RITA Award Winner

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Sometimes a wrong turn is the only way home. . . .

No Place Like Home tells the unforgettable story of a family bound together by tradition–and the emotional journey of an estranged daughter risking everything for a second chance at life and love.

Twenty-one years ago Jewel Sabatino left her childhood behind and never looked back. After a magical taste of fame, she found herself alone with a son to raise and not much else. She survived with the help of Michael, her one true friend. But now Michael is too sick to care for himself, and Jewel has run out of options. She leaves New York for the hills of Colorado, unsure if the family she ran from will welcome her back.

For Jewel, coming home is falling back into a world that smells of Italian restaurants and home-baked pies. It is the laughter of sisters preparing for a summer wedding, and the peaceful haven for a treasured soul mate’s last days. It also means facing the unforgiving eyes of a father betrayed by his favorite child–and letting go of a son who is ready to become a man. But most of all, it is the love she discovers in her own wary heart when Michael’s brother Malachi unexpectedly arrives on her doorstep.

Told with breathtaking insight and deep emotion, No Place Like Home is a joyful feast for all the senses, a vibrant bounty of love, and a tender life lesson to be savored long after the last page is turned.

(Originally published as Barbara Samuel)

Read an Excerpt

 Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From the amtrak dining car lunch menu: Santa María Cheese Enchiladas—$6.50—Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses rolled up with scallions then topped with tomatillo sauce and served with black beans and Spanish rice.

Chapter 1

The April I was thirteen, I went to sleep a good Catholic schoolgirl, and woke up the next morning burning. The transition was like the flip of a coin, and made me as dizzy as an airborne dime.

I was sick for days with it—drunk on the new green of globe willow leaves against the slate of a heavy spring sky; feeling the itch down my spine and the sides of my legs from the seams of my clothes; eating gluttonously of every lasagna, every olive, every bowl of cream I could put my hands on. A cat crawled into my lap, and I petted him for hours, a cat I had known all of my life, and I ached with the incredible softness of his long fur, the astonishing sound of a purr.

My mother said it was puberty. It would pass.

More than twenty-five years later, the great cosmic hand flipped the coin again. I went to bed a woman of the world, and awakened the next morning desperately homesick for the world of the girl I’d left behind. I turned over in my bed—a futon shoved against the wall of the living room of my Greenwich Village apartment—and remembered, suddenly, what it was like to awaken to complete morning silence. Not a plane or a taxi or a clatter in the street, only the voices of birds or the purr of a cat. I stared at the square of obstructed sky I could see above the curtains and remembered a bowl of sky stretched hard from the yellow, elm-pierced east to the dark jagged blue of mountains to the west. It seemed I could smell sage and rain, dust and onions, lasagna and perfume, all at once, mingling like a siren song.

That day, a registered letter came from Passanante, Corsi, & Cerniglia, Attorneys-at-Law, and I opened it to discover that my aunt Sylvia, ninety years old, had passed away and left me her house and all the lands that went with it. It was so precipitous, I knew my grandmother must have been very, very busy lighting candles to every saint on her list for a special intervention. Saint Jude—oh, he of hopeless causes. And certainly Magdalena, who would understand fallen women so very well.

It would not have surprised me if it had been Sylvia herself who’d brought all that homesickness to me, sitting on my bed in mischievous, ghostly humor, taking care of one last thing before she went on to meet her husband, Antonio.

Truth was, though, I had probably known that going home was the only answer. My best friend, Michael, had collapsed on the stairs the week before, unable to manage the steep narrow flights of our building any longer, and I’d accepted—even if he hadn’t—that he’d be living with us soon. Which, considering I’d blown the engine in my delivery van and didn’t have anywhere close to enough money saved to think about a new place, was more than a small hurdle.

And as if that weren’t enough, the building was sold out from under us to a developer who wanted to put in condos. We had two months to find a new place.

I moved my index finger over the embossed name on the letterhead. No choice.

When Shane, my seventeen-year-old son, came out of his room, rubbing his chest in an unconscious gesture, I said, “Babe, we’re going home.”

“Home?”

I took a breath, waved the letter. “Pueblo.”

For one long moment, he blinked at me, maybe waiting for me to say, just kidding. When I didn’t, he scowled, his dramatic dark eyebrows beetling above the brilliance of his blue eyes. “I’m not going there.”

“Yeah, kid, you are.” I tossed the letter down and poured some coffee into a ceramic mug I’d picked up from a street stall. “It doesn’t have to be forever—but we have to take care of Michael.”

