Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mina's Adventures Series by Maria Grazia Swan


In this richly imagined series, set in the recent past, Mina Calvi, an Italian-born woman, an immigrant to The United States, has to deal with some overwhelming events.  Her self-deprecating humor and her friends, loyal to the occasionally clueless young woman, help her survive.

 The author has made Mina a refreshingly realistic young woman.  Not a silly, kick-ass, one-dimensional character favored by so many publishers these days, Mina is a young woman who has yet to find her place in life.  She is moderately educated, foreign to many American ways, gullible, and has a wonderful sense of the ridiculous.

Here is a beautiful 30 second book trailer for the Mina's Adventures series:

The Mina Calvi books are not quick, one-day reads, about one-dimensional characters playacting to formulaic conventions.  The books are entertainingly realistic romantic-adventure stories, with mystery and suspense, featuring a complex, growing character, who reacts with realistic human strength and weakness to her unusual situations. 

Mina's humor is a real plus to this traditionally written, third-person narrated, romantic-adventure series.  Her unpredictable reactions bring a spontaneity to the story, keeping us guessing about what will happen next, and what Mina will do or say next.

I have read and enjoyed all the books in The Mina's Adventures Series:
  1. Love Thy Sister
  2. Bosom Bodies
  3. Italian Summer
  4. Ashes of Autumn
  5. A Cat to Die For

Love Thy Sister - Book One

Love Thy Sister, set in 1989, introduces us to Mina, a young woman with a sharp sense of humor, and a playful, direct, spontaneous, even flighty character.
She had been barely sixteen with little knowledge of English when she had arrived in Southern California.

She was almost twenty-three and although older, as the saying goes, she wasn't much wiser.

Ideas, the one thing she had abbondanza of.  And dreams, yes, dreams, too.
We learn that Mina grew up in Italy's Veneto region, and her evocative memories of her life there ring true.  Also ringing true are Mina's favorite American discoveries, treats like milk shakes, doughnuts, muffins, cereal, and delicious peanut butter.

We follow the events through Mina's eyes, being confused with her, getting only small pieces of information at a time, and having to piece them together.

There is lots of fun banter between Mina and her sister, Paola, at the beginning of the book.  Being California, there is lots of driving around throughout the book.  And at the end of the book, all the loose ends are tied up nicely.

Bosom Bodies - Book Two

We pick up Mina's life over one year later in Bosom Bodies.  The author quickly catches us up on Mina's history, and reacquaints us with Mina's appreciation of American quirks, and with Mina's self-deprecating sense of humor.
Mina walked around her car and, sure enough, it was the front tire, passenger side-as flat as her chest beneath the padding.
But after the events of the first book, Mina has grown into a bored, lonely, lost soul, a young woman who has prematurely had to face the darker aspects of the world.  In Bosom Bodies, Mina is once again caught up in adventures she only half understands.  Bit by bit, the pieces fall into place.

A new man enters Mina's life in this second book, and he returns in the third and fourth books in the series:  Diego.  Shunning the stereotypical, cookie-cutter men who populate so many books these days, and grace their covers, the author creates in Diego a realistic man. 

Diego is not six-foot-plus with a chiseled jaw, blond hair, a cool character, and a propensity for losing his shirt, exposing his six-pack.  Diego is average to below-average height with dark coloring and heavy features.  He is observant, agile, witty, sly, secretive, deceptive, and an ever-present force in Mina's turbulent life.  Diego is one more thing:
The man was more temperamental than she was.  Not an easy feat.
Mina feels a primal connection with Diego, a link that goes to her soul.  But the man:
...scared and fascinated her at the same time...
Mina has a knack for finding herself in odd situations, often.  Her unpredictable nature means that no matter how attentive her loyal friends are, Mina will, entertainingly, manage to mess up their plans to keep her safe.

All the loose ends of the mystery are tied up in the end, but the Diego story continues to the next book in the series, Italian Summer.

