Tag Archives: gabriel valjan

Corporate Citizen – A Book Review

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This is #5 of the Roma Series, in which we keep up with Alibaster Black (aka Bianca Nerini) and her super-sleuthing adventures. In this episode, the characters are back in Boston and dealing with some gruesome murders of controversial and influential individuals (to whom we were introduced to in previous books of the Roma series), a new strain of heroin called Krockodil, some military drug experiments, as well as meeting some new characters: Nick and the Magician. Nick is a veteran with a mysterious past, who has a knack of showing up after every murder…and the Magician is an online presence who seems to know how to hack into every computer and who knows LOTS of secrets!

As with the other books in the series, the story is basically exciting but I found it hard to keep all the many characters straight! There is a lot of action going on and I felt confused a lot of the time as to who was doing what. The online presences of Loki and now the Magician are mysterious because they seem to know stuff about everything! But, I have to say, I did find the descriptions of Loki’s avatars very entertaining! The descriptions were so vivid that I could easily picture them dancing across the screen morphing and expressing themselves with so many different expressions.

Here is an interview with Gabriel Valjan, the author:

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What advice would you give budding writers?

Read as widely as you can and form your own relationship to language. Each writer has one whether she is aware of it or not. Be true to the story that you want to deliver and set aside ego. Write. Revise. Get feedback from those you trust. Realize that the physical book in your hands is the result of your work, that of an editor and of a publisher. Be grateful for that and once you are done: release it so that the story can live its own life with readers and you can return to writing. Make the next story better.

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

Silvio was the hardest. He is my homage to Andrea Camilleri’s character Catarella in the Inspector Montalbano series. I say that he was the hardest because I wanted to tip my hat, while at the same time do something different with my Silvio. For those readers unfamiliar with Catarella, he is a bumbling cop who, in trying to sound bureaucratic and formal, does hilarious things with language.

Easiest character? I would say Bianca. She is a composite of three people: a famous hacker I knew, a friend with a genius level IQ, and myself when I was younger. I’m not saying that I am brilliant, but I was extremely distant and analytical (and moody, as Bianca is).

Do you write every day?

I do and I am very ritualistic about my writing habit. Coffee. Exercise. More coffee. I’ll write for three to four hours, or more on a good day. My output averages to about a page an hour, although I have done more, or sometimes less. Write this way, with consistency, and you’ll have a novel in no time. I write from beginning to end and then set aside the story for revisions. I wrote Corporate Citizen in forty-three days in 2012.  The release date for the book is October 5, 2016, so that should give you some idea of the time spent editing and revising it.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. I can’t read my own handwriting at times. I will, however, walk about with a small notebook to jot down notes about dialog, an idea, or an image. I have found that to be conducive to my process.

Favorite dessert?

A Spanish plantain split which consists of deep fried plantains, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted nuts.

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Need I say more? It is the perfect combination of crunchy texture, creaminess, sweetness, and chocolate goodness. I dare you to disagree. I’d like to try it with coconut ice cream.

If there is any one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

For readers to say that I created characters they cared about and that my stories ventured beneath the surface.

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Turning to Stone – Part 4 of the Roma, Underground Series

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The series continues with our friends Bianca, Dante, Ferrugia, Gennaro, Silvio and Alessandro as they head to Naples. This time their work involves solving counterfeit money and bond crimes associated with the biggest crime organizations in Italy.  Ferrugia goes undercover as a member of the Camorra, while everyone else is trying to solve who is responsible for a high ranking official’s death.  This official’s nephew joins the group and turns out to be a big asset to the team. Secret meetings take place between the different crime families, but someone is leaking the information of these meetings to a band of ruthless Sicilian women on motorcycles.  Once these women appear at these meetings, automatic gunfire and death occur.

Bianca continues to consult her online “friend” Loki for advice and clues.Loki responds with riddles and anagrams to solve.  How Loki has all this information is beyond me, though, and at times I’m left wondering who this person can be.  During the story, though, we are enlightened as to who a possibility might be, but it still doesn’t make much sense to me.

This book was tedious to get through.  I felt like the same scenarios kept getting replayed time and time again without any real resolution.  I’m still just as confused to the identity of Loki and why Loki would have the answer to everything. As at the end of Threading the Needle, I still feel lost and without answers to any of the questions that I have conjured up in my head.  Perhaps that’s the author’s purpose and that’s what keeps you wanting to read the next book in the series. We’ll see if I have the energy 😦

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Here are a few words from the series author, Gabriel Valjan!

A culinary sampling table: Italian style

“Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Boticellis and Berlusconis.”

Beppe Severgnini, the author of La Bella Figura, said that. Although he is what Italians call a furbo – someone who is crafty, clever, and astute, with an undercurrent of guile – he speaks a truth. He would also tell you that his Italy is not postcards of Tuscan hills, or the E.M. Forester novel and James Ivory’s film A Room with a View. Italy is, to my mind, the comeback kid of Europe, and with it comes backhanded comments, such as Napoleon was French when he won, Italian when he lost. The di Buonaparte family hailed from Tuscany.

