Secrets of the Italian Island by Barbara Josselsohn #BookReview #Mystery #Historical

Italy, 1943. A castle once full of love and laughter is left in ruins by the Nazis, as three sisters are torn apart by one terrible mistake…

New York, present day. Broken by the loss of her beloved grandmother Annalisa, who raised her all alone, Mia is shocked when she finds an old letter sent from Italy in her belongings. Annalisa never told Mia about the magnificent, vine-covered castle on Isola di Parissi where she spent one long summer under the Italian stars. Or that she was accused of something terrible in the darkest days of World War Two…

Arriving on the stunning Italian coast just a boat ride away from Parissi, Mia is devastated to find the island closed to visitors. Desperate to find out what her grandmother was hiding, she finds dark and brooding local guide Leo, who promises to help her sneak in.

As they explore the crumbling castle surrounded by lush olive groves, Mia begins to fall in love with passionate Leo and the beautiful country he calls home. And soon they find handwritten notes hidden in the walls, which confirm her grandmother’s heartbreaking story. Annalisa arrived on the island with her two sisters but was forced to abandon them when the Nazis invaded.

Mia soon realizes that the accusation against Annalisa might be true, and that Leo has his own reasons for wanting to dig up her family’s past. The terrible mistake Annalisa made tore apart the island community. Will it force Mia to leave Leo, and Italy, forever?

An epic, heart-wrenching tale based on the incredible true story of an island at war. Fans of Lucinda Riley, Fiona Valpy and Victoria Hislop will be utterly gripped.

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Barbara Josselsohn is an award-winning journalist and novelist who loves crafting stories about strong protagonists facing a fork in the road. She is the author of five previous novels including The Lilac House, The Bluebell Girls, The Lily Garden, The Cranberry Inn,
and The Last Dreamer. She has also written hundreds of articles and essays in major and regional publications about family, home and relationships. She lives just north of New York City and enjoys escaping to the beach or the mountains whenever she can. Other than writing, her biggest passion is her family: her husband, her three kids, and her rescue pup, a mini-schnauzer named Albie. She is currently at work on Book 2 of her Sisters of War series, a follow-up to Secrets of the Italian Island.

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What’s it about (in a nutshell):

Secrets of the Italian Island is a heart-wrenching and mysterious search for the truth that had been long since hidden away. When Mia’s grandmother passes away, and Mia finds items among her grandmother’s belongings that she has never seen before, she sets out on a journey to discover the truth about how her grandmother came to have them. This journey takes her to a small island off the west coast of Italy, where she learns more about her grandmother and herself.

My Reading Experience:

I love mysterious family histories, much like exploring my family’s past. And when you add a mystery and intrigue around that history, let’s say my attention was fully grabbed. I became instantly immersed in the story. 

The past storyline (during WWII) where the mystery unfurls gripped me from start to finish as the stakes, personal and war-related, were always high as lives were in peril. My only critique is that the book left me hanging concerning some side plots and characters. So many questions were left unanswered, and I still want to know the what’s and whys of Lucy’s (the grandmother) story.

I also loved how this quest for Mia ended up as much a journey of self-discovery as it was to find the truth and clear her grandmother’s name. I loved watching her bloom into the flower she was always meant to be and shed the toxic relationships in her life. Taking a risk and learning more about her grandmother helped her see herself more clearly, which is just so rewarding.

And that setting! The setting initially called to me, as I love spending my time off the Italian coast, even if it is just in book form. The descriptions took me to that island in every sensory way. The writing is so fluid and transportive that I can feel the sun beating down on me, see the turquoise waters surrounding the island, and smell the sea air fragrant with native flora.


The characters are developed so well that they leap off the page, especially the ones in the past timeline. Their story took me on an emotional journey as I empathized with them, worried about them, and rooted for them to survive. They are all unique and interesting in their personal endeavors.

Narration & Pacing:

The story is told in two timelines – 2018 and 1943. I found that the past timeline flowed much better than the present, which suffered from some awkward dialogue and a lack of the things that made the past timeline so utterly compelling. The narration is told in third-person narration, focusing on Mia in the current timeline and Annalisa in the past. Since this is such a solid character-driven story, I wonder if first-person narration would have been a more emotional story with a much quicker pace. The pace stayed consistently medium throughout, which didn’t bother me since I was so engrossed in the story. I was thankful it was not weighted down by too much exposition or a lack of action and mystery.


The setting is one of the most memorable aspects of the novel. I love a beautiful setting, especially one on the water. And if it’s an island with only a castle at the top, how could I not entirely fall in love with it. And I definitely did fall in love with this little island.

Read if you like:

  • Family history stories
  • WWII stories
  • Historical mysteries

Overall Rating:


13 Replies to “Secrets of the Italian Island by Barbara Josselsohn #BookReview #Mystery #Historical”

  1. This sounds like such a lively read. I love the historical fiction aspect of it. Fantastic review, Tessa!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a great read, Tessa. I can see why the past timeline was so gripping with such high stakes. And I love characters that leap off the page. Thanks for sharing your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tessa, I do love a dual-narrative tale and I love the sound of the setting. Glad you enjoyed it, even with a few niggles with pacing and tying up some of the loose ends. I will have to keep this in mind if I ever get to go back to beautiful Italy. 😎


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