Watch out Carrie Bradshaw, Bridget Jones, and all you other one-dimensional chick lit characters, there’s a new girl in town, and she is going to single-handedly elevate the genre. Her name is Valentine Angelini: she’s beautiful, creative, sassy, smart and, most importantly, fun.
With the publication of her second Valentine series novel, Adriana Trigiani has swept the genre with a summer wind redolent with the soft leather of handcrafted shoes, the luxurious earthiness of truffles, and the delicate saltiness of clifftop walks in exotic locations. Trigiani has done something important for chick lit. She’s created a strong female character who appeals to our senses instead of our insecurities.
Valentine is a woman after my own heart in so many ways. Although she is not a cook, she is a foodie, a confident lover of food who goes all out in her descriptions of meals. In the first novel, Very Valentine, her descriptions of her chef boyfriend’s meals simply transport the reader to the moment, letting them taste the truffles on their tongue. In Brava Valentine, her descriptions of breakfast prepared by her new roommate, are mouth-watering, “Gabriel doesn’t eat a bagel out of the sack or pour himself a bowl of cereal. Breakfast is bigger than that. A bagel must be oven toasted, then served on a platter with a dollop of cream cheese, a fan of smoked salmon, chives, and capers, with a side of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Eggs are on the menu three times a week, either poached, or scrambled or whipped into a healthy scrapple of fresh onions, peppers, spinach, and egg whites in a skillet.” This woman knows food, and it shows.
Valentine is also a traveler, and gave me strong wanderlust with both books. In her first novel, she travels to the Amalfi coast and discovers the azure water and the charms of the Italian seaside. In Brava Valentine, she travels to Argentina to track down a family mystery, making me see Buenos Aires, a city I’ve never had a chance to experience. “The porter at the Four Seasons greets the car, opening my door with a flourish, as though I’m a party guest and not a hotel patron. At first glance, the La Recoleta district in Buenos Aires looks like the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Sleek glass towers loom among the frill of old world architecture like pave diamonds set in stainless steel.”
Valentine’s strong commitment to family is another trait that sets her apart from the typical chick lit heroine. She comes from a traditional, boisterous Italian-American family. She is the only unmarried child amongst her three siblings, and lives with her grandmother in a building on the cobblestoned streets of Greenwich Village that has been in her family for a century. There Valentine and her grandmother carry on the family business, designing and making handmade bridal shoes.
The rest of the Angelini family is spread out in the suburbs of Manhattan. Their frequent family dinners around long tables laden with Italian food usually result in loud, dramatic family feuds. “On ordinary days I love being single, and I consider it a choice, not a curse, but I’ve learned that a woman needs a date at family funerals and weddings, if only for diversion from the drama. It’s comforting to have a date to dump all the extra emotions upon, like gravy on macaroni.”
Of course no chick lit novel would be complete without the heroine’s quest for love, and there is plenty of time devoted to Valentine’s relationships in both novels. From a handsome and succesful New York City chef to an older Italian man who writes her love letters on fly away airmail paper, Trigiani has created suitors as colorful as Valentine, and given her readers plenty of material to live vicariously through her pages.
Both Valentine novels are a delightful read, like people watching on a sunny terrazza in Italy (at least what I imagine that to be like). The first novel focuses more on the family business and Valentine’s budding relationship with a New York City chef. The second novel is little more philosophical, touching on the themes of what makes a good marriage and the trust required to make a good relationship. You’ll find Viva Valentine in soft cover at your local bookstore and Brava Valentine was released in hardcover in early February. Don’t read them like me, breathlessly in one giddy weekend, or you too will be left hungry for more and praying for Trigiani to quickly write the third novel in the series. Take your time to get to know this wonderful new character: Valentine will enrich your life and your bookshelf.