This week, in light of the fact I'm doing a live interview on Blog Talk Radio, I thought I'd do a little bragging and share some positive news about the book I'll be discussing there tonight.
So please allow me to present to you:
Thirteen Reviews of Ask Me if I'm Happy
1) Author Cameron Chapman had this to say on Goodreads:
"This is an absolutely beautiful book, a seamless blending of romance and literary fiction. The characters are well-portrayed and easy to relate to. The settings come alive and this is where the author's first-hand experience really shines. My only caveat would be to keep your Italian dictionary close at hand! (Though the inclusion of some Italian words and phrases does lend a wonderful sense of realism to the overall story.) Highly recommended!"
2) "Moira" had this to say on Amazon.co.uk:
"I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Some really likeable characters and a not so likeable mother. Heartily recommend this one except that I now want to go back to Italy!!"
3) "Gini" said this on Amazon.com:
"Having lived in Italy and been to some of the places mentioned in the book helps a lot to feel like you are there. But if the author doesn't manage to bring over the story in a way it feels so realistic, true... it doesn't matter if you would even live there.
Kimberly Menozzi did a superb job with this and combined it with an absolutely beautiful story. The describtion of the main characters, the places they visited, the things they said .... I loved it and would just reread it again. I so miss not reading it at this moment and catch myself thinking about the story many times."
4) On Amazon.com, author/editor Christopher Allen said:
"Ask me if I liked it
Emily Miller hasn't had much luck in the area of trust. We first meet her as she's trying to leave Italy after a difficult divorce, but when fate brings Davide into her life, she must re-evaluate her future and her concept of home.
Ask Me if I'm Happy is a delicately observed romance with a 14-page "climax," and I don't think any reader out there would have a doubt in her mind whether Emily is happy at this point.
But the plot takes a turn . . . . I read the last 75 pages holding my breath.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for its attention to emotional detail, for its believable characters, and for the Italian. Fantastico!"
5) Robert Stermscheg had this to say on Amazon.com:
If the program allowed, I would give this review 4.5 out of 5(as opposed to 4). This is simply a love story and not a melodramatic drama. It's well-written, engaging, but not predictable. Ms. Menozzi's introduction to 'small town' Italy was cleverly thought out and subtly brings the reader into a comfortable familiarity with town life as well as the characters. What was refreshing for me(as a man) was that the protagonist, Davide, was depicted in a favorable light; a man, an educated man, who has passion but is able to control his inner urges. Likewise, Emilia, though dealing with a difficult breakup, comes across as a vulnerable, yet classy lady. A good story. Bravo! Ms. Menozzi."
6) Book Shelf Reviews on Facebook said:
"An absolutely fantastic book full of restrained passion, think Brief encounter or Strangers on a train. The anticipation builds until the reader is nearly bursting. A must for romantics everywhere and should be made compulsory reading for males."
7) Storm Goddess Reviews said:
"My thoughts - Ask Me If I'm Happy will make a believer out of you. Whether or not you believe in love at first sight, this story will hold your heart in the palm of its hands and you'll feel the gentle tugs on your heart strings. Set in Italy, the main characters of this book have had their fair share of heartache and pain. For them to take a chance at love again makes for a poignant, moving story. Both parts romance and literary fiction, there's a little bit for everyone. The emotional portion is like a sucker punch to the gut. The author has done an amazing job creating such a flowing pace, outstanding characters, and a setting that's not overly described but gives plenty for the reader's imagination."
8) "LBJ" said this on Amazon.com:
"This book has so much to offer I'm not sure where to begin. With Emily, Ms. Menozzi gives us a woman who is has found her own quiet strength. I love the way this strength is portrayed, not with and overwhelming show of force, but with a gentle nudge and a firm backbone. The balance is portrayed with great skill.
I have to mention the wonderful way Ms. Menozzi captures Italy, its sights, people, and the little quirks of the culture.
This book is highly recommended. I loved it and look forward to more titles by this author."
9) "Lindy Lou Mac" said this on her various review sites, as well as Amazon:
Ask Me If I'm Happy is a strong romantic novel strengthened by the setting and the use of the Italian language, which make this novel a perfect read, not only for fans of romantic novels but those who love all things Italian. The Italian presence is very evident and the author shares her flaws not just her beauty.
The two protagonists are Emily Miller and Davide Magnani they fall in love at first sight! I am not sure I believe in this actually being love when there is an instant chemistry between two people. I think love and true friendship is something that grows from those first attractions. It is not a simple relationship though as these feelings strike on the day Emily is leaving Italy to return to her native America, she thinks for ever after having had her heart broken by another Italian male. We all know that the path of true love is never simple and these two certainly have a rollercoaster of a relationship with coincidences, lies and hidden truths all getting in the way before Davide is able to convince Emily that Italy is where she should be.
