By Rachel Hawkins
Chess and Emily spend most of the book holed up inside Villa Aestas, but they do occasionally leave so they can explore the nearby Italian town of Orvieto. Between their adventures and their writing, they probably want a quick meal. That’s why our recipe match for The Villa features a 15-Minute Lemon Chicken Piccata from A Simple Palate.
**Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Publishing Group for the chance to review this book.**
We all have that one friend that we love to hate. Maybe she is too perfect. Maybe she seems to have it all. Maybe she is living out your dreams and getting rich off of them while your own life seems to be spiraling down the drain.
That is exactly what is happening to Emily. She’s in the midst of divorcing her husband of seven years, trying to recover from severe health problems, living with her parents, and struggling to reinvigorate her career as a writer. Emily has had moderate success writing cozy mysteries and is trying to get the next book in her somewhat-popular Petal Bloom series to her publisher. However, life does not seem to be going her way. She meets her lifelong best friend for lunch one day and can’t help feeling a little disgusted.
“Somewhere around the time she started calling herself, ‘Chess,’ I realized I might actually hate my best friend.”The Villa by Rachel Hawkins
Girl, can’t say I blame you. Chess “fell into” a job writing an advice column and became the queen of the self-help section. Before Emily knew it, Chess was giving TedTalks and appearing on Oprah. After their lunch, Chess calls Emily and invites her to come with her to Italy for the summer. Chess is trying to finish her next book, and she knows Emily is struggling with writer’s block. So, she thinks that they can both spend the summer writing and drinking wine.
It sounds too good to be true. When the women pull up to Villa Aestas, the scenery is breathtaking. However, this particular villa holds a dark secret: It was the site of a brutal murder back in the 1970s. Chess doesn’t want Emily to talk about the murder, but Emily can’t help but research. She finds that the murder occurred while a group of friends occupied the villa in the summer of 1974. Throughout the book, narration switches between Emily in the present-day and Mari in the past.
Before we go any further, we should probably introduce the 1974 cast. Mari, a writer, became famous for her horror novel Lilith Rising shortly after that summer. She traveled to the villa with her married boyfriend, Pierce. Pierce is a rising guitarist that got linked up with international rockstar Neil. Neil is responsible for bringing all parties involved to the villa. Accompanying Neil is his drug runner, Johnnie, who is later arrested for the murder. Finally, Mari’s stepsister, Laura, tags along on the trip. She is largely unwanted and ignored by the rest of the group. After the murder, Laura goes on to become a famous musician in her own rite, releasing a sad, soulful album entitled Aestas, from which the villa is renamed.
Now back to the present day. The more Emily researches the murder, the more entrenched she becomes in its mystery. Putting her cozy mysteries aside, she decides to write a true crime book about the case. As she is trying to unravel what happened, she begins uncovering clues from around the house. However, Chess begins asking pointed questions, and something is telling Emily that she needs to hide her new writing endeavor. She’s not sure why she feels so suspicious of Chess. Secrets have a way of coming out, though.
The Villa is a fun, easy read that transports people into the publishing world more than it does the Italian countryside. I wish that the setting played a larger role in the book. Instead, it felt like the characters holed themselves up in a hotel for the majority of the story. This book could literally be set anywhere and it would barely affect the outcome.
While the mystery surrounding the murder was fun to read, it didn’t exactly blaze any trails. If you enjoy reading thrillers, the plot will probably feel familiar. However, familiar isn’t always bad– it was still an entertaining story. What I REALLY wanted to read was Lilith Rising, though– the fictional book that Mari wrote while staying at Villa Aestas. It was painted as a terrifying horror, and I found myself longing to read IT instead of the book I had in my hands.
Overall, this is a great book to read while you’re on a plane or trying to check out for a few hours. It has a few twists and turns to keep your interest, but it doesn’t have much that sets it apart from other books in the thriller genre.
My Rating System Explained 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it. It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective. My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was a really good book. Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation. There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I liked this book. It allowed me to escape from reality for a while. While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs. 2 Stars ⭐️⭐️: There's something about this book that I didn't like. I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it. I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people. I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs. 1 Star ⭐️: My rarest rating. I really didn't like this book. Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book. Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.