A Florentine Romance

K Stone

3.5 Stars

September 19, 2012

I have been to Florence, Italy twice in my life. This book I hoped to transport me a third time. The disappointment I did not feel upon either of my trips to Florence, visited me upon completing this book.

The Girl in the Glass has two, perhaps three, points of view (POV). Told mainly from Meg’s POV, there’s short insertions of Nora Orsini’s (a direct Medici descendent, who lived a few hundred years ago) and Sofia’s memoir (a present-day woman who claims to be a direct Medici descendent) POV scattered throughout. I could have done without either Nora’s or Sofia’s. In fact, both distracted from the plot and served only to expound upon a theme that I found less than enriching.

Essentially, the plot boils down to: Meg is an editor for a company that publishes travel novels and one of her writers inquires about her interest in a memoir on behalf of an acquaintance of his, Sofia. Despite some reservations, and the fact that her company doesn't take on memoirs, Meg agrees to read a couple of chapters, and is “enchanted” by the writing. Meanwhile, Meg’s father, a deadbeat dad who abandoned her mother to marry another woman and was never really a part of Meg’s life after that, has never fulfilled his promise to take her to Florence, where her novel-writing friend and his sister live, as well as this “enchanting” memoir writer who claims to be a descendent of the Medici’s. All of a sudden, Meg’s dad decides to make good on his promise and tells her that it’s “looking good” for them to go to Florence. She wants to believe him (like she always does), even though he’s rescinded on this promise dozens of times before. So she starts looking up plane tickets, etc., and tells him her findings. But she gets no response from him, actually can’t get in contact with him at all, until her step-mother calls and accuses Meg of hiding him. It turns out her father has gone missing--with his wife’s $50K inheritance. Within days, a plane ticket for Florence shows up on her front porch, and Meg, convinced that her father will be there, jumps on the plane. Oddly, everyone she knows seems to support this wild idea to get her dream trip, even though it’s probably a ticket with “stolen” funds. Thus Meg ends up in Florence, and on Sofia’s doorstep.

I’m glad I made it to this point, because this is where the novel actually started for me. Unfortunately, unless I really want to ruin it for everyone reading this review, I’d better stop, and talk about what I did and did not like about this novel--not necessarily in that order.

The main character was not particularly admirable, but a wishy-washy, wimpy girl who couldn’t make up her mind about anything and could hardly do one thing on her own without familial or friendly encouragement and support. Instead of a strong female protagonist, the main character was waiting for her knight to rescue her. There are times where I don’t mind that type of book, but this time, the idea of the character waiting for her white knight, and never drawing on her own strength did not feel cute and enchanting, but irritating.

The subplot with her father was underdone, in my opinion. Although a critical part of Meg’s adult personality, and a catalyst to both her desire for and her eventual trip to Florence, he never reached his full potential as a character. Thus, on the last page, I was left disappointed. In fact, I was disgusted with the last pages and the author’s apparently half-hearted attempt to wrap up lose ends. It felt incomplete and superficial. It continued the theme that I could not agree with, nor fully enjoy.

Now the main theme: believe what you want, for whatever makes you happy (even if incorrect), is what you should believe in and focus your life around. This was the thread that held all three main female characters together. It was a thread that I wished I could yank out of the book completely and entirely, I disliked it that much. Granted, there were consequences for that behavior, but not to a level where it seemed the author was disagreeing with that idea.

Now that I’ve vented about the things I did not like, let me go on about what I did: The book was well written and cohesively put together (father subplot aside). The majority of it was set in Florence, Italy, another huge plus, as I’ve visited twice and loved it both times.

An aside on the setting: Florence, Italy is one of those iconic places that can rarely, if ever, be described aptly. Sometimes, it’s better to just not try. And that is the route that this author seemed to take. Instead of attempting to explain the scenery to the reader, names and places were thrown in that I only recognized because I’ve been there. I was only able to picture them, because I’ve been there. Although I acknowledge this difficulty with describing a place like Florence, I still felt disappointed that the setting was not described to the point where I could see, taste, and feel it. It felt almost as if she expected the setting to breathe life into her characters, instead of having her characters breathe life into the setting.

The minor characters I enjoyed a lot more than the main characters. The Italian characters had great life and personality, as well as some of the American characters. They were what kept me reading--more so than the main characters, who just continued to grate on my nerves with their inability to believe the truth and make their own decisions. It seemed like, instead of being a victim of their circumstances, they took the extreme view of rejecting those circumstances and denying that they ever occurred. I couldn’t admire that reaction in anyone, even less in adults, who are supposedly reasonable people. Every woman featured was weak and dependent on others: Nora on the Nurse, Sofia on her Medici background, and Meg on her parents. It seemed almost like every main woman character was an echo of the other, so there was a lot of repetition in reading each one.

Now, I still gave this book three stars. I still finished this book. So despite the things that irritated me, I was enchanted enough with the plot to read it and finish it.

The first quarter to one-third of the book was very slow, however, and I wish I could have opened the book around page 75 or so, because that was when it became a better read for me. The entire setup of Meg’s trip to Florence took too long, in my opinion, and the novel really didn’t start until she landed in Florence.

If you enjoy lighthearted novels with a romantic twist set in “exotic” places like Italy, this would be a good read for you. Despite my complaints about it, I did actually enjoy the majority of the read. The ending was a mixed bag for me, I wasn’t fully pleased with it, but it easily could have gone the other way. The author did manage to surprise me in a few places, which, I admit, is hard to do. In fact, in all the ways I had mentally deconstructed the first half of this novel, I still did not see the second half coming, so well done on that. Perhaps this book deserves about 3.5-3.75 stars...but I'll think about that one.

*I received an advance reading copy from Blogging for Books @ http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/bloggi....