Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Flirting In Italian by Lauren Henderson

Flirting in Italian
by Lauren Henderson
Random House Children's Books
June 12, 2012
336 pages
Source: Southern Book Bloggers ARC Tours

Four girls. One magical, and possibly dangerous Italian summer. Family mysteries, ancient castles, long hot nights of dancing under the stars . . . and, of course, plenty of gorgeous Italian boys! (Taken from Goodreads.)

Opening Line
The picture in front of me is like a magnet, drawing me closer and closer, till my shoulder is nearly brushing against its antique gold carved frame.

My Take On It

Okay, that summary above is WAY too vague and brief. I did try to find something more detailed (I checked the author's website and Amazon) but all were woefully lacking. So I shall offer up a short summary of the book instead. Ahem.

Seventeen year old Violet Routledge, newly graduated from high school, is stunned to discover she has a lookalike: a portrait of a young Italian girl from a 18th century painting housed in a London museum. The resemblance is so uncanny that it drives Violet, a future art history major (girl after my own heart) to covertly convince her mum to allow her to attend an eight week summer study program in Tuscany. The program is conveniently located nearby the Castiglio di Vespiri, the point of origin of the portrait. Violet departs for Italy hoping to learn more about the painting and possibly answer some of her own questions regarding her heritage. Violet, the only child of a retired Norwegian super model mom and Scottish father, is distinctly Mediterranean in terms of coloring and looks nothing like either of her parents. Subsequently she has always had a nagging, yet unproven, suspicion that she is adopted. To Violet, seeing this painting is serendipitous and she longs to discover if her own past is somehow connected to this portrait. 

Violet arrives in Italy and meets the other three girls who will be attending the program with her as well as the teenage kids of the program's instructor who live in the home the girls will be housed. She also meets a host of attractive, flirtatious Italian boys, complete with adorable accents, including  the dark, brooding, tempestuous Luca di Vespiri. The prince of the very Castiglio di Vespiri that Violet hopes to learn more about.

Okay, let me first say that I flew through this book. It arrived in the mail one afternoon and I was done with it by the next day. I knew I first wanted to read it when I learned that a) it is new adult (love them!) b) has a summertime travel c) the travel is to TUSCANY (one of the few places on my bucket list) d) it has a mystery incorporated into it and e) ART THEMES, hello? So, did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no.

All of the things I was hoping to read about in this book (see above list) were included, but not quite in the way that I expected. The beginning of the book was very much centered on Violet's quest to discover more about the portrait with her mirror image, and that was awesome because I wanted to learn more about whether Violet was any relation to her. But somewhere along the way, that focus was lost, and the story became more centered around the romance between Violet and Luca. 

So let's talk a little about this romance. I liked it.  I haven't read any other books by Lauren Henderson before, but she definitely writes well and I enjoyed Violet's inner monologue and sense of humor. And she can write some GREAT kissing scenes. Flirting in Italian is very PG, but there is that potential for more. And that's all good with me, you guys. I thought Luca was damn sexy and even though there was a lot of "does he like me, or doesn't he?" going on, it didn't bother me at all. In fact I started turning the pages quicker looking for the next Violet/ Luca moment. It was a fun romance to read.

But what about the painting, and the mystery of Violet's heritage? As I said, once Luca hits the scene, that storyline kind of fell off the radar. And that  bummed me out because I thought that was the gist of the whole book. In fact as I got about three quarters of the way into the book I began to wonder just how this book going to end. THAT'S when I discovered that the book is a planned trilogy. I had no idea this was the case when I began the book! In fact, after I finished reading I decided to go back and read some other reviews, and nobody seemed to know that this book was not a standalone. It seems to me that someone dropped the ball on this. Had I known that this was only book one, the pacing and execution of the story probably wouldn't have bothered me. I definitely would not have felt as panicked as I did when I was reading and discovered there were only twenty or so pages left and the mystery of the girl in the painting was still no where near being resolved. So if you are reading this review and you want to read Flirting In Italian than know that this is only the first book in a planned trilogy and don't sweat it if the mystery isn't solved at the end of the book!