Kimberly's writing is very realistic and her characters all feel very believable while her descriptions will make you feel you are in Italy. As I am not a great fan of too good to be true romance I was at times a little frustrated with their behaviour but I got caught up in the dream. I was a little surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did. I think it was because of the talent of this young lady in her portrayal of a modern love affair.
10) Book Stack Reviews said this:
"Ask Me if I’m Happy is a contemporary love story, with a strong romantic core. The setting of Italy and use of the Italian language strengthen, not only the passion in the book, but, the passion in the characters. The characters of Emily and Davide are believable and heart warming and you will find yourself rooting for their love, even after their first 24 hours in Bologna. A few twists and turns keep the story fresh and interesting. Vivid imagery and description keep you engaged with the characters.
Why you will like it
A modern love affair set against an old romantic backdrop. Likeable characters. Romantic core, yet a strong story."
11) Silvia Mazzobel of the Book After Book review blog said:
"While organising the “Italy in Books” reading challenge, someone on Twitter suggested that I read Ask Me If I’m Happy, debut novel of American-born Kimberly Menozzi. Curious, I started reading her blog and I was instantly hooked on her fresh and witty writing style. So much, in fact, that I just had to invite her to be a guest blogger on Book After Book!
It was with trepidation that this month I picked up my copy of Ask Me If I’m Happy and started reading. Having developed great expectations, I was concerned that I might end up being disappointed. I’m glad to report that I needn’t have worried!
...I don’t want to give away too much. I want you to read this book and experience first-hand the joy of getting to know Kimberly’s tri-dimensional characters. You will cheer their bravery and be frustrated when they can’t see what is in front of their eyes. At times, their romance will seem too good to be true, but Emily and Davide are such credible characters that you will be happy to suspend your disbelief and dream along.
And what can I say about the way Italy is portrayed? Simply. Brilliant. Italy is very much the third main character of this novel. Sometimes it sits quietly in the background and sometimes it comes forward in all its splendour. The exaltation of food flavours and textures, the colourful descriptions of people and places… they all help create a genuine picture of Italy, which is not idyllic in any way.
Kimberly’s Italy is a place with flaws as well as merits. It is a country that can annoy you as well as make you fall in love with it. To accomplish this, you need talent. And Mrs Menozzi has plenty of it!"
12) "Debbie" said this on Amazon.com:
"Loved this book. Emily and Davide were so "real". The setting was awesome! I have been to Italy and it felt like I was there again. Thanks for the great book. Will be looking for more from you!"
13) And finally, author Greta van der Rol had this to say:
"When I first encountered this story, its name was `Connections' and having now finished reading it, I can both understand the reason for that original name and the reason why the title was changed. At its heart, this is a love story made complicated by the two main players' pasts. This isn't a story about a beautiful woman and a billionaire and there's not a bare-chested highlander in sight. Emily is past her first youth and she has ample curves which would render her ineligible for the catwalk; Davide is an academic. They stumble across each other and then realise as time goes by that there are connections between them stemming from their past.
This isn't an action-packed, fast-paced novel. It's a gentle exploration of character as we learn more and more about what makes Emily and Davide tick, what fuels their uncertainties, what holds them back, what ghosts from the past look over their shoulders. The difference in nationality (Emily is an American who has lived in Italy for ten years, while Davide is a native of Bolgna) are nicely portrayed. I especially enjoyed the intimate glimpses of the medieval city of Bolgna and the culture of its natives. You can smell the food, feel your way down the winding alleys, enjoy the glimpse of the canal, see the square with its statue of Neptune. I think, also, that the author has understood the difference between men and women when it comes to sex and how reactions can be misinterpreted.
Yes, it is a romance but I think the novel will appeal to readers who like character-driven, real-life stories. I enjoyed the read."
So there you go.
13 Positive reviews for Ask Me if I'm Happy.
If you've read the book and enjoyed it, I hope you'll share your thoughts on it with other readers by leaving a review on the review site of your choice.
If you've read it and didn't enjoy it 100%, I'd still like to know what you thought of it.
And for those of you who did enjoy it, I think you might also enjoy this:
I know I sure do.
Ciao for now!
"Al centro esatto di Piazza Maggiore
con leggerezza da pattinatore
Bologna adesso voltati
mi fai commuovere
lo sai che esagero con le parole..."
