It’s such a pleasure today to again be part of Bookouture’s Books-on-Tour, and to share my review of the thoroughly lovely The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch, published yesterday for kindle (also available in paperback) and available via Amazon, and also through Apple Books, Googleplay and for Kobo. Thank you to Kim at Bookouture for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided through netgalley).
I’ll admit that the earlier, self-published edition of this book – previously called Tuscan Roots – has been languishing in the depths of my kindle for longer than I care to reveal (but it is in very good company). I only had the joy of discovering how very well Angela Petch writes when I tried – and loved – Mavis and Dot, back in November. You’ll find my review of that one here – highly recommended, the profits from every purchase donated to cancer research, and I so hope we’ll be seeing those wonderful ladies again. But I already knew that it was a bit of a departure from the author’s usual style, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to finally spend some time in Tuscany…
Il Mulino. An old crumbling mill, by a winding river, nestled in the Tuscan mountains. An empty home that holds memories of homemade pasta and Nonna’s stories by the fire, and later: the Nazi invasion, and a family torn apart by a heartbreaking betrayal.
Anna is distraught when her beloved mother, Ines, passes away. She inherits a box of papers, handwritten in Italian and yellowed with age, and a tantalising promise that the truth about what happened during the war lies within.
The diaries lead Anna to the small village of Rofelle, where she slowly starts to heal as she explores sun-kissed olive groves, and pieces together her mother’s past: happy days spent herding sheep across Tuscan meadows cruelly interrupted when World War Two erupted and the Nazis arrived; fleeing her home to join the Resistenza; and risking everything to protect an injured British soldier who captured her heart. But Anna is no closer to learning the truth: what sent Ines running from her adored homeland?
When she meets an elderly Italian gentleman living in a deserted hamlet, who flinches at her mother’s name and refuses to speak English, Anna is sure he knows more about the devastating secret that tore apart her mother’s family. But in this small Tuscan community, some wartime secrets were never meant to be uncovered…
A stunning tale, inspired by true events, about how the tragic consequences of war can echo through generations, and how love can guide us through the darkest times.
I read this book on the afternoon of what I always think of as “a perfect reading day” – dark enough to need some lights on, rain tipping down, no pressure to leave the house, a whisker away from turning the heating on – and I really couldn’t have asked for anything much better. You’ll know I’m always a pushover for a dual time thread: add some romance, a gripping and enthralling story about Italian wartime partisans, a modern story with a feisty heroine and full of the tastes and sights of Tuscany, and what a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
I knew I’d enjoy this book when I read the prologue – very atmospheric, a shocking and intriguing taster of the wartime story to come – but was then brought back to the story of Anna in the late 90s, the loss of her mother Ines, the delivery of a parcel of her diaries and notes, and her own decision to walk away from the mess of her life to find out more about the hidden history and the country of her mother’s birth. The modern story does predominate a bit at first, but I wasn’t in any way disappointed by that, as it’s a really good one – a bit of an adventure, trying out a new life in an unfamiliar country, decisions to be made, making new friends, finding her feet again.
Revealing a historical story through diaries and letters might have been done before, but I really liked the way the author revealed each new instalment, the pace dictated by how soon Anna could lay her hands on the next piece of translation as typed up by new friend Francesco. I particularly liked the way Anna was able to visit some of the key locations that feature in her mother’s story – and it’s quite a story, a realistically told coming-of-age account of privation and wartime atrocities, the bravery of the partisans, the cruelty and disregard for life of others, the impact on a family, and the excitement of first love.
There’s an unflinching realism about the wartime account, the emotional aspects particularly well handled, but I did particularly like the fact that the story extends beyond the wartime years into the heartbreaking story of Ines’ adult life and its grim realities. I know that Ines’ story was inspired by real events and a family history, but the author takes those bare facts – and undoubtedly a considerable amount of research – and moulds it into a story that is beautifully and poignantly told and comes to life in its telling.
The author’s writing is excellent. Anna’s story is set against a vividly described Tuscan setting, and I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on food and the unusual ingredients used to create the most wonderful dishes that I could see, smell and taste. The story itself is strong too, and far more than just a framework for the diary pieces – with well developed supporting characters, and scenes of danger and real drama that drive it forward. The ending might have been just a touch predictable ( I think I got there 50 pages ahead of the characters) but by then I was so invested in the story’s twin threads that it really didn’t matter one bit – and it was exactly what the story demanded to tie up its many threads.
A compelling story exceptionally well told, a challenging structure well handled, an emotional experience I won’t forget in a hurry – and a book I thoroughly enjoyed.
About the author
I’m an award winning writer of fiction – and the occasional poem.
Every summer I move to Tuscany for six months where my husband and I own a renovated watermill which we let out. When not exploring our unspoilt corner of the Apennines, I disappear to my writing desk at the top of our converted stable.
In my Italian handbag or hiking rucksack I always make sure to store notebook and pen to jot down ideas.
The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of our family live. When I’m not helping out with grandchildren, I catch up with writer friends.