Book Review: "Italian for Beginners" by Kristin Harmel

Thirty-four-year-old Manhattan accountant Cat Connelly has always lived life on the safe side. But after her little sister gets married, Cat wonders if she has condemned herself to a life of boredom by playing by the rules. She decides to take a chance for once, accepting an invitation to spend a month with an old flame in Italy. But her reunion with the slick and gorgeous Francesco is short-lived, and she finds herself suddenly alone in Rome. Now, she must see if she has the courage to live outside the lines for the first time - and to face a past she never understood. It will take an unexpected friendship with a fiery Italian waitress, a whirlwind Vespa tour of the Eternal City with a handsome stranger, and a surprise encounter with an old acquaintance to show Cat that life doesn't always work out the way you expect, but sometimes you have to have fall in order to fly.

Ah Italy. Land of pasta, gelato, and rich cultural history. It is a place I would love to visit but haven't had the chance to. However this book is the next best thing. Through Cat's adventures I got explore a side of Italy that I've never been to before. I enjoyed seeing her grow and change for the better as a person. I also cringed and hurt for her as well during scenes such as the Francesco episode or the scenes during the wedding. This book is so much more than just a scenic travelogue through Italy. It's the story of a woman who's been hurting for so long, finally coming to terms with her past and her true feelings.

Written in a light, yet meaningful tone, Cat's story takes us from the hustle bustle of New York to the peaceful calm of the quieter side of Rome. We see her go from a failed relationship to another yet hoping that she will eventually find true love. I really enjoyed meeting all the characters and seeing into their lives. The best parts were the comparisons to Roman Holiday and I loved the trip that Marco takes Cat on.

Since I've never actually traveled to Europe before and my experience with Europeans in America has been limited, it seems from this book and others I've read that Europeans come off as being very condescending towards Americans. I know in this book there's a special case as to why the treatment was given, but it just seems like this is a common thought process or either is a stereotype.
I wasn't a fan of Cat's younger sister. I was hoping that eventually she would realize that she's been too dependent on Cat and needs to let go but unfortunately it doesn't happen. I think the problem is that Cat mothered her too much and she then became too sheltered and is the type of person that has everything in life going for her. I really was not happy that she borrowed money from Cat and not once was it ever mentioned that she paid her back. I was hoping that Cat would say no to her but alas that was not meant to be. I just didn't like her sister's attitude to her throughout the book. It just felt like Cat had given up her life for her family and they couldn't care less.

I really felt like I traveled to Italy with this book. The descriptions of the city and the people brought the book to life. I could feel myself riding the back of a Vespa, eating fresh pizza, taking pictures alongside Cat. This is a total armchair traveler and perfect for those days when you want to escape and get away. The writing is irresistible and the characters are easy to fall in love with. I would suggest reading this book, along with some fresh pasta and wine and then watching Roman Holiday for dessert. This book is probably going to be one of my favorite chick lit novels for 2009. VERY HIGHLY recommended.

Italian for Beginners by Kristin Harmel is published by 5 Spot (2009)


  1. You and me both -- I'm dying to visit Italy! In the meantime, I read as many "Italian" books as possible to feel as if I'm there. This one sounds perfect!

  2. Great review. I can't wait to read this book. That stereotype of Europeans isn't true - we've known lots through the years (Carl works for a company based in France) and some are condescending and some are not - just like people from everywhere else.

  3. This is definitely going on my TBR list. I also heard that Europeans were rude to Americans, but when I traveled there a few years ago, I didn't find that to be the case. They didn't treat me any different than I'm treated here.

  4. I added this to my wish list last week after reading another review - you've just confirmed it, I have to read this!

  5. I think this book looks wonderful!

  6. Italy is on my wish list for travel and this sounds great! I have always been treated with kindness and respect in Europe and the UK. I think you get back what you give.

    And congrats on your BBAW short list nom.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as well - made me want to go back to Italy! Great review!

  8. I've never been to Italy :(

    This books sounds fun (I like the retro cover, too)

    Pasta, wine and a book - good combo!


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