IT HAPPENED IN TUSCANY
In 1945, Will Mills and his fellow soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division scaled Italy’s treacherous Riva Ridge in the frigid night to break through the nearly impenetrable German line of defense. Severely wounded, Will was rescued by Italian partisans and one, a beautiful girl, tended his injuries until he had the strength to rejoin the U.S. troops.
Tormented and haunted by his decisions and actions during wartime, Will knows he has unfinished missions in Italy to complete. The passage of time and years of carrying this unfulfilled need have molded Will into a bitter, angry man.
Seventy-five years later, Will’s spunky thirty-two-year-old neighbor, Sophie Sparke, faces disaster in her life. Everything is going wrong—her job, her love life, even her dog. Part of the problem is that confident and fiercely independent Sophie lets her quick mouth get her into trouble.
Grouchy, mean-spirited Will finagles Sophie into traveling with him to Tuscany to find the partisan who saved his life. Will also secretly hopes to confront the demons his wartime actions created. Sophie and Will comb enchanting Tuscan hill towns on an improbable and unfolding mission with few clues to aid them. Will’s passionate tenacity drives their quest and in the process exposes their darkest secrets. The journey alters the course of their lives, and Will and Sophie find more than they had imagined in the hills of Tuscany.
Gail was born and raised in a rural community in Nebraska, where everyone knew their neighbours and summers were spent outdoors—working, playing, or watching fireflies. Her love for reading books and imagining characters and their stories germinated during those days of creating her own world, encouraged by her parents, who taught her to be independent.
Graduating from Wartburg College with a BA in Accounting and Economics and a master of taxation degree from the University of Denver, brought her training in tax law, and for many years she practiced as a CPA using that knowledge. Her parents, who visited every continent except Antarctica, also sparked her love of travel and adventure, which burns brighter than ever, whilst her loving husband, along with their four sons, their activities, and their dogs, fill her daily life with joy.
It was a hot July summer visit to Key West, which sparked Gail’s writing career. She and her husband had toured Ernest Hemingway’s house. Smacked in the face with the master writer’s ghost and palpable presence, she confessed her secret desire to write books, although unlike Gail, her husband felt only the heat and humidity and not a trace of Ernest!
Her confession led to a novel that won contests, but otherwise never saw the light of day. Years of writing, revising, and rejections occurred, and then a kernel of an idea, and several trips to Italy, evolved into her debut novel, To Tuscany with Love.
Living in the beautiful state of Colorado, being a wife, mother, writer, and breast cancer survivor, Gail believes herself to be truly blessed.
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“It’s never too late to take stock of one’s work, relationships, and life. What dreams of yours are unfulfilled, and why have they been pushed aside? Sometimes circumstances or economics are the unavoidable roadblock to achieving your dreams. A surprising occurrence is that sometimes we ourselves, like my characters, have become the obstruction to achieving our goals. Passionately investing in your relationships and dreams is the first step to molding yourself into the person you dream of being and in the process, achieving happiness and fulfilment.”
U.S. Army searchlights , meant to distract the Germans, reflected off the clouds and bathed the ridgeline above with light. They created hazy moonbeams in the otherwise black sky.
Would these lights – their only protection – keep the men who hugged the base of the mountain hidden? Or would the deadly guns on the ridge blast them once they began their climb?
All of you ‘First Page Browsers’, can check out a longer opening extract, and a lovely author Guest Post by Gail Mencini, posted as part of my ‘Book Beginnings On Friday‘ meme.
MEMORABLE LINES FROM THE BOOK
“The mission was more important than the men.”
“Sophie pushed up from the table and walked to the door. She and Will held one thing in common. They were both alone in this world. For Will, his dream of finding Francesca gave him hope. Sophie had nothing.”
“My momma drilled basic manners into me when I was a young cub on the ranch. She was a good, hard-working, God-fearing woman. She vowed to make sure that no son of hers would be ignorant of manners and make a fool of himself.”
