When The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman was selected as a November pick for Book of the Month last year, I had never heard of it. But its summary – and especially its setting – instantly drew me in. It was a bit of an impulse buy, the kind that you never regret. And after hearing only good things about it in the past six months, I was excited to finally read it for myself.
|The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman|
|Number of Pages||374|
|Format I Read||Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||November 1, 2020|
A trio of second-born daughters set out to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.
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.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany has been on my shelf for too long, but I’m so happy I read it now. It felt like a sort of anniversary present: Three years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in Italy, starting in Venice, then going to Florence, and ending in Milan. This novel follows a similar itinerary, but following Venice and Florence, it goes south to the Amalfi Coast instead. Still close enough that it felt like déjà vu in the best way!
The novel opens in New York City, where 29-year-old Emilia is living a quiet, passive life working in her family’s bakery. She’s content with being single (whether due to the curse or her own decisions), but she doesn’t enjoy any of the freedom that could go with that. Though I identify with certain characteristics in Emilia, she’s also frustratingly devoted to her family, ignoring how some of them take advantage of her and manipulate her. Luckily, there’s something in her that allows her to break free of them, just once, to go on a life-changing trip to Italy with her cousin Lucy and their estranged great-aunt Poppy.
Although Poppy is about to turn 80, she is a firecracker of a character. She’s quirky and wholly herself, exuding confidence and offering snappy wisdoms and insights worth taking note of. I aspire to be as adventurous and full of life when I’m her age. But for all her inspiring, cooky vibrance, she has a tragic past. As she, Emilia, and Lucy travel across Italy, we learn about her life growing up in Tuscany and the awful secrets that divided her family.
One of the best aspects of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is the opportunity to vicariously vacation in Italy through them. Lori Nelson Spielman transports the reader to each location, painting the setting vividly and accurately. She describes the water taxis, vaparettos, and gondolas that navigate Venice’s waters. You can see the canals and narrow streets in front of you as if you were there. A train ride to the picturesque hills of Tuscany is lovely; a car ride down Italy’s west coast, past Rome and Naples to the Amalfi Coast, is exhilarating. Once they arrive in their final destination – the small city of Ravello – the coastal scenery is equally beautiful. The three women’s time in Venice and Florence, in particular, brought me back to my own trips to Italy, and I can hardly wait to travel to Europe again. (Hopefully later this year?)
As they travel around Italy, Poppy also tells Emilia and Lucy about her own past, back when she was young and in love between 1959 and 1961. Her story gives greater insight into life in Italy, but it also highlights the primary romance within this novel. I adore the love story between Poppy and Rico, but I also dreaded whatever tragedy was going to tear them apart eventually. Their romance is bittersweet, and I just wish I could turn back time and alter some of the events that separated them.
Sisterhood is another major theme in The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. Indeed, the curse that second-born daughters will never find love comes from sibling rivalry many generations back. As girls, Poppy and Rosa (Emilia’s Nonna) were inseparable. They had such a strong and loving bond, but we see how it slowly unravels, eventually turning Rosa into someone who’s unrecognizable: bitter, selfish, controlling. What could possibly have changed her so much and led to Poppy’s estrangement?
But theirs isn’t the only fraught sister relationship. Emilia and her older sister Daria were also once close, but now Daria treats her as badly as her Nonna Rosa does. It was often hard for me to understand such vitriol and controlling behavior within the family, and equally hard for me to understand how Emilia lets herself be a doormat and bend to their every whim. Even once we learn some of their motivations, it’s hard for me to muster much sympathy for them.
While some broken relationships do eventually mend, not all of them can be salvaged. That may be disappointing, but here, it also felt realistic. Sometimes it’s simply too late to undo years – or even decades – of damage.
But something that does improve for all three of our protagonists is their own happiness and self-worth. We see it with Lucy first, transforming from a desperate, boy-crazy young woman into someone who is relaxed and kind. Emilia, too, goes through a transformation from a frumpy coward to a woman who forges her own path and takes a risk on love. (Side note: I appreciate that Emilia doesn’t fall into one trap I was hoping she’d avoid. I won’t say what it is, because spoilers, but I’m totally happy with her path by the end. And I’d read a sequel starring her!) Finally, dear Poppy… She was already a fully realized woman by this point – indeed, she was 80 years old. But I’m happy that she got much-needed closure for a few things and inspired such growth in others. Hers is a bittersweet end.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is a delightful, whimsical, and adventurous novel that focuses on love, family, and self-fulfillment. It’s endearing and sweet, but also empowering. And whether you’ve been to Italy before or have always longed to visit someday, this is a wonderful way to armchair travel and inspire ideas for your next vacation. This is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and I look forward to reading more from Lori Nelson Spielman.
About the Author
Lori Nelson Spielman is a former speech pathologist, guidance counselor, and teacher of homebound students. She enjoys fitness running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her true passion. Her first novel, The Life List, has been published in over thirty countries and optioned by Fox 2000. Her second novel, Sweet Forgiveness, was also an international bestseller. Her third book, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, releases November 17, 2020. She lives in Michigan with her husband and their very spoiled puppy.
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