Genre: Cosy mystery/romance
Release Date:21 July 2017
Publisher: Harper Impulse
Some places stay with you forever…
When Ellie Maddison is sent on a business trip to Southern Italy, she’s reminded why she loves her job – set amongst rolling vineyards and rich olive groves, the beautiful Villa Rosso is the perfect escape from her life back home. But what Ellie isn’t prepared for is the instant connection she feels to the estate’s director Max Johnson, or the secrets they share that are as intertwined as the rambling vines that cover Villa Rosso.
It’s not long before Ellie finds herself entangled in the history of the place, trying to understand the undeniable effect Max is having on her. As their relationship grows, what will Ellie discover about this idyllic villa and those who have walked through its doors?
What started as a simple work trip will change Ellie’s life forever.
The story begins in the present as Ellie and Josh celebrate their nineteenth wedding anniversary. Her best friend and boss, Livvie, is hosting a party in their honour. When Ellie picks up Livvie’s ornamental crystal ball she sees a surreal image which gives her chills as she wonders what it signifies. Although it’s reputed to have belonged to a famous medium, no-one else has seen anything in the crystal and Livvie is sure it doesn’t work.
Through Ellie’s following reminiscences we see the development of her relationship with Josh, the love they share, family life with their two daughters, Hettie and Rosie, and Ellie’s burgeoning interior design career. All was going well, until Ellie took Livvie’s place on a buying trip to Italy and the Villa Rosso. That’s when Ellie’s life took an unexpected and unsettling turn. What was it about Villa Rosso, and especially Max Johnson, that gives her a strange feeling of recognition.
What is going on with me? Why does this man whom, it seems, really is just a stranger to me, feel so familiar.
Linn Halton incorporates a paranormal thread into the premise of the story, relating to fate, soul mates and feelings of familiarity and connection where there should be none. It made me think about strong positive/negatives feelings we can experience ourselves on meeting someone for the first time, and the reason for those feelings.
Directly ahead the land slopes away to infinity, ending in a mere shimmer before it slips over the distant horizon. The fertile plain is studded with vast swathes of olive trees. Further away the dotted landscape is interspersed with neat rows of planting that are tiny by comparison, but could well be fruit trees rather than bushes.
Spinning around I look back at the villa, taking in the rustic beauty of the stone work and the pale orange-red hue of the sun bleached roof tiles.
I love when stories include a gorgeous setting and this one is about as good as it gets. If the Villa Rosso was a real place I think my trip would be booked already. The sights, sounds and scents fairly jump off the page. The otherworldly thread is intriguing, giving an edge and extra depth, not only to the narrative but also to Ellie, a strong character who I liked, by experiencing her emotions while gaining an insight into what makes her tick. Very much a character driven story, with the sadness and mystery surrounding Max having an unexpected outcome, and Ellie’s struggles with her connection and feelings towards him. The main players are portrayed well, even if I couldn’t quite take to Josh. I wanted to like him but he came across as too needy for me.
My favourite parts of the story were those set in Italy. I enjoyed the insights into the interior design business and reading about the individually crafted pieces. Max was a sympathetic character and I so wanted a happy outcome for him.
I always enjoy Linn Halton’s writing and the paranormal/supernatural theme she adds, in one form or another, to her books.
I chose to read and review an advanced copy of The Secrets of Villa Rosso based on a copy of the book supplied by the author/publisher and Brook Cottage Books.
It isn’t just the sunshine and the electric blue sky, but the musical calls of the countryside that reach out to me. A chorus of low-level sounds play like a soft melody in the background. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and I feel like I’m watching a re-run of a favourite film. I could stand here for a long time simply taking in the detail and with each sweep of my eyes noticing something new.
Spinning around I look back at the villa, taking in the rustic beauty of the stonework and the pale orange-red hue of the sun-bleached roof tiles. This is, quite simply, unreal. It’s a little piece of heaven and, so far removed from my daily life that it’s hard to believe this is on the same planet. The sheer scale of the landscape literally steals your breath away. I’m a mere speck, small and insignificant in the grand scheme nature is presenting to me. But rather bizarrely, it doesn’t feel alien in any way at all. The vastness isn’t overwhelming, but strangely comforting.
I walk back to a cluster of wooden tables surrounding a small fountain and take a seat. As I dive into my bag to extract some sunglasses, I hear a polite cough and look up at the face staring down at me.
‘Mrs Maddison? I’m Max, Max Johnson. Welcome to Villa Rosso.’
I stand, automatically plastering a pleasant smile on my surprised face as recognition kicks in. I know this man, I mean, I’ve met him before. At least I think I have, but there’s nothing similar reflected back at me, only a warm smile. The sort of smile that radiates out from mysteriously deep, hazel eyes. We shake hands. He’s younger than I expected, probably in his early forties and tall. Six foot something that’s for sure, because I feel he’s towering over me.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you. I just wanted you to know that I’m here at your disposal whenever you are ready to begin. Would you like me to fetch you a coffee so you can sit for a while and enjoy the view?’
Although I knew he was British, his tan and elegant demeanour lend an air of cosmopolitan sophistication. I would not have been at all surprised if he had been Italian. He’s hovering politely and I still haven’t answered him…
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About Linn B Halton
“I’m a hopeless romantic, self-confessed chocaholic, and lover of strong coffee. For me, life is about family, friends, writing … and house renovation! Oh, and the occasional glass of White Grenache…”
An Amazon UK Top 100 best-selling author with A Cottage in the Country in November 2015, Under the Stars and A Little Sugar, A Lot of Love also became best-sellers in 2016 & 2017. Linn’s novels have been short-listed in the UK’s Festival of Romance and the eFestival of Words Book Awards. Linn won the 2013 UK Festival of Romance: Innovation in Romantic Fiction award.
Linn writes chick lit, women’s contemporary fiction and psychic romance for Harper Impulse, Choc Lit and Endeavour Press.