Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.

A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: "A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything." The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves -- the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.

Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: a portrait of a woman and the man she loves, her passion for craftsmanship, and the sacrifices it takes to build and sustain a family business while keeping love and laughter at the center of everything.

Warning:  As this title is part of a series, there may be spoilers for those who have not read the earlier novels. The uninitiated who want to avoid plot revelations may want to skip to the break, after the green triple-asterisk marker.

Those familiar with my reviews know that I can be easily drawn in by good cover art.  I don’t completely judge a book by its cover, but this certainly will entice me to take a closer look at the work. A few years ago I was pulled in by the beautifully dressed, lipstick-applying woman on the cover of Adriana Trigiani’s Very Valentine, the first book in her Valentine trilogy.  Given the opportunity to read the sequel Brava Valentine for TLC Book Tours, I quickly read the first title to prepare for Brava. As seen in my brief November 6, 2010 review, the beginning of this series was a sumptuous, invigorating read.  This continued with Brava Valentine, with enjoyable storytelling and character development.

Years passed, and I looked forward to the final book in the series, which reportedly would be aptly titled Ciao, Valentine. In 2011 Adriana contributed to the delightful Jane Austen Made Me Do It (JAMMDI), which I relished as well. The year 2012 brought Trigiani’s nonfiction The Wisdom of My Grandmothers as well as the highly successful novel The Shoemaker’s Wife. With no sign of Ciao, Valentine, I speculated that the series had been put on hold indefinitely.  In November 2013 The Supreme Macaroni Company was published, but in the business of life I didn’t recognize it for what it was: the final title I had been waiting for.  The cover art was beautiful, but didn’t seem like a Valentine-related image. And of course the title had changed unexpectedly to The Supreme Macaroni Company, which to be honest seemed a bit odd to me.  Nevertheless, when I finally realized this was the third Valentine title, I was pleased it had arrived, despite my confusion.

The story picks up immediately from where it left off in Brava Valentine. Gianluca Vechiarielli has received a positive response to his marriage proposal to the much-younger Valentine Roncalli. She manages to receive this proposal, despite making a very serious mistake moments before that would have certainly put off most marriage suitors.  But the love Gianluca has for Valentine is so great, he forgives her transgression and they move forward to begin a life together as husband and wife, tanner and shoemaker.

Many romantic novels conclude with the wedding of the main characters, but the Vechiarielli/Roncalli ceremony occurs almost halfway through.  And Valentine’s story is more than just a romance. There’s plenty of family drama as this boisterous group of Catholic Italians plans the nuptials of the last Roncalli daughter to be married, and the stakes actually begin to rise shortly after the newlyweds have tied the knot. They find that trying to mix family with their generations-old shoe and tanning businesses is quite difficult. Compromises must be offered and priorities changed in order to keep many relationships and business ventures alive.  Valentine and Gianluca are madly in love, but in order to make their May-December relationship endure, sacrifices had to be made. Initially I felt that Gianluca was being the most sacrificial in the relationship.  This may have been the case, but the difficult decisions he makes come from a place of deep love for his wife, and they prove to be the wisest choices in the end.

*      *     *

The Supreme Macaroni Company is not a roller-coaster thriller of a story. However, it certainly is a page-turning, captivating tale of family, tradition, love and free enterprise. There are a number of unexpected surprises, with one in particular that is simply heartbreaking.  This abrupt tragedy does deepen the story however, bringing a richness that only loss can provide. And Trigiani takes her time with this aspect of the plot. While it comes near the conclusion, her pacing shows her respect for the characters and the investment her readers have made in them over the course of three novels.   While bittersweet, the ending is quite satisfying and at times deeply insightful. I found myself literally taking notes, as I am sure I will have to endure a similar pain someday.

From Very Valentine to The Supreme Macaroni Company, this three-part series has been a delight from beginning to end.  Other than JAMMDI, it has been my only exposure to Trigiani’s work. Her style is very accessible, yet at times profound.  Romance is an aspect of her novels, but isn’t overly racy and is not the dominant theme. The Valentine trilogy is about multi-faceted relationships.  Family. Decades-old traditions.  Religion, culture and so much more.  Regardless of age, gender, faith or ethnicity, many readers will be able to relate to the themes presented here. The Valentine collection has been a splendid treat, one that I will look back on fondly for years to come.

