This book actually consists of two different books packaged together into one. They are both standalones, not in a series together.
Across the Table
Follow three generations of an Italian-American Boston family, starting with Rose, who marries a navy seaman right before WWII breaks out. The family ultimately buys a restaurant on Salem Street in the historic North End, and food and the family business both help keep the family together through trials and heart-aches.
Dancing on Sunday Afternoons
Cara goes to care for her grandmother, Giulia, who has fallen and broken her hip on a visit back to the old country of Italy. While visiting her, Giulia reveals to her the story of her first love who died when Cara’s father was just a baby.
This book made it onto my tbr pile because I found it on trash day on top of a neighbor’s recycling pile. It was one of those cases where obviously someone had given up actually packing for their move and was just chucking it all. The book was in pristine condition, so I yoinked it away (along with two others). Shocker: when I opened this to read it, I discovered that it’s signed by the author. I also didn’t realize until I started reading it that there’s actually two totally separate books in it. The cover only says the first title and mentions a bonus book in rather small type. So this one was full of surprises!
Across the Table
This story is based on the author’s family history, and you can honestly tell. It’s full of so much heart and reality. It’s not your typical romance or women’s fiction. The family felt entirely real, and you could understand why they made the choices they did, even if you wouldn’t have done the same thing. I found Rose by far to be the most interesting, but that’s not really a surprise. I’ve always had a thing for the 1940s, and her life in that decade was simultaneously unique and typical. She spent a couple of years before the war on a tropical island (whose name I cannot remember, I apologize) with her husband. It all felt very South Pacific, but she states that spending this time there gave her and her husband a solid base for the rest of their lives together. They had to really depend on each other. She also said that living there made her question the racism she was raised in and ultimately stop her racist thoughts and actions. They were never extreme, just that avoidance of people visibly different from you that you sometimes see. I also loved that the story is based to solidly in Boston. Cardillo obviously grew up here or visited family a lot here, since she understands simple things like how it takes an hour at least to get from the North End to Cambridge, or how different one side of the river is from the other. The family business and food aspects were also perfectly handled. Just enough to set the atmosphere but not so heavy-handed you wonder if the author forgot about the relationships at the heart of the story. There’s also a nice touch of an uncle/brother/son who is gay, and his Catholic family’s reaction to this is a positive, refreshing change. Perhaps even more so since the reader knows the story is based on a real family. Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It had everything I like in both historic and women’s fiction.
5 out of 5 stars
Dancing on Sunday Afternoons
In contrast, this book was far more tedious and full of cliches and….well basically everything that I don’t like about historic and women’s fiction. Giulia’s immigration story and her family are not particularly easy to empathize with. Her family is incredibly wealthy in Italy, and everyone worries more about appearances than about actually doing the right thing. Even Giulia’s rebellion of marrying the man she wants to marry isn’t all that admirable. She only does it ultimately with the family’s blessing, and her reaction when her husband dies is appalling. (This is not a spoiler. You learn in the first chapter that Giulia’s first husband died). I know that old families really could be like this, but I guess it made less sense being told this way since Giulia was telling the story to her modern granddaughter. I didn’t see any wisdom of age coming through in the telling. I know when my older family members tell me something from their youth, they also discuss what they learned from it. They try to impart some wisdom on me so I don’t make similar mistakes or so that I’m willing to take similar risks. Giulia’s story just doesn’t feel like an elderly person relating to a young family member. I suppose if you really love historic, clean romance novels, you might enjoy this one more than I did. Personally I need this genre to have something extra to really grab me.
3 out of 5 stars
Overall, then, I must average the two books out. I loved the first, but felt that I was not the target audience for the second. It is worth noting that the second was actually Cardillo’s first novel, so her second book was a big improvement. I’ll be keeping my eye on this author, particularly for more work set in Boston. As far as recommendations go, I recommend these books to fans of historic fiction with a focus on romance and women’s personal lives.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: recycling bin