The cover was irresistible so I selected The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino as my latest 'chick-lit' type novel. I found it a light-weight easy page turner geared to escapist romance readers and there's nothing wrong with that. It follows the tried and true recipe which has given Pellegrino a readership niche in a romance novel sub-genre that blends the traditional culture and food of Italy with the promise of an unlikely holiday love affair. Well, how irresistible is that! Worked for me!
I have flicked through Pellegrino novels before but this time the language, appeal and structure lent itself to a younger market but I think there were too many adult themes for it to be graded YA. As a mature adult, I certainly found it interesting, if not challenging. Whilst it lacks the zap, action and feistiness of contemporary ‘chick - lit’ it provides a sincere and pleasurable love story for teens poised and hopeful on the brink of an independent life. It is laced with the excitement of early adventures that include holidays overseas, thinking about future options and of course tentative encounters with the opposite sex (but without any explicit detail).
The themes of The Villa Girls are family unity, loyalty and love seen from several perspectives.
I think the author handled conflict and suspense well to build the tension and plot. I adore the warmth and culture of the two Italian families that carry the storyline and reader along. Meals, recipes and hospitality are an intrinsic part of Italian life and Pellegrino's writing, so it is these colourful descriptive interludes that worked best for me.
Whilst the four villa girls - Rosie, Addolorata, Lou and Toni - are all drawn into the overseas ventures, most of the chapters revolve around the parentless and vulnerable Rosie befriended by Addolorata and the Merlinetti family. Her experiences with them at home in London and at Little Italy, the family restaurant, are charming. Chef and Dad, Beppi Merlinetti is a memorable figure and threatens to run away with the book.
The most rounded character in the novel is Enzo, heir to the Santi Olive Estate in Southern Italy. Chapters backgrounding the traditional rituals undertaken on the estate and his relationship with his Nonna (grandmother) were thoughtfully rendered giving insights into the at times rigid expectations demanded of him. These fuel his desire for escape which ultimately peaks in an unexpected love affair with a holiday visitor, an English photographer.
I wanted a quick, undemanding read when I chose The Villa Girls and it was definitely that. The story didn't disappoint, but I admit the author had me entranced towards the end. My main source of nourishment came from the wonderful array of food presented. The reason for this is that Pellegrino is obviously Italian and returns to Italy from her home in New Zealand on a regular basis.
So pick up The Villa Girls if you love fraught romance, Italian wine and food and family interaction with a difference.
There's a great Q and A with the author here.
L'Aussie's Verdict: 8/10