A Portrait of Emily Price
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2016)
Genre: Inspirational Contemporary Romance
"Piccolo. The restaurant matched its name - a tiny and delicate white stucco building with a short, neat brick walk leading from its front door to the parking lot. Its wilted green awning and window boxes filled with equally droopy flowers made it look worn and comfortable - completely at odds with the man flashing his eyes between his watch and me."
Emily Price works for an insurance company doing restoration work. Since she was a young girl she has loved to fix things and became fascinated with the art of restoration. Her father took her to the Art Institute of Chicago and rather than look at the paintings, she followed a tour group called "Maintaining the Masters". Her company has sent her from Chicago to Atlanta to do some restoration work at a home that was damaged by fire. The company has also rented a workstation for her at Atlanta Conservation, Inc., owned by an Italian man named Joseph. As soon as she arrives in Atlanta, Joseph takes her to a restaurant owned by his aunt and uncle. While at the restaurant, she is introduced to Joseph's brother, Ben. Emily finds herself immediately drawn to Ben, but tells herself that is silly. She has been sent here to do a job, not meet a man. Besides, after her last relationship, meeting a man is the last things she wants to do. But Ben is different. He has depth, he is caring, he is handsome...
Ben Vassallo has only recently arrived in Atlanta from Italy. Ben came to visit his brother, Joseph. It was only after he arrived that he met his aunt and uncle. Ben has worked as a chef in his family's restaurant in Italy. When his aunt and uncle meet him, they pounce on him, begging him to help them revitalize their restaurant, Piccolo. Ben agrees. But Joseph is skeptical. Ben has always been a dreamer, eager to jump in and help, but rarely bringing a project to completion. But, it has been a long time since Joseph has seen his brother, maybe he has changed. Something happened in Italy that caused Joseph to leave his family home more than ten years ago. Ben insists that he wants to help. Can Ben turn the restaurant around? Will he lose interest and leave things worse than they were before?
This story is beautifully written, filled with deep characters, interesting work and delicious food. Families are complicated and that is definitely a theme in this story. Joseph and Ben's Italian family are very loyal to one another. However, there are secrets from the past that have caused division and hurt within the family. Emily and Ben's relationship is magical and I kept expecting that something would come between them. Something does come between them, but their deep devotion to one another is what gets them through. Emily is a fixer and Ben is a helper. Emily is unsure of herself, she doesn't think she is good at what she does and doesn't have the confidence to get better. Ben has confidence in his ability, but just wants to be trusted.
Emily and Joseph's jobs as restorers are fascinating and a world I knew nothing about. Being able to take something that has been damaged and make it whole again must be very satisfying.
The descriptions of the Italian countryside make you feel like you are there.
"It was filled with light and color and a texture completely foreign to me. The landscape rose and fell in gentle hills. And every now and then the highway cut through a mountain, rather than rising over it as they do in the US, and we emerged from the tunnel into sunlight on the edge of a valley dipping below us, bathed in green - often with a beautiful medieval walled village perched above. Cypress trees, pine trees, olive trees, vineyards, and pastures sloped all around us."
The food descriptions were equally amazing.
"Bread is life in Italy. Papa makes it. All kinds. And Mama makes pasta so light it rises to your mouth. Pizza is the form of bread left for me - a way to make the restaurant different, mine, prove my hands are good."
"The waiter laid four broad white plates before us. Each was topped with a different pizza. The bit of crust I could see on the edges was light and airy, and the toppings stunning: one with arugula and prosciutto; another, figs and mascarpone; a third, sausage, duck eggs, and pecorino? And the last, all green with who knows what. And the smell? We were enveloped in Italy."
It took me a couple of chapters to get into the story, but once I did I would often find myself completely unaware of what was going on around me and felt very jarred when I had to come back to reality.
If you are looking for a book that takes you away from it all, is full of deep characters, beautiful scenery, delicious food and the love of family, I recommend this book.