“Sophie hated herself for how she changed when she was dating Russ. She struggled with trying to lose weight but did it to please him. She bought scores of sexy clothes that weren’t her style. Sophie became the woman he wanted, even though it felt like a betrayal to herself.”
“It’s all on me. The errands, looking for Francesca, and getting Will back to the U.S. healthy. Life has been that way for a long time. It’s my responsibility to take care of myself and make all the decisions. Mine alone.”
“Respect love for the gift it is.”
All you ‘page surfers’ can check out a slightly longer extract from the book, included as part of my regular ‘Tuesday Teaser‘ meme.
“Respect love for the gift it is.“
I don’t know whether to begin this review with the compelling storyline, the authentic and engaging characters, or the amazing narrative and dialogue, which draws it all together.
This is a story which evokes so many feelings during its reading, covering just about every emotion in the spectrum, as this gentle rollercoaster of a journey, reaches its conclusion, ending not necessarily the way I might have envisioned or wanted for my own gratification, but exactly right for the characters author Gail Mencini has created.
So many times when an author breaks their book down into small, bite-sized chapters, the story can become a little clipped and choppy. However Gail uses the short chapters almost as natural breaks in the narrative and dialogue, where the reader can just draw breath, before moving on as if nothing had happened. For me personally, as someone who inevitably ends up reading in short bursts, this worked great, as I could read ‘just one more chapter’, before dashing out of the house in the morning.
The story is divided into two distinct time periods, with minimal overlap, so that I was not continually being taken back and forth between the two. A different approach to that which many authors take when writing in multiple timelines, yet it worked so well and engaged me fully in both periods, without overwhelming. I knew exactly where I stood in the storyline and I felt I was treated to a much less frenetic pace of travel through my reading.
The gripping, opening World War II sequences, where we first encounter Will and his comrades, are visually descriptive and emotionally draining, as words and deeds are so vividly and powerfully committed to paper. Will’s fight to survive is desperately intense and succeeds very much against the odds, all portrayed to the reader through Gail’s skilled writing and storytelling, which draws the reader in as a bystander to the action.
In the second half of the story and given Will’s current age and determination, the urgency of the journey and mission he has set for himself and his travelling companion, Sophie, comes through clearly in the narrative. However, given that age also has its limitations, Gail seeks to temper the tension, by treating her readers to a virtual armchair travelogue of the panoramic beauty of the Tuscan countryside. The tourist crowds are almost invisibly stripped away, revealing the authentic sights and sounds of a community still largely living as they have done since time forgotten, yet visibly divided and conflicted by the wartime tragedies of decades ago, too horrendous to forgive, which separates them, friends and family alike. However, Gail never loses sight of the reason for this once in a lifetime trip and weaves the two strands of her storytelling almost seamlessly together, to complete a totally multi-layered story.
Gail freely admits that she approaches her writing in a very methodical and analytical way, complete with character spreadsheets and authenticated speech patterns, yet there is no way you would have guessed that from the easy, authentic, free-flowing way in which the characters react with both one another, their surroundings and the underlying intensity of the storyline.
Will and Sarah are not likely travelling partners, given that they have only really recently got past the nodding stage with each other, living as they do in the same apartment complex. However, neither have close friend or family ties, both are searching for a sense of belonging and Will is very much a force to be reckoned with when he puts his mind to it. At the start, neither comes clean with the other about their past and the secrets they both hide, with information being divulged piece by piece during the course of their journey, almost on a need to know basis, neither fully trusting the other with their respective fears and hopes.
However, as time passes, Will and Sarah become quite engaging characters, with genuine depth. The trip becomes a healing balm for both of them, as they learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other, with the power and essence of unexpected friendship shining through and helping to mend those broken hearts, whilst teaching them both that age is no barrier to respect, kindness, or a genuine bond of love, which transcends beyond this life.
This story is a heart-warming, heart-breaking drama, which is part history, part mystery and part romance.
A genuine book to escape into and a story to be savoured – along with the mouth-watering rustic Italian meal recipes, with which Gail completes the saga!
A complimentary download of this book, was kindly made available and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract 4 out of 5 stars.