I’d advise readers to read John Hooper’s The Italians for a comprehensive portrait of Italy, but let’s evaluate Beppe’s comment. When Goethe visited Italy, the imperial city of Rome was overgrown, in ruination, a literal cow pasture, and yet he romanticized what he had seen; he prefaced his diaries with a German translation of the Latin phrase: “Et in Arcadia ego,” a death-haunted phrase of nostalgia that readers would find again in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The Imperium Romanum had been brought low, but it would bounce back as a dominant forza in fashion, manufacturing, and technological innovator in engineering and the sciences during the Italian Miracle. History shows that Italy, the small kid in the European playground, had anticipated the totalitarian governments of the 30s as early as 1922 with Fascism; foreign interference through the ‘strategia della tensione’ for decades after World War II; wholesale corruption throughout the 90s; and the ‘post-democracy’ seen now in most western countries, including the United States.

It is easy to become bewitched by the history, as I did when I first visited Italy as a second-year Latin student, visiting the northern shore of Lake Trasimene, knowing exactly what happened there between Hannibal and Gaius Flaminius in 218 BCE, or when I stood at twilight at the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino that overlooked the cemeteries in the valley below, knowing what happened there in 1944. In a later visit, I would stand sickened and transfixed as I heard the news of the assassination of the anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino.

What then? How does one know Italy?

Food. Even here, though, there are delicious deceptions, for the food that most Americans call Italian is descended from immigrants from southern Italy and those regional foods have been heavily Americanized. Case in point: the New York pizza is a distant cousin of the Neapolitan pizza, and while Chicago-style deep-dish pizza does exist in Italy, it’s usually reserved for take-out only (pizza da asporto). No sane Italian would order cappuccino after 11am or after dinner; consume a venti at Starbucks; or eat fettuccine Alfredo or Caesar salad because these are considered American dishes. From heel to toe and to the top of the boot, Italians are aghast at American portion sizes. And another thing: it is lasagnE (plural), and not lasagnA (singular). Lasagna is a single layer of pasta. It is like saying ‘new’ instead of ‘news.’ Prego.

In writing the Roma Series, I incorporated food to lure readers into trying some of the regional foods and to encourage them to indulge their senses. My hope is that I’ve corrected some gustatory misunderstandings. Roma, Underground offers the sights and sounds of Roma, as well as meals in restaurants and some street food. Chef Michael Schlow was the inspiration for Chef in Wasp’s Nest. Pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans, often heard in America as pasta fazool, makes an appearance in the first chapter. Chef Schlow had made the dish from scratch for me (and others) at the Boston Wine Expo in 2011. In the same chapter, I poked fun at Americanized Italian words, but please know that I had meant no offense. While Dante literally minted thousands of words in Italian like Shakespeare did in English, Baby Boomers in Italy may well be the first generation that actually thinks in Italian and not in their local dialect. Until the late 19th century, everybody spoke their local dialect, including educated people. Alessandro Manzoni, author of The Betrothed, had to learn to speak proper Italian in Florence before he wrote his novel. His native languages were French and Lombard. Spoken Italian was not standardized until the mid-twentieth century. Written Italian has been stable for centuries.

Wasp introduces some Calabrese cuisine. In Threading the Needle, the third installment, readers will savor both northern dishes and homemade Campanian dishes since Gennaro, the resident curmudgeon, is from Naples, which he visits with his friends in the fourth book, Turning To Stone. Threading explores the ‘strategy of tension’ and Turning meditates on the sociology of organized crime and financial terrorism.

Italy celebrates regional differences, but its northern and southern divide mirrors the prejudices of our North and South. It’s a decent analogy as real as Italy’s north-to-south highway, the Autostrada 1. The north considers itself industrial and progressive, seeing its southern neighbors as retrograde, indolent, and corrupt. Southern Italians complain that their northern brethren are elitist, wield too much power, and are corrupt. While these are broad generalizations, the antagonism is real. The common theme to both regions, however, is foreign footprints. Lombardy has had both the French and Germans on their roofs. Italy and, particularly Sicily, has been the doorstep for just about every world power since antiquity: Carthaginians, Greeks, Muslims, Normans, Spanish and so on. All these “guests” have influenced the local cuisine. If the Thirty Years War altered Germany and the course of Europe, I encourage readers to research The Italian Wars (1494-1594), which, like The Hundred Years War between England and France and our war in Vietnam, forever altered the Italian psyche, especially The Sack of Rome in 1527.

