Review: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

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Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all. 

Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Berkley          Rating: 5/5 stars

Poppy Fontana has waited, literally waited for decades to be reunited with the love of her life.  As the black sheep in the family, Poppy has long been estranged from her family, that is, the part of her family who believes in the centuries old curse that has doomed every second born daughter to a lifetime of hopelessness and despair because they cannot ever have a true and lasting love.  At nearly 80-years-old, Poppy is bound and determined to prove them all wrong and along the way, she is going to convince two other second-born Fontana girls. 

Emilia has thoroughly convinced herself that a life without love is just fine with her; she will gladly continue to work in her family’s bakery, live in her small apartment, and settle for the occasional fling.  No, love isn’t the cards for Emilia, but it has nothing to do with a silly curse.  Conversely, Emilia’s brash and bold cousin, Lucy, is utterly convinced her love life is doomed and the proof of that can be found in the string of bad dates in her past.  With her mother constantly on her about finding a man and settling down, Lucy is at her wit’s end so when Emilia comes to her with an offer of an all-expenses paid trip to Italy, guaranteed to break the curse, Lucy just can’t say no. 

Emilia’s life revolves around her family and their needs.  She is the dutiful child, the one who bends over backward for everyone else, and always does as she is told.  To go to Italy with her aunt Poppy and Lucy would be outright rebellion, but for once in her life, Emilia is ready to be bold, to take a chance.  From the moment the three women meet – Lucy, Emilia, and Poppy – there is tension in the air.  Lucy is rude, pessimistic, and outraged at having to spend time with an old woman like Poppy.  Ever the peacemaker, Emilia does her best to smooth over the situation while Poppy refuses to acknowledge such bad behavior.  In fact, Poppy seem impervious to anything but her own happiness and achieving her goals.  She has clearly told Lucy and Emilia they have a great deal of freedom during their trip, but on the day of her 80th birthday, Poppy must be on the steps of the church where she wed her long-lost husband.  Though the girls are skeptical, Poppy is paying their way and if it means breaking the second-daughter curse, well, they’re will to go along for the ride.

The first days in Italy are a whirlwind with Poppy charging along and introducing the girls to their mother country.  As a wild and free-spirit, Poppy is a wonderful tour guide with a true love and passion for Italy.  As she makes her way around the city, she slowly begins to explain to the girls how the curse on their lives can be broken.  Little did either girl know that the key to breaking of the curse lies in the story of Poppy’s own life and how she came to be the Fontana black sheep.  Though Lucy is seriously put out, Emilia sees the story of Poppy’s life as a gift.  As the days pass, not only do the girls begin to learn more about Poppy’s past but also about her quite uncertain future.  Even the testy and nearly-always irritable Lucy begins to soften around the edges and both she and Emilia make it their mission to see Poppy’s dreams realized.

Along the way, both Emilia and Lucy also begin to unravel the mystery of their own lives.  Lucy finally confronts an uncomfortable truth she has long suspected, but been fearful of acknowledging, and Emilia begins to realize she has long been the whipping post of her family, the one everyone else relies on but does little for in return.  In so many ways, Italy is a type of awakening for Emilia and Lucy and both have their wild and wondrous aunt to thank.  To thank her, the girls go to extraordinary lengths to get Poppy to her meeting place, but as her birthday comes to a close, it seems all their hopes are going to be dashed. 

The Bottom Line:  I think this book may very well be one of my favorites of the year!  I could not nor did I want to put this book down, so I didn’t.  Damn adulting and damn responsibilities, I saw this book through, cover to cover in a single sitting.  At its core, this book is all about family, for better or for worse, and how the power of words can so dramatically and negatively impact an entire family.  From the moment she decides to travel to Italy with Poppy, I was Team Emilia; Lucy took a hot minute to warm up to, but once she calmed down and I understood her a bit better, I simply adored her.  The three women together are so entertaining: Lucy with her boldness and lust for life, Emilia with her calmer, quieter manner that makes her more cautious, and Poppy with her wild stories and absolute belief in love and its ability to conquer all, even 200-year-old curses.  The three women become so important to one another in such a short amount of time, they bolster each other’s spirits, they encourage, the correct, they teach, they laugh, and they love.  As each woman, especially Lucy and Emilia come into their own, they decide it is high time to start living their life on their terms and not according to what their ill-tempered and often mean family members believe.  I found myself applauding the strength and the courage of these women, their bravery and willingness to forge their own path even in the face of their families’ disappointment.  I laughed, I cried, and I completely devoured this book.  Though it is told completely in the present, it is truly a past meets present read and that blending of the two happens through Poppy’s recollections and stories.  In all, a truly wonderful and uplifting book sure to please all who love family sagas.

Releasing April 21, 2020: Amazon| B&N | Kobo| Paperback

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