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A Dual Timeline Set in Beautiful Abruzzo - an Editorial Review of "In the Shadow of the Appenines"



Book Blurb:


An American divorcée. An Italian shepherdess.

Separated by a century, united by common dreams.


The sleepy little Abruzzo mountain town of Marsicano seems about as far as Samantha can flee from her failed marriage and disastrous university career. Eager for a fresh start, Samantha begins to set down roots in her Italian mountain hideaway.


At first, the mountain retreat appears idyllic, but an outsider’s clumsy attempts at breaking into the closed mountain community are quickly thwarted when the residents discover Samantha’s snarky blog ridiculing the town and its inhabitants.


Increasingly isolated in her mountain cottage, Samantha discovers the letters and diaries of Elena, a past tenant and a survivor of the 1915 Pescina earthquake. Despite the century that separates the two women, Samantha feels increasingly drawn into Elena’s life, and discovers startling parallels with her own.



Author Bio:



Kimberly grew up in the suburbs of Boston and in Saratoga Springs, New York, although she now calls the Harlem neighborhood of New York City home when she’s back in the US. She studied political science and history at Cornell University and earned her MBA, with a concentration in strategy and marketing, from Bocconi University in Milan.

Afflicted with a severe case of Wanderlust, she worked in journalism and government in the US, Czech Republic and Austria, before settling down in Rome, where she works in international development, and writes fiction any chance she gets.

She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and The Historical Novel Society and has published several short stories and three novels: Three Coins, Dark Blue Waves and In The Shadow of The Apennines.

After years spent living in Italy with her Italian husband and sons, she’s fluent in speaking with her hands, and she loves setting her stories in her beautiful, adoptive country.

Vist my website: kimberlysullivanauthor.com


Editorial Review:


If I learned anything of value from my experience, it's that objects are only significant when there's a sentimental value attached. Once that tie has been severed, only the monetary value remains. I was happy to unload everything on Craigslist. The objects from my past life fetched a tidy little sum that I squirreled away into my Italian renovation fund, nicely supplementing the money Michael coughed up to buy me out of the house. Guilt money.


This book is a dual timeline, yet told in a different way. he majority of the first two-thirds (at least) you come to know Samantha, a middle-aged divorced woman whose life, almost in every way, mimics the story of Frances Mayes from “Under the Tuscan Sun” fame. Samantha even quotes the movie title at one point in the storyline, recognizing the similarities between her and the movie. However, with the stark similarities, as well as noted ones that one might recognize from “Eat, Pray, Love”, Samantha is left in the cold by her husband of twenty-something years after he leaves her for, yes, you guess it... a younger woman. After devoting her life, and giving up her own identity to this man, a total narcissistic soon-to-be professor at the college where they meet. Samantha is a student dating a jock who is not her type, but she falls easily in love with Michael, who promises her Paris and the world... at first.


Oh, you know. 'Under the Tuscan Sun' from a new angle. I wanted something different, something peaceful. It's been ages since I've written. I thought it might be a good place to get inspired, especially when I'm snowed in all winter.”


After 24 years of supporting him, and failed attempts to have a child, he does the middle-aged crisis thing and Lindsey, a PhD student and his assistant, fits the bill. Soon, though, Samantha finds herself in the arms of a young man, ten years her junior, who reminds her of her first love, and he helps her overcome the initial shock of her divorce.

Yet, Samantha is ready to make an ultimate change. Italy appears to be on the radar for divorced women writers looking to get as far away from their old life as possible, to find a quiet place to write, and to buy an old historic house in need of vast repairs. Samantha's “Bramasole” is a little cottage in the Abruzzo mountains, near the village of Marsicano. While she gets to know the local community, making friends and enemies in the sleepy, backwards village, her cottage is restored by a local builder named Enzo, she meets the next-door neighbor whose carpentry shop abuts her property, and she spends her days trying hard to forget her past. Yet, for the life of her, she can't forget and her writing is going nowhere.

Now for the difference between Frances Mayes' story and Samantha Burke Thorpe – during the renovation, Samantha discovers a wooden chest in the wall full of treasures and secrets. Inside, she uncovers a journal written by a young shepherdess who lived in the house during the early 1900s, right before the outbreak of WWI. The story engulfs Samantha, and as Samantha's own secrets come tumbling out, especially one she doesn't expect at her age, the life of Elena helps her heart heal.


Elena told her friend never to shy away from life's opportunities or its challenges, to always meet change head-on, for we only understand later how our experiences affect us. Looking back, she wrote, even our darkest moments help to shape our next steps and future choices. Our happiest and our most tragic moments are woven in equal measures into the complex, unique tapestry of our lives. If we tried to cut out the unhappy parts, she wrote, the entire tapestry would fall apart.


Elena is a pastoral peasant of the village of Marsicano, with a bleak future of tending sheep, taking in sewing and embroidery jobs to help her family get by; but what she doesn't expect is to fall in love with a young man visiting his family from Rome, a highly intelligent and charismatic... and the son of the wealthiest family in the area. Elena knows his family would never approve, but their attachment grows stronger with each visit... especially more so when he tells her of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Sarajevo and the possibility of Italy joining the war. With their future on the line, Elena commits her body and soul to him... yet something strikes them in the months to come they never expected. An earthquake hits the region in 1915, flattening the town and bringing untold devastation and heartbreak to many families, including Elena's.


The unimaginably difficult lives of peasants was always, in my mind, painted on a broad canvas, executed with rough brushstrokes: nameless, faceless peasants who went about their days laboring through backbreaking work we could never imagine, dying too young, living too little. For the first time, Elena's journals allowed me to examine the fine brushstrokes that also made up the canvas, the multilayered details.


The journals connect both Elena and Samantha in very special ways as they both must face a life they never imagined, in more ways than one. Yet Elena's strength and courage is what vitalizes Samantha as she delves into the girl's history, determined to let this story be the one she's been looking to write about. With deep themes of determination and family amid desperation, fear, failure, loss of identity, and making mistakes, this combination of a contemporary novel infused with a historical backdrop is truly a worthy read. The only reservation a reader might have is the delay in the discovery of the journals. With most dual timeline novels, the chapters vacillate back and forth between time periods, which this one does not do. When the story of Elena emerges through her journals, one could almost wish for a novel of her own so you can truly hear her unique voice and experiences. And, no doubt, this would make a great movie right up there with Diane Lane and Julia Robert's iconic chick flicks.


*****

In the Shadow of the Appenines” by Kimberly Sullivan receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


 

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