Mio Dio! I haven’t had such a good time reading a book in a long while. Or a need to dash out to the local Italian bakery, or shove in one of my Dean Martin CDs, or run to the other side of the country and be surrounded by my plethora of Sicilian American family. Oh yes, this was a romance wrapped up in so much culture and family that it draws the reader right into its big-hearted Italian bosom for a marinara-scented hug.
While this story has strong affiliations to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in themes, characters, and situation, it is very much its own story. In fact, anyone not particularly familiar with Pride & Prejudice would probably not even guess that it is a modern adaption of the old story. In other words, no prior familiarity or liking for P&P necessary to dive in and learn to adore this colorful, dazzling Italian-American Romance set during the holiday season in NYC-Bronx and environs. But many Austen lovers will be tickled by it for sure.
The story opens with Dr. Elizabeth Fairchild returning home to New York from California for the reading of her great-aunt’s will. Elizabeth has distanced herself from her roots in the Bronx Little Italy community and in so doing distanced herself from family. This return is an eye-opener on many levels. She begins to see that she is lonely and living out a cold-hearted existence. By denying part of herself- the Lizzy Clemente, one of the three Clemente sisters- she isn’t happy.
So it is with no little amount of anxiety that she learns that she and her sisters have inherited the Villa Fortuna. There are stipulations in the will. Elizabeth knows this is Gina’s big chance after the failure of her marriage. The old beautiful Italian style building in an upscale community is just the place for Gina to open her hair salon. The wild sister, Nicki is on board and they both want Elizabeth to help. Elizabeth promises short-term help to get them started. The opposition is in the form of Stella Russo, a rival of their deceased great-aunt, who has a claim on Villa Fortuna and to the upscale salon down the street.
By chance, while she is attending a medical conference in the city, Elizabeth meets a handsome plastic surgeon, Michael Garin, and they begin seeing each other. Neither realize their other connection through Villa Fortuna and their shared NYC Italian roots in that Elizabeth is the Lizzy Clemente helping her sisters with the hair salon and Mike is the grandson of Stella and he wants to buy the building. Mike is in the dark because Elizabeth lies to him about anything personal and family related and on Mike’s part, the specifics don’t come up because he doesn’t know there is the connection.
Michael Garin is disappointed by each date that doesn’t work out, his work that is his father’s dream and not his own, his father checking out of him and his sister’s life, and the pressure from his grandmother to help her against the new owners of Villa Fortuna. Women objectify him for his good looks, family wealth and connections, and because of his work. He wants to find love and actually do work that makes a difference which is why meeting Elizabeth is the start of something special.
Mayhem ensues as the truth comes out in this sassy, zany Romantic Comedy set against the backdrop of Little Italy and the Christmas season.
Some books are strong because of the characters or the relationship. This book does have a good romance and the characters are well-developed, but truthfully, its strengths are on the tone, atmosphere, larger cast of characters as a whole, and the setting. It’s not in the parts, but the whole that the story can be truly appreciated. It is a feast for the senses and the reader is embraced by the culture of the story even as the dominant theme is the angst of a flawed heroine who has to work through her issues to find happiness.
The humor is beyond the beyond. I chuckled, snorted, and mused happily through the antics going on in the story. This is not meant to be a serious story and can slip into the mad cap often. Stella is unbelievable most of the time. Nicki can bring down the house with her trash-talking and flirting. She was an unapologetic minx. Or the surrounding array of quirky neighbors and family putting in opinions and doing their thing (bathtub wine making, cross-dressing receptionist, mob ties, a threatening electric drill, best open house evah).
I do have to say that the romance was a tough one for me. I’m not one who enjoys reading about a character who can’t be honest with themselves or anyone else. Elizabeth lies to Mike the whole time and then jumps to some harsh conclusions due to her prejudices. He jumps to conclusions too, but I give him some latitude b/c he was also being lied to. I wanted to smack her particularly in the beginning when she wasn’t a likeable person the way she was treating her sisters and acting.
But, she does grow, and even if I didn’t like the lying, I liked her so I stuck with it because her ex did a number on her to cause this. The author convinced me that they were a good romantic pair and the chemistry was definitely there. The several dates and conversations helped develop their relationship for me and I loved all the romantic feelings that grew. Mike comes through as a shining hero.
And on a side note, the food, activities, and music were a fun inclusion. A few Italian recipes are slipped in between the chapters (cute chapter titles by the by) and I know for a fact these are delicious as my own family has made these goods.
All in all, it was la dolce vita. Austen lovers and contemporary romance fans should definitely give this hot-blooded, loud, quirky Italian-American Romantic Comedy a go.
Romance Roundabout #14 CR
Literary Pickers #14 Hammer
Books N Tunes #3 Jay and the Americans’ ‘Cara Mia’