Saturday, April 10, 2010

Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine are the first two books in a new series of what used to be called "chick lit" but is now called "womens literature," though I'd call it fiction that is soon-to-be-classic, myself.

I was introduced to Trigiani's Big Stone Gap books in my Tuesday night book club at the Maple Valley Library, a local branch of the mammoth King County Library System (KCLS). Though the 12 women in the group usually disagree on what makes good fiction, Big Stone Gap was one of the rare books that had us all talking enthusiastically about how real the characters seemed, how swift the plot moved and how fascinating that era in history was for those who lived during that time. I was so entranced by that first Trigiani novel that I swooped in on Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon and Home to Big Stone Gap, and then found a copy of Queen of the Big Time and Rococo, which I devoured with just as much zeal as the Big Stone Gap trilogy.

Trigiani has a flawless ear for dialogue and characters that are full-bodied and much so that you always feel as if you could travel to New York and run into one of them on the street, and you'd recognize them from the book. Her plots never falter or drag, and her prose is honest and straightforward, with lots of luscious description of Italian clothing, food and beautiful people.

Imagine my joy in receiving copies of Trigiani's latest series, Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine from HarperCollins Publishers.
For a bibliophile, there's always a delicious thrill in opening a new book, especially when it is by an author like Trigiani, who never disappoints, and always delivers quality storytelling.

Very Valentine introduces us to New Yorker Valentine Roncalli, who is appenticed to her Grandmother Teodora Angelini at a hand-crafted cobbler shop, Angelini Shoe Company, founded in 1903. Unfortunately, Valentine's Gran, though an expert shoe craftsman, is a lousy businesswoman, and the Angelini Shoe Company is on the verge of financial ruin in the recession economy.
Meanwhile, Valentine starts dating a handsome Italian chef, Roman, and enters a shoe design contest at a big department store to try and win customers for the business. She travels to Italy with her grandmother for design inspiration, and meets a handsome Italian leather tanner Gianluca, and discovers that her grandmother has been in love with Gianluca's father for a decade in secret. Because Valentine is one of four children, the love lives and escapades of her two sisters and her annoying brother Alfred are also woven into the storyline, and we come to understand Valentine's hesitation to have a strong relationship because of her own fathers infidelity that nearly broke up her family years ago. Of course, Valentines parents are also a hoot, reminding the reader of characters on The Sopranos or a reality show featuring New Jersey Italian-Americans and their outrageous couture and lifestyle. While Very Valentine ends on a happy note, it also signals the end of Valentine's relationship with Roman.

Brava, Valentine begins with grandmother Teodora's wedding in Tuscany, Italy, and her turning over the Angelini Shoe Company to Alfred and Valentine, knowing full well that the two do not get along. However, Alfred lost his high-ranking job in banking and has no choice but to help his sister get the family company back on its feet.
Fortunately, Valentine has designed a new shoe that can be mass produced, and she travels to Buenos Ares, in South America, to meet up with a cousin she didn't know she had, to discover that the cousin, who is black, has a mens shoe factory that can mass produce her shoes at a reasonable cost.
Meanwhile, Alfred is having an affair, as is Valentine's friend Bret, which doesn't make Valentine any easier in her feelings about Gianluca, who is pursuing a relationship with her in earnest. She worries that all men are cheaters, especially Italian men, and she finds that she is having major trust issues, though Gianluca has given her no reason to mistrust him. A good friend of the family and employee passes away, and Valentine has to make some decisions about whether to let go of the past and trust, or to keep her life going as it is, alone and busy with her career.
I won't spoil it by telling you what happens, but I will say that things work out beautifully in the end for Valentine, though not quite as well for her brother and her former boyfriend.
As in the previous novel, I loved the description of the redecorating done by Valentine's gay friend Gabriel, the delicious holiday meals, the huge family dramas over the holidays and the sensuality of the leather and fabric and lifestyles of Italians living La Dolce Vita. Even the music was wonderful, as descriptions of Sinatra and Perry Como and Dean Martin music wafted throughout the manuscript. Having been born on the Chairman of the Board's 45th birthday, I can always appreciate a good Sinatra reference in literature.
Trigiani is a very approachable author, and a lovely person who answered questions with class and compassion during a blog radio tour recently, and I sincerely appreciated her sincerity and intelligence in explaining the whys and wherefores of her impressive list of work.
I'd give all of Trigiani's novels an A, but I'd recommend the Valentine novels especially for those who love all things Italian and relish a good story.

