by Belinda Alexandra
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
2013 Gallery Books (first published in 2010)
Softcover Edition; 583 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
FLORENCE, 1914. A
mysterious stranger known as The Wolf leaves an infant with the sisters
of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one
clue to the child’s identity. . . . FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, young
Rosa must leave the nuns, her only family, and become governess to the
daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house
is elegant but cursed, and Rosa, blessed with gifts beyond her
considerable musical talents, is torn between her desire to
know the truth and her fear of its repercussions. All the while, the
hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and no citizen is safe.
Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence,
intuition, and determination . . . and her extraordinary capacity for
Tuscan Rose is one of those books that I somewhat enjoyed because I am a huge history buff and thought the descriptions of life during World War II in Italy were quite well done. I thought the sentiments and feelings of the time period came through quite well, and the author did a credible job portraying the mixed emotions of people living under a dictatorship that was slowly rotting their country from the inside out. And yet, despite all of this, I was somewhat disappointed in this novel for a variety of reasons.
First of all, the author made a big deal out of this special key that was left with Rosa as a baby which was supposed to be a clue to her identity. This is exactly the kind of book I liked - secrets, mysterious background, clues, wealthy family, etc... Despite all of this building up around this key, it actually came to...nothing, and I was really disappointed as I felt kind of cheated. And yet, the first part of the book is the best part of the book! Rosa, who led a fairly sheltered life in the convent, was forced to deal with a very different way of life as the governess for a wealthy family, one with many secrets. Rosa, who has a hint of the supernatural, tries to use her gifts to help her in a difficult situation, but finds herself trapped between conflicts she knows nothing about. I sometimes wanted to strangle her though, as naivety can only be an excuse for so long sometimes. With the education she got in the convent, I had a hard time believing she was quite as naive as portrayed in this novel. But I still liked her and admired her spunk and her ability to try and work out her problems on her own. I enjoyed the character development that I saw in Rosa and the author's skilled way of showing readers her blossoming awareness of what life was actually like for women outside of a sheltered house, women who were abused and abandoned, and her growing awareness that life is so much more complicated that she first thought.
The second half of the book is where I had the most problems with Rosa's character development. Suddenly we have this woman who is confidant in her abilities and in her survival, one who is fairly politically astute, one who is very fashionable, and so on. I couldn't relate to this more mature Rosa like I could the earlier one as the change was too sudden and there was no real explanation for it, other than she got married, and not to the man she really wanted to marry. And when the war began, and life became a matter of survival in order to protect her husband and children, Rosa changed yet again. Now, this change I understood better as war changed pretty much everybody; where I had the difficulty is how Rosa was discussed like she was this ultra warrior and dangerous when I'm not certain how and where she received this so-called 'warrior-like' training.
The plot itself had a number of loose ends in it, and could be fairly convoluted if you were not paying attention to the details. What I found disappointing is that the entire story was somewhat predictable and few twists and turns existed to capture the reader's imagination. Yes, the author did tie up all the loose ends, but by then I had them all figured out anyways, so there was no climax to any of the scenes. Considering how often the author tried to mess up the reader at the beginning of the novel, where things were rather more interesting and fun, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. It's too bad as the writing style was somewhat captivating (if you can overlook the continuous comments about meat-eaters, vegetarian anyone?, and the fact that I felt like I was being preached to as if I was twelve years old sometimes, even in the type of language used) and I enjoyed the setting very much. I teach history so this is right up my alley and I soaked in the historical details as much as possible. I especially loved the scene with the dog, Fido.
Tuscan Rose is one of those novels that I had mixed feelings about how much I really liked it. At first, I was captivated by the descriptions of wartime Italy and the sentiments expressed by the Italian people and I just soaked it all in. However, the plot was a bit convoluted, somewhat disconnected, and the ending left me feeling unsatisfied. I found it too predictable and would have liked a few more twists and turns; great story lines, like the one about the key, were dropped or forgotten about over the course of the novel, and this was disappointing as I felt cheated. I also know the message in the novel was supposed to be about mankind and peace, but the ending did little to credit that message so I'm not quite sure what to think about that. If you like historical fiction, this novel may appeal to you as I did enjoy the discussions about Mussolini and the war, but then I am a war buff. There is some romance, suspense, mystery, scandal, and betrayal that should appeal to other readers, but I was not really one of them.