Violet Routledge is shaken when she discovers that she strongly resembles the subject of a portrait hanging in Sir John Soane’s museum. When she learns that the painting was once located in the Castello di Vesperi in Tuscany, she makes the decision to study abroad for the summer, joining a small group of girls who have signed up to study art, culture, painting, dancing, and more under the tutelage of a local Italian woman. The fourteenth century villa where she will live turns out to be beautiful, and the other girls are different, but nice. There are only two things Violet isn’t really prepared for - her attraction to a gorgeous Italian boy named Luca, and the fact that her resemblance to that portrait will put her life in danger.
Flirting in Italian is the first installment in a new trilogy by Lauren Henderson. (She also wrote the Scarlett Wakefield mysteries, which ended in 2011 with Kiss of Death.) I had trouble getting into the Scarlett Wakefield books, possibly because the series begins with a death, but found no such trouble here. I knew from hearing Henderson read a few years ago, that her prose was very poetic, and her kissing scenes extremely original, with not a cliche to be found, but this book really brought those aspects of her talent to the forefront.
The story really bridges two genres. About half the time, it’s a mystery, complete with secret passages and unexpected evildoers. The other half of the time, it’s a romance novel, where Violet tries to reconcile her logical and rational side with the side that desperately wants Luca all to herself. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it romantic suspense, since the mystery and love story aren’t 100 percent intertwined, but the book has that same tone and atmosphere.
For the most part, Henderson does a great job of handling the various cultures and languages that are such a big part of her story. Violet and one her housemates are both English, as is Henderson, so I think their dialogue seemed the most natural and the least forced. The two American characters in the story did seem somewhat stereotypical at certain points, but their accents, too, seemed mostly on point, except for one moment where one of them used the word clever in a decidedly British way. The way Henderson infuses the Italian language into the story, mostly without translating, is also a really nice addition to the atmosphere of the novel. I felt completely immersed in the Tuscan way of life. I think my only issue was the way in which the characters were sometimes compartmentalized according to their country of origin. I wasn’t sure how much of the Italian culture was authentic, and how much was just a stereotype.
This book will delight Henderson’s established fans, but will also appeal to readers who have loved Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss. It’s also a nice read-alike for some of Sarah Dessen’s books, but only for readers who also like a bit of mystery and suspense.
Flirting in Italian ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, since it is only the first of three planned books, but the end of the ARC already lists the title of the second book as Following In Love in Italian, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we know what happens next. Flirting in Italian was published yesterday, June 12, 2012.
I received a digital ARC of Flirting in Italian from Random House via NetGalley.