#BookReview The Tuscan House by Angela Petch @bookouture

Blog Tour - The Tuscan House

I’m delighted to welcome you to the opening day of the blog tour for The Tuscan House by Angela Petch. My thanks to Sarah at Bookouture for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

The Tuscan HouseAbout the Book

Corbello, Italy, 1947. A woman and a little boy stagger into the ruins of an old house deep in the forest, wild roses overwhelming the crumbling terracotta walls. Since the war, nowhere has been safe. But they both freeze in shock when a voice calls out from the shadows…

For young mother Fosca Sentino, accepting refuge from ex-British soldier Richard – in Tuscany to escape his tragic past – is the only way to keep her little family safe. She once risked everything to spy on Nazi commanders and pass secret information to the resistenza. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, Fosca’s best friend Simonetta disappeared without trace. The whole community was torn apart, and now Fosca and her son are outcasts.

Wary of this handsome stranger at first, Fosca slowly starts to feel safe as she watches him play with her son in the overgrown orchard. But her fragile peace is shattered the moment a silver brooch is found in the garden, and she recognises it as Simonetta’s…

Fosca has always suspected that another member of the resistenza betrayed her. With Richard by her side, she must find out if Simonetta is still alive, and clear her own name. But how did the brooch end up at the house? And with a traitor hiding in the village, willing to do anything to keep this secret buried, has Fosca put herself and her young son in terrible danger?

Format: Paperback (384 pages ) Publisher: Bookouture
Publication date: 31st March 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Although a standalone novel rather than part of a series, The Tuscan House is the fourth book by Angela Petch to be set in her beloved Tuscany. The author’s love of Italy and its culture is clear to see, not least in the delicious descriptions of its landscape: ‘cypress-lined avenues meandering up to hilltop villages perched on ridiculously steep rises, churches and little chapels holding ancient treasures, simple shrines by the side of the road.’ And talking of delicious, surely only in Italy could a meal such this be served by monks in a monastery: ‘A first course of home-made tagliolini pasta, with a source made from slivers of truffle sourced from the woods was followed by tripe… tender, succulent slices flavoured with tomatoes, olive oil and herbs’.

Alternating between 1947 and the final years of the war, the story is told from the perspective of three characters – Richard, Fosca and Simonetta.

Haunted by memories of what he witnessed during the war serving as a non-combatant in the Friends Ambulance Unit, Richard’s return to Corbello represents the opportunity for a new start, a way of wiping the slate clean and leaving behind the grey skies of England. I liked the way his project to renovate an old tobacco factory acted as a metaphor for his own physical and mental recovery. That recovery is echoed in the return to life in the surrounding landscape, with poppies blooming where there were once trenches and fields cleared of mines returning to cultivation.  However, the impact of the war still remains, not just in the damaged buildings but in the fractured minds of people, the rifts that persist between families, the recriminations for actions taken, and the witch-hunts against those suspected of collaborating with the enemy.

The parts of the book told from the perspectives of Fosca and Simonetta powerfully depict the horrific realities of war, such as the harsh winters when food and fuel was in short supply, and the village was cut off from the outside world by deep snow on the perilous mountain roads.  The dangers of working for the resistenza, or even assisting its members by offering shelter or gathering information, become all too apparent and will have lasting repercussions, especially when not everyone can be trusted.  Fosca’s and Richard’s search for answers to the mystery of Simonetta’s disappearance is sure to keep readers glued to the book until the very last page.

The Tuscan House is a skilfully crafted story demonstrating that not only does courage come in many forms but so does love.

In three words: Emotional, immersive, dramatic

Try something similar: The Secret by Katharine Johnson

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Angela PetchAbout the Author

Angela writes: “I’m an award winning writer of fiction – and the occasional poem. Every summer I move to Tuscany for six months where my husband and I own a renovated watermill which we let out. When not exploring our unspoilt corner of the Apennines, I disappear to my writing desk at the top of our converted stable. In my Italian handbag or hiking rucksack I always make sure to store notebook and pen to jot down ideas. The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of our family live. When I’m not helping out with grandchildren, I catch up with writer friends.

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The Tuscan House

#BookReview The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett @QuercusBooks

Harriet Fleet Blog Tour

I’m delighted to share my review of The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett on the final day of the blog tour. My thanks to Katya at Quercus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my proof copy.

The Deception of Harriet FleetAbout the Book

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story. For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

Format: Hardcover (368 pages)  Publisher: Quercus
Publication date: 1st April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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Hive | Amazon UK
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My Review

The publishers describe The Deception of Harriet Fleet as ‘dark and brimming with suspense’ and ‘an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham’. It certainly has all the elements of a Gothic mystery: a remote house – Teesbank Hall – that’s chilly in more than one sense of the word; subjects that can’t be talked about; household members who rarely venture outside the house and don’t welcome visitors; locked attic rooms; and footsteps in the night. It was also the scene of a tragedy that means the local villagers give it a wide berth, even after twenty years.

And there’s Eleanor, Harriet’s pupil, who is treated like a prisoner for reasons no-one is particularly keen to explain in any detail, referring simply to ‘a weakness of the mind’ and ‘qualities that must be…suppressed’. No wonder that before long, Harriet begins to believe she’s been employed more as gaoler than a governess.  Eleanor’s only ally within the family seems to be her brother, Henry, to whom Harriet takes an instant dislike. However, as we learned from Pride and Prejudice, first impressions can be deceptive.

Gradually the initially chilly relationship between Eleanor and Harriet starts to thaw, especially as Harriet starts to see parallels between her own situation and Eleanor’s, constrained in their life choices by their gender.  In addition, as Harriet learns more about the family’s history, her curiosity leads her to make what will turn out to be a dangerous bargain with Eleanor.

From early on in the book, by her own admission, the reader knows Harriet is guilty of betrayal, theft and deception. Therefore, although Harriet describes Teesbank Hall as having ‘something grim and sinister’ about it, she also thinks of it as ‘a hiding place’ and, later, even as a sanctuary. I think it becomes fairly obvious what she’s fleeing from but I believe even the most observant reader will still find there are some surprises in store.

The blurb refers to the period in which the book is set as ‘an age of discovery and progress’.  However, as the book explores, at the fringes of these developments were more questionable theories such as a belief in phrenology. Even less enlightened was the approach to mental health issues, especially in women, with a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ commonplace and frequently linked with reproduction, menstruation or viewed as a sign of ‘unnatural sexual urges’.

As the story reaches it’s dramatic conclusion, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Rebecca, Harriet has need to cling to her personal mantra more than ever: “I will not let circumstances destroy me. I will survive this. Everything will pass”.  Perhaps, after all, what seemed hopeless may not be entirely lost.

From its dramatic prologue to the book’s epilogue entitled ‘Aftermath’, The Deception of Harriet Fleet is an absorbing story of family secrets, betrayal, grief, jealousy and a desire for vengeance.

In three words: Atmospheric, dramatic, immersive

Try something similar: The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby

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Helen ScarlettAbout the Author

Helen Scarlett is a writer and English teacher based in the north east of England. Her debut historical novel, The Deception of Harriet Fleet, is a chilling take on nineteenth-century classics such as Jane Eyre seen through modern eyes. It is set in County Durham, close to where Helen lives with her husband and two daughters.

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