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.