Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.
But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.
Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.
Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?
*Disclaimer – lest you get the wrong idea about this passage, this conversation takes place OUTSIDE of the bedroom – in the kitchen, following the end of the meal to be precise. Emily’s sister Amy has just left the room to shower in Emily’s bathroom, hence the reference to the closed bedroom door.
“And you said you don’t flatter,” I gently teased.
Ben glanced toward my closed bedroom door. “Is that not what she expects? One always says lovely things to a girasole.”
“You call them sunflowers. They turn all through the day, following the sun. They cover the fields this time of year at home.”
He touched my chin, lifting my face to his. “It is nothing to say lovely things to someone who expects them. The beauty is when one who does not expect them comes to believe them – that only happens when the compliments and the love behind them are sincere.”
Before the question could hit my eyes, I tamped it down with a “Harrumph . . .”
Only Ben could make not giving compliments sound like a compliment.
“My own girasole.” He laughed. “Please, Bella, only turn towards me.”
The comment was so suggestive and enticing it startled me. It was also alluring – that sense that the warmth and electricity between us weren’t fleeting, but could last and spread through my bones, warming me for life. I wasn’t sure if we were having a language issue, an amazing flirtation . . . Or what would happen next week.
He waited a beat more before continuing, a teasing light in his eyes. “Were you jealous?”
He closed the distance between us. All words stopped. All thought stopped.
“I am here for you.” He tugged my hips closer and kissed me.
It took me a few moments to catch my breath and whisper, “What will you do when Piccolo’s ready? You’ve done what you came to do, right? The pizza. The restaurant.”
Ben leaned back against the counter, pulling me with him. “Sì. But you complicate things.”
I bit my lip.
“I need to go home, Bella. For you, I would stay if I could. Already I know that. But Papa is not well, and I stole all the time I can. Saturday, I go.”
“We have less than a week.”
“Every moment of a week.” He captured my lips and kissed me again and again.
After a few moments I heard the bathroom door open.
“Amy,” I whispered.
“Her timing is good.”
“As you said, you never get a reaction without a little heat. That is plenty of heat for now. Besides-”
He stopped as Amy opened the bedroom door, straight across the small living room.
“Hey.” Her voice tipped to a purr. “Hey . . .” She glanced between us, confusion skittering through her eyes. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Dishes.” Ben winked at me and grabbed a rag to wipe the counters.
This is the kind of novel for which you clear the calendar. Seriously. Even if you don’t aspire to sit down and read the book from start to finish in one sitting, take care of any potential distractions before you open its pages so that you can give yourself over totally to basking in the imagery, the ambiance, and the emotions of the story for however long you are able to indulge at one time. Yes. This book is THAT good!
If, like me, you aren’t a fan of insta-love, don’t let that deter you from picking up this novel. This is not a story of insta-love – or even insta-lust for that matter. From the moment they whisper the same Italian word – ‘Aiuto’ (help) – it is as though Ben’s and Emily’s souls recognize one another and connect. More than that, their hearts instinctively understand each other, and far from being cheesy or sappy or unrealistic, watching them totally melted my heart. I’m telling you, if you don’t believe in love at first sight, you will at least accept that there are exceptions to the rule by the time you finish this novel! But it’s also realistic about the challenges they face as they begin their life together, and the way they handle those challenges is part of the beauty of this story.
The story is narrated in the first person by Emily Price, a twenty-eight year old conservator who has always felt like a paler, less vibrant version of her younger sister, Amy – until she meets Benito Vassallo. And I just have to say, I’m more than a little in love with Ben myself! He is a true romantic, but not in the over-the-top way that is the Italian stereotype. He is gentler, more sincere, and yet still brimming with the vitality for which the Italian people are known. And his accent! Bellissimo! It sang from the page!
Like all good books (and paintings, as Emily points out!) this is a richly layered novel, full of symbolism, beautiful subtext, and an exploration of the emotional significance behind Emily’s professional and personal drive to fix things that are broken. Emily sums it up well when she narrates:
“As I lay in the dark, a line from a book read long ago ran on repeat through my mind: An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure . . . The author had been striving to understand vice, sin, and addiction. I lay there grasping for peace and yearning for something more.”
For Emily, peace has always come through fixing things:
“Objects carried weight, and in fixing those, I found one could mend so much more.”
But how do you find peace when things are beyond your ability to fix?
Katherine Reay’s writing captures the soul of Emily’s journey with the skill of a master artist. It is heart-warming, tender, and poignant. Open its pages, and allow yourself to feast. Meanwhile, I’m sending this one straight to the pool room!
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Author’s website: http://katherinereay.com/