Child of Nordic/Scottish parents, Violet—short, dark, curvy—feels like one of a kind until she discovers her uncanny resemblance to the Italian girl depicted in a 1790 portrait.
Tracing the painting’s provenance to Castello di Vesperi in Tuscany, Violet wheedles her mother into sending her to Villa Barbiano, whose formidable owner, Catia, offers summer instruction in the Italian language, art and art history. Joining Violet are working-class Kelly, another Brit, and two rich American girls: blonde Paige and African-American Kendra. Cultures clash, but strife recedes as the girls unite against the unspeakable Elisa, Catia’s daughter, in pursuit of hot Italian boys, beginning with Elisa’s brother, Leonardo. Violet sets her sights on handsome Luca, whose family owns Castello di Vesperi. The plot finally thickens halfway through, when Violet’s resemblance to Luca’s family is discovered and their burgeoning romance interrupted by attempts on her life. Slapdash execution, an undisciplined, rambling style and often-senseless plot (why doesn’t plucky Violet simply ask her doting mother if she’s adopted?) mark this series opener from the author of the Scarlet Wakefield mysteries. Fortunately, Violet's character eventually develops: Abandoning her generically breathless persona, Violet morphs into a funny, caustic observer, comparing and contrasting teen cultures and mores—American, British, Italian.
For readers willing to abandon plot logic and go with the flow, there are compensations. (Mystery romance. 12 & up)