"At the exact center of Piazza Maggiore
With the lightness of a skater
Bologna you now turn -
You move me
You know that I exaggerate with words…"
- "A Bologna" ("In Bologna") by Samuele Bersani (translation mine)
I frequently have to explain "Why Bologna?" I mean, I live in Italy – I'm surrounded by historic locations which could have hosted Emily and Davide's story in Ask Me if I'm Happy, right? So why limit myself to a frequently cold and foggy setting in northern Italy that readers might not be very familiar with in the first place?
Well, why not?
The truth is there was no other place as well-suited to the story as Bologna was. I cited some of the reasons elsewhere once, in an interview I did prior to Ask Me if I'm Happy's initial release in 2010: "It's the major train travel hub for northern Italy; it's simply a place I love; it is, as my husband might say, characteristic of the region where I live; and finally, it's a beautiful and historic city.
"Most of all, I feel it's one of the unsung locations in this country. Nearly everyone knows about Tuscany, Rome, Naples and Venice, but very few folks, it seems, are even aware of Bologna. I wanted my area of northern Italy to be represented, for better and for worse, and I think I've done that in Ask Me if I'm Happy."
I've done my best to give a real sense of the city and to show how it affects Emily and Davide throughout their relationship. I tried to not make the story feel like a travelogue, preferring to let the city peek through from time to time, by citing real places and inventing amalgamations of others. From what I've been told, I've done a decent job of it.
In spite of Ask Me… being a love story, I really hoped to write a story which could serve as an antidote of sorts to many other Italy-set stories. I wanted to show the Italy where I – and my ex-pat co-workers and friends – live and work every day. All of us had grown tired of the oh-so-perfect life described by so many novelists and travel writers, the false la dolce vita-isation of these places we know too well. As a result, I aimed to write about this place I've come to love with all my heart, but to write about it warts and all.
Yes, Italy is a beautiful country, there's no doubt about it. I don't deny that, and I do think this aspect shows through in Ask Me if I'm Happy. But there are other aspects of living here which fall quite short of the idealized imagery in those "Ex-pats in Tuscany/Rome/Venice" tales we're all familiar with. This discrepancy is what Emily struggles with, and it's something Davide deals with, too, although in slightly different ways.
From the beginning of the novel right through to the end, I've tried to show the Italy I know in the season I love best: the cold air, the grey skies, and the style of urban living which is the reality for the majority of Italians I know. I wanted to show the romance in a foggy afternoon and in warming one's hands over a hot cappuccino or in the grasp of an attractive companion. I wanted the reader to imagine strolling along the porticos of La Grassa, the city of Bologna, and see her rather weathered charms in all their flawed splendor.
Emily rediscovers these aspects of Italy every time she leaves and returns, just as I – and many of my friends who came here from abroad – do. And every time they open Emily and Davide's story and journey into an Italy they might not previously have been familiar with, I sincerely hope that readers of Ask Me if I'm Happy will do the same.
One of the most surprising aspects of writing Ask Me if I'm Happy had to be the way Davide was received by the first folks to read the story. From its earliest days, men and women alike singled Davide out:
"Davide is a knight in shining armor that we all pray for to come save us."
"This Davide fella gets more attractive by the word."
The story was reworked considerably before it appeared on Authonomy, but I was confident it would – for the most part, anyway – pass muster. Again, to my surprise, people still seemed to notice Davide more than I expected:
"This man could seduce an iceberg! I'm half in love with him myself."
"Davide sounds so dreamy - good looking, sophisticated, cultured, kind, and a professor of literature - what girl wouldn't fall for him?"
"… Davide is lovely and one wants to spend time in his company."
I became concerned. Had I written someone too perfect? Had I written someone who couldn't possibly exist in the real world?
This proved rather troubling, as my intention had been to write a story which was, ultimately, very realistic. I wanted both Emily and Davide to strike home for the reader, to be people with whom the reader could identify – not in a fantastic manner, but in recognizing something of themselves as they read along.
I forged forward and the story grew and grew, giving me deeper insight into Davide's mind, his motivations and even his past. Based on "Connections" alone, it's clear he's not the "typical" Italian male. He's studious, perhaps slightly nerdy, honest and conscientious almost to a fault – not the self-involved, vainglorious and self-assured sort of man we're accustomed to imagining as the classic "Italian love interest".
No, Davide is no Casanova, no Valentino, no love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy. However, when the moment presents itself, he knows when to step in, when to seize the opportunity to declare himself and his intentions. When he does, he does so with all the fear and trepidation most of us would surely feel for taking such a chance.
