The Italian's Blushing Gardener
by Christina Hollis, contemporary (2010)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.30, ISBN 978-0-263-87859-2


Imagine my surprise when the The Italian's Blushing Gardener turns out to have none of the usual revenge, rampant pregnancy, abduction, mistress melodrama, and other popular tropes of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern imprint. This book is therefore either going to disappoint you - if you love stories of pregnant abducted innocent virgin mistresses defiled forever by European sex fiend billionaires - or make you breathe a sigh of relief.

Kira Banks is actually an landscape decorator who is good at what she does, but I guess we don't like women who dare to be good at their careers, so "gardener" she has to be. Kira once had her heart broken, so she melodramatically flees to Bella Terra Valley in Italy where she lives like a hermit, working with the elderly owner of the estate that surrounds her small house, and allows herself to be blackmailed by that... thing... she left behind in England. Shunning all human company, because men are forever bastards and she will die painfully should she get hurt again, and yet she allows herself to be blackmailed into living in genteel poverty - she may be good at what she does, making pretty gardens for rich blokes, but in so many ways Kira is reassuringly the kind of heroine we have all grown to expect from books in this line.

Stefano Albani buys Bella Terra Valley because he too has been hurt and now he wants to live alone forever - except when he wants to ruthlessly impregnate innocent virginal mistresses, naturally - but how lucky that he has a gorgeous woman around the place. He begins pursuing her with a single-minded determination, constantly touching her, putting her in situations where she has to at the very least kiss him back, and more. I suppose if he's short, ugly, and poor, Stefano would be considered a date rapist in the making and this story would end with him being hauled to jail for being a creep. But because he's gorgeous and handsome, he's a romance hero who gets the girl. As if he'd ever harbored any doubts that he wouldn't, really. Kira spends a lot of time shrieking and protesting that she doesn't want to get her heart broken again, but she's not fooling anybody.

The characters are pretty stereotypical and there is hardly any conflict here apart from Kira's ridiculous determination to play hard to get long even after she's put out to him. Also, Stefano's actions here can border on creepy - he always invade Kira's personal space, touching her repeatedly despite her telling him to stop, and when they first meet, he tries to take her in his arms and kiss her in the mouth. Maybe this is an Italian affectation, I don't know, but I do know that Kira has better hope that he doesn't find a hot secretary after they are married. Stefano often acts like he'd entitled to sleep with any hot woman he likes. This is a pretty realistic behavior for a real life millionaire, I guess, but as a romance hero, his antics can be pretty unappealing.

Still, this story has plenty of gorgeous scenery. Bella Terra Valley is described in such a vivid manner that the whole story seems to be set in a wonderful paradise on earth. The downside is that Ms Hollis also painstakingly describes her main characters to the point of overkill. There is also so much I can read about Kira's gorgeous appearance or Stefano's amazing everything before I begin to feel my eyes rolling upward. No matter - this is a lush and picturesque story for a pleasant vicarious vacation if I overlook Mr Peepee LePew and Miss You Can Shag Me But You Will NEVER Have My Heart running around and playing out the same old tired song and dance in the landscape. Maybe it will be nice if Ms Hollis had paid as much attention into making her characters interesting as she had in creating the scenery in this story.

Rating: 73


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