Over the last few years, I’ve been the lucky girl tasked with reviewing several Adriana Trigiani books for Bookreporter.com. QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME was my first dip into Trigiani’s crazy and wonderful world of fiction, as I was totally unfamiliar with her work when I read it. I promptly bought --- and subsequently devoured --- all of the novels in the Big Stone Gap series and was already a solid fan by the time I reviewed ROCOCO and HOME TO BIG STONE GAP. So when I got the news that she had a new title coming out to coincide with Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t wait to dive in.
VERY VALENTINE is vintage Trigiani: a strong, plucky heroine you just can’t help but love, some romantic intrigue, great intimate locations (New York City and Italy) and lots of family drama.
The story revolves around Valentine Roncalli, a mid-30s New Yorker who has given up a great (but not right for her) boyfriend and a teaching job to follow her true calling by going into the family business as a shoe designer, much to the chagrin of her loved ones, who see her as rapidly approaching old maid status. She moves into the family place above the Angelini Shoe Company, which her grandparents created in New York’s West Village, and works as an apprentice to her aging but still very sharp grandmother. But handmade wedding shoes, while an incredible form of craftsmanship and art, do not exactly make the cash flow like water, and times are tight. Valentine’s brother, Alfred, is encouraging their grandmother to sell the business (and the shop, which would fetch millions in today’s NYC real estate market).
Valentine dreams of carrying on the family business, though, and refuses to believe her grandmother is ready for retirement. So she needs to think of a way to pay off the debts and keep the company afloat long enough to buy it someday. While consumed with the issues of the Angelini Shoes business, she meets hot and broody Italian chef Roman Falconi, who just might be the answer to her (romantic) dreams --- if she can abandon her career goals long enough to find out.
As I said, VERY VALENTINE is vintage Trigiani. But in this case, it is Trigiani who is getting better with age. Her writing here is still romantic and fun, but there’s an underlying current of maturity to her characters. Rather than being all aflutter with romance, they are busy defining themselves as individuals --- and as artisans --- and they see that love is a part of that whole. The relationship between Valentine and Roman is romance mixed with a good dose of realism --- two passionate people who care about what they do and have found each other after going around the block once or twice. They fear that the very things that attracted each to the other could be what keeps them apart.
As with LUCIA, LUCIA and ROCOCO, there is always one thing you can count on with Trigiani, and that’s a full-on dive into whatever creative profession lives at the heart of her passionate protagonists. In VERY VALENTINE, she shines a spotlight on the world of shoe design, and the details are just as fulfilling as any shoe-loving girl could hope for. As for the descriptions of the food in Roman’s restaurant, make sure you have some snacks on hand while you’re reading.
With its likable heroine, great supporting cast and involving storyline, VERY VALENTINE is an absorbing and entertaining read. I didn’t want the book to end and found myself savoring every page. But perhaps the best Valentine’s Day present of all is the fact that this is the first installment in a trilogy. I know that I, along with Trigiani’s countless other readers, will be looking forward to the continuation of the series.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 24, 2011