunit.  I did not like when it delved into a new romantic interest for Nell.  Considering her recent breakup and taste in men, Nell needs to wait before diving into a new romantic relationship (she needs to keep her focus on the school).  I did enjoy Nell’s snarky comments.  Al Dente’s Inferno could have used a little more work before it was published (in my personal opinion).  Al Dente’s Inferno has a crumbling cloister, a pesky porcupine, a curious conveyance, mouthwatering meals, and a frustrating filmmaker.
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While I was really looking forward to this book, I found it to be a bit lacking in a couple areas. I loved the setting, a nice change from small town america, and I thought the main story line was a good one but there are a few too many Italian terms thrown into the book, which are a bit jarring and disrupt the flow, especially when the meaning isn't explained. The book was also full of cliches, which added nothing to the story for me. I did like the characters and the mystery so hopefully the writing will improve with book two.
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Nell Valenti has turned her love of food and her training as a chef into a career helping establish farm to table cooking schools.  When she is offered a job setting up a school for Chef Claudio Orlandini in Tuscany, she jumps at the chance.  Not only is she looking for some changes in her life, but Chef Claudio is her culinary idol.  However, Nell is shocked upon her arrival to discover that the villa Chef Claudio owns is in worse disrepair than she expected, meaning the transformation is going to be more work than she’d expected.  Then comes the news that a kick off dinner with some local dignitaries is scheduled for the next evening.  Even worse, the dinner ends with some of the guests dead and Chef Claudio missing.  What has Nell gotten herself into?

I picked up this book with high hopes.  It’s fun to see a cozy in a new setting, and Tuscany appealed to me.  Unfortunately, the language barrier made the book hard to get into initially.  Yes, we need bits of Italian, and not all of the characters are going to speak English, but it felt like too many Italian words and phrases were thrown out, and we had to wait for the translation to appear or figure out what was meant in context.  While it took a bit longer to be hooked than I would have liked, it did happen once the plot kicked into high gear.  We are treated to a great mystery with plenty of suspects.  As Nell pieces things together, I was in awe of just how well the clues were laid out for us.  Nell is a good main character, and the core cast also comes to life for us as well.  There are some laugh out loud funny scenes here, and, of course, we get a delicious sounding recipe at the end.  The characters, plot, and setting make this a fun debut.
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Al Dente’s Inferno earns 5/5 Italian Delights...Entertaining Cozy Fun!

First-in-a-series treat! American chef Nell Valenti is offered a chance to transform a Tuscany villa into a farm-to-table cooking school, but it’s more rundown, ok more like dilapidated, than expected, and Chef Claudio, Nell’s culinary hero, may be quite a challenge. Buon Appetito! Stephanie Cole has penned a delightful new series in a first-person narrative sharing Nell’s perspective giving me a vicarious role in the drama. Cole’s writing style was very entertaining filled with descriptive language of the dreamy Italian countryside, the villa, and cuisine and expressive dialogue adding humorous interactions and illustrating the various personalities and tone of the drama. However, I found the use of Italian phrases may have provided authenticity, but was overused and often without some assistance understanding its meaning; fortunately with the digital copy I was able to highlight and translate most incidents. The murder mystery was engaging with a karma-approved victim, plenty of suspects and motives, well-written discovery of clues, and a final conclusion that had tentatively been on my radar midway through the story...but the murder occurred later in the story than I prefer. The characters are fun, some quirky, but more background and connections would have provided a clearer picture; I like Nell, her snarky repartee, and see an enjoyable personal journey in the future. Bonus, of course! An easy-to-follow recipe for Peroni al Forno Ripieni di Ricotta (Baked Peppers Stuffed with Ricotta) with helpful Tips and Secrets. I did enjoy the book, and look forward to more from Nell.
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With the setting this book was in and the very unique idea of a chef going around developing different cooking schools for various areas, I was excited to read and love it, but I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed. The use of too much Italian really put me off for one thing. I've read books before where a language is simply sprinkled in for a nice, local feel, but this was a bit of an overkill. There seemed like a lot going on at once, and I felt confused quite a bit. I couldn't quite warm up to any of the characters like I normally do within the first few pages of cozies that I rate much higher. Even Nell's dad--and usually I love silly dad characters--fell short. I felt like I never quite understood just who these sisters were that came in to get the house more ready for filming...nuns or actual sisters to Rosa, who I think might have been a nun. A little more background on some characters would have been nice. I hope I'm not the only one who missed the boat on the sisters!

