Book Review: A love of Italy is what shines through in this Italian love story from Jenna Lo Bianco

It seems like we are living in the golden age of the romance novel. Readers are discovering all that this often overlooked and much maligned genre has to offer, thanks in no small part to BookTok and writers such as Emily Henry. And with everything that’s going on in the world generally, who can blame readers for wanting to dip into reading material that is easily consumable and often on the lighter side.

Just don’t call it a guilty pleasure.

Enter Jenna Lo Bianco’s debut novel, The Italian Marriage. The story of Matthew and Sarah, who enter into a fake marriage arrangement in order to aid Matthew’s claims to a family inheritance, this novel employs one of the romance genre’s better known tropes – the fake dating/ fake marriage/ marriage of convenience.

One of the things readers love or love to hate about romance is that it’s easy to predict what’s going to happen, and so of course, it would not be a spoiler to say that what starts as a fake relationship soon becomes a very real one.

But there’s a point of difference in The Italian Marriage that will either be a refreshing change or an irritating bugbear – the typical third act miscommunication (or indeed any miscommunication at all) is non-existent. In fact, Sarah and Matthew communicate extremely well with one another throughout the story, aided by a set of therapy style conversation cards designed for newlyweds.

At the beginning of the novel, Matthew (or Matteo, as his Italian relatives insist on calling him) is in line to inherit the D’Adamo Family Trust, though there’s a catch. The Trust has some ancient stipulation that states the heir must always be the youngest married male and Matthew – a workaholic lawyer – has not yet found ‘the one’. So he hires Sarah to be his wife. The deal seems simple. They will marry, Matthew will inherit, and Sarah will be paid enough money to set her up for life. But when Matthew goes to his Uncle’s office to sign the paperwork he is informed that there is a second claimant to the Trust, a cousin who shares Matthew’s exact birthday.

A solution is proposed – each couple will be challenged to fix up an old estate owned by the family and operate it as a luxury hotel. The person who designs and runs the best hotel will be declared the winner. And Sarah, who just so happens to be a pro designer, is happy to stay on for the extra time in order to help Matthew earn his birthright. The pair must pretend to be a young, in love, newlywed couple, all the while fixing up this charming Italian estate in a picturesque Italian town. It’s all very sweet.

While there are of course the schemings of the co-claimants and a very rude town Mayor to contend with, there is very little conflict in The Italian Marriage. Sarah is kind and self-sacrificing and Matthew very quickly realises that he’s extremely in love with her. A large part of Sarah’s personality is based around the fact that she loves lingerie and wears it to help herself feel powerful.

The two of them are so courteous and considerate of each other’s feelings all the time, which is actually really nice to see but not particularly compelling to read about all of the time. My interest piqued at about 85% of the way through the book when an artefact led our protagonists onto the trail of a family mystery dating back centuries, but alas, this is not that kind of book, and this thread was dealt with and despatched very quickly.

All in all, The Italian Marriage is a fine, if slightly insubstantial read. Pick it up for lovely descriptions of fields of violets and old country estates on an Italian hillside but don’t expect much in the way of plot. And if that sounds like exactly your cup of tea, the good news is there’s a second book on the way.

The Woman In MeThe Woman In Me


The Italian Marriage by Jenna Lo Bianco is available now from Pan Macmillan. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller, and now works as a librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.