I was delighted last month to welcome author Rose Alexander as my guest, with a really lovely post about the Albanian setting for her latest novel, Out of the Mountain’s Shadow (you can read it again here). Published on 10th June by Canelo Saga, it’s now available as an ebook (on all major ebook platforms), in paperback, and as an audiobook. Today, as promised, it’s a real pleasure to be sharing my review. With thanks to Rose, I’m also thrilled to offer some chances to win your own copy, two codes for the audiobook and two signed and dedicated paperback copies (you’ll find the giveaways further down, following my review).
I first added Rose to my list of favourite authors with her second novel, Under an Amber Sky, back in 2017 – a compelling dual time story, and a fascinating slice of hidden Montenegran wartime history (you’ll find my review here). This year’s reading couldn’t have started much better. Her first book for Canelo, Along the Endless River was simply stunning – a vividly drawn Amazon rainforest backdrop, such strong female characters, one of those rare books that I found quite impossible to set aside until I’d reached its perfect end (you’ll find my review here). But I was equally fascinated by the story and setting that inspired her latest, and really couldn’t wait to read it – and I’m glad to report that this book was everything I’d hoped it would be…
A secret from the war with the power to change one woman’s future…
1939: War has broken out, and in Albania Bekim’s family take in a Jewish family fleeing from Nazi Austria. The years of war will shape his life in unimaginable ways as Bekim grows to love Hannelore, doing everything in his power to protect her. But will he be enough to keep her safe?
2019: Following a shock redundancy, Ruth is taking an extended holiday in southern Italy where she befriends local Zak. When Zak’s dying father asks them to solve a mystery from his past, Ruth leaps at the chance. Journeying through his homeland of Albania, Ruth and Zak race to find the sacred artefacts hidden in the mountains during the war.
A stunning and emotional novel of love and danger, perfect for fans of Lorna Cook and Rachel Hore.
Sheer enjoyment from beginning to end… and isn’t it lovely when you feel you can start a review with words like that? I always think there’s a particular skill in writing the perfect dual time novel – both storylines equally engaging, characters you connect with, none of that painful wrenching when you move from one thread to the other – and everything about this book was quite perfectly managed. I sat down to read it late one morning, planning to just make a start, get on with other things in the afternoon – instead I found it totally impossible to put down, read it in one glorious sitting, and knew I’d read something very special indeed.
I knew absolutely nothing about Albania’s history during the Second World War (or, indeed, about the country and its people in the present day – I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel set there before), and the fact that the historical story is based on well researched real-life stories of exceptional bravery and kindness made this book all the more enthralling. I was as intrigued as young Bekim seeing the strangely dressed people arriving on the quayside at Durrësi, until then largely untouched by the approach of war – they are Austrian Jewish refugees, fleeing in the wake of Kristallnacht, hoping Albania might be a stepping stone to a life of safety in America.
Bekim’s family have very little, but live by the lore of the Kanun which instructs that guests are next to God and must be protected at all costs, together with the paramount importance of “besa” (to keep the promise). He’s enchanted by young Hannelore, with her chestnut curls, and vows he’ll make her his wife – but as he’s only ten, that will have to wait a while. As the years pass, there are dramatic changes to his life and country – first the Italians, but then the occupation by the Nazis, bringing a massively increased level of threat for the Jewish guests and those who protect them. We learn about the partisans – Bekim particularly idolises his Uncle Altin, one of their number, who gave him his treasured knife – and as he grows and his affection for Hannelore deepens, he’s finally called upon to be a man and lead them on a journey fraught with danger to a place of greater safety.
In the contemporary thread, Ruth finds herself jobless and alone, taking an extended holiday in Southern Italy to lick her wounds and contemplate the future. She’s befriended by Zac, an Albanian businessman long resident in Italy, who shares his father Bekim’s story – and when he’s called home because of his father’s illness, she travels with him, drawn by the opportunity to see the country as well as trying to resolve the mystery of some significant missing “treasure” that his father is desperate to reunite with its rightful owner before he dies. Both storylines – historical and contemporary – are perfectly wrapped around each other, with Ruth’s adventures later taking centre stage as she finds herself in considerable danger when she stumbles across the darker elements of modern Albania.
Bekim tells his own story, and his voice is that of a child becoming a man – he’s exceptionally likeable (he certainly won my heart) and his voice is quite wonderfully consistent and sustained. But the compelling and all-consuming story and Bekim himself certainly aren’t the only reasons why I loved this book. It’s a perfect introduction to a country and people largely shrouded in mystery – the descriptions are quite wonderful, entirely transporting you to its unfamiliar surroundings while making you feel part of the twists and turns of the story, and the meticulous research that lies behind it all is amply evident and so well used to bring the settings and atmosphere to life.
I’m rarely a fan of the metronomic alternation of past and present, and the author doesn’t do that – the book’s construction is more fluid, following the separate threads for several chapters when the unfolding story demands it, and that was something I really enjoyed. The characterisation is really excellent, and the whole book perfectly paced – gentle at times (particularly in the present day), tense and gripping when danger escalates in either storyline – and the author’s emotional touch throughout is quite superb. I really didn’t want the book to end – but its conclusion was everything I wanted it to be, leaving me with both a tear in my eye and a smile on my face.
I really can’t praise this book enough – an extraordinary story of courage and bravery, of passion and loyalty, a tribute to the experience of a people about whom I knew shamefully little, and storytelling of the highest order. This will be one of my books of the year – and I recommend it very highly.
Now for the chance to win your own copy. The only way I could manage this was by adding two separate rafflecopters – one for the two audiobook codes, the other for the two signed (and dedicated, if you wish) paperbacks – so do please be sure that you read and understand the terms and conditions before you enter. If you’d like to enter both, you’re very welcome to do so – but please note that only the audiobook codes are open internationally, the paperbacks are available to entrants from the UK only.
First, the audiobook codes…
Terms and Conditions Worldwide entries welcome. Please note that the codes offered are for Audiobooks.com – if you’re not already an account holder, you’ll be able to set one up (for free), download the app to your Apple or Android device, or listen through your desktop if you prefer. The winners will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the author (who will send the codes, along with instructions for their use) and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
And the two signed and dedicated paperbacks…
Terms and Conditions UK entries only. The winners will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the author (who will send the books, with a personalised dedication if required) and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. Please note that the books will both be posted after 18th August, because of the author’s personal commitments – I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
About the author
Rose Alexander has had more careers than she cares to mention and is currently a secondary school English teacher. She writes in the holidays, weekends and evenings, whenever she has a chance, although with three children, a husband, a lodger and a cat, this isn’t always as often as she’d like. She’s a keen sewist and is on a mission to make all her own clothes.