Once again, I’ll start a review of a book by writing not about the book but about me. I love Italy, I love my Italian friends, I love the food in every region I’ve visited. My wife is of Italian descent and it’s one of the things that make her her, one of the reasons I love her. That said, I deal with sensory issues and for me to enjoy everything Italy, I sometimes need to go slow.
Italy is a lot. A lot of everything. Noise, touch, smells… All things I struggle with. It’s a testament to Lise Gold’s talent at describing the countries she makes her readers travel to that almost as soon as I began reading The Scent of Rome, I felt the need to pull away. To take a step back. To give myself time not to be overwhelmed. Exactly as when I arrive in Italy.
Rome Foster is in Italy (yes, in Rome) to meet with potential investors for the world-changing app she has created. Nervous about what is probably her last chance to make her dream come true, she’s a little early at the restaurant, hoping for some liquid courage before her pitch. At the bar, she meets a gorgeous woman, Nadine, who soon tells her she’s an escort. They chat easily, with Nadine flirting shamelessly with her, despite Rome’s insistence that she’s straight, and by the time Nadine’s date (who happens to be one of the businessmen Rome is trying to convince) arrives, the connection is there.
Lise Gold’s books are happy places for me. The stories they tell are not free of angst or problems but they make my heart feel all warm and fuzzy, so to find myself resisting going too deep in one was new and uncomfortable. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that as if it were a bad thing. Quite the opposite, actually.
And it’s probably for the same reasons that Nadine unsettled me at first. I didn’t know what to make of her, in particular of her heavy flirting. I was a tad bothered by it, as I felt it paralleled what she didn’t like about the men she dates for work, until I realised that as soon as she thought Rome was uncomfortable with it, she immediately offered to stop. Fortunately, Rome said go ahead, keep flirting, I’m not as straight as I thought I was. Nadine is so sexy and sensual from the first time we meet her, no wonder Rome can’t resist her. Nadine bewilders even herself by opening up to Rome, allowing her to see beyond the beautiful body and deceptively laid-back attitude to the vulnerability and her secret talent and ambition. For Nadine is what is called a nose, someone who can perceive, analyse and combine scents to make the most amazing fragrances. When Rome meets her, she’s working on her own life dream, a very special set of perfumes, using her job as a high-end escort to fund her research.
The Scent of Rome is all about senses so naturally, it’s brimming over with sensuality from the start. Lise Gold is not one to shy away from sexy scenes but she outdid herself here. Beyond the obvious, what makes those scenes so hot is the undeniable and irresistible chemistry between the two women, which takes them both by surprise. Neither is ready to fall in love – Rome because she was sure she was straight and too busy changing the world, Nadine because she doesn’t do relationships, period –, both are aware of their own and each other’s fear of commitment, and I liked the way Lise Gold made them handle that, by communicating and being honest about their feelings and their concerns.
There’s also a #MeToo aspect to the story, bringing both the narrative and the relationship at its heart another layer. Rome’s strength shines through, as well as Nadine’s caring side, all combining in a feeling of empowerment with effects radiating far beyond just the two of them. Another strong point of this book is its secondary cast. Besides the slimy and scary bad guy, Rome and Nadine are surrounded by captivating characters: Luca, Nadine’s grumpy neighbour, Angelo, her unofficial bodyguard, Eliza, Rome’s striking colleague, her investors and lawyers… Depending on their importance to the story, they’re not all as detailed and complex, but they’re fleshed enough to be real and make their mark. As usual in Gold’s books, the city is a character in its own right, and unsurprisingly, now, I want to visit Rome.
Lise Gold’s books are sure bets when looking for heartwarming stories with sweet yet resilient characters, who turn their flaws and vulnerabilities into strengths. The Scent of Rome is no exception.