Italian Summer - Book Three

The author quickly brings the reader up to speed with the events of the previous books in the series, so I would advise readers to read the books in sequence, to avoid spoilers.

Two years after the end of the previous book, Mina returns to her native Italy for a summer vacation.  Not having been there, in the Veneto region, since she was sixteen, Mina must rediscover many facets of Italy's culture all over again, or for the first time, as an adult.

After her many adventures in the first two books in the series, Mina's naturally boisterous character has been subdued.  She is shyer, more reserved than before, and something of a loner.  Her few loyal friends in The States are often on her mind, her anchor to the tenuous life she has built for herself in America. 

Mina is also painfully, dangerously insecure now.  Her insecurity and inexperience with men gave me my biggest upset while reading Italian Summer.  Her credulity and her un-safe sex habits had me cringing.

Small town life in northern Italy is not a good fit for Mina, a young woman who is by now more American than Italian.  She goes about casually dressed, talking to strangers, accepting dates with near strangers, and not understanding even the basics like how to do her shopping.  At one point, Mina wonders:
Maybe she should change her return flight and get the hell out of there [Italy], go back to California.  That was her real home now.  She had to come all the way here to find that out?The author gives Mina a mother-figure in Italian Summer, who is a lovely addition to the story, and who gives Mina a chance to learn a bit more about her own past.
The story is wrapped up at the end, and Mina returns to California, where her next adventure happens only a few months later.  

Ashes of Autumn  - Book 4

The writer of this engaging romantic suspense series keeps us guessing about Mina's fate, and the fate of her odd relationship with Diego, whom Mina met in Book 2.  Diego was in Mina's life in Book 3, also. 

Mina, a young woman who has faced more heartache than most young women, has a secret lover in Book 4.  Diego's unusual and dangerous profession means that he is not allowed to have any lovers, so he must keep Mina a secret.  Mina is besotted with Diego:
Anything and everything made her think about him.  He was so much a part of her, embedded in her soul.
But then things go wrong, and Diego's dangerous life rubs off on Mina's life, and on Mina's friends' lives.

Mina Calvi remains the same Italian immigrant to America who is in love with American expressions and some American foods, like peanut butter.  She is also full of questions, always, seeking to understand her new world and new culture, and the odd things that she becomes involved with.  Her friends know her well:
Oh, here we go, firing questions right and left.  I sort of missed that part.
As with all the Mina books, there is a very strong sense of place, with restaurants, highways and other landmarks mentioned in the book that is set in Southern California.  Mina's unpredictable life finds her unintentionally entering into dangerous adventures.  So far she has survived, but her heart is another matter.

A Cat to Die For  -  Book 5

From the book's description:  Mina Calvi's new Furry Friends Foundation is a dream come true for the formerly footloose young woman. Her no-kill shelter rescues and places dogs and cats into new forever homes, and it gives Mina a purpose in life.

But changes are looming on a perfect Sunday afternoon at the Dana Point Marina where she is minding the adoption booth.

A Greek heiress, young, petite and beautiful, shows up on the arm of the love of Mina's life, Diego Moran. And worse, she wants to adopt Mina's calico cat, Houdini. The spoiled woman will not take no for an answer. Why is she so insistent on getting Houdini when she already owns a look-alike cat?

When Houdini is cat-napped, the cat-sitter murdered, and the ransom demand sent to the heiress, Mina has to keep her wits about her to get her beloved cat home safely, and to keep her heart from getting broken again by Diego, who inexplicably pops up at every turn of the unfolding drama.

Here are direct links to the Mina's Adventure Series books at

The author has another mystery series that features an Italian immigrant to the U.S., The Lella York Mysteries Series.  I have a review of the first book in the series on this site:  Murder Under the Italian Moon
And my review of the second book in the series is here, too:  Death Under the Venice Moon.

Here is a beautiful 30 second book trailer for the Lella York Mysteries series:

Please visit the author's website and Facebook Page.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the great review, it's easy to tell how much you love what you do, you make every review so personal. Thanks again.