Here is Adriana's profile on the Harper-Collins Web site which also has her tour schedule.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rebels and Lovers by Linnea Sinclair

I've made no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Linnea Sinclair's sublime science fiction/romance hybrid novels, so you can imagine the fangirl "Squee of Joy" that was heard near and far when I realized her latest Dock 5 novel was out and ready for me at my local library.
"Rebels and Lovers" is the story of Devin Guthrie, younger brother of Admiral Phillip Guthrie, whose adventurous love story with Rya was told in last year's wonderful "Hope's Folly." It's also the story of the tough-yet-tender Makaidan "Kaidee" Griggs, a former space yacht pilot for the Guthrie family.

From the back of the book: "While Devin's soul still burns for Kaidee, she isn't the kind of woman a Guthrie is allowed to marry--especially at a time of intergalactic upheaval, with the family's political position made precarious by Devins brother Phillip, now in open revolt against the empire. And when Devin's 19 year old nephew, Trip, inexplicably goes missing after is bodyguard is murdered, this most dutiful of Guthrie sons finds every ounce of family loyalty put to the test. Only by joining forces with Kaidee can Devin complete the mission to bring Trip back alive. And only by breaking every rule can these two renegades redeem the promise of a passion they were never permitted to explore."

Among the chaos that ensues, we learn that the button-down-accountant Devin has a wilder, more passionate nature than expected, and that he can and will break the rules and break with his controlling father to help save the woman he's loved for 7 years, since they first met (she was unaware of his feelings, and married to a scumbag at the time). I was well aware who the evil, backstabbing brother was from the first few chapters, though it was satisfying to see him come to a bad end, and I was certain that the Guthrie patriarch was terminally ill, otherwise JM wouldn't have insisted on marrying Devin off to a well-connected woman he doesn't love. It was heartening to have Phillip and Rya make an appearance at the end, and I sincerely hope that Kaidee and Devin were able to clear their names and start a new life together (things were just beginning to be dealt with at the end of the book).
As usual with Linnea's books, I find myself enjoying the secondary characters just as much as the main characters, and Barty, former ImpSec spy and retired butler didn't disappoint. I did find "Trip" Guthrie annoying to the end of tolerance, but as he matured somewhat in the end, I was able to forgive him, and thankfully, Linnea doesn't force us to witness his slavish devotion and eager beaver attitude toward his Uncle Phillip.
Though Kaidee was yet another petite blonde (sigh) whose heart had been ripped from her chest and stomped on by life, (and her jerk ex-husband) I liked her sensible nature and take-charge attitude, as well as her moral compass, strength and values. Linnea's heroines are never wusses, nor do they fall apart in a crisis, always depending on men to 'rescue' them. They kick butt, take names and know how to handle their liquor in a Dock 5 bar...they also know how to get out of a bar fight with their lives intact. This straightforward attitude makes them that much sexier to the Guthrie men, (and to Sully Sullivan), because these are the kind of guys who don't wince or whine about powerful women. I enjoy the heat between the characters all the more when I know that the male part of the equation isn't going to stifle his lovers soul by demanding that she become the stay-at-home wife and mother who never has a cross word for the (male) head of the household.
Though I enjoyed Devin's computer genius and his still-waters-run-deep love of Kaidee, I have to say that Sully is still my favorite Linnea Sinclair hottie. I also enjoyed Phillip Guthrie's story because he is nearer my age than any of the other protagonists, and Rya had body issues that I understood and empathized with (in other words, she was not a petite blonde).
Still, I'd give the book a solid A, and recommend it to those who enjoy science fiction adventure spiced up with hot romance.