Blog Tour/Book Review: The Secret by Katharine Johnson

the secret

I’m delighted to be co-hosting the final stop on the blog tour for The Secret by Katharine Johnson.  My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour.  Thank you also to the author, my nearly namesake, for my review copy with its handwritten message.

WinYou can read my review below but there’s also a giveaway (UK residents only) with the chance for one lucky person to win signed copies of The Secret and Katharine’s previous novel, The Silence.

Giveaway Terms and Conditions – UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below. The winner 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 the giveaway organiser reserves 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 winner’s information. This will be used only for fulfilment of the prize after which time the data will be deleted.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Enter the giveaway


20181021_110805 (1)About the Book

Love, lies, and betrayal in wartime Italy.

Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences. Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything. Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher. But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.

Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.

Format: (pp.)    Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
Published: 14th April 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*  ǀ
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Secret on Goodreads

My Review

I’ll confess straightaway that I didn’t realise The Secret was a sequel (to The Silence) until I’d finished reading the book and started looking at reviews by other readers.  However, this just goes to show that The Secret works perfectly well as a standalone novel.  Having said that, there were a few loose ends that I think may have been resolved had I read the earlier book.

Set in the small Tuscan village of Santa Zita, The Secret alternates between the present day and events in the village during the Second World War.  The chief focus of the latter is the period running up to and during the occupation of the area by the Nazis and their ruthless reprisals against those suspected of assisting the partisan resistance movement.  What led to the tragic events that occurred in the village and what motivation could those responsible have had?

Carlo, a former journalist, has returned to Santa Zita, the village of his birth to run a restaurant with his wife, Cass.  He realises that behind the appealing view it presents to the world, Santa Zita (and its inhabitants) holds many secrets.  ‘His guests wanted to believe in the Tuscany they saw on postcards….Who was he to spoil it for them?’  However, Carlo’s journalistic instincts are awakened by the prospect of learning more about events of the past from those who lived through them, including his ailing mother, Irena.  However, as Irena shares her memories, Carlo begins to wonder if revealing the secrets of the past is always a good thing.  On the other hand, what happens when there’s no-one left to remember what happened?

The reader learns the story via a number of different viewpoints and means, including transcribed extracts from the memories Irena records on her Dictaphone, the firsthand wartime experiences of her childhood friend, Martina, and the more recent experiences of Martina’s daughter, Sonia, who has her own secrets she fears may be discovered.  The swift changes between viewpoints and time periods are, for the most part, clearly sign-posted to the reader.   However, I did wonder if the scenes set in the present day in Carlo’s restaurant were essential to the story, although I never object to descriptions of food!

There are evocative descriptions of the sights, sounds and atmosphere of present day Santa Zita with its steep, cobbled alleyways lined with small shuttered houses.  ‘But another glance revealed glimpses of life: pots of well-tended geraniums stacked on a stone step; a bicycle stashed up on a balcony; a sleepy dog lying across a doorway; canaries in a cage on a window ledge.’  Presiding over the village is Villa Leonida, formerly a place of luxury and glamour, later a ‘desolate grey fortress’, now although closed up and for sale, ‘coolly defiant, battle-scarred but intact’.

The author keeps back the key reveals until the final pages ensuring the reader remains gripped right to the very end of the book.  As is often the case, small actions can have unforeseen consequences and it seems there are limits even to the bonds of friendship. Although not always agreeing with or condoning their actions, the author made me feel I could understand the motivations that led Irena, Martina and Sonia to take those actions. I felt the female characters in the book were particularly well-drawn (although I’ll admit I was forced to change my view of Sonia’s husband, Flavio, from blind fool to understanding partner in the final chapters).

The Secret is an absorbing combination of historical fiction and mystery that demonstrates the author’s skilful handling of multiple timelines and points of view.  I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Crooked Cat Books and Rachel’s Random Resources.

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In three words: Atmospheric, intense, suspenseful

Try something similar…That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina (read my review here)

author picAbout the Author

Katharine Johnson likes writing about ordinary people who through a character flaw or bad decision find themselves in extraordinary situations. She’s a journalist living in Berkshire, England with her family and springy spaniel. When she’s not writing you’ll find her exploring cities, visiting old houses, playing netball, eating cake or restoring her house in Italy which is nothing like Villa Leonida.

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