Giveaway & Book Review: Pieces of Tracy

PiecesOfTracyPieces of Tracy by J. Daniel Parra (Diversion Books, 2013)

Genre: fiction, chicklit, romance, cultural influence

This is a very special review for me. I was contacted by a marketing/publicity representative for Diversion Books, who asked if I’d like to be part of a blog tour for a hot, new summer book. I had no idea what a blog tour even was, but I was indeed interested! I ended up signing up to do a review, have an author guest post, and author interview AND a book giveaway! I am happy and excited to be a part of this.

IMG_0214 copy
J Daniel Parra

You can follow J Daniel Parra on Twitter and like him on Facebook for updates.

Meet Teresa Felicia Santana León. In New York, she’s Tracy León, a would-be artist and telemarketer who falls for an older tycoon, Bruce Babich. When Bruce’s mother sends her to Rome to find a stolen painting, Tracy assumes an alter ego, the zesty Felicia Santana. In Rome, she meets a younger artist named Mario Giordani who helps her on her quest. 

Before long, she is juggling two romances and two distinct identities: Tracy, demure trophy wife wannabe in New York’s high society, and wanton, thrill-seeking Felicia in sultry Rome. Against the backdrop of these exciting cities, she follows her divided heart, even if it leads her in the wrong direction. 

The secrets behind the stolen painting send her on an unforgettable journey that prompts her to re-examine her own talents and inspirations. As the pieces come together, Tracy faces a life-changing choice, one that will lead to surprising discoveries about love and her own identity.

Sounds exciting, right? I was very impressed with this debut novel based on the synopsis and had high expectations. I couldn’t wait to start reading, and I finished the book in a couple of days. I was so into this book! Let me tell you why….

New York
New York

Tracy Felicia Santana is a child of Texans, with big dreams of graphic design and putting her love of art to work in New York. She leaves the nest and moves to New York and gets started. She marries Diego Leon, a man in her realm of work. But Diego wants the limelight and a wife at home, not so much in the workforce. Tracy puts all her dreams and her graphic design classes out of her mind and does what Diego wants her to do. Instead of climbing the ladder in the art world, Tracy stays working in the circulation department for ArtHouse.

Through Tracy’s reminisces, if you can call them that, she makes it clear that Diego washed away her dreams and her motivation to pursue them. It’s a sad, downtrodden fact that a lot of women today face once they are involved in a new relationship or one that evolves into a hasty marriage, as Tracy’s did. She has low self-esteem and no direction for her life; she’s just going through the run-of-the-mill, day-to-day mundane routine, trying to stay afloat in pricey New York.

Since then, Diego has divorced her and married the woman he was cheating on Tracy with…and then he dies, suddenly. Somehow, Tracy and Diego’s second wife, Donna, become best friends. The antics of Diego draw them together. They reminisce about their time with Deigo, and the ending of the novel is very reflective of relationships and the past:

But only the good parts remain. Isn’t it amazing how kind your memory can be? Ultimately, you only remember the happy times. 

Donna is almost a foil of Tracy: she does not hide her beauty, she is an actress and she goes after new adventures. Tracy is content to stay in her little hole in New York. She doesn’t keep in regular contact with her family or “have a life.”

One day, Tracy’s boss at ArtHouse shares some more bad news. On that crappy day, she escapes to MoMA, where the art gives her an escape and lifts her mood. There she meets toy billionaire bachelor Bruce Babich, an Australian transplant, and they hit it off.

Map of Ancient Rome
Map of Ancient Rome

…And then enters Sophia Babich, Bruce’s socialite mother, as soon as Bruce shows interest Tracy. She gives Tracy an ultimatum: find and return a long-ago stolen painting of Sophia that was done by the famous Henri Matisse, or no Bruce. Talk about a hard assignment!

Where is Tracy even to start? She knows virtually nothing about the painting or the woman who stole it. She sets out for the only place that is connected to the woman: Italy. Little did she know what she’d find in Rome…or who.

Tracy discovers she is another person in Rome – and embraces it. She does as she’s asked, but experiences heartbreak and turmoil along the way. She got a hard bargain, but must pay up. But the secrecy and lies of Sophia Babich come to bite Tracy in the butt. It is indeed a twisted tale, very a-la Oedipus, that leaves Tracy in a very unexpected place.

Oedipus
Oedipus

OK, I said I had high expectations for this book. Tracy is a character who I’ve seen before in real life, but she gets a new lease on life, so to speak. Instead of fully using it, she squanders it.

All the moving around forced her to become a new person each time she had to fit in with a new class. 

About halfway through the book, I realized Tracy as a character was not going to really grow and develop. If she did, I would be shocked, so I think that was my biggest disappointment. As a military brat, Tracy was constantly moving and having to make new friends. She is used to taking on or creating new identities – it’s how she survived childhood and is very typical of women in new, unstable relationships. It is typical of women who have no sense of self, who latch on and become whatever it is their love source wants them to become. Indeed, Tracy finds herself in an identity crisis:

Who was she? At one time, she knew she could be anything she wanted to be. Right now, she only knew she did not want to be this person. Couldn’t she be more? 

 And in Rome…

She was her own creation here, despite loving Bruce and wanting to be with him. Bruce was an ocean away. This was Rome and she could be anything she wanted. 

She knew she was using Mario to get over Bruce. She had lost the man she truly wanted and in exchange, Mario served as the quintessential rebound man.

The Roman Coliseum
The Roman Coliseum

The ache from losing Bruce still gave her a great deal of pain, but now she had Mario, she reminded herself, a young stud with an amazing technique in bed. He served as a rebound man, not a partner or a man for always, just someone who would give her romance and passion at a time when she needed it most. 