A Few Fun Notes

The Title - In case you were wondering, the asymmetric title The Supreme Macaroni Company does indeed come to make sense at a certain point in the novel.  While I would have preferred a similar Valentine-based name for the book, Macaroni Company does not come without foundation.

Pinterest - Trigiani makes reference to a plethora of reality-based places and public figures.  This made it easy for me to transport myself into her world.  I was able to conjure up images of the celebrities, restaurants and landscapes that dotted her narrative.  As a fun project, I put together a Pinterest board with images I had in my head for the book.  Check out what I’ve found, but warning: Several of the pins may be spoilers for some.  You may want to check out the board after reading at least the first two books in the series.

Follow Laura's board The Supreme Macaroni Company
Novel Ideas (Warning: Spoiler Pins!) on Pinterest.

Audiobook - Separate from the hard copy that was sent to me from the publisher for review purposes, I also used a copy of the audiobook version from another source.  This allowed me to continue "reading" the book, even as I ran errands in my minivan.  The novel was read by Cassandra Campbell, an accomplished actress, director, and teacher as well as a voice-over artist.  Ms. Campbell's performance is superb. Given the different nationalities and generations represented among her "cast", she does a remarkable job in characterizing each personality.  Cassandra is outstandingly adept at switching between accents, as even within the bounds of New York you will find different intonations among American people groups. Her performance of the Italian Gianluca was particularly informative, as the elocution I had going in my head initially was not consistent with this foreign accent.

This review is a part of a larger blog tour, sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  For more perspectives on The Supreme Macaroni Company, stop by the following sites:

Tuesday, May 6th: More Than Just Magic
Wednesday, May 7th: Bibliotica
Thursday, May 8th: nightlyreading
Friday, May 9th: Literary Lindsey
Monday, May 12th: The Infinite Shelf
Thursday, May 15th: Books, Books Everywhere!
Monday, May 19th: Books on the Table
Monday, May 26th: Calico Critic
Thursday, May 29th: Peppermint PhD
Monday, June 2nd: Open Book Society
Thursday, June 5th: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Monday, June 9th: Patricia’s Wisdom
TBD: The Bookmark Blog

About the Author

Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker’s Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very ValentineBrava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She has written the screenplay for her debut novel Big Stone Gap, which she will also direct. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Adriana at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3
Book 3: Kindle
Book 1: Kindle
Book 2: Kindle
The Shoemaker's Wife

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review & Giveaway: The Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife

The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.

Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.

But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.

Like many children growing up in a Christian household, the story of Noah and the Ark was probably one of the first Biblical tales I heard growing up.  This portion of the book of Genesis has always seemed well-suited for children. As a first time mother in 2000, I chose it as the theme to my firstborn’s nursery, and later used it for my second child. There is the amazing multitude of animals, all coming into a huge ship in pairs.  Everyone on board is kept safe from a cataclysmic flood, which ends with a lovely rainbow of promise at the end. Everyone aboard lives happily ever after, with few complications for children to consider, right?  This may be the case, but as an adult I can now see more to the story.  Untold thousands (or millions) perished in a horrific flood, while Noah and his family survived in a vessel filled with malodorous creatures, built with the knowledge that almost all of earth’s population would be wiped out. True, the story of Noah and the Ark is one of triumph and victory at its conclusion, but the journey that must be taken to arrive at that point is not a pretty one.

In Sinners and the Sea, debut author Rebecca Kanner examines the tale from a completely new viewpoint: that of Noah’s unnamed wife.  Many have never given this historical character much thought, but Kanner grabs us by the chin and directs our gaze upon a woman who may have seemed unworthy to even have her name mentioned, but she is truly the mother of all of us.  A second Eve if you will.  Think about it—had Noah climbed onto the Ark with no wife, no children, he would have been the lone human on earth.  The Lord kept a remnant of our species going through the children of this one couple, Noah and his wife. We may know a good bit about Noah, but there is much to be learned about the woman who bore his children.

