Malena Lott’s Dating Da Vinci follows her debut novel, The Stork Reality. Both novels are character driven stories by female protagonists. Since I am the author of a WWII historical YA novel, Saving da Vinci, I eagerly looked forward to reading a novel titled dating da Vinci. My da Vinci is a 16-year-old Italian, code name “da Vinci,” who is helping the partisans liberate his country from the Nazis. Malena Lott’s da Vinci is a 25-year-old Italian immigrant trying to make his way in America through learning English. Little did I know what a delightful adventure was ahead of me when I chose this poignant and funny book solely based on its title.
The story begins in the classroom of Ramona Griffen, who is teaching English to international students in Austin, Texas. Imagine the possibility of this linguist having an Italian student in her class named Leonardo da Vinci. The implausibility opens the door for this refreshing story. When da Vinci calls his teacher Mona Lisa, Ramona is captivated by the gorgeous young Italian man. The last thing on Ramona’s mind is a romance; she is still grieving the loss of her beloved husband, Joel. She believes joy and love died for her with Joel’s fatal heart attack. She even identifies herself as a ‘Griever’ rather than a ‘Normal’: “Grievers want desperately to be Normal again, but the journey back seems impossible, and ‘Normals’ don’t understand why ‘Grievers’ can’t ‘move on’ and ‘get over it’.” Ramona also has to deal with suspicions of her late husband’s possible infidelity with his beautiful former fiancée.
That is, however, until an exciting young Italian enrolls in her language class. Because of Leonardo’s limited financial means, she lets him live in the studio apartment in her backyard. She is the sole support of two young boys, and romance entering her life at this stage is unthinkable even though she is enormously attracted to Leonardo. The attraction seems a betrayal of her husband’s memory, and there is an 11-year age difference - thirty-six-year-old widows do not date a 25-year-old man, no matter how attractive. Their romance, however, does develop because she finds this attractive young man irresistible. Even her young sons, Bradley and William, plot to make Ramona and Leonardo a “couple”.
The story’s Austin setting allows the university community to be a part of the story. Ramona’s empathy for the plight of international students is an integral part of the story, and the reader will applaud her for taking this student into her home to help his financial state. Leonardo embraces the university environment like any American 25-year-old would. A fraternity Leonardo joins and other students add to the young people’s scene, making Ramona feel even older and her romance with Leonardo even more improbable. During her romance with Leonardo, Ramona meets her sister’s boyfriend, Dr. Cortland Andrews, an anesthesiologist. He seems unusually attracted to Ramona in spite of his relationship with her sister and her involvement with Leonardo. Strangely, however, I rooted for this intellectual doctor to win Ramona’s heart. This man enters the narrative quietly but quickly captivates the reader’s heart, too - this even though Ramona reminds the attentive Cortland he is a person who puts others to sleep. Although he is not multilingual like she is, he matches her quip for quip in English and replies, “But remember, I wake them up, too!” The reader wonders for the remainder of the story if the doctor will leave Ramona’s sister, and if she will give up Leonardo to become a “couple” with Cortland. Her beautiful but overbearing sister does not make this an easy situation. Over the course of her romantic dilemma, Ramona completes and submits her dissertation for her doctorate on the language of love to become a professor, an endeavor woven throughout the story. The research to complete the dissertation adds to her insight into the situation.
This book compares well to Malena Lott’s other book, The Stork Reality, which follows Taylor Montgomery through her pregnancy as she deals with this unexpected situation. Lott gives excellent insight into a woman’s feelings through her strong female protagonists in both books.
Other romance books can take the reader away to foreign lands with intriguing romances, but Dating Da Vinci
lets the reader see a slice of life in one woman’s world and makes the reader
feel a part of it. You will want her to find happiness again and anguish with
her in her disappointments, at times finding yourself both laughing and crying almost in the same paragraph! The minor characters surrounding Ramona, Leonardo, and Cortland help bring the story to life as they contribute to their lives, too. How does Ramona Griffen have a renaissance in her life and discover that love never truly dies but just passes on? Who does win her heart? This compelling, heartfelt novel draws the reader along on her journey to find la vita allegro – a joyful life.