Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani introduces the Roncalli clan and the world of custom shoes, the West Village and the beauty of Italy. What a combination - the premise sounded irresistible to me and the book certainly delivered.
My Summary: Valentine Roncalli lives with her grandmother in an apartment above the West Village shop that houses the Angelini custom shoe business in which Valentine works with her grandmother. The business has been in the family for generations and Valentine has a passion for her family, their history and for the artistry of making one of a kind shoes using luxurious materials. Amid the stresses of keeping a small niche business afloat, Valentine attempts a romance with a handsome restauranteur and tries to fit their lovelife into their crazy schedules. When Valentine accompanies her grandmother to Italy on her annual buying trip, she steps back into time and her passion for the art of shoemaking deepens. While there, she also begins to question work/life balance and the importance of trying to achieve it all.
My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book! Valentine is a dynamic protagonist - she is pushed to taking her family business into the current century by financial pressures but then learns she has a real head for business and a true passion for the artistry of the craft of custom shoe design. I found myself rooting for her from the start whether in her struggles with the business or her relationship with the complicated and ambitious Roman Falconi. When she traveled to Italy (a dream of mine!) and observed how much Italians value work/life balance, I found I really related to her desire for a slower pace. This quote, spoken by Valentine, certainly gives me pause,
"You [her Italian friend] live a balanced life. You work, you eat, you rest. We don't. We can't. We live as though we have something to prove. There's never enough time, we eat on the run, and we sleep as little as possible. We believe the one who works the hardest wins."
What I really love about this book, however, is the boisterous Roncalli clan and the vivid descriptions of both New York City and Italy (especially the scenes in Isle of Capri). In addition to their matriarch, Gram, the Roncalli clan includes Valentine's two sisters, Tess and Jaclyn, her brother Alfred, her funny, larger than life mother and her drily humorous Dad. Despite their bickering and the fact that are all involved in each other's lives, their love for each other and the value they place on family is clear. Although not nearly as boisterous (or boisterous at all for that matter!), my family also places a lot of importance on pulling together and being there for each other above all so I could relate to Valentine's involvement with and true affection for her family.
The Roncalli's are from Queens, which is where I grew up, and I enjoyed all the references to local spots in the neighborhood including Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills and Leonard's of Great Neck (I attended a prom there!) If I didn't know that author grew up in SW Virginia, I would think she hailed from Queens - her references were spot on! The level of detail she provides about locales - Queens, Italy, The West Village - really add to the novel and serve to draw the reader even further into her story.
This was one of those books where I was dreading the end because I didn't want to leave the characters or the life the author had created. Fortunately, this is the first in a 3 book series and I was able to quickly move on to the 2nd book Brava, Valentine (review will be posted soon) but it will be a long wait for the 3rd book due to come out in February 2010. If you want a little more from the author in the meantime, check out her website, or listen to her interview with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio where she talks about Very Valentine.
I received this book for review from TLC Book Tours; although the author is orignally from SW VA, she currently lives in NYC and her book is decidedly set in NYC so this review meets the criteria for the Literary Road Trip