As little is mentioned in the Bible about “Mrs. Noah”, Rebecca Kanner takes much literary license as she weaves her tale.  She smartly chooses to present the story from the first person perspective, thereby eliminating numerous, nameless third person references to this character. Noah’s bride comes in a form I never would have suspected—a rejected, scorned woman seemingly cursed from the day she was born, evidenced by a dramatic birthmark on her face.  In Sinners and the Sea, we meet Noah as a centuries-old man in search of a righteous, young wife.  He seems to find her in our main character, at the ripe “old” age of nineteen, willing to leave her acrimonious village to begin a new life with this incredibly old, mysterious man. Together they go on a journey that is in some ways familiar, yet in others completely new and surprising.

I found Kanner’s writing to be mesmerizing. The fact that she is a debut author with this title is amazing to me.  Her prose is incredibly compelling, giving me much more interest in this story than I ever thought possible.  For decades I have accepted that Noah’s society was depraved. This is what brought the destructive flood in the first place.  However, it was Sinners and the Sea which really made me consider how truly depraved society must have been for God to want to wipe almost all of us out.  The savagery and depth of sin must have been very deep indeed. Kanner’s depiction of this goes beyond anything I would have ever considered, but now that I’ve seen this perspective, I agree with the characterization of that society.  It brings to mind images of Lord of the Flies, yet with adults, and on a much bigger scale.
In recent years Noah has been garnering new attention.  Actor Russell Crowe has had success recently with his cinematic portrayal of this famous father.  At press time, Noah has pulled in over $330 million worldwide. This scriptural name is now the most popular name for boys in our country.  Something about him is drawing the spotlight in his direction, and rightly so. We have much to learn from his life story. While I do not see our culture as depraved as his, and I do trust in God’s promise to never destroy everything by another great flood, in many ways our society seems to be trending away from God’s teachings, leaning more towards what our human desires draw us to. I don’t believe every calamity in life comes from God, but I do believe we can make life harder on ourselves if we don’t follow His guidebook for our lives.  We are blessed with God’s printed word in ways never seen in Noah’s time.  Would that we would heed God’s voice in our lives much in the way Noah did.

A note to the Biblical scholars and conservatives out there:  As this is a novel, do not expect total scriptural accuracy.  Literary license is taken. There are moments that are not consistent with what is written in the book of Genesis.  There is also a decent amount of adult material, so young ones would not be the target audience.  However, the spirit of the original story and theme are certainly there, and the graphic nature of earth’s society at that time is probably close to accurate.  The depravity surely was at a remarkable level for total destruction to occur.  And Kanner's lead characters are very flawed individuals themselves.  God certainly showed His grace in allowing their salvation, much as He does today.

Regardless of your general interest in Judeo-Christian scriptures, Sinners and the Sea is a compelling, thought-provoking journey, centered on a remarkable woman who has deserved more attention than she has garnered over the millennia.  Rebecca Kanner has done a masterful work in highlighting this woman’s life,  telling a riveting story that will not soon be forgotten. In taking on this review, I assumed that I would enjoy this title at least to some degree, but I was surprised at how much I was taken in.  Sinners and the Sea is not to be missed, and is surely the launching point for a long and successful writing career for Rebecca Kanner.

About the Author 

Sinners and the Sea is Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel. Rebecca is a Twin Cities native and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her personal essay, “Safety,” is listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review. Along with other authors including Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks and Ron Hansen, Rebecca will be featured in the upcoming title Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists. You can learn more about Rebecca, and find links to selected stories and essays, at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sinners and the Sea Giveaway!

To enter to win one of 2 copies of Sinners and the Sea or a $25 Amazon Gift Card, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open internationally.
  • Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on May 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
  • Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter on May 30th and notified via email.
  • Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.


Want to try a sample passage of Sinners and the Sea, along with other new fiction from Howard Books?
Download this free Kindle book

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Stop by the other blogs on the Sinners and the Sea virtual book tour for even more giveaway opportunities and reviews!

Monday, April 14
Review & Giveaway at West Metro Mommy

Tuesday, April 15
Review at Cheryl’s Book Nook

Thursday, April 17
Review at A Bookish Girl

Friday, April 18
Review at Reading the Ages

Monday, April 21
Review at Booktalk & More
Review at Judith Starkston

Wednesday, April 23
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Friday, April 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Caroline Wilson Writes

Monday, April 28
Review at JulzReads

Tuesday, April 29
Review at The Most Happy Reader

Wednesday, April 30
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, May 2
Review at History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, May 5
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 6
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, May 7
Review at Ink Sugar Blog

