The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni Company audio

  • Title:  The Supreme Macaroni Company (#3 Valentine series)
  • Author:  Adriana Trigiani
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Cassandra Campbell
  • Published:  November 2013 – Harper; Harper Audio
  • Sources:  Publisher (print copy); I purchased the audio

Synopsis:  For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret. 
A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: “A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything.” The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves-the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.
Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: a portrait of a woman and the man she loves, her passion for craftsmanship, and the sacrifices it takes to build and sustain a family business while keeping love and laughter at the center of everything.  (publisher)

My take:  The Supreme Macaroni Company is the final installment of the Valentine series. I’ve been a fan since I first met Valentine Roncalli in Very Valentine. She’s a modern, sometimes confident, usually headstrong woman who is intent on keeping her family’s shoe company in business.

Val knows what she wants and one of those wants is Gianluca – the love of her life. Where Val is modern, American and in her 30s, Gianluca is a traditional Italian and in his 50s. These two don’t always see eye to eye but they never lose sight of their love for one another. When they marry Valentine must learn to compromise – easier said than done. Gianluca wants to take care of her and sometimes makes decisions without consulting Val. This causes some rocky times in the early days of their marriage.

What Val learns is that a willingness to sacrifice and compromise from a place of love will be a blessing to them both. Adriana Trigiani’s story is emotional and at times had me in tears so have some tissues handy. I’m going to miss the Roncallis and all the rest – maybe in five or ten years we can convince the author to let us know what’s going on in their lives.

Audio:  Cassandra Campbell’s narration is first rate. Her performance of Valentine and the other characters enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

Spotlight on: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer Gilbert’s memoir I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag was recently released in paperback. I reviewed it here in 2012 (review). Today I’ll spotlight it in case you missed it last year. Check out the link to the giveaway (US only) at the end of the spotlight!

goodie bag

  • Title:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag
  • Author:  Jennifer Gilbert
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  April 30, 2013 – Harper Paperbacks
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis: (from the Harper website)

When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life’s greatest moments, she was convinced she’d never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm—she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days’ notice when disaster struck—there was no crisis that she couldn’t turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people’s lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one’s entitled to an easy road, and some people’s roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does—sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It’s a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift.

Jennifer Gilbert’s website

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Giveaway ends: July 10, 2013 at 6pm EDT

News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh

news from heaven

  • Title:  News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories
  • Author:  Jennifer Haigh
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  (expected) January 29, 2013 – Harper
  • Source:  Review copy from Harper

Synopsis: Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania— the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh’s award-winning bestseller Baker TowersNews from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become. Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments.  A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with a heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. And characters familiar to fans of Baker Towers—indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy, and their mysterious younger brother Sandy—return for an encore performance. Written with poignant realism, News from Heaven deftly captures our desire for escape and our need for connection, and reveals the enduring hold of a past that remains ever present in the lives of ordinary people struggling to understand themselves and define their place in the world. 

My take:  I shouldn’t be surprised that Jennifer Haigh’s collection of short stories made me rethink my automatic response to the format. Normally I don’t care for them at all. I find them bleak, depressing, and a chore to read. Not so with News From Heaven. Reading each story was like paging through a scrapbook. There’s history, relationships, celebrations, heartbreak, regrets, and even a bit of optimism. 

Bakerton, Pennsylvania was home to the coal mine that employed most of the men from town. Once the mine was mined out the jobs were gone and the town was thrown into hard times. Haigh’s connected stories cover the ups and downs of the townspeople – from the  mine owners to the workers and everyone in between.

I grew up in a small town so I could identify with the aspect that Joyce in “Desiderata” acknowledged of everyone knowing your story – or at least thinking they know. I don’t live there anymore so they don’t know the rest of my story. That’s not the case with the older residents in Bakerton. More than likely they were born there, raised families, and will eventually die there. Their complete stories known to all.

My favorite story (if I must choose one) was Broken Star. It’s about Regina, a girl in her early teens, and the summer her young aunt and cousin came to visit.  I also liked the final story in the collection: Desiderata. The high school principal died a few months earlier and his wife is sorting through his things. Poignant, relatable, uplifting. Really, though, I enjoyed each story.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I know it’s only January but I expect News From Heaven to be on my 2013 Favorite Books list. It was a pleasure to read.

