The Sweet Life
By Sharon Struth
Publisher: Kensington / Lyrical Press
Five years after her husband and three-year-old daughter were killed in an automobile accident that she herself survived, Mamie Weber has slowly accepted that she owes it to their memory to start living again. When Felix Carrol, a travel writer who writes as The Covert Critic, offers her the chance to substitute for him on a tour of Tuscany, it seems like the perfect opportunity to reclaim her former self and embrace life again. With the blessing of her boss at Atlas Publishing, she prepares to join the two-week tour, intending not only to write the review of the tour in Felix’s stead but also to challenge herself with some adventures on her hastily constructed bucket list.
Julian Gregory is employed by Wanderlust Excursions as a tour guide. He is committed to doing things by the rules, so he is irritated when Felix Carrol’s late arrival keeps the Woodstock Wanderers from departing at the appointed time. When a woman shows up claiming that she is replacing Felix but without the proper authorization, Julian has no intention of allowing her to join the group. But somehow the sadness in her eyes and the urging of the mellow Wanderers persuade the rule follower to become a rule breaker.
Over the next two weeks, Mamie will delight in the glories of Tuscany and experience adventures that include riding a scooter through the Italian countryside and riding in a hot air balloon, but her greatest adventure is opening her heart to Julian and the feelings he awakens in her. Julian has his own secrets and suffers from losses that have shaped his life. After a life of risk-taking, he wants to avoid risks. Can he open his heart and share himself as generously as Mamie dares do? And even if they overcome the obstacles imposed by their differences and their secrets, can two people who live on different continents find a way to stay connected after the tour?
This is a book that succeeds on two levels. First, reading The Sweet Life is a sensory experience as Struth evokes the sights and smells and tastes of Tuscany and the warmth and vitality of Julian’s Italian family and friends. Second, Mamie and Julian are interesting, complex characters whom the reader will find sympathetic and engaging. The wounds inflicted by their losses are deep and serve as a reminder that grief does not operate according to a common timetable. Even as Mamie begins to live again, triggers can overwhelm her with heartbreak. Much of Julian’s life has been shadowed by the deaths of his parents. As these two gradually begin to trust each other, the reader will root for them to triumph over their fears. However, romance readers should be warned that the conclusion is not a traditional HEA.
Beppe, the bus driver, and the Woodstock Wanderers are delightful and add a pleasing touch of levity to the group. Readers who belong to the Woodstock Generation or who are fans of classic rock will enjoy all the musical references. I also appreciated the cross-generational friendship that developed between Mamie, who is thirty-nine, and her tour mates.
Struth excels at creating dimensional characters, vivid settings, and thematic explorations of secrets and trust. She does so again in this introduction to a new series. I give this one a definite thumbs up.
Link to Rafflecopter tour giveaway.
Link to tour schedule.