Keeping with what seems to be my theme for this summer, I offer you today a very overdue review. The timing, however, isn't completely horrible because this book fits perfectly into WestofMars' Hidden Treasures Contest (read more about it here).
Villa Serena by Domenica de Rosa
First of all, I love the cover design, although I have to say that the subtitle-looking text "falling in love Italian-style" isn't exactly an accurate description of the book. Villa Serena is less about the protagonist falling in love than about her dealing with and overcoming various heartbreaks.
Emily Robertson seems to have a perfect life. She's living her dream in a restored villa in Tuscany, writing a weekly column on Italian life for a British paper. It all seems like an illusion, though, when her husband of many years dumps her - by text message! Suddenly she feels stranded. She can't really speak Italian, she has no money, and her three children are running her ragged, each in a completely different way. It's only when Emily begins to open up to the locals that she is able to really inhabit their home and find herself along the way.
While I enjoyed the novel overall, I have two criticisms. The first (and most important, in my opinion at least) is about how de Rosa handles the youngest daughter's eating disorder. Despite the alternate view of the situation shown in another character, the resolution of the problem seemed too simple and Emily's lack of action distressed me. The second is that the small thriller aspect of the story isn't fully realized so its climax seems a bit out of place in the novel. That being said, that atmosphere, setting, and well-drawn characters make up for these inadequacies.
De Rosa's third novel (after The Italian Quarter and The Eternal City) is written with a clear love of Italy and all things Italian. Villa Serena is a great summer read, perfect for those who daydream of Tuscany and not recommended only to readers who are suffering from (or have loved ones suffering from) eating disorders.