Note:  I read Baker Towers several years ago (the month it was published) and although I remembered the general story there was a lot I forgot. If you haven’t read Baker Towers I recommend doing so before News From Heaven. It’s not imperative but it could help in your overall enjoyment of these connected stories.

The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Title:  The Cottage At Glass Beach

Author:  Heather Barbieri

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  May 2012 – Harper

About:  Wanting to flee the humiliating mess brought on by her husband’s infidelity Nora Keane goes home with her two daughters to Burke’s Island, Maine after receiving an invitation from an aunt.

My take:  I loved the setting, Nora, her daughters, and the people of Burke’s Island. I also loved the fairytale-like tone of the novel – even though I wish that aspect had been developed a bit more. In going home Nora is able to discover things about her past as well as come to know her aunt. She also finds that some people on the island aren’t thrilled by her visit. Add some family secrets and a mysterious character or two to the mix and you’ve got an intriguing novel.

I appreciated how the author showed how the two daughters worked through/expressed their feelings about their parents’ separation. And Nora needed to figure out what to do now that papers had been filed. She truly seemed adrift – which all seemed like an honest portrayal of a woman and her daughters – given their situation.

I’ve had some time to think about The Cottage at Glass Beach since I finished reading it. At first I wasn’t sure I liked the vague ending but after some reflection I decided it’s true to life. Much of our future is uncertain but we can continue to focus on what matters most.

Source:  Harper

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Title:  The Shoemaker’s Wife

Author:  Adriana Trigiani

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Published:  April 2012 – Harper

My take:  Ciro and Enza grew up in the same area of Italy and that’s where they met when they were teenagers. Events kept them from being together for many years until they finally found their way to each other – in America. Ciro had been sent there because of something he witnessed back home. Enza and her father were working to earn money to build a new family home back in Italy.

The Shoemaker’s Wife is the fictionalized story of Adriana Trigiani’s grandparents. And what a story it is. It could be the story of many Americans’ grandparents. They experienced such hardships as they struggled to make a new life and yet most came through it with humility and appreciation for all they had. It made me wonder if I would be up to the same struggles as my great-grandparents who came from Ireland.

Trigiani’s detailed descriptions paint vivid pictures of the Italian and American countrysides, the gorgeous fabrics used to make costumes for the Metropolitan Opera company, and the sights and sounds of Little Italy. I found The Shoemaker’s Wife to be both heart-breaking and uplifting. The 20th century was a time of great change in America. Immigrants from all over the world played a major part in that change. Trigiani’s novel is a loving gift to her grandparents and to ours.

Recommended to:  fans of Adriana Trigiani and historical fiction.

Source:  Harper

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

Ali in Wonderland:And Other Tall Tales by Ali Wentworth

Title:  Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales

Author:  Ali Wentworth

Genre:  Memoir

Published:  February 2012 – Harper

About:  (from the publisher) Growing up in a family of political journalists—and daughter of President Reagan’s White House social secretary—Ali Wentworth rebelled against her blue-blood upbringing, embracing Hollywood, motorcycles, even a few wildly inappropriate marriage proposals. Today she is an acclaimed comedic actress and writer, former Oprah regular, wife of political and media star George Stephanopoulos, and a mother who lets her two girls eat cotton candy before bed. Though she’s settled down, her rebellious nature thrives in her comedy and her view of her crazy world.

In this addictively funny and warm memoir, she takes us through the looking glass and into the wonderland of her life, from a childhood among Washington’s elite to a stint in the psych ward they called a New England prep school; days doing L.A. sketch comedy (with then-aspiring artists Will Ferrell and Lisa Kudrow) to a series of spectacularly failed loves (that eventually led her to Mr. Right). Constant throughout is her mother, Muffie—a flawlessly elegant yet firm, no-nonsense force of nature and pure WASP convictions.

My take:  Ali in Wonderland is a very entertaining memoir and Ali Wentworth is a very funny storyteller. After reading about a couple of her experiences I wondered how she was still alive. Most of the time I was laughing out loud at her tales of growing up in a privileged family, going to boarding school, and her various love interests.