I invite readers of the Roma Series to consult the cookbooks in my home: Luca Manfè’s My Italian Kitchen (he is from Friuli, northeastern Italy); Rosetta Constantino’s (with Janet Fletcher) My Calabria; Polpo, a Venetian cookbook; Marc Vetri’s (with David Joachim) Rustic Italian Food (Bergamese influence); and for wine-lovers, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch’s Vino Italiano. Italy has a rich wine-with-food-pairing tradition (they use the compound word enogastronomia) and for creating grape varietals (incrocio, in Italian), which is a booming industry because the country’s peculiar geography, climate, minerals or water change significantly every 30 or 40 miles. The northernmost limit of grapevines is creeping more and more north every season. Brace yourself for British Cabernet and Danish Pinot….

Homemade Bruschetta

Part I

I never measure anything. I go by ‘taste.’

Cut up Roma tomatoes; deseed them if you dislike the seeds.

  1. In a nonreactive bowl, place in cut-up tomatoes, seasoned with kosher salt, some pepper and oregano, and add slices of garlic. Beppe reminds me that rubbing bread with garlic is “actionable.”
  2. Pour in balsamic vinegar and whisk in olive oil.
  3. Cover with foil and let sit overnight either on the counter or in refrigerator (it does affect taste).

Part II

  1. Slice baguette slices at an angle.
  2. Grill or broiler bread until light shade of brown, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Top with marinated tomatoes and grill/broil for another minute. Go by ‘feel’ for degree of crunchiness.
  4. Top with fresh basil, or if you like, grate a small amount of Parmesan cheese.

Threading the Needle – Book 3 of the Roma Underground Series

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51LbKc8yJjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]This 3rd book in the Roma Underground series finds the characters all back in Italy – this time in Milan.  While there, they investigate the murder of a young American student, Charlie Brooks.  He is murdered right after he meets Bianca at a restaurant and hands her some secret files regarding details of a tank being built by Adastra, a USA defense contractor.  What about this tank makes it so secret that Charlie and his assassins are killed?  That is the answer that Bianca wants to find out, and this involves delving into government secrets and conspiracies.  Loki, Bianca’s online “friend” tells her to stay away from this case, but Bianca doesn’t heed her warnings! Meanwhile this is happening, an aspiring Italian political figure is found dead.  The two cases seem so different, but clues surface which make it seem like the two may be related.

I enjoyed this book more than the other books in the series, and I think it’s because I am now familiar with the characters and know each of their personalities.  This story moved quickly and I liked the descriptions of the locations in Milan…I also liked the history lesson about the terrorism that plagued Italy from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.

 

The Wasp’s Nest – A Book Review

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Continuing with the Roma, Underground series by Gabriel Valjan, this second book finds Bianca (Alabaster) back in Boston and working once again with Rendition.  This time, her assignment is to investigate Nasonia Pharmaceutical and it’s CEO, Cyril Sargent. who is trying to map out the genome for a species of wasp in order to discover a new form of cancer treatment.

Photo by g1.globo.com

Photo by g1.globo.com

Meanwhile, the case of the stolen antiquities which she had been working on while in Rome, continues with the extradiction of one of the key figures in the crime ring to Boston.  Because of the ties to Italy in this specific case, her friends from Rome, Farrugia and Gennaro, come to Boston as well.  While in Boston, these two uncover a conspiracy from their past, and one in which they would like to “settle the score” with.

At first, the book started off with lots of scientific talk, which I happened to understand because of my science background, but which I felt was a bit too technical.  It made for some dry reading (like reading a textbook) and I found I needed to really push myself to continue.  I honestly feel that if I hadn’t been reading this series for Italy Book Tours, I may have put the book aside.  But, I’m glad I persevered through these part, because the story got really interesting and I ended up enjoying it immensely!

Roma, Underground (Part 1 of the Series) – A Book Review

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This suspenseful novel follows Alabaster Black, a.k.a. Bianca Nerini, a forensic accountant, as she tries to hide in Rome from her former “mysterious” employer, Rendition, after one of her contacts disappears and is presumed dead.   While in Rome, she meets Dante and gets involved with his archaeological hobby of exploring Rome’s underground.

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Courtesy of Argiletum Tour Italy

Dante is also an investigator who is trying to figure out who is stealing and selling Rome’s ancient artifacts.

Courtesy of The History Blog

Courtesy of The History Blog

The two of them devise a scheme to trap the thieves by making up a fake discovery.  Meanwhile, while they are trying to figure out who these players are, Bianca learns that she has been found hiding in Rome. Lots of characters are presented, each with lots of personality, as we’re led around Rome, both above and below ground.

The story is fast moving, but at times, I found that I was getting lost trying to keep all the characters straight.  Also, some things were explained in really technical terms and I wasn’t that interested in the details.  But that’s just me, that sort of stuff doesn’t really appeal to me.  I’m sure others will appreciate the technicality of the descriptions!  All in all, it was a fun read and kept me hooked all the way through.