Author: Sophie Kinsella
Overview from Goodreads:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of I Owe You One, an utterly delightful novel about a woman who ditches her dating app for a writer’s retreat in Italy–only to find that real love comes with its own filters.
Call Ava romantic, but she thinks love should be found in the real world, not on apps that filter men by height, job, or astrological sign. She believes in feelings, not algorithms. So after a recent breakup and dating app debacle, she decides to put love on hold and escapes to a remote writers’ retreat in coastal Italy. She’s determined to finish writing the novel she’s been fantasizing about, even though it means leaving her close-knit group of friends and her precious dog, Harold, behind.
At the retreat, she’s not allowed to use her real name or reveal any personal information. When the neighboring martial arts retreat is canceled and a few of its attendees join their small writing community, Ava, now going by “Aria,” meets “Dutch,” a man who seems too good to be true. The two embark on a baggage-free, whirlwind love affair, cliff-jumping into gem-colored Mediterranean waters and exploring the splendor of the Italian coast. Things seem to be perfect for Aria and Dutch.
But then their real identities–Ava and Matt–must return to London. As their fantasy starts to fade, they discover just how different their personal worlds are. From food choices to annoying habits to sauna etiquette . . . are they compatible in anything? And then there’s the prickly situation with Matt’s ex-girlfriend, who isn’t too eager to let him go. As one mishap follows another, it seems while they love each other, they just can’t love each other’s lives. Can they reconcile their differences to find one life together?
This is my fourth novel by this author as I’ve read her last three non-Shopaholic novels. This book was very clever and well-written. I liked her last one “I Owe You One,” and this one was even better.
We start with Ava (she is like Polly from Along Came Polly to the max) as she starts and stops new hobbies on a whim. She gets excited to do an aromatherapy course, but doesn’t finish, she wants to make products to sell on Etsy, but doesn’t follow through, she wants to do underwater basket-weaving and doesn’t learn how to weave (ok that last one isn’t part of the novel, but you get the picture of her as a character), etc. Her apartment is eclectic and cozy as it’s filled with all of her rescues – books, furniture, dog named Harold – and she is also a vegetarian. Her close-knit group of friends and her and in constant contact and will type messages every second of every day on WhatsApp if they’re apart (it’s very co-dependent, but it works in this story). She goes to a week-long writing retreat at a monastery on the Italian Coast (this place sounds amazing and I want to go there ASAP) to work more on her novel and this is where our story begins.
At the retreat, we meet “Dutch” (who later goes by his real name Matt) where our two lovebirds fall in love. They have a whirlwind romance during the retreat and it’s when they return to the UK that our characters now have to come back to reality and find a way to make the relationship work long-term in the real-world away from the seclusion of the retreat. Our two now have to find a way to be expats in their respective foreign countries – Ava-Land and Matt-Land. The both claim to not have deal-breakers, but they start to question themselves if they should start. Is love enough to keep a relationship going or are our polar opposites (Ava and Matt) not meant to be?
I have a love-hate relationship with Ava’s hypocrisy depending on the context. During the retreat, she has a “rival” and it was funny how Ava “judged” the other woman for staring at Dutch/Matt instead of paying attention at the instructor one minute yet she was guilty of the next. However, she was very judgmental when her friend filtered out vegetarians on her dating profile, yet she couldn’t deal with Matt not being one at first and she got offended when he ate meat. I know it was supposed to make conflict, but it seemed too much for Ava, a vegetarian, to claim to have no “filters” for dating, but dislikes Matt not being one and asks like this could be her first omnivore boyfriend when statistically (unless she did filter them out on her profiles which she claims she didn’t) she would’ve been with almost entirely omnivores/carnivores of some degree throughout her dating life.
My other issue is that through the majority of the novel Matt makes tons and tons of allowances for Ava, but she rarely is open-minded to consider Matt’s side of things. In fact, I highly disagree with the description that she’s open-minded (just because she tries out different possible career ventures does not mean she’s this way). I found her very close-minded where she constantly believed that her way was the best and only way. If you take her thinking Matt’s room is freezing, she wants the temperature raised to accommodate her needs whereas she doesn’t think of the possibility that Matt might be boiling in her warmer room – it doesn’t cross her mind. This might be something small, but, to me, it showed a lot about Ava’s character and as a person who likes a colder room and my partner likes it warmer – he can put on layers to make himself warmer, but there is only so much I can take off to make myself colder to make us both more comfortable. There are parts of this novel that try to make it seem as if Ava is growing, but aside from a few things, she stays relatively the same.
There are two things that I wish never made it into the novel. The first is an incident involving Harold (when you get to it, then you’ll know). It was completely unnecessary to drive the events to make x,y, z occur as the events would’ve played out the same without the incident occurring (think Raiders of the Lost Ark – the events would’ve had the same conclusion whether or not Indiana was there or not). The other involved Genevieve as one thing happens to her that doesn’t match the rest of the story at all and just seemed like a throw-away line to add to her part of the story. There were so many other directions the author could have gone that would’ve matched the rest of the novel.
Although those were all negatives to the story, I still loved this book and would happily re-read it as it is well-written and enjoyable. The novel is very believable and I found the couple having to truly work on their relationship very relatable. The friends are where this novel truly shines as they are very diverse in their personalities and you can see how each of them fit in to the story and each other’s lives. Our main two get pushed to the back-burner in some scenes as the friends take over in the reader’s mind because they are so interesting to read about. Overall, I loved reading this book and I found it very heart-warming and a good lesson that love is not always enough as you have to still work at any relationship to make it last.
**Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**