Family and Holidays By Cat Gardiner #Giveaway

Happy Birthday Jane Austen and Happy Holidays to all her followers, enthusiasts, authors, and readers. Thank you Sophia for inviting me to share a little about my new novel Villa Fortuna and what I love about Austen’s work. I’m so excited to be at Delighted Reader on such an auspicious occasion.

I’ve been asked a few times why I write Austenesque or Austen-Inspired and what part of Austen’s work influences my own novels? As many of you know, I frequently write OOC (Out of Character,) choosing instead to focus on the themes of pride and prejudice in a modern world. I also enjoy taking the liberty of altering some of P&P’s characters’ traits to suit a contemporary audience. In doing so, I recognize that is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an angle that I love exploring. Let’s face it, two hundred years have passed and women are having premarital sex, moving away from home, and accomplished way more than their Regency counterparts. They are pursuing professions and not necessarily in search of a husband—even to acquire his good fortune. So, IMHO, a modern Austen-inspired novel should fit the social mores of the era and that will alter the way a man or woman acts and thinks; thus, the possible altering of the character of a person.

Among Austen’s many timeless elements, those of pride and prejudice are at the heart of my three modern novels, but Villa Fortuna also focuses on family. In this case, it’s an Italian-American family in New York City. Austen’s spotlight on family dynamics in all her novels is probably my favorite theme because she does it so well, and nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, has changed when it comes to family in two centuries. It is at the heart of her novels. In fact, it is a crucial element to understanding each character—then and now. They’re still loving, still embarrassing, still engaged in sibling rivalry, and still insane—and that’s just at holiday time!

Villa Fortuna by Cat GardinerEnter Villa Fortuna:

Dr. Elizabeth Clemente, our heroine, has returned home to NYC’s Little Italy for the reading of her great-aunt’s Last Will & Testament—and that —is one of the few reasons she would return to Arthur Avenue from Melrose Place. With her father deceased, and her mother living in Florida, all that remains in her childhood neighborhood are her two very dissimilar sisters, whom she loves dearly and in her opinion—live stereotypical lives. Oh, and the authentic cannoli might be worth the trip, too. What she doesn’t expect is the inheritance of a building named Villa Fortuna in an affluent section in Westchester County, and that, my friends, will end up bringing her home permanently. Kicking and screaming? Perhaps. It might take her awhile to adjust with a few sisterly arguments along the way, but romantic love helps her come around, along with the opportunity of helping her sisters achieve their dreams. Yes, true love is principal to Elizabeth’s shedding of her prejudice, but that last point, the family part, is key to her transformation.

The Will has been read and she’s returning home to LA, promising to come back:

“Sister hug,” Elizabeth ordered, holding out her arms as they came toward her again. Gina sniffled and Nicki uncharacteristically giggled as Elizabeth, feeling almost maternal, admitted, “I’ll miss you. I love you both, and I hope you know that you can accomplish whatever you set your minds to. Remember Mr. Carpo is here to help with anything you need and I’ll be back for Christmas. Don’t hesitate to call or text me whenever you want. Okay?”

Gina swiped at the tear rolling down her cheek. “Promise me you will come back for the holidays.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to get the time off. I do have some vacation coming to me.”

“I want your word,” Gina insisted.

“You have my word. I’ll be here, and we’ll have a grand opening the likes of which Etonville has never seen. Your salon will be such a success that no one’ll be able to take Villa Fortuna from us.”

Elizabeth turned away, heart heavy, almost regretful. Inheriting the building was one thing, but kick starting this future for her sisters was a commitment that might require her to reside in New York full time. The associated guilt that battled with the beckoning of the distant boarding gate made her a bit nauseous. Minutes later, lined up for the TSA body scan, a glance over her shoulder showed Gina and Nicki tightly holding onto each other. The eldest cried, as the youngest, hand clutching hip, looked ten shades of Sicilian pissed off.

One last glance backward as she neared the walk-in scanner, conjured the sad realization that LA wasn’t her home; it was just the place where she’d lived for the last sixteen months. Three thousand miles of separation suddenly felt far lonelier than it had before.

She does return home for Christmas, and she does keep her commitment to her sisters. And, as we and others hope, they’re not going to sit idly by counting down the days with sadness until her departure back to LA at the end of December.

