Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .
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?
◊ ◊ ◊
As is sometimes the case with a book where you’ve read a few reviews and the publisher’s description on the cover gives an overview of the entire book, I didn’t expect this book to surprise me. I had also been warned to have my tissues ready, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. But all of this preparation, this abundance of information, didn’t fully prepare me. I didn’t know that Ben’s father Lucio would steal the show and that Ben’s siblings would be more intriguing than he was.
Don’t get me wrong, Ben is a fabulous character and I am sure he is destined to be many readers’ “book boyfriend” if only for the dialogue after the kiss at the end of Chapter 5 alone:
“I think you like Italian art?”
“Do you know Francesco Hayez? Il Bacio?”
I shook my head, trying to think coherently.
“Look it up.” He touched his lips to mine again. “This was that moment.” (p.48)
I’ll admit that, though I don’t do the “book boyfriend” thing, I had to put the book down for a bit (there might have been a verbal response as well), and I did look up the painting. That was the moment that changed this book and found me becoming more engaged with the story. However, the narration by Emily stayed relatively flat and though I found her restoration work interesting, it was glossed over for the most part. Another high point was the inclusion of references to various works of literature, mostly courtesy of the charming Lucio who was in the habit of giving his children, and now Emily, books to read that just might show them something he thinks they need to learn.
Overall, a good read with a likeable – though not particularly dynamic – narrator in Emily whose lifelong need to fix and control things is turned upside down when she loses her job and falls instantly for a chef visiting from Italy. Her first impulsive move finds her married and on her way to a foreign country with her new husband (after a, shall we say, interesting civil ceremony). This is a book that might have worked better for me in third person, rather than first. It also might have been more interesting with further detail on the restoration work done by Emily and by Ben’s brother, Joseph. Perhaps more detail in general. Or perhaps if I had not read such glowing reviews beforehand, as this sometimes sets a book up to fall short of expectations. What it does have going for it is a deftly portrayed sense of faith woven through rather than thrown in, a wonderful (fictional) Medieval walled town in Italy, and an interesting Italian family full of warmth, secrets, and plenty of drama. 3.5/5 stars.
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay | Thomas Nelson, 2016 | paperback, 368 pages
This review refers to a copy received from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild group, in exchange for an honest review. No compensation was received and all opinions expressed are my own.