Reviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Based on some of Kristin Harmel’s own adventures in romantic Italy, Italian for Beginners is the tale of one woman’s journey of self-discovery. After an embarrassing incident at her younger sister’s wedding, Cat Connelly’s romantic luck seems to be changing for the better. Unfortunately her perfect date with restaurant owner Michael Evangelisti ends in disaster and Cat finds herself ready for a change of scenery. With the “help” of her nosy co-worker, Cat spontaneously books a flight overseas to Rome, planning to ignore the rules that have always dictated her safe and organized life.

After arrangements to stay with her ex-lover Francesco fall through, Cat finds herself on her own in Rome. An unexpected friendship develops between Cat and Michael’s friend Karina, who graciously offers Cat a place to stay for the rest of her trip. Before she knows it, Cat finds herself re-creating scenes from “Roman Holiday” with handsome and gentlemanly Marco, who owns a restaurant not far from Cat’s temporary residence. With Marco’s help, Cat begins to come to terms with her past and embrace her own.

Italian for Beginners is written as a first person narrative; as a result, much of Cat’s story is summarized for the reader rather than shown through dialogue between interacting characters. This style of writing was used for several scenes where dialogue and descriptions of the characters’ body language would have made a more powerful impact on the reader.

Many of the scenes show Cat enjoying fine Italian cuisine with other characters; additionally, both of Cat’s romantic prospects own Italian restaurants. It is over these meals that Cat has her most revealing and honest conversations. Italian for Beginners is not a novel to be read with an empty stomach; Harmel offers mouth-watering descriptions of the dishes Cat consumes, and even includes five of her own favorite recipes with the novel.

Most importantly, Italian for Beginners is an homage to Audrey Hepburn’s famous movie “Roman Holiday”. Readers who have seen the movie will appreciate the references, but might find them slightly overused; those who have not seen the movie may find themselves eager to see the film which inspired many of the comedic scenes in the novel. Unlike Hepburn’s Princess Ann, Cat just may find that happily ever after.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.