Book Review Club: The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen #review

Tuscan Child book cover
The Tuscan Child
by Rhys Bowen
Adult Fiction
Lake Union, 2018

I’m a big fan of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, so when I saw that she had written a “story within a story” one of my favorite literary devices, I had to buy the book.

The Tuscan Child takes place alternately in 1944 and 1973, and the narrators are a father and his daughter.

Hugo Langley, a British pilot, is shot down over the Tuscan countryside in December of 1944. He’s the only survivor of the plane crash, but his leg is badly injured. He is discovered by Sofia Bartoli, a young woman from the nearby village of San Salvatore. She helps him to hide in the ruins of a nearby monastery and brings him food and whatever medical supplies she can find.

Then the action moves to 1973 when Joanna Langley goes back to her ancestral home to deal with her father’s sudden death. Joanna is in a bad place herself, but grateful for the small legacy Hugo left her. Among his things she finds a letter to Sofia that was returned after war in which he declares his love for her and makes a cryptic reference to their “beautiful boy” being hidden. Intrigued and without work, she uses his legacy to travel to San Salvatore to find out what happened back in 1944. Once there, she meets Sofia’s son Renzo, but finds that the past mystery is not easily uncovered, and that someone wants it to stay buried. Someone who is willing to kill to keep his or her secrets.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt sympathy for Joanna’s predicament as well as Hugo’s. The subplot involving Paola Rossini, who rents a room to Joanna and teaches her about Italian cooking, is charming and heartwarming. And then there’s the handsome but mercurial Renzo. Can he be trusted or not?

If you enjoy Susanna Kearsley’s books, you will probably enjoy The Tuscan Child. In the end, the main villain was a bit obvious, but there was an interesting twist toward the end that I didn’t see coming. The pace is fast, the characters engrossing, and the description of both countryside and food is lovely.

(My apologies to regular readers of my blog for my absence this last month. I’m happy to report that my remodel is almost finished, and I should have more computer time in future.)

Linda

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Book Review Club: Magical Books for Kids & Adults #reviews

For the October meeting of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club I decided to review two juvenile books I read this summer. Both feature magic which seems appropriate for Halloween month.

Girl Who Drank the Moon cover

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
2017 Newbery Winner
Fantasy / Fairy Tales
Audio book narrated by Christina Moore

This middle grade fantasy book reads like a fairy tale. Once a year in a land called The Protectorate, the youngest child in the village is sacrificied to an evil witch who lives in the forest. What the inhabitants don’t know is that there is no evil witch. What the Elders who rule the Protectorate don’t know is that there is a good witch named Xan who shows up every year to rescue the baby and take it to the Free Cities on the other side of the forest to be adopted by a loving family. Along the way Xan feeds the baby on starlight.

One year things don’t go as planned. Xan is so enamored of this baby that she accidentally feeds her moonlight which enmagicks her. Xan decides to keep this special child whom she names Luna. Xan is 500 years old. She lives in the middle of the forest with a tiny dragon named Fyrian and a large swamp monster who quotes poetry and is older than magic named Glerk. Xan, Glerk and Fyrian raise Luna, who is so full of magic she can’t control that Xan has to cast a spell to contain her magic.

Meanwhile, back in the Protectorate, a young man named Antain, nephew of the High Elder, watches what is going on with horror. He is present when Luna is torn from her mother’s arms. Her mother subsequently goes mad and is locked up in the tower of the Sisters of the Stars, a paramilitary order of nuns led by the evil Sister Ignatia.

When Luna draws close to her 13th birthday, at which time the spell containing her powers will be released, everything comes to a head in the forest during a volcanic eruption.

The review in the New York Times said the book “educates about oppression, blind allegiance and challenging the status quo while immersing the reader in an exhilarating story full of magical creatures and derring-do.”

The whole book is absolutely delightful, and I can see why it’s the 2017 Newbery winner. I loved the characters, esp. Fyrian, who is actually 500 years old but acts like a child. I loved the voice the narrator used for him. He’s such a cute, endearing character. Highly recommended for both children and adults.

Splendors and Glooms cover

Splendors and Glooms cover

Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Juvenile Literature

Schlitz is also a Newbery winner but not for this book. It’s a Victorian Gothic fantasy and rather dark in the later Harry Potter tradition. There are three children in the book: Clara Wintermute, the only living child of parents who lost the other four to cholera. Clara escaped because she refused to eat her watercress. The family is still mourning four years later. Clara sees Gaspare Grisini and the two children who work for him, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, do a play with marionettes in the park and loves it. She begs her father to hire Grisini to perform at her birthday party with disastrous results. The next morning Clara is missing and Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find a new marionette who looks just like her. They all end up in the Lake Country at the home of a dying witch who needs the children to release her from a curse.

I found the book very interesting and some of the characters, esp. Lizzie Rose and Clara, endearing. Parsefall, a workhouse kid, provides some comic release. Grisini is the real villain of the book, though the witch is a mixed blessing to the children. Well written and engrossing.

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Linda

Dear FCC: I bought the Audible copy of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and I borrowed Splendors and Glooms from the public library.