Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. When Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family, however, is another matter…

This is a fun and easy to get lost in novel.  There is just the right amount of angst, anger, history and romance to make for an enjoyable afternoon of reading.  Emily is likable, and you will find yourself cheering with her as she hits her high notes and wanting to hug her when everything seems to miss the mark.

Emily and Ben have a whirlwind courtship in Atlanta where they are both working on fixing things.  Emily, art that was damaged in a house fire and Ben, his aunt and uncle’s dated Italian restaurant.  Introduced to each other by Ben’s brother Joseph the two make an immediate connection.  Everything seems to be coming up sunflowers until Ben takes his new bride home to meet his family.

The village and family that Reay portrays made me want to pack my things and head straight to Italy to reinvent myself.  Her descriptions of places and people are detailed enough that you can almost imagine yourself sitting at the outdoor table at family dinner, or worshipping in a century old church.  This book is escapism at its best, which is incidentally one of the main themes of the book itself.

Reay also does a stellar job describing the detailed work of rescuing damaged art as well as showing us how important this is, not just for valuable paintings, but for everyday things that matter just as much.  In the process of restoring artworks at her new home as well as the village church, Emily uncovers her own latent talent as each layer of dirt and debris are removed.

The Vassallo family has had its ups, downs and identity crises over the years.  Their patriarch, Lucio, would like to see all fences mended before he dies and enlists Emily’s help.  Emily is, after all, a fixer of things.  At its heart, this is the story of a family who finally learns the value of unconditional love.  It is a lesson that I think we can all use from time to time.


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