In the Shadow of the Apennines by Kimberly Sullivan
Absolutely riveting story! I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.
Although Samantha Burke Thorpe's husband of 24 years was a cliché: a married professor leaves his devoted wife for a young Ph.D. student assistant, it still came to be that SHE would bear the brunt of his infidelity. The university where they both taught declined to renew her teaching contract for the coming semester and shared friends and coworkers made moves to avoid her when they crossed paths on campus. She had loved her husband and her job teaching creative writing to earnest young undergraduates, both gone at once and with them any support system whatsoever. Samantha was utterly abandoned.
Before she can pull herself together to determine her next steps, her ex-husband shows up on the doorstep of the beautiful home they'd once shared, pressuring her to sell out her half so he and his new amour can move in. It's the last straw. Deciding she needs a fresh start, she takes him up on his offer and flies to Italy, buying a sturdy 100-year-old mountain cottage outside the small village of Marsicano in the Apennine Mountains. She plans to resurrect the writing career she'd slowly abandoned while fulfilling her duties as the perfect faculty wife, but once in her new home, she finds numerous excuses to put off writing, or once she does, the right words just won't come.
Going down another internet rabbit hole one day, Samantha discovers blogs and, piqued by their novelty, decides to launch her own and, hopefully, re-ignite her creativity and get her back in the practice of writing on a daily basis. Delighted to encounter quick success with this new pursuit, Samantha soon succumbs to the allure of "Likes," followers, and positive "Comments." But to keep content coming, her blog takes a snarky, judgmental turn at the expense of her unsophisticated neighbors and townspeople who had uncharacteristically opened their arms to her when she'd arrived alone in their village. It's all "fun and games" until someone in town gets wind of her unkind posts.
In The Shadow of the Apennines, the new novel by Kimberly Sullivan, is the wonderfully mesmerizing story of a woman coming to terms with her life and future as everything around her implodes. Samantha Burke Thorpe is a believable and sympathetic character who makes some understandable and human mistakes when her life goes off the rails.
This poor woman is hit with a double whammy; her professor husband of 24 years leaves her for one of his Ph.D. students, and she loses the job she loves all in the space of months. Either of these events would be devastating enough, and I ached for this woman. Samantha isn't weathering these blows from a position of power, either. She's pretty much subjugated her own dreams and personality to reflect her successful husband's glory, so there is an introspective look at her past and how she got to where she is as the novel opens. She has regrets and doubts and questions how things would have turned out if she'd made other choices in her life. Then the surprises start, and plot twists keep coming.
The story is that of two women, Samantha in the present day and Elena, a prior occupant of the cottage, at the start of World War I. Elena's story is revealed to Samantha through her discovery of Elena's journals. I loved the parallels between the two women's lives (and the similarities between their mothers' experiences.) The details and tidbits of the area's history and time period were fascinating.
Set in the fictional village of Marsicano in the Apennine Mountains of Italy, you can almost breathe the mountain air, much like each newcomer to the area notes. The descriptions of the village, the mountains, and some of the locations Samantha visits had me wanting to plan a vacation right away. The story was even set at the same time of year when I was reading it (Christmas, winter), making it that much easier to visualize the locations. There are some great supporting characters, many of whom the main character alienates when she comes under the spell of social media success.
With an exceptionally relatable main character, an exciting and compelling setting, and an absorbing dual timeline plot, I recommend IN THE SHADOW OF THE APENNINES to readers of contemporary and historical women's fiction.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Goddess Fish Promotions Book Tours.