Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: paperback, gift
Status: standalone, but Love & Luck is a companion

“I made the wrong choice.”

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 she 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 she 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.

Before I talk about the book at all, I just realized blogger is doing the squiggly red line IS THIS A WORD spellcheck thing to "gelato" and stfu, blogger. Gelato is totally a word, and a delicious one at that! How even dare you?!

selfie of 19 yo Mary on Ponte Vecchio
All pictures in this post are mine :)

Back to the review: Love & Gelato is seriously just as precious and sweet and delightful as I had hoped it would be. I had no idea going into it that it would be a bit sad and bittersweet at times (somehow I managed to not actually read the summary until last week...?), but the hints of sorrow deepened the story, created opportunities for character development (except in one character's case, but that was purposeful), and made the happy moments all the sweeter.

the duomo

When I was in college, I took Italian, and the summer after my freshman year, I took a trip to Italy with some high school friends. Love & Gelato is the first set-in-Italy book that REALLY made me feel like I was back on that trip because it's set in/near Florence, WHICH WAS MY FAVORITE CITY (unpopular opinion: Venice is dirty and expensive and not worth the hype. 10/10 for the scenes set in Italy and how realistic they are). What I love about the worldbuilding in Love & Gelato is...all of it? I really felt like I was there again. Jenna does a marvelous job of bringing Florence to life through her writing and Lina's eyes. I love that there was plenty of Italian in the book (I remembered some of it, woot!), and that it wasn't always translated. It lent a real authenticity to the story and the adventures both Lina and Hadley (her mom) have throughout the book. Italy has a sense of magic to it, and I think Jenna borrowed some of that magic and painted it into the pages.

Ponte Vecchio

I really like Lina (and I'm ridiculously proud of myself for pronouncing her name right from the get-go. Like Lena, not Line-uh). I know, I know, we're not supposed judge characters entirely based on their likability, but I still like her. Lina just felt real to me, and I think she dealt with all the changes in her life—mom with cancer, mom's death, move to Italy, meet dad, etc—pretty dang well. Lina impressed me with her willingness to try things like going to a party with strangers, take a spontaneous trip to Rome, try newish foods, and just go to Italy in general. Even when she had hesitations, even when she and her friend were making plans to go back to the States, she still tried. She felt very well-adjusted to me, but not in a fake or too-adult way. And I like that her journey parallels that of her mom, which we realize while reading her mom's journal. Lina has to leave her life as she has always known it and move thousands of miles away. I thought it was great that she had someone familiar, even if the stories were news, to comfort her through all the changes. Love & Gelato is basically two love stories in one, and I think that's a really cool device, especially when it's done well, which it is here.

Rape of the Sabine Women
(had no idea what this was when I was there, 
but hey! Nice to realize I had the right statue!)

I adore both Ren and Howard. They're both SO CUTE! I mean, Ren is cute in that adorable floppy-haired eighteen year old boy way (man that sounds so creepy coming from an adult woman, but you know what I mean), and Howard is this precious tall nerd man, and they both try so hard in their own way to make Lina adjust and feel comfortable in Italy. I think it would take a very special man to take in a teenage girl, father or no, and be willing to make the right adjustments to help her. That's Howard. This is a strange moment for me: I have a crush on a YA dad. That's new! But Howard is just so sweet and he knows all these obscure Italian facts but is whimsical enough to create stories based on those facts. Ren is kind of a typical YA boy, but also not? Like Lina is "not like other girls" to him, but he's adorable with his sister and his mom, and what teenage boy willingly gives up his summer to hang with the melancholy new girl and help her solve a romantic mystery and go on adventures with her?? Not that many.

Tuscan countryside. Possibly what Hadley & Howard and
then Lina saw from the tower (except this is the view from
a tower in a town called San Gimignano nearish Florence)

Love & Gelato is a totally charming and fun romance, but it's not without development. I think the characters are all well-rounded (again, except for Matteo, who is a COMPLETE tool, but again. That's on purpose), and I love the way Jenna parallels Lina's story with Hadley's through the journal. This story is not complete fluff, although there are plenty of swoony, fluffy moments combined with  a few bittersweet. It has substance and is perfectly satisfying. Just like a big scoop of gelato.

Sorry for the blurry picture, but this is a replica statue of David that overlooks the city of Florence. The mere sight of David's booty would send our tour guide into fits. The first time we saw him, she sighed dramatically and said, "Ma-ma mia, what a TOO-cass!" It was hilarious! She also asked our driver Luigi to run over tourists who were walking in front of our bus in the middle of the street. "LUIGI! HEET THEM!" Great trip! 12/10, highly recommend you visit Italy, and especially Florence at some point in your life.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Jenna Evans Welch spent her high school years in Florence, Italy, where she drove a scooter, danced in fountains, and ate entirely too much gelato. She now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and young son. Read her blog, The Green Lemon, at

Author Links:


  1. A fun review and I love that you traveled to Italy so you have that reference point. I don't find loving parents often in YA so this book intrigues me even more. Maybe I'll have a YA dad crush too?

    1. I'm so glad I have that reference point. It totally took me back to my teens to read this book. And now that I'm an actual full adult, I do find myself really interested in the parents in these books. It was weird, but I loved Howard!

  2. I can't believe I let this book slip through the cracks - or more likely drown in a sea that is my TBR. It sounds brilliant. And so jealous of your trip, Italy is my dream holiday. Thanks for sharing.

    1. There are always those books that slip through the cracks. I like to review a variety of books so that I can push some smaller, lesser known stories out to my readers. I hope you do read Love & Gelato, and that you enjoy it!

  3. What a fun discovery of a secret life in Italy!