4 star, YA

Review: Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Series: Love & Gelato #3

Santorini felt like an island holding its breath. As if it were keeping in a secret…

Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

What was lost is now found.

A slightly different take from her other travel inspired novels, Jenna Evans Welch takes us to the beautiful island of Santorini in this latest novel, Love & Olives. While we still get the chance to explore around and “see” the different tourist attractions here, it’s a lot less focal to the story. The main attraction is this: a hunt for the lost city of Atlantis.

That’s right, folks. They are searching for Atlantis. Liv’s father abandoned her when she was a child to go in search of his lifelong dream of Atlantis, and now she finds herself on Greek soil for the first time to join her father in his excursion. Sounds like there’s bound to be lots of intense emotions flying around on this vacation, hmm?

What I loved about this book is their relationship. You have someone who wanted to change everything about herself from the lonely daddy’s girl who was left behind, but now she finds it hard to hold onto that version of herself when he is right there. And her father, Nico, does not seem to always fit into the mold of aloof father who wants nothing to do with her or her life. Their interactions are complex, emotional, and at times hard to get through because you just know as the reader there is more than meets the eye here.

I liked that this relationship, in all its ups and downs, takes its time to figure things out after years of nonexistent communication. It definitely helps that the backdrop of this family reunion is in Oia, a beautiful place I had the privilege to visit before.

And as with any contemporary book, there’s romance in the air. Although Liv left a boyfriend back home (thankfully I don’t think we’re meant to like him because he frankly seems like a major jerk), I’m glad she never actually cheats on him with this new love interest. That would’ve made me like her less. However, this Greek boy was the perfect salve to help with the friction caused by Liv and her father. Plus, he’s handy with the multitude of olive fun facts (which I didn’t know I wanted?). Together, they set out to do the rather impossible: film their adventure for Atlantis.

Maybe this one point will make you scoff more but it ties into the beauty behind Liv’s own story. Like her messed up relationship with her dad, maybe something that was once thought lost for good, left behind and forgotten, can be found again. And with every Jenna Evans Welch novel, it’s not the traveling part that sucker punches you (although I’m left yearning to go there right after), it’s the emotional depths she takes her characters through the process of self growth and reflection.

I docked off one star rating because of its length. It’s a rather longer than average contemporary read and at times in the middle, it really felt the sluggish pace. But I promise you, if you stick with it, Love & Olives may be your favorite travel contemporary yet.

Overall Recommendation:

Love & Olives is Jenna’s latest travel contemporary and this time it’s in the beautiful island of Santorini. While we can admire crystal blue waters and the wonderful white buildings it’s renown for, Liv is there to tackle her biggest emotional problem: a reunion with her father who abandoned her for Atlantis. That’s right, on a mystical hunt for the lost city. There’re still gorgeous tourist sites and fun road tripping feel, but at the heart of this book is their relationship and its complexities as they face the elephant in the room: why did he leave her all those years ago? Come for the travel fun, leave with your heart feeling lighter with the beauty found within its covers.

P.S. since there are so many lush descriptions of Oía and Fira, I thought I’d post some reminiscent pictures I took there when I went to Santorini back in 2016. Enjoy! (And don’t hate me if you now want to go there more than before)

The (in)famous donkeys that are an option for carrying tourists up from the shore to cliffs where the famous buildings are
The first sight upon arriving at the top of the cliffs of Santorini
A beautiful building (the first we saw that had the famous blue roof)
Hunting for the iconic blue roofs – there are far fewer than I was led to believe
An example of the narrow streets that traverse the area. I was in love with all the cute store fronts and it’s easy to imagine a little bookstore owned by an Atlantis hunter like in this novel
The view out to sea – this area was also super popular for wedding photos & I had to get out of the way for a couple or two
See? Very rare blue roofs
Mostly, I just love the beautiful contrasts of the white walls and blue to show off Greece’s colours. The sky was a gorgeous blue that day for us – I of course got sunburnt but oh well

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