Very Valentine (Trigiani)

Very Valentine  (Valentine Trilogy, 1)
Adriana Trigiani, 2009
HarperCollins
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061257063

Summary
Meet the Roncalli and Angelini families, a vibrant cast of colorful characters who navigate tricky family dynamics with hilarity and brio, from magical Manhattan to the picturesque hills of bella Italia. Very Valentine is the first novel in a trilogy and is sure to be the new favorite of Trigiani's millions of fans around the world.

In this luscious, contemporary family saga, the Angelini Shoe Company, makers of exquisite wedding shoes since 1903, is one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village. The company is on the verge of financial collapse. It falls to thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli, the talented and determined apprentice to her grandmother, the master artisan Teodora Angelini, to bring the family's old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century and save the company from ruin.

While juggling a budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother to learn new techniques and seek one-of-a-kind materials for building a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals. There, in Tuscany, Naples, and on the Isle of Capri, a family secret is revealed as Valentine discovers her artistic voice and much more, turning her life and the family business upside down in ways she never expected. Very Valentine is a sumptuous treat, a journey of dreams fulfilled, a celebration of love and loss filled with Trigiani's trademark heart and humor. (From the publisher.)

This is the first book in the Valentine Trilogy. The second is Brava Valentine; the third The Supreme Macaroni Company.



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Big Stone Gap, Virginia, USA
Education—B.A., St. Mary’s College, Indiana, USA
Currently—lives in New York, New York


As her squadrons of fans already know, Adriana Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, a coal-mining town in southwest Virginia that became the setting for her first three novels. The "Big Stone Gap" books feature Southern storytelling with a twist: a heroine of Italian descent, like Trigiani, who attended St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, like Trigiani. But the series isn't autobiographical—the narrator, Ave Maria Mulligan, is a generation older than Trigiani and, as the first book opens, has settled into small-town spinsterhood as the local pharmacist.

The author, by contrast, has lived most of her adult life in New York City. After graduating from college with a theater degree, she moved to the city and began writing and directing plays (her day jobs included cook, nanny, house cleaner and office temp). In 1988, she was tapped to write for the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, and spent the following decade working in television and film. When she presented her friend and agent Suzanne Gluck with a screenplay about Big Stone Gap, Gluck suggested she turn it into a novel.

The result was an instant bestseller that won praise from fellow writers along with kudos from celebrities (Whoopi Goldberg is a fan). It was followed by Big Cherry Holler and Milk Glass Moon, which chronicle the further adventures of Ave Maria through marriage and motherhood. People magazine called them "Delightfully quirky... chock full of engaging, oddball characters and unexpected plot twists."

Critics sometimes reach for food imagery to describe Trigiani's books, which have been called "mouthwatering as fried chicken and biscuits" (USA Today) and "comforting as a mug of tea on a rainy Sunday" (New York Times Book Review). Food and cooking play a big role in the lives of Trigiani's heroines and their families: Lucia, Lucia, about a seamstress in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and The Queen of the Big Time, set in an Italian-American community in Pennsylvania, both feature recipes from Trigiani's grandmothers. She and her sisters have even co-written a cookbook called, appropriately enough, Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap. It's peppered with anecdotes, photos and family history. What it doesn't have: low-carb recipes. "An Italian girl can only go so long without pasta," Trigiani quipped in an interview on GoTriCities.com.

Her heroines are also ardent readers, so it comes as no surprise that book groups love Adriana Trigiani. And she loves them right back. She's chatted with scores of them on the phone, and her Web site includes photos of women gathered together in living rooms and restaurants across the country, waving Italian flags and copies of Lucia, Lucia.

Trigiani, a disciplined writer whose schedule for writing her first novel included stints from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning, is determined not to disappoint her fans. So far, she's produced a new novel each year since the publication of Big Stone Gap.

I don't take any of it for granted, not for one second, because I know how hard this is to catch with your public," she said in an interview with The Independent. "I don't look at my public as a group; I look at them like individuals, so if a reader writes and says, 'I don't like this,' or, 'This bit stinks,' I take it to heart.

Extras
From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I appeared on the game show Kiddie Kollege on WCYB-TV in Bristol, Virginia, when I was in the third grade. I missed every question. It was humiliating.

• I have held the following jobs: office temp, ticket seller in movie theatre, cook in restaurant, nanny, and phone installer at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. In the writing world, I have been a playwright, television writer/producer, documentary writer/director, and now novelist.

