Pantheon. 2009

I’m the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. My grandfather forbade us to learn Italian, because “America is where we are,” but at the age of 50 I started language lessons, which took me to classes in Italy. One day in Bologna, while planning a novel about a woman studying Italian, I happened upon a plaque to resistance fighters in WW2. My Italian was enough to let me talk to the group of elderly men who watched me looking at it, captivated. I learned the word partigiani. In the distance, through an open window, came singing: opera, Rossini. Someone was rehearsing. The voice was female, beautiful. In the greater distance of time, American bombs were falling on this city; Nazis were trying to take it over; waiters from closed-down restaurants were leaving for the hills to become civilian-soldiers. That evening I drank my first glass of actual Italian lambrusco. And thus was born this novel.

“The author of the acclaimed A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies has written a war story with personality.”
New York Post

“Heartfelt…Cooney portrays, on a very personal level, the moxie and individuality of Italian villagers as they face the challenges of war.”
Publishers Weekly


A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies
Pantheon. 2007

It’s winter in Boston, 1900. Charlotte Heath, young, independent, and a wife who’s fleeing her husband and a stultifying life, checks into a hotel where she knows the cook. It is not a hotel in the usual sense of the word. It’s Victorian America, plus adventures, plus everything I knew about imagination, sexual politics, and Boston, my home for many years.

“Oddly charming. A.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A delightful look at Victorian New England. Charlotte Heath, 30 years old and coming-of-age, is a joy!”
Book Sense

“Charlotte is very much like the precariously imaginative Catherine Morland of Jane Austen’s exquisite Northanger Abbey.”
Anniston Star

“Full of earthy characters and situations you hate to leave.”
Historical Novels Review

“These revels are done with wit and gaiety, along with a grain of chastening sense. Like Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale,’ Cooney’s tale moves its characters with allure.”
Boston Globe


Gun Ball Hill
University Press of New England. 2004

What happens to normal life in wartime? Why did so many people in the Province of Maine, in 1774, take up active, intense resistance against British colonial rule? What if there’d been a foundry in Maine to make plenty of ammunition for the new American army? Writing this novel was how I answered those questions. I’d been living in rural/coastal Maine for five years when I realized I was looking at landscapes as settings, and soon I became fascinated with the early settlements, towns, farmers, land. Poking around archives for first-hand accounts, I came upon a diary mentioning how British soldiers kidnapped Maine sailors to pilot their ships to Canada: that turned into the opening paragraph of this novel about the early days of the American Revolution, from Maine down to Boston, and back.

“Cooney’s painstaking historical details add weight to the authenticity of her characters’ experiences. This novel truly brings history to life. The historical period is specific, but the human themes are universal.”
ForeWord Magazine

“Ingenious and effective. The great thing about Gun Ball Hill is its empathy for the people of eighteenth-century Maine…A finely crafted narrative, a keen and sympathetic grasp of human nature, a convincing portrayal of place and time.”
Downeast Magazine

“Cooney’s prose is lively and often surprising. Each of her characters is fleshed out, earthy, and full of quirks.” —Historical Novels Review


The White Palazzo
Coffee House Press. 2002

I wanted to write a love story and this is it. I was inspired by a real-life falling in love situation I knew about, and observed, between an older woman and a younger one: it took them by surprise, and that for me was the starting point of my story, which ended up being influenced by the small Massachusetts town where I grew up, my own Italian-American relatives, and my fascination with folk and fairy tales–plus my lifelong impulse to create independent female characters who are strong in spirit and uninterested in following any sort of role definition they didn’t come up with themselves. I loved writing this novel. In fact, it’s a sort of ancestor to A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies, not in terms of plot or people, but in terms of imagination, adventure, and comedy mixed with tough things to handle.
“Tara Barlow has every aspect of her life planned down to the slightest detail, including her upcoming wedding. But when her chosen site for the nuptials burns to the ground four days before the big day, Tara hops into her Mustang and takes off for parts unknown. (‘I’ll go west, she decided. I’ll go west like the setting sun.’), leaving behind no clue to her whereabouts. The book’s viewpoint switches to that of Guida Santucci, the local psychic who is hired to track her down (‘I was Italian, and I was Catholic, and I was fat. And one day, it was raining,’ begins Guida’s narrative about the discovery of her oracular powers. Guida does manage to find Tara, although it’s through old-fashioned detective work. To the amazement of the 24-year-old Tara and the 53-year-old Guida, a strong mutual attraction immediately develops. The affair is sweetly rendered, and their dizzy interior lives possess a whimsical charm.”
Publishers Weekly

The White Palazzo by Ellen Cooney is a superbly crafted novel of two women who discover one another in a journey that leads to love, abiding faith in one another, and a free-spirited road trip that opens the soul…A poignant reflection on destiny, and a unique, enthralling reading experience.”
Library Bookwatch


