A definite must-read for anyone in the mood for a dreamy escape.
Alba Arbuckle is a fiery, passionate young woman living on a houseboat in London. Her lifestyle is one of excess and indulgence, not least when it comes to her loves. Enter Fitz, a handsome man whom happens to be the literary agent of Alba's author neighbour, Viv. When Alba finds a portrait of her mother, of whom her father never speaks, and demands to know the truth, Viv concocts a plan that will give all of them what they need.
Alba and Fitz, pretending to be a couple, visit Alba's father's and stepmother's vast estate in the country. Fitz ingratiates himself with the family, playing his role a little too well, in order to win over her family and Alba herself. It works - Alba slowly opens up to Fitz, but with it opens a vulnerability in her that drives her to Italy in order to search her past.
Alba's story is interspersed with the story of how her father and mother met in the sleepy town of Incantelleria during the Second World War. As the story goes on, the mystery both unravels and deepens, until the final part of the novel where the true loss of Valentina is revealed.
Santa Montefiore creates a love story that is fluffy, warm and inviting. Rich descriptions abound (though I did roll my eyes at the relentless use of 'simple') and the reader is drawn into the family drama; empathetic with Thomas, whose wife's death hangs over him still; Alba, spoiled but you feel for the mother she never knew; and Fitz, who doesn't know just what to do about Alba.
The resolution is a happy ending, in one way, but not necessarily the classic love story ending the reader might be expecting. This is definitely fiction for escapism, a curl-up-on-the-sofa or whisk away to a foreign beach kind of read.