• I love rhinestones, faux jewelry. I bought a pair of pearl studded clip on earrings from a blanket on the street when I first moved to New York for a dollar. They turned out to be a pair designed by Elsa Schiaparelli. Now, they are costume, but they are still Schiaps! Always shop in the street—treasures aplenty.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is what she said:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. When I was a girl growing up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, I was in the middle of a large Italian family, but I related to the lonely orphan girl Jane, who with calm and focus, put one foot in front of the other to make a life for herself after the death of her parents and her terrible tenure with her mean relatives. She survived the horrors of the orphanage Lowood, losing her best friend to consumption, became a teacher and then a nanny. The love story with the complicated Rochester was interesting to me, but what moved me the most was Jane's character, in particular her sterling moral code. Here was a girl who had no reason to do the right thing, she was born poor and had no connections and yet, somehow she was instinctively good and decent. It's a story of personal triumph and the beauty of human strength. I also find the book a total page turner- and it's one of those stories that you become engrossed in, unable to put it down. Imagine the beauty of the line: "I loved and was loved." It doesn't get any better than that! (Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
This first-in-a-trilogy is a frilly valentine to Manhattan's picturesque West Village, starring a boisterous and charmingly contentious Italian-American family. Valentine Roncalli, adrift after a failed relationship and an aborted teaching career, becomes an apprentice to her 80-year-old grandmother, Teodora Angelini, at the tiny family shoe business. While Valentine struggles to come up with a financial plan-and shoe design-to bring the Old World operation into the 21st century, her brother, Alfred, is pushing Gram to retire and sell her building for $6 million. It's not all business for Valentine, of course: handsome and sophisticated Roman Falconi, owner and chef at a posh restaurant, is vying for her heart. Bestselling Trigiani channels ambition and girl-power, but is surprisingly reserved-and retro-when it comes to romance: "[O]ur relationship has to build slowly and beautifully in order to hold all the joy and misery that lies ahead," thinks Valentine. Still, this genteel and lush tale of soles and souls has loads of charm and will leave readers eager for the sequel.
Publishers Weekly


In Trigiani's (Big Stone Gap) launch of a new trilogy, 33-year-old Valentine attempts to save her family's custom shoe business while dealing with family and relationship dramas set against the backdrop of New York City and Italy. If she's going to realize her dream of becoming a master shoemaker, Valentine must come up with a plan to rescue the financially troubled family wedding shoe business and prevent her brother from selling the building (located in Greenwich Village and worth millions) for a quick profit. In addition, Valentine has a new man in her life, sexy restaurateur Roman, who is just as dedicated to his business as Valentine is to hers-leaving little time for romance. In the midst of it all, Valentine travels to Italy with her grandmother Theodora to buy supplies and later rendezvous with Roman for her birthday. Things go well for Valentine professionally, but her personal life is more up in the air. This, as well as the many entertaining characters introduced, leaves plenty of material for the two books to come. Nicely written with vivid images of high fashion, New York City, and traditional Italy, Trigiani's latest is sure to be eagerly anticipated by her many fans and attract some new readers. Recommended for all public libraries.
Karen Core - Library Journal


Trigiani’s closing is satisfying, even as it paves the way for the lovable heroine to reappear in a planned sequel. —Annie McCormick
Booklist


Food, shoes and romance feature prominently in this zesty novel of an Italian-American family, the first in a planned trilogy following the life of Valentine Roncalli. A few years ago Valentine left teaching for something entirely different: She moved in with her grandmother Teodora and became an apprentice cobbler. Angelini Shoe Company, a longtime fixture in Greenwich Village, is an old-world establishment that provides custom-made wedding shoes. Valentine learns from 80-year-old Teodora, whom she calls "Gram," the skills of shoemaking and running a business, but she eventually discovers that Gram doesn't have a head for numbers. Their beautiful building (the shop and showroom is downstairs, their apartment occupies the upper floors) has been borrowed against over the years, and now they can't possibly make enough shoes to cover the new mortgage. Brother Alfred wants the building sold (it's worth millions) and Gram put in a retirement community, but Valentine and Gram cling to the hope that the family company can prosper in the next century. While Valentine tries to save the company (it may all depend on winning a shoe competition at Bergdorf's) she meets sexy Roman Falconi, chef extrodinaire. The two have lots of heat and lots of issues—between the demands of his restaurant and her shoe shop, they rarely see each other. After months of a simmering relationship, Roman promises he'll meet Valentine on Capri, at the tail end of the buying trip she's making with Gram. Italy is an eye-opening experience—the hills of Tuscany, the wine, the leather and the big surprise, Gram's longtime lover Dominic. His romantic son Gianluca is also a bit of an eye-opener for Valentine—if she's so in love with Roman, then why does Gianluca look so damn good? Rich descriptions of beautiful things—a Greenwich Village rooftop garden, the Blue Grotto of Capri, a bounty of well-made meals, sexy men in sweaters—create a (not quite) fairy tale of guilty pleasures. Things may not work out perfectly for Valentine in this first installment, but Trigiani (Home to Big Stone Gap, 2006, etc.) offers plenty of reasons to stick around for part two.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Valentine Roncalli begins her tale with the words, "I am not the pretty sister. I'm not the smart sister either. I am the funny one." How does her outlook color her actions? What do you think of Valentine? Do you agree with her assessment or do you think she might be selling herself short?