The Old Ballerina
Coffee House Press. 1999

My book tour for The Old Ballerina included a Manhattan Barnes and Noble where, after my reading, four elderly, elegant women approached the signing table, not with books, but to talk to me. (They’d already read the book, I would learn.) I knew right away they were dancers and I nearly went into a panic. Here I was, author of a book about dancers and ballet, and I had never even been in studio. I am musically tone-deaf. I am not a graceful mover. I only have rhythm for words, phrases, prose. My experience of seeing staged ballets was minimal–although my reading background was immense, including years in my youth at my town’s library, absorbing dance reviews in The New Yorker. Also I’d seen many videos and I’d been more or less obsessed for a while with George Balanchine. But, I was only a novelist. Was I about to be found out by these four dancers? (They need to be called dancers, even though their professional years were long over, because it’s not something you stop being.) Was I going to be scoffed at for mistakes, for being a terrible fraud? And one of the women said, “We’d like to know, who did you study with, and where have you danced?” Of the quite a few very good moments in my life so far as a writer, this is still number one.

“Light and lovely, The Old Ballerina is a valentine to the transformative power of art.”
Publishers Weekly

“Who says all ballerinas must be beautiful and young? Ellen Cooney tells a story about dance and its restorative powers…Irene Kamsky is an elderly former ballerina suffering from orthopedic problems who earns her living teaching ballet. When her beloved protegee leaves her, a heartbroken Kamsky starts a class for teenaged boys (some of whom are real troublemakers). As the boys learn to love ballet, her passion for art and creativity is rekindled. Feisty, eccentric, and independent, Kamsky is an inspiring protagonist.”
Library Journal


All the Way Home
G.P. Putnam & Sons. 1984

In 1963, when I was eleven, the first-ever girls’ softball league was created in my town. My team was called the Robins–it was all birds and flowers. We weren’t allowed to steal or over-run a base. If your white blouse came untucked from your (ironed, pleated) jeans, you could be thrown out for not tucking it back in quickly. We played seven innings. But still, it was a radical thing. I played second base. I wasn’t much of a hitter but I could catch and I wasn’t afraid of the ball. I was an All-Star. It was my one athletic experience in my life, and it lasted for me for only two years. But it was only a matter of time before I had to write a novel about softball.

“The story is focused on Gussie Cabrini, an ex-professional athlete who returns to Currys Crossing, Mass., and struggles to rebuild her life after a devastating accident. Against all odds, she transforms a motley crew of nonathletes into the Spurs, the town’s first women’s softball team, which ultimately alters the lives of the players as well as their families…The dialogue has a believable ring and Ms. Cooney has a nice feel for the psychology of women.”
New York Times Book Review

“Add All the Way Home (which is even better than Cooney’s winning first novel, Small-Town Girl) to the lineup of superb fiction about sports. Or make that just superb fiction. What will knock you out the most, with their amazing grace and gusto, are the passages about softball itself. Not since I last read Updike on Ted Williams have I encountered a crack-of-the-bat home run as deliriously satisfying.”
Boston Magazine

“Ingeniously plotted. All the Way Home is an exciting, down-to-the-wire softball saga, as well as a lively tale of self-empowerment. Ellen Cooney is playing on her keen sense of the funny and the poignant and the true. And she’s playing to win.”

cover_small town girl

Small-Town Girl
Houghton Mifflin. 1983

My first. The main character is a baby poet. The poems she writes are my own–I’d thought, up to my early twenties, I’d be a poet. But then I realized I was writing narrative poems in sentences, with semicolons and dialogue. I woke up to the fact I’m a sentence and paragraph person, not a line and stanza person. I started this novel as a way to postpone writing my M.A. thesis (on Virginia Woolf). At first I was just sort of playing, because I was supposed to finish the master’s and go on for my Ph.D.–and novel-writing took me over. I finished the thesis, though.

“An eloquent, often brilliant narrative.”
New York Times Book Review

“A collage of scenes traces Colleen Dutton’s transition from child to young woman. The novel’s success at capturing the mood and flavor of a staunch Catholic upbringing in the 1960s is undeniable.”

“Sure to be the cornerstone of a remarkable career.”
Publishers Weekly


Publerati, 2013

Thanksgiving is a rich and engrossing novel of one New England family through five centuries, always on a Thursday in late November. Beginning with a turkey in a backyard tree in the 1600s and ending at a dining table in the present time, the chapters are all based on the preparation of one element of a Thanksgiving meal by women in the same house, which evolves through the years, just as the generations of the family do, from the Puritan founders to the contemporary girl who is heir to the homestead, hates turkey, and daydreams of having a motorcycle. It’s a time-travel of a novel that isn’t told as history but as dramatic, sometime comical stories that emerge through deep detail and vivid characterizations, conveying a sense of the lively presence of what to us is another’s past.
Available everywhere as an e-book, and as a print-on-demand title from the Espresso Book Network.