My favorite part of the book? That would be from the point she met her future husband to the end of the book. Her stories of their brief engagement, planning a wedding, and the birth of their first child are hilarious.

Source:  Harper

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

How To Love An American Man: A True Story by Kristine Gasbarre

Title:  How To Love An American Man

Author:  Kristine Gasbarre

Genre:  Memoir

About: (from the LibraryThing description) After dating driven, self-absorbed men in New York, Krissy Gasbarre relocates to Italy to be near her new English beau and to research the roots of her lovably alpha-male, Italian-American grandpa. But just weeks into her European adventure, the Brit takes a job in the Middle East…and her grandpa, who’s been an indelible force in her life, passes away.

For the first time in a decade, Krissy moves back to her Pennsylvania hometown to mourn her grandpa’s death and help her close-knit, festive family care for her refined (but notoriously non-maternal) grandmother. That’s when Grandma Gloria reveals the untold story of her 60-year marriage and the love lessons that made her relationship so much more successful than the ones her granddaughter’s known.

My thoughts:  I absolutely enjoyed this entertaining memoir. Kristine Gasbarre’s story about the lessons learned from her Grandmother is also a candid look at the frustrations of unrequited love and how to find the real thing. And then recognize it when you see it.

I think many readers will be able to relate to Gasbarre’s memoir.  How To Love An American Man reads like a novel. Once I started reading I found it hard to stop. I hope there will be a sequel!

Recommended.

Source:  Publisher via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

The Greatest Music Stories Never Told by Rick Beyer

 Title:  The Greatest Music Stories Never Told: 100 tales from Music History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy

Author:  Rick Beyer

Genre:  Nonfiction/Music

About:  (From the uncorrected proof) What does Marie Antoinette have to do with “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”? Which hugely popular song was written in a fit of anger at actor Robert DeNiro? How was a musical genius of the 1600s literally killed by his own conducting? Why has one country run through eight versions of its national anthem in the last hundred years – three of them written by the same person? How did an idea for a sitcom inspire the Woodstock music festival? And why is a virtual unknown named Ivan Vaughan arguably the most important person in the history of rock ‘n’ roll?

My thoughts:   You’ll have to read the book to find the answers! This book is the latest in The Greatest Stories Never Told book series. It is filled with surprising stories about music and familiar (and not so familiar) historical figures.

Each story is told on two pages and includes pertinent sketches and photos. I learned a lot from The Greatest Music Stories Never Told and think it would be the perfect gift for any music and trivia fan.

Source:  Harper

Tolstoy And The Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Title:  Tolstoy And The Purple Chair: My Year Of Magical Reading

Author:  Nina Sankovitch

Genre:  Memoir

About:  When Nina’s beloved older sister died Nina threw herself into living life to the fullest – almost as if living for herself and her sister. She chaired committees, coached her sons’ sports and academic teams, and underwent medical tests so she could reassure her family that she was not going to die. Three years later she realized she couldn’t keep up the frantic pace. Her grief was just as strong as it had been following Anne-Marie’s death.  Nina had to find answers to looming questions of why her sister had died and not her; what was she supposed to do with her life. She wasn’t finding the answers through constant activity so she looked for something that could link her to Anne-Marie. That something was reading. Nina decided to read a book each day for a year.  A mother to four school-age boys, Nina would get them off to school each day and try to read a book by the time they returned home or after they went to bed each day.  Quite a challenge indeed!  Nina’s sons and husband supported her and pitched in around the house as she accomplished her goal.

After three years of carrying the truth of my sister’s death around with me, I knew I would never be relieved of my sorrow. I was not hoping for relief. I was hoping for answers. I was trusting in books to answer the relentless questions of why I deserved to live. And of how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.  (p.31 uncorrected proof)

My thoughts:  I have six sisters and can only imagine the grief I’d experience if one died before her time. I’ve also loved to read since I was a young girl so it should come as no surprise that I liked this book.

Although I’ve read only a small percentage of the books mentioned in Tolstoy And The Purple Chair I appreciated the wisdom that Ms. Sankovitch took from all. She read popular novels, literature, mysteries, and at least one recommended by her son. Each served to guide her through the year-long journey in search of answers. It’s a very personal book and one I’ll recommend to any booklover.

