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The Mermaid Garden    by Santa Montefiore order for
Mermaid Garden
by Santa Montefiore
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

In 1968 ten-year old Floriana made a habit of spying on a grand Tuscan villa she accidently discovered. The beautiful view of the magical villa was Floriana's escape from poverty and the alcoholic father who raised her after her mother heartlessly abandoned her. When Dante, the handsome heir of La Magdalena Villa, surprises the raggedy child trespassing on his family's property, he instantly befriends her. Although from very different worlds, Dante and Floriana's friendship blossoms into one that can withstand time and class. Adored by his mother and well liked by his sisters, Floriana soon becomes almost part of the family.

When Dante is forced to leave La Magdalena for five years to attend college, Floriana is devastated, but vows to marry Dante when he returns. While Dante is gone, Floriana continues to visit La Magdalena accompanied by her friend Constanza. Though from an aristocratic family, Constanza has little money to live the life associated with her status. Floriana's friendship with the Bonafantis opens the door for Constanza and her family to renew their acquaintance with that powerful clan. But Constanza's mother, Contessa Aldorisio, begins to resent Floriana's presence at La Magdalena.

Five years later, Dante returns to La Magdalena. When he sees the beautiful young lady he remembers as a mere child, he realizes why his heart felt so empty while he was away. Not even Constanza believes Floriana when she reveals that Dante has confessed his love for her. Although Dante's sisters and mother care deeply for Floriana, Violetta Bonafanti knows Dante's father Beppe will never allow a union between his only son and the poor daughter of an alcoholic. Floriana feels their love would endure any opposition, but Dante cannot forget his obligation to his family. Floriana and Dante's love must withstand not only Dante's dangerous father, but also hidden enemies who plot to get Floriana out of the way.

In 2009, Marina Turner struggles to come up with ideas to save The Polzanze, her seaside hotel in Devon, England. If she and her husband Grey cannot come up with extra money, they risk losing the historic hotel which holds a very special place in Marina's heart. As a last resort, Marina hopes that hiring an artist to give painting lessons will bring new guests to the hotel. When Marina meets Rafa Sontoro, she knows he is the one. Rafa is not only a superb artist but is also strikingly good looking. Marina's stepdaughter Clementine, who deeply resents Marina for her parents' divorce, instantly falls in love with the artist. Rafa, however, came to The Polzanze with a secret. When historic homes around Devon are robbed by a thief named Baffles, Marina's stepson Jake begins to fear the worst.

The Mermaid Garden is an unforgettable and tender tale that spans generations. Santa Montefiore cleverly tweaked the typical Cinderella story by creating two seemingly separate plots in one novel. The author's decision to transition between the 1960s, 1970s and 2009 creates an aura of mystery that begs to be solved. Although Dante and Floriana's story may seem unrelated to Marina and her hotel, the astute reader will slowly pick up the clues to make a shocking connection between the characters. The Mermaid Garden is by far the best book I have read this year!

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