Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sass, Smarts and Stilettos

"We don't accept the ordinary. We dig in and do what we've always done. We get creative, and we transform it."
~ Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos, Gabriella Contestabile


Published in 2017, Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos: How Italian Women Make the Ordinary, Extraordinary by Gabriella Contestabile is a book that focuses on Italian women. The author was born in Italy, and raised in Ottawa and NYC. In 1953, when she was four years old, her family traveled on the Andrea Doria, "a floating museum of art, technology, and timeless Italian good taste" from the port of Genova to North America, because her father has been transferred from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome to the Italian embassy in Ottawa.  Three years later, the Andrea Doria sank after being hit by the SS Stockholm near Nantucket, and this floating museum of Italian art and history was lost forever. This loss contributed to the author's decision to live fully and to savor life's joyful but fleeting moments. In 1959, she emigrated with her family to New York, when her father was transferred from the Italian Embassy in Ottawa to the Italian Consulate in New York City, and begin a new life in Astoria, Queens.

Written in a warm and friendly manner, this book is a personal story that's quite entertaining and informative. Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is filled with practical tips and wisdom. As the title promises, it discusses what makes Italians, and especially Italian women, extraordinary. There are many anecdotes and glorious details in this inspiring book that reveal the secrets of Italian women. The basic idea is that Italian women make the ordinary extraordinary due to their innate appreciation for beauty and their deep connection with art.  They use the passion, focus, and purpose that are part of their cultural identity.

Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is a short, charming book that may well entice you to visit Italy.  (I haven't been to Italy yet, but coincidentally, one of my sister-in-laws traveled to Italy last month, and my son is going next month.) The cover by Katerina Miras is lovely.  There are thirty-two chapters in this book, plus a helpful Italian Glossary in the back.  Each chapter is titled and begins with a quotation (or two) that relates to the subject matter. Chapter titles describe the contents in a tempting and down-to-earth manner, and reveal the author's ideas and philosophy. These titles say a lot.  Here are some examples: Chapter Two - The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Chapter Nine - Food, the Talisman of Happiness, Chapter Eleven - Joy in Simple Things,  Chapter Eighteen - Style is Ageless,  Chapter Twenty-Four - Your Life is Your Biggest Work of Art, Chapter Twenty-Nine - Secrets of an Italian Woman's Skin. They're fun to read (and may be read out of order, I think, especially during a second reading).  I should also mention a chapter that features numerous fashion, style tips, and some guide books, Chapter Twenty-Seven - She Who Spends More, Spends Less. The important idea of this chapter is to choose wisely. Choose homemade, healthy food, and well-made clothing and furnishings.  Compre meno, compra meglio--buy less, buy better.  This means buying less things, but buying the best things, and appreciating and taking care of them.  This is something that Italians are good at. Quality is of the utmost importance.

Mamma mia, did this book resonate with me!  This is how I was brought up, too, to appreciate quality, rather than quantity.  I'm part Italian so this makes sense. This book talks a lot about clothing.  My mother, who was half Italian, had a wonderful fashion sense. She was a sharp dresser, and her clothing was gorgeous.  When I was in high school, I used to borrow her beautiful work blouses and wear them with jeans (I wanted to look elegant but cool). Today, my work wardrobe is simple and (hopefully) classic. I bring various tailoring projects to the dry cleaning shop nearby, and have been pleased with the results. The food in this book will make you crave savory (or sweet) Italian food.  My Italian grandfather appreciated fine food and drink, and during my childhood he would bring my family freshly-baked, crusty bread, and special cheese from Italian markets in NYC (I've mentioned this before in a previous post). I still think about how delicious these treats were. This book brought back delightful memories, and I learned many things about Italy.

Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is a beautiful memoir, a travel guide with style and substance, and a wonderful reference book, for all things Italiano, or perhaps Italiana, given the focus of this book. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Gabriella Contestabile

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ LinkedIn

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Many thanks to Laura from Italy Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour and for sending me a copy of this book free of charge.  For more reviews of this book, giveaways, and other features, please visit Italy Book Tours' other stops for Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Louisiana Catch

Readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of award-winning poet and novelist Sweta Srivastava Vikram. I've read and reviewed many of her books, including Saris and a Single Malt (2016), Wet Silence: Poems about Hindu Widows (2015), No Ocean Here (2013) Perfectly Untraditional (2011), and others.  I was overjoyed to receive an advanced reading copy of her newest novel, published in 2018, Louisiana Catch, from Modern History Press.

As I started to read Louisiana Catch, I was immediately drawn into the fascinating world of Ahana Chopra, a wealthy, thirty-three year-old New Delhi woman.  Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, Dev Khana, her outwardly charming but emotionally and sexually abusive ex-husband, she's trying to rebuild her life after her marriage ends. Yoga and running help her to feel better and more optimistic, to an extent.  Because of the culture she lives in, she doesn't share the painful aspects of her marriage with others, created by a bullying husband who forced her to have sex, who in fact raped her.  To make matters worse,  her mother dies suddenly, and Ahana is completely devastated and heartbroken.

Although her loss is tremendous and it's hard for her to get through each day, Ahana immerses herself in her work as a women's rights advocate, and even takes on the responsibility of spearheading the upcoming international women's conference in New Orleans, called No Excuse, which is turning into a major event.

"I still wonder how the universe caught two men from Louisiana and sent them into my life around the same time."
~ Louisiana Catch, Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Ahana soon meets two men related to her online activities, Rohan Brady, a handsome colleague who helps her to develop an online presence, and Jay Dubois, who's in her online support group, and is grieving the loss of his own mother.  Ahana and Jay share their grief, bond over lines from The Catcher in the Rye, and become online friends, although they haven't met in person yet.  As time passes, though, Ahana is not sure who she can trust, or if she can even trust her own feelings and instincts.

What a riveting story!  Every page of this novel held my attention. Written in the first person from the point of view of Ahana, the protagonist, the book reveals her thoughts, and she shares with readers the private things that she doesn't share with her family or friends (because they are too painful to reveal). As a wealthy Indian woman, Ahana's blessed with material comforts, but she's not emotionally comfortable.  The author is a very skilled writer, and Ahana, Naina, Lakshmi, and the other characters in this book come to life. Vikram tackles difficult and complex matters, such as the sudden death of Ahana's mother, Mumma, online relationships and "catfishing", and an especially taboo topic, marital rape.  In this book, we learn about Ahana's marriage, and the physical and emotional abuse she quietly endured for years (too many women suffer in this same manner). 

Gradually, with some help from friends and family, Ahana discovers and demonstrates her own remarkable strength and resilience in this touching story of success.  Despite abuse, loss, and various cultural obstacles, the telling of Ahana's story will provide help and healing to herself and other women.  This book is exceptionally compelling, and it's remarkably timely, too.  I read Louisiana Catch at the onset of the #MeToo movement, in October of 2017.  The author is also a certified yoga teacher and the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, and teaches yoga and mindfulness to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.  I'm thrilled that this book is garnering a lot of attention now, on Amazon and elsewhere.  It's an important and powerful book.

Here are a couple of lovely, joyful photos from the author's Louisiana Catch Book Launch at Lululemon.  



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Many thanks to Victor from Modern History Press for sending me an advance reading copy of  Louisiana Catch free of charge, and to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.  I'm honored to have read another incredible book by this talented and prolific author.  For other reviews and features, please visit Poetic Book Tours' tour for Louisiana Catch.

Thank you for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

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