Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tour Book Review: Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Kiss Carlo
Adriana Trigiani
Trade Paperback, 544  pages
HarperCollins Publishers
June 20, 2017
   Diverse Reads, Historical Fiction, Humor,
Literary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction

From Adriana Trigiani, the beloved New York Times-bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife, comes an exhilarating epic novel of love, loyalty, and creativitythe story of an Italian-American family on the cusp of change. 

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match. 

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Told against the backdrop of some of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, this novel brims with romance as long buried secrets are revealed, mistaken identities are unmasked, scores are settled, broken hearts are mended and true love reigns. Trigiani’s consummate storytelling skill and her trademark wit, along with a dazzling cast of characters, will enthrall readers. Once again, the author has returned to her own family garden to create an unforgettable feast. Kiss Carlo is a jubilee, resplendent with hope, love, and the abiding power of la famiglia.

I received a complimentary ARC of 
this enthralling novel from TLC Book Tours 
for an honest (and honestly enthusiastic!) review.

This wonderful novel was my introduction to Adriana Trigiani, who is now one of my favorite authors! With Kiss Carlo, she has delivered a totally riveting, compelling story that actually plays like a movie from the year in which these events take place -- 1949.

I was so captivated by the book's cover, when I first saw it, that I decided to take the risk of going outside my comfort zone; I don't normally read historical family sagas. I'm so very glad that I did in this case, though!

I was immediately swept up into this richly-told story of a large Italian-American family living in South Philadelphia. The evocative writing, the combination of drama and humor, along with the idiosyncratic characters, all came together to make this a totally exhilarating reading experience for me! I quickly fell in love with the world so skillfully evoked by Trigiani, to the point that I am now feeling nostalgic for it.

One of the fascinating things about this novel is that the author interweaves some profound reflections on one's destiny with the other plot elements.

Nicky Castone, the novel's central character, drives a cab for the Palazzini Cab Company, owned by his family. But one day, he is suddenly forced to face the fact that mortality is an inescapable part of the human experience. This epiphany makes him aware, for the first time, that he's simply always gone blithely along with whatever his family expected of him. He suddenly realizes that he wants much more out of life. 

Nicky's questioning is one that many readers, including myself, can easily relate to. However, Trigiani does not focus on this to the exclusion of all else. Instead, she skillfully develops the plot into a series of tragi-comical events that upset the status quo in the Palazzini family, as well as the DePino family. The results are paradoxically hilarious as well as heartbreaking.

Nicky is such a relatable, funny, irrepressible, and totally honest character! It took a lot of courage for him to call off his seven-year engagement to Peachy DePino and go off on a self-searching quest. (Although this quest was, comically enough, propelled by the prospect of facing Peachy's furious father.) 

Nicky had already discovered that he loved acting at Borelli's Theater, where he works alongside Calla Borelli, the original owner's daughter, who directs all the plays performed there. Although Nicky does feel attracted to Calla, he considers her a friend, as she has her own boyfriend.

Calla is a very compelling character in her own right. She is passionately dedicated to the Borelli Theater, which is in danger of going under. She is also very devoted to her father, whom she cares for at the house they've shared for years. Furthermore, Calla is a very strong, determined young woman. 

The relationship between Calla and Nicky plays out gradually, and I loved that they were friends first. Sometimes "love at first sight" can work, but other times not. In this case, both of these characters came to realize that they had unconsciously loved each other all along, although they did the honorable thing, since they were committed to other people. Their mutual passion for the theater, and especially Shakespeare's plays, plus their similar outlook on life, ultimately brought them together, after they had each taken separate paths.

The "supporting cast" Trigiani has assembled is just perfect, from Nicky's Aunt Jo and Uncle Dom, who took him in as an orphan, to his brothers and sisters-in-law, to the people of Roseto, a small town located about 60 miles to the north of Philadelphia. Some of the memorable characters living there are Mamie Confalone, who plays a small part in Nicky's life, and the very funny mother and daughter duo of 'wanna-be femme fatales', Cha Cha and Rosalba Tutolola. 

The most interesting of all these secondary characters, however, is Hortense Mooney, an African-American woman who has been working as a dispatcher and telegraph operator at the Palazzini Cab Company for the last twenty years. 

Hortense is a guardian angel of sorts to Nicky, to whom she gives her unconditional love, as well as emotional support. She's actually like a second mother to him, and he really values her advice and help.

I loved Hortense's wit, her frequent references to Eleanor Roosevelt -- a woman I have long admired -- and her shrewd observations on the Palazzini family interactions, as well as life in general. I also greatly enjoyed her budding friendship with Minna, a lonely woman who lives in Roseto. I would love it if Trigiani wrote a spinoff novel about Hortense! 

Minna is a very poignant character. She has actually lived in a self-made prison since the death of her husband. When Hortense arrives in Roseto, and the two women get to know each other, Minna begins to change. This is a very touching part of the novel.

Sam Borelli, Calla's father, was another great secondary character. I loved his quiet strength, as well as his close relationship to his daughter, Calla. Although the reader doesn't get to know him as well as Hortense, his influence is felt by the actors at the theater. He has shaped their lives in very important ways, thus leaving a legacy of love for the theater that will survive the impact of the new television technology of the time.