When I think on Villa Fortuna, it reminds me of the good in Austen’s family theme: the sisterly love between Jane and Lizzy, Elinor and Marianne, even Jane Austen and her own sister Cassandra. I think of the tenacity of Mrs. Bennet and her concern to make sure that her daughters found suitable husbands, and the protection and care that Darcy gave to Georgiana acting as father, brother, and concerned guardian. I’m reminded of Col. Fitzwilliam, even Fanny Price and Edmund, and how cousins can be best friends and offer a little levity and perspective at the right time. I could bristle when recalling Lady Catherine, who was probably a larger embarrassment for Darcy then Mrs. Bennet was for Lizzy, but nevertheless her intentions were for the betterment of her deBourgh family, her sickly daughter. (Yes, that’s a bit of a rose-colored spin.)

But family doesn’t have to be blood relation, as evident by my husband, but also my best friend, the sister of my heart by another mother. We see this in Pride and Prejudice’s Charlotte, the practical sister best friend to Jane and Lizzy, the proactive, rational yin to their yang. There’s Bingley, the baby brother Darcy never had, a happy-go-lucky young man, who brought some life to Darcy’s stoicism. Also, the comfort and rightness of Emma’s friendship with her Mr. Knightley allowed him to speak freely, take her to task to help her mature. Friends like these will take up your cause and have your back just as readily as your blood relations. They’re heaven-sent angels provided to counterbalance—relatives!

Post Hunsford, Villa Fortuna’s cast of secondary characters living in the sisters’ apartment building are what the Clemente sisters refer to as the “Messina Family.” Here they aren’t too happy with our hero and make their displeasure known, taking up Elizabeth’s cause in her absence.

Nearly frantic to talk with Elizabeth, Mike ran across the street, readying himself for the argument he knew was sure to follow.

After buzzing for entry, he stood in the cold, waiting to hear the heated reply from the speaker box outside the door to the apartment building. Two anxious minutes passed before buzzing again. “It’s Mike. Please open up. I need to speak to Elizabeth,” he spoke into the silent box, anticipating the click and response buzz, which finally came only without greeting.

The stairwell light turned on as the vestibule’s overhead round florescent flickered, working up to full illumination.

Beside him, the kimono guy he greeted the Sunday prior opened his apartment door. “She’s gone, pal,” he said raising three pinched fingertips and narrowing his eyes as if to say, “You jerk.”

An old man grasping a cast iron frying pan exited from the neighboring apartment.

Mike couldn’t help glaring at the first guy smashing his fist into his palm. He also remembered him from the photographs taken at the bakery, the hugs and kisses to Elizabeth.

Josie peeked her head down the walk up. “She’s on-a da plane,” followed by a series of tongue clicks and a shake to her gray head. She said something in Italian that he was sure meant having pine cones instead of a brain. Yes, he could concur. He had acted stupidly.

Brandishing a wooden spoon above her hair rollers, another woman exited her apartment, coming to stand beside Josie. “Whats-a matta with you? You got your head on backwards? A fanabala!”

Nicki descended the steps, wearing nothing more than an oversized T-shirt, but she gripped a cordless drill and depressed the trigger. The sound of the rotating bit echoed off the dirty plaster walls. Her five-foot-three inch form blocked the stairs to keep him from ascending. “Yo. You ain’t welcome here. Michelangelo!”

“It’s not as it seems, everyone. Really.” He fidgeted, shoving his hands into his pockets as he stood in the hallway. His face burned with embarrassment. He was about to be beat up by three senior citizens, a petite woman, and a cross-dresser with a unibrow. Nothing could be more degrading.

He gazed up the four flights and could make out another old timer leaning over the banister brandishing a baseball bat. Gina came to stand beside the man, calling out. “She left a few hours ago to take the red eye home, Mike.”

“I screwed up, Gina.”

“Yes you did, but so did she. Looks like our aunt Maria was wrong. I’m not the only stupido one around here.

