Cat Connelly lives a perfectly safe - if boring - existence. The daughter of an Irish father and an Italian mother, she's spent her life being who she thought others wanted her to be: organized, responsible, and always there to cook, clean, or dole out money in a bind. She works at a New York accounting firm for the money and health benefits, but her true love is digital photography. She has serious issues due to her mother's lengthy absence during her adolescence, and at thirty-five, she's still single and has serious commitment issues. She hasn't taken a vacation in years, but after a very public humiliation by her senile Irish grandmother, Cat ends up in Rome, a city she last visited as an exchange student thirteen years ago.
Once in Rome, Cat struggles to understand what's keeping her in the Eternal City after a series of unplanned disasters derail her plans. It's certainly not Francesco, her former flame. The handsome Marco has the annoying habit of calling Cat "Princess Ann" and making constant references to Roman Holiday even though she's never seen the movie (Cat's grandparents were extras, and even named her mother Audrey Hepburn Verdicchio), but there's little action on the romantic front. And Cat's afraid to contact her Roman family, whom she hasn't heard from since her mother's death nearly two decades ago.
Over the course of four weeks, Cat makes peace with the ghosts that haunt her. At the same time, she rediscovers the timeless charms of everyday life in Rome, dodging Italian stallions and eating like a princess, capturing slices of everyday life through the lens of her Panasonic DMC-FZ50 10.1MP Digital Camera with 12x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom (Black). Harmel turns the narrative into a glowing travelogue, a sort of off-the-beaten-path Rome that's enchanting and refreshing. The descriptions of Karina's cooking are mouthwatering, and several recipes mentioned in the book are included: cheese fondue, rice-stuffed tomatoes, Margherita pizza, creamy risotto, and panzanella salad. Most are vegetarian (the risotto calls for chicken broth, but vegetable broth could easily be substituted), all are easy to prepare and perfect for a light summer meal on the patio (or piazza).
Some of the plot twists were a bit too convenient for my tastes, but overall this is a light summer read that's a perfect escape from daily life full of the sights, sounds, and smells of Italy. Much of the story centers on Roman Holiday (Special Collector's Edition), right down to the cover photo of an attractive brunette with an Audreyesque bob on the back of a Vespa, so if you haven't seen the film, it's the perfect accompaniment, along with a glass of Prosecco. There are romantic elements, but the real story is on Cat's self-discovery and the mystery of her mother. The title is a bit misleading, though; Cat doesn't speak Italian and doesn't really make an attempt to learn to do so.