Monday, May 31, 2010

Lucia, Lucia, The Rossetti Letter and Dead in the Family

I just finished three more books that I found interesting, each in their own way.
Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani is another of her stand-alone books that tells the story of an Italian American woman in New York, in this case, in the 1950s. Lucia Sartori tells her story via flashback to a young Italian-American girl, Kit Zanetti, who lives in her apartment building in Greenwich Village.
Lucia is the youngest child of a successful Italian grocer in New York, who she is also gorgeous, niave and ambitious. As an apprentice tailor to a designer named Delmarr at B Altman's Department store on Fifth Avenue, Lucia loves putting together beautiful dresses and suits for the wealthy and celebrated women of New York, yet her Italian heritage/culture dictates that she get married, stop working and start a family of her own. Lucia is engaged to a childhood sweetheart, Dante, whom she loves in a somewhat childish fashion. Although she knows she is supposed to marry, move into his house and take care of his parents, Lucia loves her job and tells Dantes harridan mother that she isn't ready to become a subserviant housewife and broodmare, which breaks up the engagement and sends the local Italian community into a tailspin. Lucia meets a handsome rogue named John Talbot, and is swept off her feet by his charm, flashy car, nice clothing and movie star looks. Determined to marry John, despite her father's misgivings, Lucia is left at the altar by this con man who destroys her confidence in men. Her four brothers marry and have children, her father dies and her mother sickens, and Lucia's department at B Altmans is scuttled in the wake of 'retail modernization' that allows women to choose clothes 'off the rack' instead of having them custom made. Throughout the novel, Lucia maintains a niavete that is often seen as the hallmark of women of the post-war era, and while it is refreshing at first, it quickly becomes annoying when the character is so blind to reality that she hands over her life savings to a handsome con man, against the advice of her family and friends. Trigiani never allows Lucia to wallow in self pity or become a cliche, however, and when Kit takes Lucia to the state pen to give her closure with the man who ruined her life, it's a poignant, rather than maudlin moment. The prose is clean and snappy, the plot, like life, has a few twists and turns, but never fails or plods, and the characters are, like all Trigiani's works, full of life and color.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a peek back into recent history with a dash of romance.
The Rossetti Letter was an interesting tale of romance and intrigue surrounding the Spanish plot to overthrow the government of Venice, Italy in 1618. A PhD candidate, Claire Donovan and her rival, historian and celebrity author Andrew Kent are thrust together in Italy to try and unravel the clues to the Spanish Conspiracy via the diary and letters of a courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti, who supposedly wrote a letter naming the Spanish conspirators to the Powers that Be in Venice and managed to save the day.
All sorts of evidence is uncovered that proves that things were not as they seem, and every other chapter tells the tale from the viewpoint of Rossetti herself, who had things a lot harder than it first appears. There's an HEA and lots of surprises to keep the reader interested, and the prose is dense and engrossing, as is the forceful plot. While I enjoyed the Italian history and the background on courtesans of the 17th century, I have to say that the modern day scholar Claire seemed weak and wimpy by comparison, often coming off as immature and idiotic in her actions/reactions. Still, I found myself becoming immersed in the lives of the characters and hoping that Alessandra would find a way to stay alive and thrive through all the political intrigue.
I'd recommend this book to historical romance readers and those who are fascinated by Italian history.
The final book I finished was the 12th Sookie Stackhouse book (if you count a short story collection), called "Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris. The "Southern Vampire mystery" series has been adapted for television in a series called "TrueBlood" named for the elixr that was created by the Japanese to sate vampires so they don't have to prey on humans for sustenance. I watched 3 episodes of TrueBlood and was horrified to discover that they'd taken a layered and interesting mystery series and turned them into soft core pornography, where the main reason for the characters is the sexual interactions they get into with humans and supernaturals. The storylines were totally overwhelmed with the sexuality, and as a fan of Sookie, I was disgusted that Harris had allowed television to bastardize her works and turn Sookie from a sympathetic telepathic bombshell waitress into a pale and pathetic Anna Paquin wearing short-shorts and acting stupid with a fake drawl. Sookie's a larger-than-life, tough Southern Belle who has managed to survive through supernatural wars and death threats and all manner of crazy religious fanatics who want her dead. Yet in this latest novel, Harris seems to have dumbed Sookie down, making her seem silly, full of self-pity and horny as a short, she seems to be matching the TV version of Sookie to the book Sookie, which is a terrible mistake. Prior to the TV show, Sookie was maturing and becoming a smart, savvy woman who cared about supernaturals and the ignorance surrounding them, who wanted to irradicate that prejudice and help others see that the vampires and were-people had good and bad folks in their groups, just as humans do. This is also the only book that hasn't had Sookie get beaten to a pulp, or beaten and tortured, as she was in the last book. There was also more information and background on the Faery side of Sookie's family, and her brother Jason seems to have become a decent human being all of a sudden, ready to marry his sweetheart and actually help his sister instead of asking her to risk her life to bail him out, as usual.
Yet the handsome Viking vampire Eric Northman is also brought low in this book, by his sire, a Roman who chose to 'turn' the last Romanoff heir, who becomes insane and tries to gut half the characters in the book. Fortunately, Vampire Bill Compton has a short part in the book, helping an older character pass away after revealing their shared heritage, which is sweet. His long lost 'sister' vampire is discovered, and he is healed of his wounds caused by the silver-tipped fangs of a Fairy.
Though we discover who is behind the attempts to get Sookie into trouble, and everything is wrapped up neatly at the end of the book, I left dissatisfied with Sookie and her slide back into childish dependancy on anyone who can get her out of a jam. But I won't stop reading this series, in hopes that Harris gets Sookie back on track and back to her independent self soon. I'd recommend this book to those who have read the other Sookie Stackhouse novels, with the caveat that they overlook some of the more salacious scenes as an homage Harris is paying to the TV people.
I just hope that the TV show doesn't ruin the books any further.

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