Hello!! The last book that I read was called Verity and it sucked EGGS. It was quite possibly the worst thing that I have ever read and I thought I would go insane if I didn’t read something else to eliminate the bad taste from my mouth. To remedy this, I cracked open the brand new Rachel Hawkins novel called The Villa and finished it in a matter of days. I have read a few books by Hawkins before and have always enjoyed them and The Villa was just right for what I needed: A palette cleanser. Was it my favorite book by her? No. But it served its purpose well.
Before we begin our spoiler free review, I will be placing a trigger warning on The Villa for murder, violence, and the loss of a child. Now, let’s get to it:
Emily and Chess have been besties since grade school and are still thick as thieves into their mid-thirties. Well… Sort of. While Emily found moderate success in writing cozy murder mysteries, Chess soared to fame as a self-help guru making their communication sporadic but still wonderful when it happens. As Chess enjoyed her newfound wealth and guest starred on Oprah, Emily was riding the struggle bus. A mystery illness left Emily incapacitated for months, which triggered her husband leaving her and insisting on a significant chunk of her earnings as an author.
At one of their few yearly meetings, Chess can sense Emily’s stress over lunch and comes up with a solution: A best friends summer in Italy. There, they can soak up the sun, have fun, and finish the books that they both have due. With nothing tying her to the home she once shared with her husband, Emily agrees and hops on a plane to meet Chess at the gorgeous Villa Aestas. The villa is tucked away in scenic Orvieto and it seems like the perfect place to enjoy each other’s company and work when they felt like it! Oh yeah, it was also the perfect place for murder.
In the 1970s, Villa Aestas was called the Villa Rosato and it housed a group of artists for the summer. Noel Gordon, an infamous rock star invited his faithful drug dealer, Johnnie, as well as the up and coming musician Pierce Sheldon and his girlfriend Mari and her stepsister named Lara to the villa. What promised to be a summer of Pierce taking his talent to the next level was anything but. Drugs and booze limited the amount of music Noel and Pierce made and the girls ended up with the fame. That summer, Mari wrote her first horror novel, Lilith Rising, and Lara made her first album, Aestas. Their holiday ended with Mari and Lara completing their masterpieces while Pierce ended up six feet under at the hands of Johnnie.
Staying in a “murder house” doesn’t particularly thrill Emily but the villa is beautiful and she is excited to be with Chess. During a low key day, Emily looks for something to read and cracks open Lilith Rising. As she reads, she noticed striking similarities between the book and the summer that the author spent at the same villa. She even finds references from the book in the house itself, like an etching on the glass by Mari’s desk. Was Lilith Rising something Mari made up off of the top of her head, or was it an autobiography of what truly happened at Villa Rosato that summer almost fifty years ago?
As Emily begins researching and writing about the Villa Rosato murder, she becomes increasingly paranoid of Chess. Emily wants this book and the success she knows it will achieve to herself. Chess, however, has other plans as well as secrets that Emily couldn’t conjure up in her wildest dreams. What will become of the best friends staying in a home that the locals call “cursed” all summer? Read The Villa to find out!
The Villa was, in my opinion, not Rachel Hawkins’ best but it was still a decent read. I can imagine that her books are perfect for reading by a pool – they’re not especially gruesome, intriguing enough, and peppered with humor that makes me lol. Not groundbreaking by any means, but pretty fun! I enjoyed the way The Villa was set up as it went back and forth between Emily in present day and Mari in 1970. Articles and scripts of podcasts discussing the Rosato murder were interspersed for good measure as well, which is also something I always like.
The characters in The Villa were just alright. I found Emily to be kind of bland while Chess was fairly annoying with her new age BS about the “powered path”. I definitely enjoyed reading what was going on in the 70s more than the present day. It was a much darker tale and I felt so sorry for Mari and Lara as they navigated their summer with these boys who didn’t seem to care about them one way or the other. I would have liked to root for Mari more, however, the flamboyant and sarcastic Noel was my primary focus. He sounded hot AF and I think we can all agree that he was inspired by the incomparable Noel Fielding!
Although there were a lot of interesting points to the general plot of The Villa, it still felt like something that I had heard before. There were no twists and turns that left me shook and I didn’t feel a sense of companionship with any of the key players. It certainly cleansed my palette from the last book I read and for that I am grateful. It just didn’t hit as hard as The Wife Upstairs or Reckless Girls, which left me feeling disappointed overall.
I am going to award The Villa with a five and a half out of ten stars. Rachel Hawkins is much better than this book and I would recommend skipping this one in lieu of one of her other novels!
What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah