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Do you know how sometimes you buy a book because you have loved other books that the author has written, and you save it up ready to be savoured and enjoyed at your leisure? That was how it was with me and this book by Adriana Trigiani whose "Big Stone Gap" trilogy I have read a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately this book didn't quite manage to live up to the anticipation I had before reading it.
Like Trigiani's other books this book is set in a firmly Italian family living in America background. The story takes place in 1970's New Jersey and is set in the world of interior designing, certainly an eclectic one at that time. Unlike other books the hero is a man, "B" or Bartolomeo, who is the interior designer to the town whose dream is to give his hometown church the makeover of its life. Unfortunately, this is where, for me, the problem lies. Whilst reading this book I never quite got past the fact that the main character was a very unconvincing man indeed, the way he interacted with other characters was positively girlie, and it was pretty hard to believe, stereotypes aside, in a heterosexual male with quite as much insight into home decoration and the type of clothes that best suit women as B had.
The story was diverting enough, though suffered somewhat for me on rather lengthy descriptions of the interior design of the settings at every given moment, starting on the first few pages with the description of B's house. This all certainly seemed well researched, but was at times a little tedious. Scenes with B's Italian family worked better, whilst describing the extended Italian community and complex relationship the author is on more solid ground. I enjoyed the descriptions of family get-togethers and Toot, his sister was a likeable and believable divorcee finding herself 13 years after the divorce. Capri, B's fiancee of sorts (her mother decided at an early age that they should marry) is also a perfectly pleasant character, but B's relationships with women never truly convince for the reasons that I gave at the start - ergo he is a less than convincing man. There is at least one very cringey sex scene that I could have happily done without reading.
That apart the twists and turns and hidden politics of the Church renovation did keep me mildly entertained, there is some interest from characters such as Pedro, a stained glass specialist, and Rufus, a church specialist who enter the fray, and B's interactions with Eydie an international designer. This sees the story shift to New York via an Italian trip and keeps things going along fairly steadily, it is all well written enough and the recipes that are interjected at points are a nice touch, but it certainly isn't a page turner.
I did finish the book, but I didn't really enjoy it like I have done some of her other books, such as "Lucia Lucia", if this had been the only book of Trigiani's I had read I would have been probably unlikely to read another. I will however read her latest two books about Valentine at some point, I have concluded that probably this author is at her best when writing about strong and interesting female characters, this novel didn't quite do it for me. I did feel a bit let down by this book and personally would recommend reading another title by this author in preference to this.