Source:   Harper

Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh

Title:  Faith: A Novel

Author:  Jennifer Haigh

Genre:  Fiction

About:  (from Goodreads) When Sheila McGann sets out to redeem her disgraced brother, a once-beloved Catholic priest in suburban Boston, her quest will force her to confront cataclysmic truths about her fractured Irish-American family, her beliefs, and, ultimately, herself.

My thoughts:  I had misgivings about reading a novel about the topic Ms. Haigh tackled in Faith but it’s much more than a novel about abuse. It’s about a family and how each member handles a shocking allegation against one of their own.

Told by the sister of the accused, the story is one of discoveries about her mother, father, and brothers. Haigh explores themes of family loyalty, faith in various forms, and forgiveness.

Jennifer Haigh’s writing is what carried me through the book in a few hours. I was completely absorbed in the story and very glad that I read the book.

Recommend?  Yes. It would be a great bookclub pick – so many discussion possibilities.

Source:  Harper Books

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones

Title: The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem

Author: Sonya Sones

Genre: Fiction

My take: Holly feels like the rug of life is being pulled out from under her. She’s reached middle age, her hormones are running her life, her only child is heading to college soon, her mother is in the hospital, and just when she thinks nothing more can change, she starts to suspect her husband may be having an affair.

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is written in verse. Don’t let that dissuade you from reading it because it reads like prose. It is funny, honest, poignant and spot on for women of a certain age. One minute I would laugh out loud and the next I would sigh and nod in agreement with Holly. Can you tell I related to the novel? This is one book I’ll recommend to my friends – I know they’ll love it.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Harper

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Title: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Genre: History/Biography

About: (Goodreads)  The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings.

My thoughts: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s book is one of the most inspirational I’ve read in quite some time.  She tells the story of Kamila Sediqi – a young woman who rose to the occasion when her father left the family in her care because he,her mother and brother had to flee Kabul after the Taliban invasion in the 1990s.

After some time had passed the need to buy food and other necessities prompted Kamila to find a way to earn money.  She went to her older, married sister who taught her how to sew.  From those lessons grew a cottage industry that employed many girls from her neighborhood. By teaching the girls to cut fabric, sew, bead, etc. she helped them gain confidence and self-esteem as well as a way to earn money to help support their families. Kamila risked her safety anytime she would go to the market where she bought fabric and sold finished garments. She couldn’t go out in public without her younger brother (a Taliban rule) and she had to wear the required chadri (burqa). She had faith that God would take care of her. That faith carried her through some very distressing times.

I was continually impressed by the courage and optimism displayed by all of the young people portrayed in this book. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a biography that reads like a novel.  It’s a compelling story of the power of the human spirit during impossible times.

I appreciated that the author included an epilogue and a Where Are They Today chapter.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Recommend? Yes, it’s an uplifting and inspirational story.

Source: HarperCollins

Caribou Island by David Vann

Title: Caribou Island

Author: David Vann

Genre: Fiction

About: (Goodreads synopsis)  On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, the …more

My thoughts: The writing is great but this novel is so bleak – the setting, the weather, the lives of the characters. Just bleak.

Anyway, in a small town in Alaska, there’s a woman who’s dissatisfied with her life. She has unexplained head pain but doesn’t feel her family believes her and medical tests show nothing. She’s unable to sleep and no amount of medication eases the pain.

Her husband has a goal, a dream, to build a cabin on Caribou Island and live there permanently. He’s driven to see it through and his wife, who doesn’t share his dream, will not be a reason to stop. They refuse to see the other’s point of view which makes them bitter and angry people.  Their adult daughter seems to be on a path to repeat her mother’s mistakes.  Their son lives nearby but prefers to ignore his family, work his day jobs and get high at night.  David Vann’s story builds slowly but solidly to a dramatic conclusion.

I don’t want to give any more away.  If this piques your interest I think Caribou Island might be the book for you.

Recommend? Yes.  Though I found the novel quite dark, Vann’s sharp and evocative writing kept me reading almost nonstop. I will definitely look for more of his books.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Harper via Goodreads First Reads