Romance, intrigue and Italian sunshine in four summer novels - book review

A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino
A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

Take a trip to beautiful Venice and the stunning Amalfi coast, join a group of brave women on wartime adventures, and meet a middle-aged woman on the cusp of a new life.

A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

If you can’t afford a trip to Venice this summer, why not hitch a ride to the city of love with Nicky Pellegrino?

The delicious, Italian-flavoured novels of half Italian-half Liverpudlian Pellegrino have that happy knack of transporting her addicted readers to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world.

Throw in lots of lip-smacking Italian culinary delights, romance aplenty and a cast of supporting characters who become like your own friends, and you have the perfect armchair trip to the sights, sounds and smells of beautiful Venice.

In A Year at Hotel Gondola, we meet a middle-aged career woman who swaps her far-flung travels for her biggest adventure yet… a relationship, and a new way of life.

Kat Black is an intrepid food writer who travels the world visiting exotic locations and eating unusual things. Who else can boast that they have ridden on horseback over the Mongolian steppe to share yak meat with nomads, been fed blubber by Inuits in Greenland, and choked down fermented shark in Reykjavik?

But now she has hit the age of fifty and, like it or not, Kat’s career is ‘contracting’ and she can ‘smell change in the air.’ Her mother says she has ‘twenty good years left’ and then she won’t want to have adventures any more. So Kat is embarking on a new and uncertain adventure, one that could either be a new beginning… or a big mistake.

After falling in love with an Italian man, Massimo Morosini, Kat is moving to live with him in Venice where she will help him run the Hotel Gondola, his small guesthouse in the busy, bustling centre of the city.

Meanwhile Kat has lined up a book deal and will write about the first year of her new life… the food she eats, the recipes she collects, the people she meets, and the man she doesn’t really know all that well but is going to make a life with.

But as Kat ought to know by now, the thing about adventures is that they never go exactly the way you expect them to... and is writing about your personal life really such a great idea?

With her trademark exuberance and love for her father’s home country, Pellegrino delivers another beautiful, invigorating odyssey about friendship, food, family and a passion for life and love.

And there is so much to enjoy is in this wonderfully escapist and romantic story as we share the hidden delights of Venice with Kat… a little osteria with a handwritten menu, the bar where they serve paper cones of hot fried polenta and the tall, leafy trees inside the beautiful Papadopoli Gardens.

With its seductive backdrop, fascinating characters and sun-soaked slice of life, an outing with Nicky Pellegrino is always the next best thing to a holiday in Italy!

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)

The Secret Legacy by Sara Alexander

Also setting her sights set on the Italian sunshine is Sara Alexander, an actress whose compelling debut novel delivers romance with a bittersweet beauty.

The Secret Legacy, an enthralling family saga of love and loss set amidst the stunning hills and towns of the Amalfi coast, sweeps us away to the 1950s and into the life of a young woman born in penury but destined for a life amidst unexpected wealth.

Brimming with passion, drama, secrets, delicious food, and Mediterranean sea and sun, this is a thrilling story that was perfectly created for summer reading.

In 2005, Santina Guida is dying from cancer and spending her final days at her opulent home, Villa San Vito, in the beautiful Italian town of Positano on the Amalfi coast. As she decides the fate of the magnificent 18th century palazzo, she must confront the choices that led her here and plan for the future after she has gone.

Wind backwards to 1956 and we meet 19-year-old Santina who was born and raised in Nocelle in the mountains but whose life took a downward turn after the death of her beloved mother seven years ago.

Hoping to escape poverty and her punishing work in a produce store, Santina gets a lucky break and travels to England to work for two London art dealers. But a combination of loneliness, homesickness and her seeming inability to please her new employers starts to take its toll. Her only option is to take up a job offer as housekeeper to a distinguished British major, Henry Crabtree, and his artistic, impulsive wife, Adeline.

When the Crabtrees move to Positano to try to bring some peace to the volatile Adeline, Santina joins them, raising their daughter Elizabeth as Adeline’s mental health declines and her erratic behaviour increases.

With each passing year, Santina becomes more deeply entwined with the family, sharing her love of food with the Major, trying to navigate her complicated feelings for a man who is now much more than an employer… and all the while hiding secrets that could shatter the only home she knows.