So, if I could have given Elizabeth advice years before she decided that her family was an embarrassment, I would have said this: at this time of year, remember when you sit down to eat with your blood relations that they’re colorful, they’re embarrassing, and although loud, some may be hard of hearing (selectively or not,) but they love you. That’s intrinsic to the family dynamic. Paramount to reflect on is that they have the same needs as you: to be loved and happy and part of a family unit. Love them for their uniqueness and pray for patience; overlook their shortcomings (those things that drive you insane) and hope that the dysfunction doesn’t spread to the next generation. LOL. Remember, that you’re no perfect creature in some of their eyes either—Miss Bacteria-obsessed, OCD Doc Hollywood—and more importantly realize that you’re stuck with your relations by DNA. See, God does have a sense of humor after all. Trust me, all of the above I must remind myself when in the company of one or two of mi famiglia!

Jane Austen gave us excellent, concise offerings of many family dynamics within her novels. She totally “got it” and my guess is that she wrote from experience.

And what about our non-blood family? I say: Thank the heavens for them every single day, because they will keep you as sane as you keep them following a holiday dinner with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents—and even your spouse and children!

Wishing you all a joyful – peaceful – and bountiful holiday season filled with love and family!

Thank you again, Sophia for inviting me and Villa Fortuna to Delighted Reader, and thank you all for spending some time with me in my modern mind-set P&P world. Please share with us something about your family holidays to enter to win:

Swag gift for one Domestic Winner, includes e-book:

Music, Italian chocolate, cookies, handmade café plaque, Frangelico liquere, Villa Fortuna mug (specify Italian or Spanish famiglia/familia)

Also secondary winner open International: e-book

Cafe on Arthur-Avenue

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Shari is the Delighted Reader. Married to her Prince Charming and mother to two Princesses and one Prince. When she is not slaving away as Cinderella she loves to get lost in the pages of a good book. Never without a reading device and a few good paperback books, because she never knows when she might get 5 minutes to read!
  • Thanks for sharin! Looks like a fun holiday read. My favorite holiday shenanigans are the cooking and eating. I love being in the kitchen with my in laws, baking and dancing to Christmas tunes. Christmas Eve breakfast is my favorite family tradition.

    • Cat Gardiner

      Hi Lekeisha! Lovely to meet you! Your house and family sound wonderful at Christmastime. What time shall I arrive to join in? Wonderful memories made to hold onto forever. Thank you for sharing and best of luck in the giveaway. Wishing you and your dancing, eating, laughing family a fabulous Christmas. 🙂

  • DebraG

    We love to exchange small gift after dinner. They are usually fun and silly. Book looks great. Congrats!

    • Cat Gardiner

      That’s a lovely tradition. After dinner is a nice time when everyone is relaxing. In our house, we take out the different liqueurs and kick back in the living room. I might take up your tradition! Thank you so much for the comment and well wishes. Good luck and Happy holidays!

      • DebraG

        I wouldn’t mind adding in the liqueurs.

  • Debbie Haupt

    Hi Cat, What a wonderful post and thanks for the giveaway!! Woot!
    Now on to more serious matters, wow I love Austenesque authors I have a few faves in my stable and I’ve heard of you but never read you so I think that will now change wether or not I win the book. I often wonder what Jane would think of her many societies and followers today. I think she’d be overwhelmed but very humbled by it.
    During the holidays I love spending time with family and friends and while I HATE shopping with a capitol H (thank god for online shopping) choosing the gifts is half the fun. This year is a very lean gift year as I had to quit my job to care for my husband who is having health issues. But that’s okay because baking gifts is priceless yet relatively cheap. And this is the year I’ve decided to give my daughter one of my Grandmother’s quilts and embroidered pillow cases.
    Have a wonderful holiday!!

    • Cat Gardiner

      Hi Debbie. Great to meet you. How exciting that you heard of me! Whoa. You just made my day. 🙂 I hope you enjoy my work. I have three novels published, with two more on the way soon. Jane Austen may well have had a chuckle or two over her fandom at first then when she realized just how large it has become be truly humbled.

      I’m with you – I dislike shopping; the crowds are overwhelming to me. So I make sure I only go to local shops at odd times of the day. 🙂 It sounds like you have found great comfort and joy this holiday season in spite of your husband’s health issues. What a blessing that you can share all the moments – and the baking – with him. Wishing you the very best of the season and a happy and healthy New Year for both you and your dh. Good luck in the giveaway and thank you so much for sharing!

  • Ginna

    Hi Cat, I soooo want to read this book!
    Here’s a weird one: on Christmas Day, we have cream chipped beef for breakfast!
    Thanks for the giveaway.

