Reviewed by Emma Crowley
For Carmela del Bosco, a farm girl in a remote Italian village, sheltering an English spy is the most dangerous thing she could do. If she’s caught by the fascists it would be the end, especially for her beloved grandmother sleeping soundly upstairs. But taking in the pleading brown eyes of the man calling himself Sebastiano slumped at her door, and his terrible injuries inflicted by the Nazi occupiers, Carmela remembers how Nonna always taught her right from wrong. Risking everything, she hides him in a ruined tower on the edge of the farm.
Each day Carmela tends his wounds, and the passion that kindles between them is a light in the darkest time. Sebastiano has information that could end the war, and needs her help to send it. But tracking down fellow members of the resistenza in the mountains means risking her life and bringing danger to everyone she knows.
Carmela knows she must find the courage to do what’s right for her country. But if she leaves the farm, will she ever see her beloved nonna again? And will her sacrifice tear her away from the only man she’s ever loved, forever?
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Italian Girl’s Secret to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
I’ve read a spate of books recently set in Italy during World War Two and I have to say The Italian Girls Secret by Natalie Meg Evans has definitely been the best of them by a mile. Right from the get go the author brings the reader straight into the action. There was no pointless preamble with a long drawn out introduction not relevant to the plot instead what needed to be explained was done as the story progressed and it worked very well. The plot was exceedingly well developed and executed with a real strong opening, middle and end. There were no points at which the story dragged or became staid. Instead everything moved along at a fluid pace and my interest was held throughout and rose with each turn of the page as the intensity and sense of danger and urgency increased the more I delved deeper into the book.
A tense and moving prologue sets the tone for the entire story and instantly the reader is on alert for what is about to unfold. The consequences of one man’s betrayal sets in motion a chain of events that makes for a very good read. Your heart is in your mouth as the prologue ends on a cliff-hanger and then we are taken to the countryside and hills outside of Naples where Carmela Del Bosco resides on a farm with her grandmother Rosario. Carmela has her own secret that is kept very tightly to her chest and just the right of information is supplied as to what the roots of her secret are. To be honest I could guess from the clues what said secret was and why she did what she did but it didn’t matter in the slightest that I guessed fairly early on.
Carmela’s secret is something she is haunted by and she hasn’t moved on from it but it’s not the main focus of the story. It may form the title of this book but I felt it was there to explain what motivates her and why she feels a certain way and how its exposure would affect the general family dynamic rather be the overall dominant plot of the book as a whole. Family and upholding one’s reputation was everything in Italy and to go against the grain for whatever reason was severely frowned upon as was shown by the actions of Carmela’s cousin Tino who was an utter horror of a character.
Carmela awakes one night as she hears a noise. Her half brother Danielo arrives with a person who needs refuge. Under the cover of darkness Sebastiano is taken to a tower on the farm. He is injured due to a betrayal and he has barely escaped with his life. Sebastiano works for the SOE and he has vital information that needs to be passed on but with no wireless operator nearby he has to set another plan in motion. He knows so many lives are at stake but he is determined said information will get through to those that need to hear it. Carmela is torn in two as to what to do as she knows if he is discovered than the repercussions for everyone will be severe. But Carmela has such strength and determination and she wants to do her best to help in any way she can.
Over the course of the book she becomes aware as to what has been going on around her and more specifically in Naples where her father and Danielo reside. A bigger game is at play that she soon becomes a part of and Sebastiano takes her on an exhilarating and terrifying journey but I thought she was more than able for it. At times I felt people were trying to keep her out of the loop in order to protect her but I don’t think they always valued her worth. Rather they saw her as a woman who couldn’t do much but when Sebastiano is discovered, and they are forced to flee to Naples, the story became even more exciting and I was loving every minute of it.
As I was reading I found Sebastiano to be a frustrating character because he was so elusive. I felt we never got to know him and his inner workings but on reflection he played his role brilliantly never giving anything away for to do so could endanger so many. I did feel the passion that developed between himself and Carmela but the overall driving force of trying to find the right source in order to pass on vital information was what drove the book on. All the other subplots flowed around it magnificently and the author had each strand of the story so carefully plotted and had everything come together in an amazing way that had me hooked.
The setting whether it be at the farmhouse and the local village or in the city of Naples dominated by Germans and its residents living on a knife edge were so brilliantly described. I felt I was right there alongside Carmela and co as they forged ever onwards in the face of so much horror, brutality and of course a certain someone who wanted to think he held so much power over the overall situation. I cant’ fail to mention Renzo the dog and Nearco the donkey, so wonderfully apt for the story. It could have been laughable to feature a dog and a donkey but my god did it work well.
I really enjoyed the fact that there wasn’t an awful lot of characters to keep track of. Whoever was mentioned was utilised so well and it was easy to understand what was going on. The secondary characters were well placed and valued and weren’t surplus to requirements as can often be the case. Every person had an important role to play and in the bigger web that was being woven they each played that role to perfection. Carmela, Sebastiano and all the others that featured were engaged in a battle of good against evil and were determined in any way possible to achieve this. Lives were constantly put on the line and no one gave a second thought to do this because they were all in it together with one aim in mind. To bring about the downfall of the Germans and have their country back again and to live in peace. The fact that romance does feature too only added to the story, it wasn’t too in your face. It didn’t need to be, it was evident what was unfolding but other more urgent matters took over but I was glad how this aspect of the story resolved itself.
The Italian Girl's Secret in my mind sees Natalie Meg Evans return to the form of some of her earlier books which I thoroughly enjoyed. You could tell how much she enjoyed researching and writing this story. The reader is taken on an incredible journey with twists and turns, mystery, intrigue, danger and lots more and it’s definitely a book that I would recommend.