Series: Love & Gelato #1
“I made the wrong choice.”
Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is go back home.
But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires her, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.
People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
You ever feel transported to the place your books take you, whether that be some fantastical land that exists entirely in a collective imagination or a place that you can literally touch and feel? Well, Love & Gelato has swept me off my feet to land safely on the grounds of an American Cemetery outside of Florence, Italy. I never wanted to travel more than right now (not a great thing to feel in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions).
There are so many things in my head and heart with this novel. It can be summarized in 3 parts.
Setting and Travel
Italy is a gorgeous place, and I wish I had the chance to visit its Tuscany charm or walk the big cities at my own pace. While this book is solidly a cute romantic story (more on this later), it also does an amazing job taking you to a place you may not have ever gone to in your life. I most certainly googled a bunch of locations and famous sights mentioned throughout, almost feeling that tangible sense like I can close my eyes and pretend I’m tasting gelato on my tongue and hear the sights of a crowded piazza. It shines through that the author has spent time in this beautiful country and know it by more than mere research. There is a deep sense of love and respect for this place that shines through every word describing the next sight Lina takes in.
But more than just the beauty of setting a story in Italy is the charm of where Lina lives. The American Cemetery for WWII soldiers fallen in Italy. I never knew such a thing existed. I would love to visit one day. While I empathized with Lina on having to stay in a cemetery of all places, especially after recently losing her mother to cancer, there is something whimsical and unique of being a part of history here that very much ties into the past of her father she has just met.
Romance galore! (And a dash of adventure)
What better place to really set a romantic story than the hills of Italy? And not only do we get to follow Lina’s navigation with her love life, we get the added pleasure of figuring out with Lina what happened between her mom and her dad. I mean, she had just learned her father lived in Italy and was foisted onto him after her mom passed away. It’s a grand old mystery – and more than a little awkward to just outright ask the guy you just met – and made more fun in the form of a journal her mom left behind for her.
I always love a good story with another time period paralleling what the protagonist has going on. As Lina learns the city, so she also sees it through her mother’s eyes in all the journal entries she left when she studied in Italy for a year. Figuring it out with a cute neighbour she met on one of her runs, you can just see that there will be something going on between them too. Lorenzo, aka Ren, was an added pleasure to have in the story, being our tour guide to the wonders of Florence and the Italian culture. The mission they go on to experience what Lina’s mom experienced and unwrapping who her mother was made it adventurous and fun as we traipsed Florence and parts of Italy with them.
I liked the little chemistry Ren and Lina got going here well enough, although at times it felt a bit rushed as the entire time span of the book was maybe a week or so. Tie in some expected miscommunication to add some romantic angst and it just felt like something seen and done before, with the exception that this guy is half-Italian and knows his way around his country.
In fact, the romance that really got my heart pumping was the slow unfolding of her mother’s romance with Howard. Lina, bless her heart, couldn’t read more than a few entries at a time because she missed her mother so much. I get that, but boy does she make us wait sometimes for the next entry in the journal. I want to see the fun parties you’re enjoying with your potential new classmates at the American International School of Florence or whatever, but I kinda want to see what’s up with everything your mom never told you! So the tension was there as we read slowly how their love story clearly did not have the happiest of endings, and to be honest, it broke my heart in all the best ways.
Yes, I said in all the best ways. I don’t normally do books that are heartbreaking but I loved the revelations unveiled here. They were sad, and we already know the outcome (mom and dad were separated by an ocean, clearly), but the details in between and the feelings felt were so real my heart ached. It’s the kind of love story and I was so here for it.
This leads me to the final thing I really enjoyed about this book.
Characters beyond the 2
So many YA books seem to focus so heavily on the protagonist and their love interest that everyone else are merely secondary or plot tools. Not so much in this case.
Yes, Lina and Ren were both developed enough. I liked them, but I can’t say I loved them. What saved this rating on this part was how much I learned to love Howard.
I don’t normally think much of protagonist parents. They’re the older people who just come and go when the story allows them to have a bigger part. But Howard was such a huge part of this story, and his character shone through. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like him or care to know him (who wants to think about their parents’ romance – failed or otherwise?), but for a YA novel it reminds us that those outside of the teen years have plenty of character and wisdom to impart. He was the protective father from the get-go, even upon meeting Lina and hearing some Italian boys were catcalling her on one of her morning runs. He was good-natured enough to let her go to late parties with potential classmates and sweet enough to try to bake her things even when he wasn’t good at it.
He was in love enough with her mother to have never married anyone else and take in this daughter whom he had never met before with open arms. If that isn’t love and the depth of a character, I don’t know what is. Clearly, Howard is my favourite character here and I’m so glad he was a big part of this wonderful story
What more can I say? Italy is a gorgeous backdrop for any romantic story, but Jenna Evans Welch did a really good job giving us the ability to explore this beautiful country through Lina (and her mother’s) eyes while balancing the mystery behind her mother’s time in this country. With a romance (or two!) that makes your heart melt, I think this story has a little something for anyone who enjoys a good contemporary.
Love & Gelato is a beautiful story about family and finding connections with others. Balancing the emotions of moving across the world to be with her father for the first time and the mystery surrounding her mother’s past experience in Italy that was hidden from her, we follow Lina as she navigates a foreign country, a new romance and unearthed secrets of her family. It’s lusciously written and will totally capture your heart. You’ll want to go see Italy yourself afterwards, and maybe just stay there.