    • Cat Gardiner

      Thanks for commenting Ginna! I admit, I had to look up chipped beef and All Recipes says that it is an American standard on toast. So that’s not weird, but a cool tradition. I’m so excited that your excited to read Villa Fortuna. I hope it gives you a few laughs. You may not be Italian American going in, but you will be coming out. LOL Thanks so much and Merry Christmas! Good Luck in the giveaway.

  • TaliaSommer

    I can’t wait to read this book. The Jane Austen group at Goodreads has highly recommended it. Thank you for having a give-away. I have an 8 yr old daughter so our house is decorated with all of her holiday art and banner.

    • Cat Gardiner

      Hi Talia! Well that’s wonderful news. I’m glad the ladies enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. It’s a book very close to my heart. 🙂 Your house sounds so festive and your daughter must have such pride in the decorations. One day, she’ll look at all those photographs and do the same for her daughter. 🙂 Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thank you for commenting and good luck!

  • Daniela

    I can’t wait to read Villa Fortuna, Cat! It sounds wonderful! About my family’s holiday tradition, we have always enjoyed Secret Santa. But since my family is so big, it takes a long time for everyone to describe their secret Santa but it is also really fun. I love Christmas. It is my favourite time of the year.

    • Cat Gardiner

      Hi Daniela! I hope you have the time after the craziness of Christmas season to sit back and enjoy VF. Your Secret Santa tradition is a neat variation where you have to describe the gift. What a great idea! Wishing you and your family the blessings of the season! Merry Christmas and best wishes in the giveaway.

  • I love anything Jane Austen

    • Cat Gardiner

      Her timeless gift has made us all addicts! LOL Thanks for commenting. Happy Holidays and good luck in the giveaway. 🙂

  • New to me, but it sounds like a decent or great nod to Austen. I must be in the mood to read something like this though. Thanks for sharing!

    • Her books are really fun and sexy. I loved how one was a firefighter and a marketing gal, the next was a spy and a teacher, and this one are two opposing Italian doctors.

  • It’s amazing that Jane Austen is still inspiring so many books, so long after her death. Few writers have that sort of legacy.

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    • So true, Stephanie! I see the same themes in modern writing that I recognize often as ones Austen used.

  • I’ve never been a fan of the Jane Austen genre of books but thanks for letting us know about this one, there are scores of people who do love this type of book. They only real tradition we have is opening all the presents the night before Christmas.

    • You know that’s me, Mary. LOL

      Christmas eve presents, fun!

    • Shari Delighted Read

      I agree! Not a fan of Jane Austen’s genre of books.

  • I haven’t read any of Jane Austen her books and really never had the urge to pick up one of her books so far, she does sound like a good author and it always amazes me how popular her books still are and how many stories are based on them. I think adapting the character to the contemporary time will give a nice twist and it helps everything stay believeable for this time period.

    • Cat does a fantastic job with her books. Her stuff isn’t retellings so much as stories with similar themes so even someone unfamiliar with Jane Austen can pick up her sassy and spicy contemporaries and enjoy them.

    • Shari Delighted Read

      I can totally agree with most of what you said. I am not a fan of Jane Austen and have no desire to read her books nor the fan fiction I see all over the place. If it weren’t for Sophia Rose, then we would never have anything like this on the blog. She may be a great author, it just isn’t in me to support fan fiction.

  • Rose Fairbanks

    Wonderful and insightful post, Cat. You know I’m a big fan of your work, Jane Austen and derivative works of her amazing genius. Having been such a fan of her for longer than my adult life, I’m glad she taught me some graciousness because THAT certainly has changed in the last 200 years. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and awesome swag chance!

    Cute little blog, Shari. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it looks like because of Cat I may have found another good book blog.

    • Aw, that’s sweet, Rose. Jane Austen’s work is timeless and that’s what I really connect with. Love her wit! Yes, it would be lovely to go back to a more genteel time most days. 🙂

      Thanks for visiting!

  • Cat, you have good insights on Austen’s timeless novels and I like that you focus on family dynamics in Villa Fortuna. Love the excerpts you provided as well. I would love to win the e-book as I’m international.

    • I agree with you on that statement, Luthien! Good luck in the giveaway.