Book review: The Tuscan Girl by Angela Petch

At this time of year I’d normally be in Italy, ideally sitting in a favourite cafe on the edge of a sunny square. Sadly that’s not possible for anyone at the moment. The coronavirus has had heartbreaking consequences and turned life upside down in many countries, especially Italy.

In the UK too the news gets worse each day and we’re adjusting to staying in our homes for the foreseeable future. My way of escape has been through books and thanks to this one I’ve been able to armchair-travel to virus-free Tuscany.

Alba (who readers will know from The Tuscan Secret) is now an adult, grieving for her husband and blaming herself for his death. She returns from the UK to her childhood home in Tuscany for a break. There she meets Massimo, an elderly man who shares with her his bottled-up wartime memories and the story of Lucia, the girl he loved.

But there’s one part of Lucia’s story he’s never been able to share – and he’s running out of time. Has Alba churned up emotions that are too painful for him to confront or will unearthing this secret finally bring Massimo peace?

My review

I met author Angela Petch on a scorching day in Florence last summer and was excited to hear about the book she was writing so I opened this with high expectations.

In fact The Tuscan Girl surpassed these and for me, this is without doubt her best book yet.

The descriptions are beautiful:

Dragonflies skimmed the spangled, shimmering surface of the weir

She stared at the view of mountains dusted with snow. The river beneath her window where willows waved silvery-green in the afternoon sunshine…

Hoar frost painted every surface with a sparkle. The trees were fish bones outlined against the clean light of the sky, and above, a line of pines straggled like a bad haircut along the ridge

The characters have so much warmth and are dealing with huge inner conflicts as well as the external conflict going on around them. Alba, as she’s learning Massimo’s story, is also working through her own grief. Lucia who joins the partisans falls in love with a German soldier but things aren’t what they seem. I loved the sections about being a POW in England – my grandfather had Italian POWs working on his farm and I’ve often wondered what their stories might have been.

The Tuscan Girl is a love story and you’ll feel transported by descriptions of scenery and food but this book has so much more depth than your average holiday read set in Italy. The back story is tragic and terrible without sensationalising.

There are themes of love, grief, bravery and healing. Above all, it feels real.

That’s because it’s clearly written by someone who knows the country intimately. Italy ‘s WWII history has always fascinated me and having spent a lot of time reading and writing about it myself (for The Secret), I can tell how much research has gone into this.

If you enjoy books set in Italy I’d highly recommend this emotional read.

It’s published by Bookouture and is available in ebook, paperback and audiobook

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