This love of the theater is a very important aspect of this novel that makes me even more enthusiastic about it! I especially like the fact that the actors at the Borelli Theater exclusively perform Shakespeare's plays. Nicky ends up acting in "Twelfth Night", which is very much pertinent to the plot of Kiss Carlo, as it, too, involves a case of mistaken identity. Trigiani includes several quotes from the play, thus making her love of Shakespeare a part of her novel. She skillfully interweaves the action in the play with that of her plot, thus creating an interesting contrast between the events on the stage and those in the novel.

I have to add that I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for Peachy. The fact that she's a rather shallow, conventional person didn't stop me from feeling this way, either. I liked that Trigiani evaded the very easy route of making her a totally one-dimensional character. She loved Nicky, if in her own limited way. Trigiani handled the conflict between these two characters  beautifully, avoiding too much drama and pathos.

Although Nicky's escapade does create some very funny reading, this is a well-balanced book, as there are some losses, as well. Even though this saddened me, it did make the novel more realistic, and the characters even more appealing. It was heartwarming to see how they supported each other through these situations. 

The most important quality of a great novel is how deeply the reader is touched, to what degree the reader feels that they have actually lived another life in the reading of that novel. In Kiss Carlo, Trigiani certainly achieves this quality. Readers will feel as if they, too, had lived in South Philly in 1949, sharing in all the crazy, humorous, and sad interactions of the Palazzini family, as well as getting the feel of what it means to be an Italian-American.

I did not want this novel to end, and am already looking forward to reading it again in the future! These characters are just too unforgettable and likeable for me to simply put this book on a shelf and never dip into it again! Bravissimo, Ms. Trigiani!!



Praise for Kiss Carlo: “A world of warm, lively characters whose charming idiosyncrasies lead them to collide and ricochet along the way to love.... A delightfully sprawling comedy full of extended families.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Praise for Adriana Trigiani: “A comedy writer with a heart of gold” (New York Times)

“Delightful, energetic.... Trigiani is a seemingly effortless storyteller.” (Boston Globe)

“Seamlessly superb storytelling.... Trigiani never loses hold of the hearts of her characters, of the wisdom that tragedy and redemption are also part of life.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“If you’re meeting her work for the first time, get ready for a lifelong love affair.” (Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help)

“Trigiani is a master of palpable and visual detail.” (Washington Post)

Purchase Links

Photo by Tim Stephenson

Beloved by millions of readers around the world for her “dazzling” novels, (USA Today) Adriana Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books in fiction and nonfiction. She is published in 35 countries around the world.

Adriana is also a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. “A comedy writer with a heart of gold,” (New York Times) Adriana is the award-winning director of the documentary film, "Queens of the Big Time". She wrote and directed the major motion picture "Big Stone Gap", filmed entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. "Big Stone Gap" spent 11 weeks in theaters in the fall of 2015, and was the #2 top-grossing romantic comedy of the year.

Adriana co-founded The Origin Project with Nancy Bolmeier Fisher, an in-school writing program which serves over a thousand students in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia.

Her latest novel, Kiss Carlo, described as “a delightfully sprawling comedy full of extended families, in all their cocooning warmth and suffocating expectations” (Kirkus) was published June 20, 2017. A new expanded edition of Cooking with My Sisters will be everywhere in November, 2017.

She lives in New York City with her family and their rescue pets. Adriana speaks to book clubs and classrooms regularly. To invite her and schedule a Skype session, please reach out to her at, join her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or visit her at her website. 

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  1. Truly beautiful review, Maria!! I love the look of this book and I'm so glad you loved it!!! The cover is also stunning <3

    Have a wonderful rest of your weekend :)HUGS <3 <3 :):)

    1. Hi, Amy!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!! You're so sweet!! <3 <3

      This novel is just WONDERFUL!! You should experience it for yourself! And yes, that cover is definitely stunning!! That was what initially drew me to this book.

      I got an ARC from the tour company, but I sure would like to own the hardcover, as it has photos in it, plus deckle-edged pages! Maybe later on down the road.

      Hope you're enjoying a BLESSED Sunday!! Thanks for the lovely comment!! HUGS BACK!!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

  2. Trigiani has so many fantastic books out - now that you've discovered how much you love her, I hope you'll get a chance to read some of her backlist!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. Hi, Heather!

      I know she does!! I want to start by reading "The Shoemaker's Wife". Then I'll get to the others!

      You're very welcome for my participation! I LOVED every minute of it -- reading this WONDERFUL book, and writing the review!!

      Thanks for commenting!! <3 :)

  3. Adriana Trigiana has done it again! An amazing story about family, love, the search for meaning and self worth. I never finish one of her stories without wishing it could go on and on. I will probably re-read it three or four times because I will miss Nicky, Mrs. Money, Calla and the Palazzini family. It makes me want to go back to Italy and find my way to Rosetta Villaforte. The Shakespeare theme running throughout is amazing! Bravo, Adriana!

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