Friday Reads – Secrets of the Italian Island by Barbara Josselsohn

A warm welcome to historical fiction author Barbara Josselsohn who’s dropped by today to tell us about her latest novel, Secrets of the Italian Island. Let’s find out a bit about the book first then get chatting to Barbara.


SECRETS OF THE ITALIAN ISLAND 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.


Welcome to my blog, Barbara. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes! I can’t even remember a time when I thought of being anything else! I remember that when I was about eight or so, I started to write my first novel! It was called “Betsy Ann and the Bad Luck Chain,” and it was all about a little girl who believes a rusty chain she finds is causing bad things to happen, and ultimately learns that she has more control over her life that she realized. I remember feeling so delighted with the whole concept of storytelling—how I could invent situations, characters, relationships, settings on so on. I’ve never stopped being in love with telling stories!

Has any author inspired you?

So many authors have inspired me – but if I had to choose one to focus on, it would be Louisa May Alcott. I have a hand-me-down edition of Little Women that was published in 1917, and it’s one of my most prized possession. The spine is broken and the pages are brown and fragile, but that makes it all the more special. A few years ago, my daughter and I took a trip to Concord, Massachusetts, to visit the house where she wrote that masterpiece, as well as the cemetery where she and her family are buried. In learning about her life, I found out that she was a true working writer, earning money from her work to support her family, as well as an avid traveler. She struck me as a devoted daughter and sister, a loving aunt, and an early feminist with an adventurous spirit. There is so much to admire about her, in addition to wonderful stories!

One of my favourite books too, and the follow up Good Wives and Little Men. What do you like writing most?

I love writing stories about people who are facing a fork in the road—and watching them wrestle with their choices and ultimately decide how to move forward. My newest release, Secrets of the Italian Island, is my sixth book but my first historical novel. I’m so excited that I took this leap—delving into the World War 2 era—because I loved researching the past and placing my characters in a pivotal moment in Italian history. I think I’m going to stick with historical novels for a while! Oh, and I love, too, writing about romance. I’m always looking for ways to let my characters fall in love!

Are you a pantster or a plotter?

I’m a little of both! I like to give myself the freedom to invent characters and situations without any restrictions, and that’s what I do when I start a book. But usually at about page 70 or so, I start to feel a little lost and unsettled, and that’s when I develop a rough outline. I usually go back and forth like this for a while, improvising my story when I’m in the mood to be creative and unhindered and then turning to the outline when I’m feeling that I’m losing my way. Quirky, I know, but it works for me!

Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?

I think I’m very inspired by real emotions, and not so much by real events. When I’m feeling low or sad or embarrassed or completely delighted, I try to pause for a moment to ask myself: What does this really feel like? What am I feeling in my stomach, my limbs, my throat? If I’m sad, how does it feel right before I cry? If I’m angry, what is it that’s behind the anger—fear, maybe, or pain or embarrassment? I try to memorize my answer to use the next time my character is feeling that same emotion. 

That sounds a good tip. What are you writing at the moment?

I’m so excited to be writing the follow-up novel to Secrets—Book 2 in my Sisters of War series.The series revolves around three sisters who, in 1943, travel to an island castle in 1943 in search of help (I’m not going to be more specific, no spoilers here!). When the Nazis storm the island, the sisters are separated. Secrets is the older sister’s story, and the follow-up is the story of the middle sister, whose life takes a far different turn. I don’t have a title for Book 2 yet, but I hope to soon!

That sounds fascinating. What inspired you to write this book?

Secrets and its follow-up were inspired by the story of an actual medieval-style castle, Chateau de Costaérès, which is located on an island off the coast of Brittany in France. The castle is made of pink granite, which gives it a very distinctive appearance. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the island and castle were both owned by a Polish mathematician who welcomed esteemed writers be his guest and create their masterpieces. During World War 2, the castle was requisitioned by the Nazis and suffered damage. I was very inspired by this gorgeous castle and its sad legacy. I let my imagination roam free, and ultimately came up with a story that celebrates what was and what might have been.

What time of the day do you write best?

I have found that it’s helpful for me to get out of the house and move around a bit before I sit down to write. So morning is usually my time to do chores, go to the dentist, take the dog to the vet, return library books, visit the gym, etc. I usually sit down to work after lunch and go straight through until six or seven at night. And when I’m deeply into the writing of a book, I often will return to my desk at ten p.m. or so and sometimes write until I see the sun start to come up! Some of my best writing gets down in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, on the days when I do that, I let myself sleep in a bit!

I’m not surprised! What are your hobbies?

I have been taking ballet classes since I was three years old, and to this day, I still make sure to go to go to the ballet studio once or twice a week. I also love yoga, reading, hiking, and pickleball!

What advice would you give to other writers?

I would tell other writers to have confidence in their ideas and not give up when the going gets tough! I teach novel writing at several venues, and so often, a book that I know has promise never gets completed because the author just feels frustrated with the process of writing. I tell my students: When you feel stalled or insecure, take a deep breath and muscle through! Because the truth is, readers can’t fall in love with your book if it never gets written!

Lovely to talk to you Barbara. I hope your book soars! Wishing you lots of luck with your writing.

Meet Barbara

Author bio

Barbara Josselsohn is a best-selling novelist and journalist who loves crafting stories about strong protagonists facing a fork in the road. She is the author of five novels: The Lilac House, The Cranberry Inn, The Lily Garden, The Bluebell Girls, and The Last Dreamer. As a journalist, Barbara has written hundreds of magazines articles and essays for a range of publications including New York Magazine, Parents Magazine, and The New York Times. This spring, Barbara is thrilled to be launching a sweeping new historical series set on the Italian coast during World War 2, with the first book, SECRETS OF THE ITALIAN ISLAND, releasing on May 11th. When she’s not writing, she enjoys ballet, yoga, reading, pickleball, and spending time with her husband, three adult children, and new rescue pup named Albie.

Author Contact links

Instagram: @Barbara_Josselsohn_Author

Twitter: @BarbaraJoss


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