But Rome was so good to Tracy!  In Rome, Tracy comes alive, exploring the very things she loves: the arts. Her life in Rome is the antithesis of her life in New York. She is bold, daring, exciting, sensual, sexual. She is willing to take risks, and she finds a man who supports her, gives her freedom and reign to be her own person, and who promotes and encourages her freehand sketches. Reading the bits about Rome through Tracy’s eyes made her endearing, and you just can’t help but root for her to follow her passions!

Later, when everything comes to a head, as these things always do, Tracy claimed to be “a victim of circumstance.”  This surprised me, since Tracy made conscious decisions, making several flights between New York and Rome. She gives insight to readers about her turmoil, leading up to the thought that she will make a definitive decision. But as things do when we humans weave our tangled webs, things did not go according to plan…and everything snowballs.

The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel

The end of the novel is tied up in neat little bows. It gives a pretty depiction of people, romance and romantic conflicts. People don’t act that way – at all! So that bothered me a bit. The only change in Tracy from beginning to end was she became more risky (hence, all the running away) and the thing I liked: she’s keeping up with her own art. Perhaps that’s a stepping stone to reclaiming herself, I hope.

I’m going to be bold and suggest that Parra is making a statement with this novel:

Be who you are.

Do what you love, what you enjoy.

Take risks, do something new.

Change your life.

Be strong.

And those things are very important to a full, happy life and are often overshadowed when new, unexpected things enter our lives.

Limoncello
Limoncello

Don’t diminish yourself by being two incomplete fragments when you can be one whole.

I want to share this book with certain women in my life who are like Tracy, to show them that they can be the person they were meant to be. This is a great read that gives a lot of cultural references about certain areas and aspects of Italy. Parra has infused this novel in rich Roman experiences, food, culture and art. If you want an in-house experience of Rome, but can’t afford the trip, this book gives a beautiful sneak peek to enjoy. Parra did a very good job including large amounts of Roman culture and life into this novel, and that’s not an easy thing to do. My hat’s off to you, Daniel Parra!

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win the book!

Want to know more about J. Daniel Parra? Toodle on over to my interview with him here. To read Daniel’s guest post about publication, go here. 

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.

Book Review: Cinderella & The Carpetbagger

GraceRobbinsBookCoverCinderella & The Carpetbagger: My Life as the Wife of the “World’s Bestselling Author,” Harold Robbins by Grace Robbins (Bettie Youngs Book Publishers, 2013)

Genre: memoir

Amazon describes Robbins’ memoir…

Harold Robbins s steamy books were once more widely read than the Bible. His novels sold more than 750 million copies and created the sex-power-glamour genre of popular literature that would go on to influence authors from Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann to TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty. What readers don t know is that Robbins whom the media had dubbed the prince of sex and scandal actually researched the free-wheeling escapades depicted in his books himself, along with his drop-dead, gorgeous wife, Grace. Now, in this revealing tell-all, for the first time ever, Grace Robbins rips the covers off their REAL lives. The 1960s and 70s were decades like no others radical, experimental, libertine. Grace Robbins chronicles the rollicking good times, peppering her memoir with anecdotes of her encounters with luminaries from the world of entertainment and the arts not to mention most of Hollywood. The couple was at the center of a globetrotting jet set, with mansions in Beverly Hills, villas and yachts on the French Riviera and Acapulco. Their life rivaled and often surpassed that of the characters in his books. Champagne flowed, cocaine was abundant, and sex in the pre-AIDS era was embraced with abandon. Along the way, the couple agreed to a modern marriage, that Harold insisted upon. With charm, introspection, and humor, Grace lays open her fascinating, provocative roller-coaster ride of a life her own true Cinderella tale. 

I had no idea about the contents of this book when I downloaded it. It wasn’t until I began prepping this blog post that I discovered just what this book was about. Grace is indeed in a pivotal place to reveal a tell-all: Grace Robbins is the wife of the legendary Harold Robbins, whom the press dubbed as “The World’s Best-Selling Author.” Considered one of the first five Beverly Hills Housewives; Grace Robbins is now working on movie based on her book, Cinderella and the Carpetbagger. Even though I barely scraped the surface in getting an idea about this book, I was looking forward to reading it.

And was disappointed.

I read through half of chapter 16 and just could not continue reading this book, and here’s why: I don’t believe Grace Robbins. There are several incidents in this book that as a girlfriend/fiance/wife/mother she just ignores of her husband. For example, several people (including his mother and sister) tell Grace not to believe a word he says; he takes his wife, screenplay writer, and ex-mistress (and mother of his first child) to a happening bistro and tells the maitre de that he has his ex-mistress, wife and future mistress with him to have lunch. And she doesn’t say a word, even at home in private. As I said, there are several incidents in which Grace should have asked questions as a wife, but she didn’t and I don’t buy this as a reader. I feel there was A LOT glossed over or sugar coated.

In addition, Grace Robbins only had a “life” because of her husband. Before, she was married to a jealous, pathetic, voracious alcoholic with a dead-end job and no friends. She had no motivation, no drive, no dreams she wanted to fulfill. And after walking into Harold’s life, that doesn’t change! The only decisions she makes in their entire relationship are to get married on a whim when they go to Vegas with friends, and the suggestion they buy a yacht to “do something different.”

I enjoyed reading about the connections between people of old Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but I cringed every other page because it is obvious Grace Robbins is not the writer in the family. Grace, leave that to Harold. There were incorrect uses of commas (or lack of needed commas) EVERYWHERE!! It was deplorable. With has much money as she brags about having in this book, it seems she couldn’t spare it to hire an editor.