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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Love, Italian Style via Greenwich Village- with shoes!

Author Adriana Trigiani captured America's heart with her Big Stone Gap series of books. The town of Big Stone Gap was as important a character in the novels as its protagonist, Ave Maria.

Trigiani's first novel in her next planned trilogy, Very Valentine has as some of its most important characters not one, but two, settings- Greenwich Village in New York City and Italy.

Valentine Roncalli is a single thirty-something woman from an Italian family. She lives and works in Greenwich Village with her beloved grandmother Teodora Angelini at Angelini Shoes, which has been in the family since 1903. They design and create lovely custom shoes, many of which are worn by brides on their wedding day.

The humorous opening to the novel, at Valentine's baby sister's wedding, sets the tone for the joyous, loving, heartbreaking story to follow. Anyone who has ever attended an Italian wedding will recognize the characters, the food and the decor described. And if you have been a single woman at an Italian wedding, you will commiserate with Valentine's plight.

Trigiani lives in Greenwich Village, and brings to life this vibrant section of New York; from the breezy Hudson River Park to the Buonitalia bakery in Chelsea Market to cobblestone sidewalks to the newly established tiny restaurants run by the hottest new chefs, this is a place one must visit after reading this novel.

Valentine reluctantly opens her heart to Roman Falconi, a chef with a new restaurant in the Village. They both have demanding careers, working long hours to make their dreams come true, and they struggle to balance those demands with the loving relationship they want to create.

Teodora is a vibrant older woman, but she is not free from the restraints of aging. She discovers that her late husband mortgaged the business to keep it alive, but now the time has come to make a decision- sell the building to a broker who will give her enough money to retire comfortably, or try to keep a business going in an increasingly tough economy.

She takes Valentine to Italy on her annual trip to purchase stock for the shop. It is there, in that beautiful country, that Valentine learns something about her grandmother which helps her to see the situation in a new light.

Trigiani is a marvelous writer. She does her homework, and the reader learns, along with Valentine, how to design and build beautiful shoes. I'm not a shoe person, but this made me wonder what I am missing.

She paints a picture of Italy so gorgeous, it makes you want to hop a plane and move there, or at least visit for a month or so. The scenery, the people, the food, the romance, the Isle of Capri- it all sounds so delicious.

Her characters feel like people you know; I especially liked Valentine's mother and father. The family relationships are so real, you have to wonder if Trigiani's family members are reluctant to be in her presence for fear their words will end up in one of her books.

It feels like you are spying on real people when you read
Very Valentine. People struggling with finding and holding onto love, with balancing their career dreams and family, these are things with which we all struggle. If only we could all do it in the scenery that Adriana Trigiani lovingly paints in this funny, sweet, touching novel. I'm definitely looking forward to the next two books in Valentine's saga.

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