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did. The setting was drop dead gorgeous and Henderson does a fantastic job conveying everything from the warm Italian sun to the bustling streets of Florence and the beautiful Vespa riding Italian boys.

Another thing I enjoyed reading was the relationship between Violet and the three other girls in the study program. Each was different in their own way, and I found details of their personalities that I loved about each of them. I LOVED that Violet was so into dancing! I though it was so awesome how she totally let go (especially around the Italians who were more reserved on the dance floor) and how it was one of the things Luca liked about her. I also loved the cultural differences between Violet and Kelly, who come from two very different British socioeconomic backgrounds but still became good friends. And I loved the comparisons between the Brit's and the two American girls, Paige and Kendra. 

Another thing I thought was very cool about this book was Lauren Henderson's approach to the issue of negative body image in teenage girls. All the girls in Flirting in Italian are so different in appearance: Violet is short and curvy; Kelly is a little heavier, redheaded and freckled; Paige is blond and tan but built more like a professional volleyball player; and Kendra is African American and poised and elegant. Each of the girls has their own issues with their appearance, Kelly being the most insecure and Kendra being the most self assured, but it's the stick thin Italian girls, like the horrible Elisa, daughter of the program's head, that are actually looked down on by the Italian boys. More than once Luca and the other boys describe Elisa and the other Italian girls as being too thin, and not in a good way. I really like how this was written into the book, because as most of us ladies know, negative body image is real problem for young girls (and heck, some old girls, too) today. It was nice to see a variety of body shapes and sizes featured in this cast, and none of them were supermodel perfect in any way.

I also liked how the Italian language was incorporated into the book. As the girls are learning the language, various Italian words and phrases were included and I loved trying to decipher just what that catty bitch Elisa was saying and what the song lyrics Luca quoted to Violet meant. Plus I learned some nifty Italian curse words if I'm ever in need:)

There are some occurrences in the book that I found were a bit over the top and the book does end very abruptly. Like end of a television episode abrupt (to be continued next time...) but knowing, as I do now, that this is only the first book in the series, I'm okay with it. I do hope that book two, entitled Following in Love in Italy, will explore more in depth Violet's connection to the mysterious painting and the di Vespiri family because I think the potential for a great story is there:)

4/5 Stars 

Check out Lauren Henderson's website here.

Check out some other reviews of Flirting in Italian:


  1. I didn't know this was a planned series either! Interesting, that's unusual to see in contemp YA. But yeah, it can be alarming once you near the end if you're thinking it's a stand-alone...sounds like marketing didn't quite do its job there! Is at least part of the mystery solved in this first book? It sounds frustrating to have the romance de-rail the mystery plot.

    Nice to hear that body image is addressed here in a positive way - in a YA book all about a summer trip to Italy, I wouldn't have expected that!

    1. And the funny thing is, I did like the romance part of the book, a lot in fact, I just wish that mystery plot had been more prevalent as well.

      Seeing such a wide range of body sizes, and seeing how the girls regarded their own appearance and compared it to others, seemed pretty true to life in my opinion. I liked that authenticity.

  2. Its weird that its a trilogy but I'm glad you pointed it out, I'm quite certain I would have felt the same way as you. I think I will wait until the second book at least is out before I read this. It sounds good, especially the setting, and I definitely want to read it!

  3. I had this on NetGalley but missed it before it was archived :( I was so disappointed because...well, Italian! Contemporary! Art! Romance! All things I love! Someone did warn me that it was part of a series though, which I was SUPER glad to find out before reading - that would have definitely screwed me up if I'd gone into it first. I lot that Italian is used in the book! I've run across a few books where they're set in foreign countries, but don't use any of the language beyond 'hello' or simple things like that. Even though I've taken Italian for 6 years in school/university, I'm rusty on it and the curse words, so that'll be nice to pick up on ;) Thanks for an honest review!

  4. Nice review. I couldn't agree more - the pacing wouldn't have been nearly so troublesome had the summary or something indicated it was a trilogy!


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