He slumped on a stool, leaning his elbows on the counter and putting his big, dark head in his hands. Although he was a fairly typical mix of the arrogance and uncertainty that represents seventeen, he was both more and less—thanks to his music and the lessons of the past couple of years. It hadn’t been easy, for either of us, and now we were facing the hardest hurdle of all. “Mom—”

“I know.” I took a breath, let it go, focused on the irregular rooftops I could see from our fifth-floor window, grimy with soot even though I tried to keep it clean. “A year, Shane, tops. You finish school, we take care of Michael, you can meet your family. . . .” I shrugged. “Then you’re free. The music isn’t going anywhere.”

His broad shoulders hunched against me, or maybe against the knowledge that he couldn’t really refuse this request. After a minute, he nodded.

I touched his shoulder on my way by. “Thank you.”

I’m sure the thought of going home and taking Michael with me must have been in the back of my mind for months, triggered by little things—the cadence of Italian-accented English in the voices of people walking below my window, the wrong taste of salsa made by recipes that were nothing like the ones at home, an illusory scent of sage and rain on the wind. After more than twenty years away, there were suddenly reminders of my hometown on every street corner in New York City.

But until we were actually on the train, settling in the generous seats of the Three Rivers Amtrak, I didn’t really believe I was going to do it. And even then, as the wheels started to clack across the rails, making that particular and hypnotic sound, I was absolutely sure something else would come up and save me from having to face it. Michael looked at me. “You okay, kid?”

I smiled brightly. “Fine. I really think you’ll like it.”

“I’m, uh, really sure I won’t,” Shane said from across the aisle. He used Marlon Brando’s Godfather voice, slumping deeper in his seat, his electric bass guitar slung over his knees, a badge and a shield. He’d been hustling every avenue, every lead, every possible way to keep us in the city—which was, after all, pretty much all he remembered—until it was plain we really did have no other option.

His idea of Pueblo was my fault. I’ve spent most of his life making wry little asides about the place—had perfected an entire spiel on Pueblo, a one-horse little steel town that barely managed not to die when the industry collapsed in the ’80s. I delivered the monologue in that peculiar accent I’d worked so hard to lose—a blend of Spanish and Italian and Irish cadences, mixed with a good helping of country Colorado—making insider jokes about the mill and neighborhoods and ethnic groups that nobody outside the city could understand.

Home sweet home. In my memory, it lived under a white-hot summer sun, one of those dog days of August when all the colors in the fields had been bleached out, when the mercury shot up to 101 and the world thumped with the sound of swamp coolers and overhead fans.

My father, too, walked through my memories of home. Romeo, who made me dolls of hollyhocks and spent rainy afternoons with his daughters, cooking zeppoles in the shapes of letters and animals and stars.

My father, with whom I had not exchanged a single word in twenty-three years.

It took two days. We spent most of the time sitting in the observation car or in the lounges, staring out the windows at those pastoral landscapes. The hours were very melancholy, at least for me. I don’t know if it was for Michael—it’s hard to ever know what Michael is really thinking. He’s made an art form of inscrutability. For the trip, he turned himself totally anonymous in a pair of jeans that bagged around his skinny rear and a pair of mirrored sunglasses.

Not many people recognized him, of course, not like they did in New York when his restaurant was in full swing and in the papers, so he didn’t have to deal with those expressions of hastily hidden dismay he’d often run into in the city, but some people still remembered him from the days when he and my nonhusband Billy were still making records. Michael, being Michael, made it easy for them by cracking jokes about being a missionary in Africa, where rations, you know, are slim. They loved him for it, as they loved him for everything he did. To a lot of people, Michael Shaunnessey was a god.

He was never a god to me, though I sometimes think of him as my angel. Hard to imagine where I’d be without Michael.

Shane, who looks exactly like his father and was, like Billy, also born with some talent to go along with the face, was bearable on the train only because he managed to charm a trio of three young females. They were college girls making their way to LA for some dream or another, and in spite of his age, they were smitten. There’s not a female on the planet who can resist that exact combination of smoldering intensity mixed with genuine openness and admiration. Fatal charm.

Or at least it had been fatal for Billy. I hoped it wouldn’t prove fatal to Shane.

“Damn, that boy looks like his daddy,” Michael said, his voice as gorgeously southern and raspy as ever. We were passing silos at the time. I saw a barn lettered with the name of a feed store pass behind his head.

“I should never have named him Shane,” I said. “If I had called him Horace or Porfino, I’m sure he’d be wearing thick glasses by now.” Shane had seemed such a dangerous, romantic name to my twenty-two-year-old self. And it is.

“Nah,” Michael said. “His friends would have nicknamed him Killer or Charm or something. Count on it.”

He was right, of course. Men are even more awed by a lady-ki…

“No Place Like Home is witty and bright, sparkling with friends and family who love each other. . . . The novel is heartbreaking as only the best love stories can be, yet it fills the reader with hope and promise. I will have these characters with me for a long time.”

–LUANNE RICE

 “A lyrical novel of family, loss, and redemption, beautifully written, beautifully told.”

–JENNIFER CRUISE

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