Book Review – Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Welcome, book lovers! 

In this post, I discuss a sweet YA contemporary romance, Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. If you’d prefer to listen to this review, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. (This is a spoiler-free post.)

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Published: May 2016
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
GR Nominee for Best Young Adult Fiction (2016)
Format: Paperback
My Rating: Read It
My GR Rating: 3/5 ⭐

Book Synopsis: 

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything Lina knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Overall Opinion:

Overall, this is a really sweet, heartwarming coming-of-age story that touches on loss and grief. However, it took me quite a while to fully get invested in the story. The first 50-60% were pretty slow-pacing, and I contemplated DNFing it a few times. But I really wanted to give it a chance. I’m glad that I did because it did pick up pace and got more interesting. 

I know this was adapted into a movie, but it’s on Netflix, which we don’t subscribe to, so I wasn’t able to watch it. But if I could, I would’ve. I do wonder what the movie did with the story.

Book Details:

  • Length – I read the paperback version, which was 386 pages. The chapters were slightly longer than I prefer, but they aren’t too long. 
  • Writing Style – It’s a very easy, fluffy read that almost bordered on too juvenile for me. I read very much like a Young Adult (teenage) book. But it was descriptive, and it definitely transported me to Italy. First person from Lina’s POV.
  • Cover Art – It’s a really cute, simple cover. There’s a texture to the physical paperback that is unique to the touch.

What I Didn’t Like About It:

  • I had a really hard time with the insta-love because Lina arrives in Italy, meets Ren, and like a week later, she’s fallen in love with him. She barely knew him, and they didn’t spend that much time together. Plus, in the first part of the book, she was completely interested in another guy, Thomas, and she and Ren were just friends. And Ren had a girlfriend. But then of course, her feelings change as they go through certain situations together. It just didn’t feel realistic to me, and there weren’t enough moments of them together to convince me that they could fall so quickly for each other. So this is not only insta-love but also friends to lovers. But there weren’t any spicy scenes. It’s all clean. I mean, it’s a YA book!
  • Even though we explored Italy, there were not a ton of action sequences, and I wanted more plot elements. I wanted something to happen to make it more entertaining as a reader. I wanted more conflict, more tension, or some kind of buildup but we never really got that. It was a pretty slow and boring story and just lacked a credible plot. 
  • Howard, Linda’s new guardian/father, doesn’t play the dad role very well. She’s a sixteen year old girl in a foreign country who doesn’t speak the language. She’s very vulnerable, especially since she just lost her mom, and I feel like he could’ve shown her more compassion for what she just went through and helped her more in navigating this new life. Instead, he barely parents her, shows no discipline, and doesn’t know where she is half the time. It just felt like lazy parenting to me, and he wasn’t even trying that hard.  
  • I liked that Lina was given her mom’s old diary, but it was annoying that she only read a little bit at a time. I agree with other reviewers that if she would’ve just read the entire journal at once, she would’ve got answers to so many of her questions instead of running all over Italy trying to solve this mystery about her mom’s past. It felt very messy and unnecessary. It was a pretty obvious plot hole. 
  • I know this is a young adult book, but the characters were overdramatized and written in very teenage cliche terms. There were some very stereotypical traits and personalities of some of the side characters. Some of the dialogue was a little cringey as well. There wasn’t much depth to most of the characters. It felt very surface and shallow. 
  • There were Italian words sprinkled throughout the book, and even though I thought this could’ve been a nice, unique touch, it wasn’t – just for the sheer fact that I had no idea what the words or phrases meant. The author didn’t put the English translation in! So that got to be super annoying. I didn’t have the patience to stop reading, go to Google Translate, and look everything up. So if those words or phrases were used for emphasis, it was lost on me, and I’m sure most readers that don’t speak Italian.

What I Liked About It:

  • I enjoyed experiencing Italy as they ventured around the different cities. Lina also does some things with her dad, which also lets us see different parts of Italy. I also liked that her dad works at an American war cemetery. It was a unique twist on the setting. I think the descriptions of Italy and the food could’ve been more lyrical and lush, but from the descriptions that we did get, it was nice and immersive. It also gave a very summer vacation/summer vibes, so I definitely recommend reading this during the warmer months. 
  • Lina is a likable main character. She’s not that bratty or angsty, as you can get in some teen stories. There is a little bit but it didn’t turn me off to her. She’s just really lost and confused and in mourning from losing her mom. I could especially relate to her. I love my mom to cancer at 16. Not only is that age such a confusing, tender age in your life, but then to throw a life-changing event like the passing of a parent on top of it, it makes things even more difficult, complicated, and disorienting. Then for Lina, throw on top of all that a brand new country that she’s flying to where she doesn’t speak the language and meeting a guy that’s supposed to be her dad who hasn’t been in her life at all. So I had a lot of sympathy and empathy for her. She was going through it!
  • I did enjoy the friends to lovers trope in this story, but I wish we saw more scenes of Lina and Ren together to make the ending more believable. I didn’t feel like they spent enough time together, but the time that they did get to know each other was very cute and sweet. They felt like innocent teens that weren’t trying to get into trouble or do stupid teenage things. I liked how Ren helped Lina uncover her mom’s past. It felt like he really cared about her, and obviously, his feelings grew. 
  • Even though I saw the plot hole, it was fun to read through the journal and solve this “mystery” of Lina’s mom’s past with her. I appreciated that Lina got to know her mom more through the journal and figuring things out because her mom wasn’t there to share her story. Lina is forced to grow up and mature a bit as she learns about her family’s past and uncover things she didn’t know, and then learn to deal with the results in the present and accept things how they are now. 
  • Even though Howard’s character frustrated me for most of the book, I did enjoy watching them get closer and get to know one another, especially after some critical information that Lina finds out and has to talk to Howard about. It felt like he did care for Lina and wanted the best for her, but I would’ve liked to see him act more like a father and not a friend. He definitely has a lot of learning to do as a new parent.

Why You Should or Shouldn’t Read It:

Read this if you: 

  • Enjoy coming-of-age, YA stories
  • Want a light and fluffy read
  • Love cute, heartwarming, and clean YA romance books
  • Like the tropes: friends to lovers, insta-love, love triangle, grumpy (she)/sunshine (he)
  • Enjoy family secrets and trying to uncover a parent’s secret past
  • Are not triggered by loss and grief
  • Don’t mind that not a ton of action happens
  • Want to read the book before you watch the movie on Netflix
  • Want to get out of a reading slump

Many reviewers said this story reminded them of the book The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy, which is also a TV series on Amazon. I don’t think I’m going to read or watch that one, but if you like that series, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. 

This definitely felt like a story meant for younger audiences (teens and young 20s), not for mature readers (30+).

Final Thoughts:

I know a lot of people like this book, but it was very bland and mediocre for me. I like being highly entertained, so I need something to happen in stories. I need some action at some point, or I’ll be bored out of my mind. This was a bit boring for at least half of it. But once I got more into it, about 50-60% into the story, it did pick up and kept my interest more. I could also relate to Lina losing her mother at 16, so on an emotional level, it absolutely pulled at my heart strings and made me feel compassion and empathy for her. The love story was a bit far-fetched for me, but it was cute and sweet. And the ending was predictable but also satisfying. Also, it really made me want some gelato after reading it. 

I did buy the entire trilogy, but the other two books have different characters. I’m not sure if any of the books relate to each other, so I have two more in this series to read. I’m hoping they are a little better than this one.

If you’re interested in this book, you can purchase it here or the trilogy here.

*Please note that I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and a member of other affiliate programs. I may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made through links in this article.

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