The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch is one of those books that is difficult to define. Is it a romance; partly. Is it historical; yes if World War Two counts as historical. Is it a page turner; for me, not quite. The heart of this novel lies in its Italian setting. The author lives part of the year in Tuscany and it really shows. From the descriptions of the countryside to the food and customs, The Tuscan Secret is totally believable. The deserted village of Montebotelino is real, I recommend watching the author’s short video on her Amazon page.
Two women – Ines, her daughter Anna – share tangled family histories. Ines has recently died and leaves to Anna some money and a box of diaries. Written in Italian, Anna cannot decipher the diaries so decides to leave behind her own unsatisfactory love life and use her mother’s money to travel to Rofelle in Tuscany. Why did Ines leave idyllic Roffele, what secrets did she write in the diaries, and how did she come to marry an Englishman.
This is a dual timeline story which switches back and forth between mother and daughter. Anna arrives in Rofelle where she moves into an agriturismo and gets to know its owner Teresa and her brother Francesco. Anna’s Italian soon proves inadequate so Francesco introduces her to the locals and translates the diary in sections. Ines’ story is presented to the reader as her diary though it reads as narrative complete with dialogue. Ines is a teenager, helping her mother, longing to be with her brother Davide who is with their schoolfriend Capriolo, fighting in the mountains. Then one day, they help an injured English soldier who is trying to escape enemy territory.
I found myself looking forward to Ines’ sections and almost wished the story was completely hers. Rofelle is located in the Apennine mountains, home to resistance fighters and the route for allied soldiers escaping the Germans. The experience of the local people – the urge to fight, the need to survive, the duty to help fleeing soldiers, the threat of atrocities by the occupying German army – sets up impossible choices. I love any world war two story and especially those about an area with which I’m unfamiliar.
I struggled with the character of Jim who is thinly sketched and affected by huge events off the page. The author keeps these a secret from the reader as Jim kept them hidden from Ines, but it does make him an unsympathetic character. This feels like a potential heavyweight war novel hidden beneath a layer of romance which, as nice as it is, feels light and predictable in comparison.
If you like this, try:-
‘The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley
‘Those Who Are Loved’ by Victoria Hislop
‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ by Helen Cullen
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE TUSCAN SECRET by @Angela_Petch #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-44D via @SandraDanby