I enjoyed the occasional humor like the car ride in the little Ape. Pete and Nell made a nice sleuthing team, but at some points, again being honest, I stopped being interested in who offed the guy, because I hadn't really liked him to begin with, but I did want to see how Nell caught the person. That was a plus point, at least someone nice wasn't killed. I hadn't guessed the killer, so that was good. I may or may not give the second book a read. Again, I love the premise and Tuscany setting.

I voluntarily read and reviewed this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley, and my opinions are my own.
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When Nell is given the chance to move to Tuscany to help establish a farm-to-table cooking school, she jumps at the opportunity, especially because it will give her the chance to work with one of her favorite chefs. When she arrives, however, she is dismayed to learn that the villa will need major work to accommodate a cooking school, and Chef is oblivious to the situation. Add to that the arrival of a group of local VIPs and a filmmaker sent to feature and promote the school, and Nell is ready to admit defeat and return home. When one of the film crew is found murdered and Chef disappears, she sets out to prove that her beloved Chef might not be what she expected, but he is not a killer. 

I love reading cozy mysteries whose focus is food and cooking/baking, so I was really looking forward to reading this book. Unfortunately, I found the book to be slightly disappointing. The biggest drawback for me was the frequent use of Italian words and phrases that weren't translated or defined. While that might work for those who speak Italian, it left holes in the story for me, and I eventually just stopped caring. 

In addition, there were too many characters to keep track of, especially those whose stories weren't completely fleshed out – many of the dinner guests, the nuns and even some of the villa's staff. I did suspect the character who was ultimately revealed as the killer, but not as quickly as other readers might come to the same conclusion. I'm intrigued enough by some of the relationships begun in this book to read the next in the series, but with lower expectations than I had going into this book.
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Al Dente’s Inferno is the first book in Stephanie Cole’s new Tuscan Cooking School Mystery series.  Murder, mystery and a bit of romance are all lurking on the Tuscan countryside.


Chef Neil has found herself in a unique position of being able to help open a cooking school with her idol of a chef. Neil gets more than she bargained for while trying to start this farm to table is cooking school.  Neil is a hard worker with a deep sense of pride. She’s knowledgeable in what she does, and seems to handle stress better than most. But opening a cooking school and solving a murder are two completely different things.


Al Dente’s Inferno introduces readers to a beautiful setting within the Tuscan countryside. It was very easy to imagine the kitchen in which they were cooking and the olive fields outside of the house. I honestly could almost smell garlic if I tried hard enough.  Along with a colorful, charismatic and tight knit group of characters Neil uses her power of observation along with a little bit of nosiness to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. 

Al Dente’s Inferno had the potential to be an exceptional read, however I found a few hiccups along the way. The amount of actual Italian used in the book made it very hard for me to read. Using a word or two here or there is not an issue but when you are using full phrases and several sentences at a time, anyone who does not have an understanding of the language is going to have a hard time. I do think the use of the Italian language to give the book a more authentic feel however for myself It was almost too much and began to take away from the entire feel and mood of the book.  I also felt that some of the characters were almost too much of a mystery. The characters that we got to know were very enjoyable but there is a cast we still know little about.  Neil, Pete and Chef were amazing and I felt like it was because we really got to know them. Stephanie Cole has a good foundation with the start of the series. I am hoping through the next book that we will actually get to know the characters a little more, the language barrier is not so high and the story will flow a little more evenly.
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3.5 out of 5 
AL DENTE’S INFERNO is the first in the new Tuscan Cooking School Mystery series by Stephanie Cole. I love the premise of this cozy mystery in which the protagonist, Nell Valenti, packs up and moves to Tuscany to help establish a cooking school for a famous Italian chef. The author provides lovely descriptions of the country and its delightful food, enticing the reader to visit. Ms. Cole also inserts pockets of humorous moments plus dialog that zings with laugh-out-loud repartee. There are several well-developed characters that keep the reader entertained with their antics. And the mystery itself is well thought out with suspects to keep the reader guessing. Al Dente’s Inferno has all the ingredients for a great read but somehow falls a bit short with the overuse of the Italian language, especially where the phrases aren’t translated or the meaning isn’t obvious. While the use of foreign language may add a feeling of authenticity to the setting, for me it slowed the pace of the story down too much. I’ll definitely try the second book in the series when it’s released with the hope that the flow will be better.

I was provided an advance copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I adored Chef Nell Valentini! She travels to Tuscany Italy to help Chef Claudio fix his image. When she gets there though she is quite surprised by the run down villa and the fact that Chef Claudio has forgotten basically how to cook. Cozy mysteries never fail to amaze me with their creativity and this one didn't disappoint. I can't wait to snag a physical copy! I appreciated the recipes included and I enjoyed the characters. I will say, the mystery is slightly weak, I figured it out about 45% into the story but I think it's a great first book and I'm looking forward to more!
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