Friday, May 9
Review at Our Wolves Den

Monday, May 12
Review at The Calico Critic

Tuesday, May 13
Review at From L.A. to LA

Wednesday, May 14
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, May 15
Spotlight at The Tower of Babel

Friday, May 16
Review at Layered Pages

Monday, May 19
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Wednesday, May 21
Review at My Reader’s Block

Friday, May 23
Review at Seaside Book Corner

Tuesday, May 27
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, May 29
Review at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Audiobook Review: The News by Alain de Botton

A considerable portion of modern society is affected by, or certainly seen through the lens of what many would call “the news”. Outlets and platforms for this portion of our culture are found almost everywhere, distributed through print, radio, television and the ubiquitous internet, covering issues ranging from politics and natural disasters, to box-office totals and the latest reality television star. Depending on who is doing the reporting, consumers of the news may see these issues in varying lights.  Outlets frequently have the power to determine what news will be deemed "important", how that news will be presented, and to what extent the issues will be examined. Many individuals’ perceptions of the world around them are influenced by the messages they receive in the television programs they enjoy and the websites they frequent. Ideally all news organizations would have society’s best interests at heart when examining the world around us, but that is not always the case.  More often than not, there are underlying agendas at play, whether it be the desire to put forth a particular political viewpoint, or the need to score ratings points in order to turn a tidy profit.

Alain de Botton examines these and many related topics in his latest work, The News: A User’s Manual.  This compact volume, presented in a type of outline style covers virtually every angle in examining how the news affects our culture. De Botton offers his view of the ideal methods that organizations and individuals should employ as issues are presented to the world. His themes include politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster and consumption. While many of these concepts might seem to be weighty, heady material, de Botton presents all of them in a manner that I found quite compelling.  This isn’t just a treatise on the news itself. It truly examines the inner workings of human society at large. 

The medium I used to enjoy this volume was through an audiobook from  For a busy wife and mother like me, this method of “reading” has proven to be a great resource over the years.  I may not have time to sit and read for 30 minutes in the middle of the day, but I do have that same amount time driving in my car, running errands for the family.  Sometimes I enjoy utilizing books on CD, but going through the platform is so much more versatile.  After installing the free Audible app to my iPhone, I was able to load the entire book to have on hand anywhere.  As I listened, I enjoyed the narrator, Nicholas Bell. This baritone-voiced performer has a lovely English accent and performs The News in a professional, pleasant manner.

I enjoyed listening to The News in the car, but I also found myself listening while tending to tasks at home.  On many occasions I paused the audio to take notes on what was being said.  As a conservative Christian, I may not share all of de Botton’s views, as he is a non-believer himself.  However, many of the thoughts he presents I found to be profoundly true, irrespective of who was sharing them.  Truth is truth, period.  Some of his thoughts have actually helped me in some of my perceptions of those around me and the challenges I face. These philosophies are completely independent of any news organization or media platform.  However, they are found in almost every story and every issue the news decides to include in their broadcasts or publications.

I found de Botton’s hopes and recommendations for the media and society at large to be commendable, but they are fundamentally idealistic.  We live in a fallen society, one that will always be hungry for scandal, sad news and controversy.  Humanity does crave positive, inspiring news from time to time, but ultimately we will return to content that we see as more exciting, sexy or intriguing. That admirable, but unrealistic tone de Botton takes is pleasant, but I found it to be a bit aggrandizing, considering human nature. Oh, that we would crave love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, rather than the division, war, selfishness and materialism that most audiences are drawn to. 

That issue aside, I thoroughly enjoyed de Botton’s work in The News. I found it compelling, motivating and enlightening.  Through his unusual presentation of his thoughts, employing almost an outline-structured format, he conveys ideas never before considered in my mental processes, ones that have actually reshaped my thinking in some ways.  Regardless of how much their interests lie in classic news stories, audiences will find philosophies within The News which affect us all. Perhaps if purveyors of the news listened to this title, our world might creep a bit closer to the one Alain de Botton imagines for us.  That would be news indeed.

About the Author
From the website of Alain de Botton:

Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.

Alain also started and helps to run a school in London called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. Alain’s latest book, published in February 2014, is titled The News: A User’s Manual.

Alain started writing at a young age. His first book, Essays in Love [titled On Love in the US], was published when he was twenty-three.



Faith in Media

This title provided for review purposes only.


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