In short, Davide is simply himself. A man who doesn't bow to the caprices of fashion and who quietly despairs for a world around him which seems to do just that; who struggles to maintain a standard of civility and propriety which he sees slipping to the wayside; who worships the woman he loves because he isn't able to see her flaws – however many there may be – and can only see her perfection magnified by his love.
Tragically, this may well be his most self-destructive aspect. Davide believes himself to be honest in all things yet his mistrust of anyone's ability to love him, or to be as honest with him as he is with them, keeps the world safely at arm's length. This, combined with his need to protect Emily, is his blessing and his curse. The very things which bring them together are what might well break them apart.
Not long ago, a friend read through Ask Me if I'm Happy and cited Davide's self-imposed isolation, his rejection of societal trends, his need for a deep emotional connection with someone – anyone – as proof that he is a man "out of his time". His initial perfection – as seen through Emily's eyes – gives way to his own view of his imperfection. His self-critical nature stifles his ability to be honest with himself – and thus, with Emily – in the way he knows he needs to be. Of course, this leads to trouble. Just like in real life.
Now, when I hear people telling me how much they admire Davide, how attractive and romantic he is to them, I have a better understanding of why that is. It is my belief that these readers, male and female alike, really do identify with him and with his struggles throughout the novel. They see themselves or their loved ones – or both – in him, and that spurs their desire to see him succeed, to work out his problems and emerge victorious on the other side of the struggle.
Whether or not he does this, I won't say here. You'll just have to read the book to find out.
Being one of those writers from the "my characters tell me what happens" school, I'm endlessly surprised by the things I learn about my characters while I write the story. In this regard, they really do feel like friends I'm spending time with, getting to know them over time. Sometimes, the surprises are astounding.
Emily had a lot of those surprises in store for me from the start. When I first wrote the short story which became Ask Me if I'm Happy, I confess she wasn't terribly well-formed in my own mind. Over time, she shaped up on the page, but initially all I knew about her was that she was leaving Italy after a fair amount of time there, and she spoke Italian better than I did. I didn't know whether she was married, divorced or widowed. I didn't know precisely how old she was. I didn't really know for sure what she looked like, either.
Soon enough I understood she was nervous, and scared. She was frustrated at the obstacles keeping her in Italy. She prized honesty because she'd been lied to in previous relationships. Her attraction to Davide was natural and unhurried, and it was part of her becoming honest with herself once more.
The story expanded and went deeper into her head. I found she was prone to self-doubt – well, who isn't? – and that she struggled to move forward from her own past mistakes. I learned that she'd been alone for a long time, and she'd practically been abandoned to her despair to see her worst fears come true. I also found she was stubborn and bullheaded, usually at the worst possible times.
When she described herself in the story, it wasn't Emily who provided the words. Instead, it was the voice of Jacopo, her ex, who spoke – and he didn't speak kindly. He described Emily as mousy and dumpy – words which, ironically, weren't in his English lexicon until he met her. He even used the phrase thirty-four-year-old-woman as though this were some sort of insult.
My heart ached for her. I tried to determine what exactly had happened to Emily which sent her on this downward trajectory. Why was she so vulnerable? How was she so easily manipulated? Why did Jacopo choose Emily if he would be so unhappy with a woman like her?
It came to me in a rush, while discussing the plot's possibilities with a friend of mine while we walked through the city center. In the middle of a piazza not unlike the ones she would walk with Davide, I understood the source of Emily's pain: it was all I could do not to start crying on the spot. For a moment, it was as though Emily stood there with me, her head bowed so I couldn't see her face, waiting for me to give voice to her pain.
The linchpin to the story was given to me just like that. When I got home, I sat at my writing desk and cried while I made my notes and typed them out. It really was like having a friend tell me a devastating secret she'd held back from telling, out of fear of being judged.
For all her quiet, mousy tendencies, Emily was no blushing innocent nor was she brazen and careless with her affections. She'd been devastated by her father's death when she was a teenager, and she'd acted out, as teenagers do. Her mother, who was always distant, became more so in spite of the fact that she was all Emily had, and her daughter was all she had. So, Emily sought affection wherever she could find it, and it cost her dearly.
Writing all of this was difficult for me, but with every revelation, Emily became more real, and more realistic. She wasn't at all perfect. She had her flaws, and with each choice she made, with each tough path she chose, I found myself rooting for her.
Of course I hope that anyone who reads Ask Me if I'm Happy will feel the same way. I will always hope that my efforts to put Emily's (and Davide's) story on the page will be as moving an experience to read as it was for me to write. My constant refrain, as always, is "Time will tell" – because it always does.
And what we hear in the meantime is often quite surprising.
occasione da prendere…
… E infatti, infatti non dimentico
la mia fotografia
e l'amore se non ce l'ho.
