It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for Rome for the Summer by Lynne Shelby, and sharing my review: published by Headline Accent on 23rd June, it’s now available for kindle and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve mentioned before that Lynne’s gorgeous books really have become part of my summer. I thoroughly enjoyed The One That I Want (you’ll find my review here), and There She Goes (review here), and The Summer of Taking Chances was the most perfect summery romance set in a lovely location (you can read my review again here). But I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Greek Islands, and I think Love on Location might just have been my favourite so far – an excellent and well-told story, wonderful locations, well drawn characters, a strong and believable romance, and the sheer fascination of film-making on location (you’ll find my full review here).
But I was thrilled when I spotted Sandy Barker’s one-liner about Lynne’s latest – “Art, history, intrigue, travel and romance – this book has it all…” – and my first thought was “I’m going to love this one”…
Kate Harper has always loved the painting that has hung in her parents’ dining room for years, never suspecting that it is worth a fortune. When her art dealer boyfriend cheats her family out of the proceeds of the painting’s sale, she is left devastated and alone.
Kate discovers that two hundred years ago, the girl in the painting, Charlotte Browne, ran off to Rome with the artist who painted her portrait, but her eventual fate is unknown.
Hoping to uncover the mystery of what happened to Charlotte, Kate seizes the chance of a summer job in Rome, where she strikes up a friendship with artist Jamie Taylor. As they explore the city and start to piece together the surprising secrets of Charlotte’s life, Kate finds herself wondering if a summer in Rome can mend a broken heart…
Summer is always the perfect time to read a travel romance, and I remember very much enjoying my time on the Greek island of Kyros when I read the author’s previous book last year. But I also really liked her London-based books, where she showed a wonderful attention to detail as her characters explored the capital, creating vividly drawn settings that were far more than just a backdrop for the romance. And I’m delighted to report that she’s done it again. When I finished this lovely book, I really felt I’d been on a thoroughly enjoyable city break to Rome – it’s a long time since I visited in person, and she does a quite remarkable job of recreating the sights and that whole feeling of excitement and being part of history that I remember so well being an important part of my own holiday.
And if there’s one thing I might love even more than a perfectly written travel romance, it’s a well-handled dual timeline story, this time told through interspersed extracts from… but no, let me backtrack a little and catch you up on some of the story. You’ll have picked up the bare bones from the synopsis – the painting of “the Italian girl” Kate had always loved, a fixture in her parents’ dining room for as long as she can remember, shown to her rather slimy art dealer boyfriend who takes the opportunity to make a personal profit and cheat her family out of its true value. He’s (understandably…) not her boyfriend for much longer – but finding herself jobless after a rather dramatic confrontation, and now knowing more about the story behind the painting (the love affair between the artist and his mistress Charlotte Browne, their flight to Rome, and her subsequent abandonment – an unfinished story, rather lost in history), she grasps the unexpected opportunity to work for the summer as a tour guide in the English House where they made their home.
The book follows Kate over her time there – her explorations, her discoveries, the friendships she makes, her attempts at creating her own art, and the tentative beginnings of a romance with Jamie, the English House’s artist-in-residence, who helps her piece together the clues that will complete Charlotte’s story. It’s a lovely contemporary story, beautifully told, with a few interesting twists and turns along the way – the characters are universally likeable (other than one distinctly unwelcome visitor), and the romance steadily built into everything I wanted it to be in a heartwarming and very believable way.
But I also loved the way Charlotte’s story was explored and ultimately resolved – the pieces of the jigsaw slowly falling into place, both stories wrapped around each other. There’s a really nice balance to the whole book, neither thread taking over – the historical mystery is perfectly balanced within the lighter romance that surrounds it.
And I very much enjoyed the art – Kate’s own efforts helped along by Jamie’s guidance, and the elements of art and architectural history that are introduced into the story with the lightest of touches. It’s rare to come across a story where the historical and present-day elements sit so comfortably together – while this might not be a book for a real history buff, I thought it was all quite perfectly done. There are nice parallels between the two women’s stories too, gently handled – this book really is the work of a very accomplished author, and its many elements made this a story I thoroughly enjoyed. A really lovely read – and one I’d certainly recommend to all.
About the author
Lynne Shelby writes contemporary women’s fiction and romance. Her debut novel, French Kissing (re-released in e-book as Meet Me In Paris) won the Accent Press and Woman magazine Writing Competition, and her fifth novel, Love On Location, was shortlisted for a Romantic Novelists’ Association Award – the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy. When not writing or reading, Lynne can usually be found at the theatre or exploring a foreign city with her writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband and has three adult children who live nearby.