Callie, a lonely small-town waitress, is still reeling from the discovery that she’s adopted when she arrives in Montevino, Italy in search of answers – the keys to the stunning hillside villa she has just inherited clutched tightly in her hand. Inside the rusted gates, and through a large wooden front door dripping with sun-kissed flowers, Callie can’t decide if she’s more astonished by her new home or her first encounter with the mysterious young groundskeeper, Tommaso.
Wandering the villa barefoot at night, Callie finds a diary belonging to a woman named Elisa, wrapped in faded blue ribbon and hidden in her birthmother’s antique wardrobe. Page by page, Callie is swept away by its story of love, passion, heartbreak and betrayal as she reads how Elisa married her childhood sweetheart in secret before fleeing to the woods to join the resistance. They vowed to find each other again when the war was over, but history had other plans.
Callie is certain that her and Elisa’s lives are somehow connected, and that the truth about her family is hidden somewhere within the diary’s crinkled yellow pages. It gives her the courage to start asking questions around the close-knit village until, at long last, she feels her closed-off heart begin to open. Perhaps even enough to let someone in…
But when a devastating betrayal in the final pages of the diary unlocks a heart-breaking secret about who Callie’s mother really is, the chance for a new life shatters in front of her. Can she persuade the locals to forgive her past and accept the truth about her identity?
The Italian Villa is the first book from Daniela Sacerdoti that she has written for Bookouture and what an absorbing and beautifully crafted read it was. This is a story that you will easily lose yourself in. It has just the right pace so as the reader can become accustomed to the setting, characters and main issues in the story but at the same everything is kept moving along nicely. I found it to be a quick read and was disappointed to find myself nearing the end as I was enjoying it so much. Prior to reading this book, I had only ever had one experience of the authors writing and found that book to be only OK but with this book it really felt that Daniela was writing about an area she loved so very much as the glorious descriptions of the Italian landscape, countryside and villages were just magnificent.The love and dedication for her subject matter came across very well right from the opening chapter.
In the end notes, I noticed that it mentioned that the author has settled in Italy and that the town which she based Montevino on is the one where she lives. They do say write about what you know and this proved very effective for the author as her knowledge and sense of time and place was just perfect throughout. I felt I was transported to Italy with Callie as she comes to terms with a new stage in her life and gets to grips with her heritage. This really is a book to take your time with and savour every moment, which unfortunately I just couldn't do, as a powerful tale is woven and you become engrossed and rooting for the two main characters. Two women separated by many years yet a unique and satisfying connection is developed between the pair.
The prologue and the opening few chapters were very well written and informative. There was no messing about providing us with surplus information in order to fill a few pages instead we were more or less immediately taken to the heart of the story and this made it much easier and quicker to relate to the characters and get a feeling for what they were going through. I instantly wanted to know who was it hiding in a cabin in the High Woods above the Italian village of Montevino in August of 1945? Why was the person hiding? How are they coping now that their life have been torn apart? We then move forward to Texas in the present day and straight away I wanted to know what was going to bring Callie from Texas to Italy? I mean its a major change and something big must occur in order for this to take place.
Callie is a character you feel like you have known her for such a long time right from the minute she is introduced. She is vulnerable and has been unable to establish firm roots since the tragic death of her parents in a house fire. She had been moved around from foster home to foster home, never been treated badly but still the traumatic events of her childhood linger long in her mind. On the day of her 21st birthday she is working as usual in the Windmill Cafe where she has some friends and is saving as much as she can to attend college. Although what she wants to do in college and with the rest of her life is a mystery to her. But on this most special of birthdays a monumental life change occurs and its whether she chooses to go on the path that she will be lead down and whether she will seek the answers, solve the mysteries and accept what is in store for her that provide us with the many themes, issues and emotions explored throughout the remainder of the novel.
Callie receives a call from her social worker whom she has not seen for some time. When she meets her she is instructed to go to a solicitor to retrieve a letter and a box containing a diary. She discovers that she had been adopted and her world is turned upside down. Whats more she has now inherited a villa in Montevino, Italy and this is what sets Callie on a path to discover her true self and find the missing pieces which really deep down have always niggled away at her although she has never truly known what this feeling was up until now. She needs to know about her past before she can look to the future and by knowing the whole truth only will she be able to do this. The loss, bewilderment and isolation felt by Callie radiates from the pages but as she touches down on Italian soil it's like the minute she does so that changes begin almost like she knows with time she may discover who she truly is and this in turn will allow her to make rational, sensible and positive long term decisions.
From then on the story moved back and forth between Callie in present day Montevino but also interspersed throughout were diary entries, which Callie reads from the notebook left to her, written by Elisa who lived in Firefly House during the time of the war. Usually I prefer when reading a dual timeline story for the sections set in the past to be told by the person in chapter format rather than quick snippets of diary entries but here it worked perfectly as the writing was so good, so atmospheric and rich in both detail and emotion. I really got a sense of how Elisa's life was changing with the arrival of war and how her hopes for becoming a doctor were thrown into doubt. But Elisa was a spirited person and persistent and she was not going to let anything get in the way of her achieving her goals and dreams.
Elisa's story was very interesting and at its centre is heartbreak and some very surprising revelations which really did throw a spanner in the works but I loved how the author worked all out and very much turned a positive into a negative. As Callie reads extracts from the diary at various points in her own journey to uncover the past it's as if the veil to the past is being lifted and unfolding before her eyes but still she does try to make sense of certain things. There is always an air of mystery and secrets pervading throughout the story which only encourages you to keep reading on and on.
Callie's wish to not be alone in the world might just come true as she settles into Firefly House and meets Tomasso who has been the caretaker of the grounds for many years but she also meets Flora and soon discovers a family connection. Flora was very secretive and had created a wall around herself and one she wasn't willing to break down in a hurry. She was full of self loathing and hatred and I wanted to know what was she hiding that was making her feel and act this way? She seemed to have enemies in the village but was it with good reason? It was like the tables were turned in that Callie became the strong one and was able to cope with everything she was learning and experiencing but Flora was the one beginning to crumble.
As for Tomasso he too had his own painful past and I desperately wanted Callie to get through to him and see what was evidently troubling him. As the village of Montevino was small there were lots of connections between all the characters in the present and those of the past which slowly become apparent but the author wove a delicate tapestry with said contacts and networks revealing themselves bit by bit at the most pivotal of times. It made me realise that every character was there for a reason and not surplus to requirements and that forgiveness and belonging were two of the major themes being explored and this exploration was written in a stunning way that made for an extremely good read.
The Italian Villa was a real impressive read and I hope Daniella Sacerdoti writes more books set in Italy in the future. As elements of the story were drawn from her own grandmothers memories you could tell that she wrote the story with such respect, love and gratitude for her subject matter and throughout it a brilliant mystery packed full of emotion and depth unfolds. Both Callie and Elisa are inspirational women, both looking for their direction in life. But do they find it? Does Flora transform or stay all closed up? Will all the questions find answers? Well that remains for readers to discover but I suggest you do buy this book as soon as you can. It is a wonderful, heartfelt and captivating read which the cover alone should make you pick up but you will be pleasantly surprised by the imaginative, honest and at times intense story that awaits you inside. I'm already looking forward to more like this in the future from Daniella Sacerdoti.