2. One of the major themes of Very Valentine is family. Describe the Roncalli family. How does their bond enrich Valentine's life? How might it affect her adversely, both in her romantic and professional endeavors? Offer some examples from the novel.

3. What defines family for the Roncallis? How would you fit into Valentine's family? What defines family for you? What is your family life like now and what were your experiences growing up?

4. Compare Valentine with her mother, Michelina ("Mike"), and her grandmother, Teodora. What elements of her personality does Valentine get from both women? Does she take after one more than the other?

5. Valentine's sister-in-law, Pam, has a difficult time fitting into the Roncalli family. How much of this is the result of her own actions? Are the Roncalli sisters responsible as well?

6. Tradition is another them of Very Valentine. Her sister Tess calls Valentine traditional, yet Valentine disagrees. "I guess I appear to be one of my tribe, but the truth is, whenever I have the opportunity to walk the hard line of tradition, I balk." Is Tess right, does Valentine represent tradition? How does she balk at it, as she claims? Which sister has the more realistic view?

7. Valentine ponders the question: "How do we survive in a contemporary world without losing everything my great-grandfather built?" Is there a role for tradition and traditional craftsmen and artisans in our technologically dependent modern world?

8. What does tradition mean for your life? Are there any you particularly cherish that have been handed down through past generations? How do you keep traditions alive? How can you start new ones?

9. Romantic love and the yearning for it infuse the novel. Valentine is a single woman in a world seemingly defined by marriage. Can a woman be fulfilled and yet remain single? Can she be happy without a man?

10. Describe Valentine's love interests, Roman and Gianluca. What does each man provide that the other doesn't? Did you prefer one to the other? Do you think she could be happy with either of them—or someone like either of them?

11. When Roman tells her that he will be few days late meeting her in Capri, what do you think about her reaction to his news? What about when he cancels on her?

12. What role did the trip to Capri play in Valentine and Roman's relationship?

13. The Roncalli family offers numerous insights, both profound and humorous for Valentine. Her mother tells, "You see, that's when you know for sure somebody loves you. They figure out what you need and they give it to you—without you asking." What do you think of this view of love?

14. Mike also advises her daughter, "I believe in setting goals that one can achieve. Low expectations make for a happy life." Can not expecting much make you happy? How? What would happen to Valentine if she followed this advice?

15. When talking to her father, Valentine discovers that he has a spiritual philosophy: "What about me is eternal?" How would you answer this question? Besides children, what might you leave to future generations?

16. Throughout the novel, Valentine works hard to save the Angelini Shoe Company. If she is successful, she gains stability. What do you think will happen if she fails?

17. Valentine describes the art of making shoes: "My grandmother has taught me that the palette for leather and suede is limitless, like musical notes." What do our shoes say about ourselves? How is Valentine's passion, making shoes, a metaphor for her life?

18. In Adriana Trigiani's vivid prose, New York City and Italy are like "characters" in the book. Describe Valentine's New York. How does "her" city compare to the New York you might know of—or have imagined? What is Italy like through her eyes? What does each place offer Valentine?

19. What does Valentine learn about herself in Italy? How do those lessons affect her?

20. What do you think of Teodora's news? Why do you think she kept her relationship a secret all those years?

21. At the end of the novel, Valentine turns away from both Roman and Gianluca. "In this moment, I choose art." Is this the right choice for her? What might it mean for her and for the Angelini Shoe Company? Does she have to choose love and career?

23. What did you learn from Valentine's experiences? What advice would you give her about her love life and her career?
(Questions isssued by publisher.)

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