The Tuscan Child
by Rhys Bowen
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.)
As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.
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I’m pleased to announce the release of In The Shadow of War by my friend, Colleen Adair Fliedner. Colleen has penned a wonderful story of war, spies, disaster and love.
The sinking of the Lusitania is not as well known as the story of the Titanic, perhaps because the Lusitania was a victim of war rather than a spectacular freak accident. Or perhaps because there has never been a blockbuster movie about the Lusitania.
Unlike the Titanic, which took hours to go under, the Lusitania sank in a matter of minutes, eighteen to be exact. 1198 people died and only 761 survived.
In 1915 while the First World War raged on in Europe, Americans, and especially New Yorkers, faced their own “silent war” at home. Disgruntled with America’s so-called promise of “neutrality” and overt trade deals with England and France, the German government set up a spy ring headquartered in Manhattan. Their espionage and terrorist networks had tentacles reaching all the way to the German Ambassador in Washington D.C. German operatives planted explosives on American and British cargo ships en route from New York to England, France, and Russia. They plotted to blow up trains, bridges, factories, and even the U.S. Capitol Building.
In the Shadow of War is available in bookstores in hard cover and paperback; e-book available exclusively at Amazon or read free with Kindle Unlimited.
“MY GOD,” Josette gasped. “They did it! They really did it!”
Seaman Morton glanced down at her and Curtis with a terrified expression. “Torpedo heading this way! Run!” He dropped the megaphone and disappeared inside the Bridge doorway.
Without a word, Curtis grabbed her arm. Together, they sprinted aft, in the direction of the stairwell. The thunderous sound of shattering metal followed a loud thud. An instant later, an explosion emanated from the heart of the liner, violently shaking the deck beneath their feet.
“This can’t be happening!” Her knees went weak, buckling beneath her. She grabbed the handrail on the bulkhead wall. Screams and shouts came from everywhere. Footsteps pounded on the deck.
“The dogs!” Josette turned around just in time to see a terrified-looking Mrs. O’Reilly, the three dogs, and several other passengers running in their direction. A thick column of water and steam spewed up from the area where the torpedo struck. Everything – the forward deck, the passengers, the dogs – were wet from the heavy spray and shaft of steam that had blown over the front section of the ship.
“Get your vests on!” a terrified Mrs. O’Reilly yelled, as she bolted past, heading for the stairwell. “We’re all doomed!”
“Wait!” Curtis yelled. “Are you all right?”
Mrs. O’Reilly didn’t answer, didn’t look back, and disappeared around the end of the bulkhead. Little Sassy followed her owner, her leash dragging behind her.
As Mr. Duns sprinted past, Curtis tried to grab him. Panicked, the Westie wasn’t having any of it. He zipped through Curtis’ grip and kept running.
“We need to go after poor Dunsy,” Josette yelled, feeling the urge to cry.
“No. We can’t. We need to get our life jackets.”
“No! I have to save him.” She stepped out to run.
He grabbed her arm. “Wait, Josie. Go get your life jacket. My room is near Mrs. Donaldson’s. I’ll check to make sure the dog—”
A deafening sound, an explosion far greater than the first one, shook the ship with such force that both Curtis and Josette were knocked to the deck. The ship shuddered, its bow lifting, then dropping hard. Horrible sounds – things crashing, breaking glass, shattering windows – could all be heard over the screams. The Lusitania rolled from side to side, finally settling itself.
Her ears ringing, Josette raised her head and glanced in the direction of the blast. The plume of steam was laced with fiery orange and black fragments, rising hundreds of feet into the air. Josette gasped, covering her mouth with her gloved hands. It looked like a volcanic eruption.
Strangely, the wreckage which had shot skyward seemed to hover in the air. As the ocean liner continued to move forward, burning chunks of debris began to rain down – wood shards, pieces of metal, and bits of glowing black matter – bounced and plinked as it hit the smokestacks, the Bridge, and the deck close to them.
“Get down!” Curtis said, pushing her to the deck and closer to the bulkhead wall. He laid on Josette to shield her, yanked at his coat, and pulled it up to cover the back of their heads. “Don’t move,” he whispered in her ear.
Josette laid face down, her cheek against the deck. Trembling, she closed her eyes. Where was her sister? Her parents?