Desert Isle Keeper
A Portrait of Emily Price
After reading The Bronte Plot on a whim, I was impressed by the fantastic character arcs created by the author and I enjoyed the historical literary references sprinkled throughout the text. When Reay’s latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price showed up on my radar, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. I’m glad I did, as this was one of the more rewarding inspirational reads I’ve had in quite a while.
The story opens in Atlanta as Emily Price, an insurance company restorer, has come from Chicago to restore a mural and other items damaged by fire. Her boss has found space for her to work in an art restoration office owned by Joseph Vassallo. Emily finds herself simultaneously excited and intimidated by the prospect of spending her days working alongside restorers with far better equipment and more training than she herself has had. And when Emily meets Joseph’s brother, Benito (Ben), who is visiting from Italy, she finds herself intrigued in all new ways.
While the previous novel by Reay that I had read definitely had a romantic element to it, this book is more frankly and exuberantly romantic. Ben and Emily are drawn to one another right away and this is one of the few “love at first sight” novels that feels absolutely believable. The two have to bridge cultural differences as well as simply figure out how to build a relationship together, but it’s obvious from the beginning that they have a strong foundation from which to work.
This book is as much about Emily finding her purpose in life as it is about her and Ben. Emily is a gifted “fix-it” person, but she has a creative side and longs for more than simply gluing broken china back together. She starts to discover that at her Atlanta assignment as she interacts with Joseph and his talented art restoration crew. In addition to her work for the insurance company, Emily picks up assignments from Joseph that test her artistic skills, such as hanging items for exhibition in ways that show them off, or even hand restoring a damaged painting.
I loved the details on restoration work that Reay sprinkles throughout the story. I knew little about the industry going into this book, and I enjoyed learning about it through Emily’s eyes. I also enjoyed seeing that as Emily falls deeper in love, she also finds the courage within herself to let her artistic side out more and create more original work. She really does bloom over the course of the story.
And then there are the people surrounding Emily. Both she and Ben come from families they love, even if there are tensions between the various family members. The author excels at giving characters hidden depths. Just when I think I’ve figured out what type of person a secondary character is, the story moves along and reveals something new about that person. Just as in life, first impressions aren’t everything. And just as in life, while this novel presents readers with a story that has a beginning and an ending, it’s apparent that we’re seeing just a momentary glimpse of these characters’ lives and while the book does reach a natural ending point, readers will also come away from it with a sense that these characters have rich lives with relationships that will continue to deepen long after the last page.
A Portrait of Emily Price is a multi-layered story that I found life-affirming and inspirational. There is little overt religious content in the book. While there are some scenes centered on a Catholic church, nobody preaches and the religious leanings of the characters are kept rather open-ended. Instead, one is left to be inspired by the many ways we see how the various characters in this book love one another. It’s an enjoyable story with a warmth and joy that made me a very satisfied reader.