From the dark, dank streets of London to the sparkling seas and lush countryside of Positano, The Secret Legacy delivers a sumptuous and exciting rollercoaster ride across decades of intrigue, an ocean of emotional turmoil, and on to an explosive conclusion.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)

A Wartime Promise by Ruby Reynolds

Take a trip back to the perilous days of wartime in a gripping and atmospheric saga from an author with a passion for the past.

Ruby Reynolds – a pseudonym for Fiona Ford, author of the highly successful novel The Spark Girl –sweeps us into the lives of a group of young and courageous women who discover adventure, romance and heartbreak as they embark on army service in 1941.

Ford, who grew up in Bath, spent her childhood listening to her grandfather talk about his time in the Royal Navy during World War Two and poring over his large collection of photos which seemed to perfectly capture life during wartime.

Although Ford went on to develop a successful career as a journalist, she never lost her fascination with the past and has now combined her love of writing with her interest in days gone by.

In A Wartime Promise, we meet Peggy Collins, a driver with the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), the women’s branch of the British Army during the Second World War.

Peggy has learned a lot during her time as a ‘spark’ girl, proudly wearing the uniform of the ATS. She has been posted to Swansea and is enjoying the freedom of her first time away from home and making wonderful new friends. But she can’t escape the guilt of leaving her widowed mother Edie alone at their home in Bristol where the Luftwaffe is making regular bombing raids.

As sole driver to the squadron leader, Lieutenant Colonel Carmichael, Peggy is plunged into the heart of the action, often hearing things that are top secret. She knows she has to be discreet, understanding only too well how serious the phrase ‘loose lips sink ships’ really is.

Peggy’s mother has always drummed into her that men only ever bring heartache but then when Peggy meets pilot Jim Hudson, she soon finds herself falling in love with him. But her heart is broken when he goes missing in action and Peggy is left fearing the worst.

And that isn’t the end of the shocks in store for Peggy as she is forced to remember a promise made long ago. Can she keep her word while the bombs fall, and can the Spark Girls stick together and follow their hearts?

Expect romance, heartbreak, friendship and revelations in an exciting story which is rich in period detail and brings the dangerous war years to vivid life with a cast of colourful characters and an all-action adventure.

(Orion, paperback, £6.99)

Violet’s Children by Maureen Lee

At the age of 47 and facing the prospect of redundancy, Violet Duffy feels lost and terribly alone… until an unexpected caller brings her the chance of a new way of life.

Bootle-born author Maureen Lee’s award-winning novels have earned her many fans and a reputation as a powerful and perceptive storyteller. Her warm-hearted, gritty and compelling family sagas are filled with real people with real dilemmas that we can all recognise.

In Violet’s Children, we follow the trials and tribulations of 47-year-old Violet from Bootle, a woman whose life is still rooted in the past but who is finally dragged into a new future by the arrival of the orphaned children of a long lost relative.

As a spinster of a certain age in Liverpool in 1950, Violet is regarded as a figure of fun but she has her home and her job, and that has always sufficed. But now her life has been turned upside down because she has been sent packing from her job at Briggs’ Motors after 30 years of dedicated service.

Jobs don’t grow on trees when you are 47 and Violet simply can’t visualise life without work. Then out of the blue she is informed that Mary, a cousin from Devon she never knew existed, has died and left her two children, Will aged ten and Abby aged four. The orphaned pair will be placed in a home unless she can take them in.

Violet knows nothing about children even though she loves them. Can she turn her spinster life upside down and take these lost souls into her little house on Amber Street? What she does know is that if she doesn’t take in these children, she will regret it for the rest of her life.

Abby and Will have had young lives full of tragedy. Life with Violet offers love and safety but as they grow up, their past won’t let them rest. Turning into teenagers only makes them more curious to know about life beyond the Liverpool streets they have come to know. Will they choose Violet, or the lure of bigger cities and new horizons?

All three of them will need friends at their side as they face up to what they really want. Private passions, tough choices, lost loves and second chances pull them in different directions, but wherever life takes them, the door is always open at Amber Street. Because it’s love that makes a house a home…

High on emotion, packed with drama and tough life lessons, this is a wise, warm and ultimately uplifting story that is guaranteed to touch the hearts of Lee’s army of fans.

(Orion, hardback, £20.99)