Ripeterei tutto quello che è passato
comprese le tue bugie
perché le scoprirei molto prima e senza aiuto."
(An) opportunity to take…
… And indeed, in fact I don't forget
and love, if I don't have it (with me).
I would repeat all that has passed
including your lies
because I'd discover them much earlier and without help."
- From "Chiedimi se Sono Felice (Ask Me if I'm Happy)" by Samuele Bersani (translation mine)
One of the first things people living outside Italy often say to me about Ask Me if I'm Happy is "I love the title!" Every time they do, I have to smile. I'm pleased they like the optimistic sound of it. I'm glad they'll likely remember it – or, hopefully, they'll remember something close enough for a bookseller to find it for them! And of course, I'm glad it sounds unique enough for them to comment on it in the first place.
Here in Italy, that's not the case. Here, my students and co-workers at the language school, my friends and acquaintances, have all asked me the same question: "You know that's the title of an Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo movie (Chiedimi se Sono Felice), right?" And I have to laugh, and nod, and say "Yes, yes; I know. It's a favorite of mine." For, you see, this title had a life before my novel. I confess – much like Jackson Browne lifted "Tender is the Night" for his personal use, just as Kate Bush appropriated "Wuthering Heights" for her own haunting tune, I too have nicked this title from another source. Or rather, two.
I've quoted a few lines from the song at the start of this blog to show I'm aware of it. More to the point: I was inspired by the song. This story has nothing to do with the film in any way, but the song (which, incidentally, was featured in the film) has strong similarities. At least, it does on the surface.
I'd listened to this song many times, but I didn't think I had really taken it to heart until I had finished writing the first drafts and needed a title for what was – at the time – a novel consisting of four novellas. A couple of lines suddenly stood out to me, and I looked up the lyrics online to be sure I was hearing them correctly. With my novel in mind, these lines (among others in the song) took on a new meaning for me and were an almost perfect fit, considering the storyline. When I said to my husband that I thought it would be a good title for my story, he thought about it and eventually agreed.
So I went forward, aware that readers would bring this up if they knew about the film or the song. The title stuck, becoming known as Ask Me... in its abbreviated version. One of my students teased me, saying if the book should be translated into Italian, at least we'd already know the title.
The thing is, should I be so lucky that this book should merit an Italian translation, I doubt it'll take back the moniker of Chiedimi se Sono Felice. The fact is, most books and films translated from English to Italian rarely get direct translations of their titles. Common practice is to give it a new title – sometimes relevant, sometimes obscure – which seems to work better in Italian. I'm ready for them, though. I've already got an Italian title in mind, and it works on several levels, including English.
The best part? It was the title of the story when it appeared on the URBIS and Authonomy writing sites, where it first caught the eyes of those who would go on to support my work today. At that time, the story was called "Connections" and was a play on words, meaning travel connections, personal connections and the circumstances which connected Emily and Davide. And what is one translation of "Connections" in Italian?
So I invite you to go ahead, because I know you're dying to:
Ask me if I'm happy.
For better or worse, I've had Ask Me if I'm Happy's cover analyzed on Your Cover Uncovered, a wonderful new site run by the lovely and talented Sarah E. Melville. Come see what Sarah had to say about the cover and see if you agree or disagree!
For those of you in the US who are registered on Goodreads, I'm happy to share with you this news: I'm doing a Goodreads giveaway of Ask Me if I'm Happy!
From now until October 31st, you can enter to try to win one of two copies up for grabs. Click on the graphic below for more details.
That's right! Ask Me if I'm Happy is now back in e-book format, and is currently available on Smashwords. If you've wanted a copy for your e-reader, now's the time to act! But don't worry - it won't be going away anytime soon. ;-)Also, if you've already read Ask Me... and would like a short, sexy read to pass the time, the prequel novella "Alternate Rialto" is also available on Smashwords, as well as on BN.com for the NOOK e-reader.Here's the blurb:All Emily Miller wants from her trip to Italy is the chance to get over her recent breakup. Watching her beautiful best friend Jenn revel in the attention of countless available men isn't helping matters. After arriving in Venice for the final week of their trip, hurt and disappointed, Emily strikes out on her own.
After a chance encounter in a paper shop, she finds herself the object of the affections of a handsome Venetian named Jacopo. At his invitation, she decides to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on a once-in-a-lifetime fling. Before she can do so, however, Emily must let go of the pain of her past and learn how to trust her own judgment in matters of the heart. Nevertheless, as Jacopo reveals more about himself and his surprisingly long-term intentions toward her, Emily comes to realize that in Venice, not all the masks are put away after Carnevale.