As the nights lengthen and winter closes in, few things beat curling up with a good book. Preferably one that transports you either in time, place or emotion. Or, if you’re lucky, all three. Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra does just that, taking the reader on a romantic journey through the historic streets of Florence in Italy.
It opens just before the outbreak of the First World War on a cold, windy night. An unknown man is whisking a newborn child from its mother and unidentified danger to the safety of a Florentine nunnery. He leaves no clues as to the child’s name or origins except a silver key buried in her blanket. As openers go, it’s intriguing.
Fast forward fifteen years and the nuns have named the child Rosa, Italian for rose, and the Tuscan Rose of the title. Sister Maddalena and her fellow postulants teach Rosa music, literature and languages at the convent school alongside paying pupils from the noble families of Florence. In return the teenager spends her spare time playing her flute to entertain the nuns. It’s a simple life, cocooned from the real world by the high walls of the convent beyond which Rosa has never ventured. But she is about to be plucked from her home again, this time to be sent to work as a governess for a local Duke.
As Rosa sets off for her new job the automatic assumption of this simple reader is that she’ll fall for the Duke or him for her and they’ll all live happily ever after! But, and it’s a big but, ( spoiler alert ) the Duke turns out to be a bit of a romantic red herring leaving the reader wrong footed, unsure of where Rosa is heading next. And this is where the book changes gear and starts to get interesting.
The author, Belinda Alexandra, writes a good romance and has been published in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Russia to wide acclaim. As the daughter of an Australian and Russian her website describes her as an intrepid traveller. And she clearly knows Florence well, as she paints vivid pictures of the pre-war city streets and piazze, many of which are still recognisable today.
Throughout her book Alexandra deftly intertwines our heroine’s story with pre-WWII Italian politics bringing to life the impact that the iron-fist of fascism and the madness of dictator Benito Mussolini could have on lives of ordinary Italians. And whilst this is certainly a romance, not a history text book, she manages to tackle some weighty cultural issues of the day such as the treatment of women during the 1930s and 1940s, brutal class hierarchy and the debate over family or country first. Weave in Florentine architecture, culture, pre-war fashion and some love interests and you have a romance worth reading.
Ultimately if I told you everything that befalls Rosa though, there would be no point in reading the book so I’ll just whet your appetite with a few final teasers. Yes, Rosa falls in love, a couple of times in fact. Yes, she faces great hardship and challenges but she also soars to great heights of achievement too. And yes, she has life changing decisions to make at various stages in her life which change her route. Rosa is a romantic heroine to be admired as she survives more than the average woman would face in several lifetimes but whether she or Florence manage to survive the war or to what degree remains for you to find out. All I can say is that Tuscan Rose is a great romantic journey through 40 years of Italian combat and well worth reading.
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