The Rome Affair by Karen Swan

In brief: Cesca’s moved from London to Rome to live a life free of hard decisions. But when she finds an expensive handbag thrown in the trash, the decision is easy – give it back to its owner. But on meeting the infamous Elena, she’s drawn into her world…and her secrets.

The good: It was fun, interesting and entertaining…what more could you want?

The not-so-good: I felt Cesca’s big reveal on why she left London to be a bit of an anti-climax in comparison to Elena’s (many) secrets.

Why I chose it: Kindly sent from Pan Macmillan – I’m now a big fan of Karen Swan, thank you!

Year: 2017

Pages: 459 (ARC)

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: Primarily Rome, Italy with a number of other glamourous cities.

Rating: 9 out of 10

I’ve been reading a lot of books set in Italy this year, mainly through chance, but I’m loving this country more and more. Where else can you get the delights of fantastic food, la dolce vita, romance and ancient history? Karen Swan introduces the reader to the modern Roman life in The Rome Affair through the eyes of Cesca, transplanted from London with a determination for an easier life. She’s a fun heroine to read about, with impassioned principles, a talent for detail and a vintage wardrobe that could be classed as odd or quirky. It’s the kind of read that makes you want to actively seek reading time just so you can learn more about the characters and the mystery surrounding them!

Cesca hides a secret as she pounds the pavement as a tourist guide – one that made her desert her career and leave England. She doesn’t want to talk about it, she just wants to move on. Life in Rome is tight moneywise, but oh so wonderful when it comes to friends and food. (There are quite a few descriptions of lovely Italian meals – from pasta to gelato). But emptying her rubbish one night, she finds a designer handbag in the bin. Looking through it for identifying signs of the owner, she finds an envelope addressed to ‘Elena’. Elena turns out to be no less than the principessa of the enormous palazzo across the square. Cesca’s first meeting with Elena has her intrigued, but her neighbours tell her to stay away. Unfortunately Cesca has no choice but to become Elena’s biographer after she loses her job. At first, it’s enjoyable as she sifts through photographs and memories of the young Laney Valentine, luckiest little girl in America. But how did Laney become Elena and what secrets is Elena hiding as she tries to rewrite history? Meanwhile, there’s plenty to keep Cesca entertained with a sinkhole and her love-hate relationship with Nico…

If I had to describe The Rome Affair in a single word, it would be captivating. The plot is thick with lies, secrets, misunderstandings, wealth, romance and mystery. There are so many secrets and lies, but it’s not difficult to keep track of them thanks to the way the story is told from Cesca’s point of view in the present and Elena’s stories of the (real) past. There’s a lot of contrast between the stories Elena tells Cesca and what really happened. At first, I felt sorry for Elena, then I gradually came to wonder how much I really liked Elena’s character. Her past really doesn’t hide anything! But the events of the finale made me realise that underneath it all, she did have a heart. Was she a victim or a champion of survival?

The mysteries of the palazzo were also entertaining. Who wouldn’t love to find a secret tunnel or wander through a 1000-room house? I loved Cesca’s take on it, as it was all so awe inspiring but she kept her head about it. Her principles too were something that drew me to her as the heroine – no matter how painful it was, she would draw out the truth. I felt that I could trust her more than I ever could Elena!

If you’re after a well written story with never a dull moment, please check out The Rome Affair! It’s the perfect read with a gelato or pizza!

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