The Woman in the Castello

A Gripping Historical Novel Perfect for Book Clubs

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Pub Date 25 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 01 Aug 2023
Kensington Books, A John Scognamiglio Book

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Set in 1960s Italy, this stylish, atmospheric debut spins a bewitching web of ruthless ambition, family secrets, and the consequences of forbidden love, as an ambitious American actress snags the starring role in a mysterious horror movie shooting on location in a crumbling medieval castle outside Rome…
Readers who enjoy the moody gothic allure of Kate Morton and Silvia Moreno-Garcia or the immersive settings of Lucinda Riley and Fiona Davis will be enthralled by Kelsey James’ spellbinding web of intriguing mystery, family secrets, forbidden love, and midcentury Italian flair.

Rome, 1965: Aspiring actress Silvia Whitford arrives at Rome’s famed Cinecittà Studios from Los Angeles, ready for her big break and a taste of la dolce vita. Instead, she learns that the movie in which she was cast has been canceled. Desperate for money, Silvia has only one choice: seek out the Italian aunt she has never met.

Gabriella Conti lives in a crumbling castello on the edge of a volcanic lake. Silvia’s mother refuses to explain the rift that drove the sisters apart, but Silvia is fascinated by Gabriella, a once-famous actress who still radiates charisma. And the eerie castle inspires Silvia’s second chance when it becomes the location for a new horror movie, aptly named The Revenge of the Lake Witch—and she lands a starring role.

Silvia immerses herself in the part of an ingenue tormented by the ghost of her beautiful, seductive ancestor. But when Gabriella abruptly vanishes, the movie’s make-believe terrors seep into reality. No one else on set seems to share Silvia’s suspicions. Yet as she delves into Gabriella’s disappearance, she triggers a chain of events that illuminate dark secrets in the past—and a growing menace in the present . . .

“You'll get lost in the pages of this lush, entertaining story.” —Ellen Marie Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author

Set in 1960s Italy, this stylish, atmospheric debut spins a bewitching web of ruthless ambition, family secrets, and the consequences of forbidden love, as an ambitious American actress snags the...

Advance Praise

“The 1960s in Rome, a crumbling Italian castle on the edge of a volcanic lake, a glamorous aunt she’s never met, and a starring role in a horror movie that begins to feel a bit too real…Kelsey James’s debut novel is a delicious Gothic filled with atmosphere, twists, romance, and dark secrets. Readers will devour it." – Megan Chance, bestselling author of A Splendid Ruin

“Cinematic and spooky…Readers will be swept up in the glamorous—and sometimes grungy—1960s movie scene” – Nicole Baart, bestselling author of Everything We Didn’t Say

“Like Jess Walters's Beautiful Ruins, the glamour and heady indulgence of the era take center stage in this captivating, multilayered story.” – Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author

“Mysterious, stimulating, intoxicating … a dark, rich caffe corretto of a novel.” – K.D. Alden, author of A Mother’s Promise

“Against the richly drawn backdrop of post-war Italy, in a castle brimming with secrets, Kelsey James explores the enduring and sometimes destructive power of love, family, and ambition. A page-turner from start to finish." – Amanda Skenandore, author of The Nurse’s Secret

“An impromptu movie set in a medieval castle in 1960s Italy provides a fascinating backdrop for this fresh gothic tale filled with mystery, family secrets, and unexpected romance.” – Lorena Hughes, author of The Spanish Daughter

“A tantalizing mixture of romance, mystery, and the Gothic enfolded in a well-crafted plot that pays homage to the long lineage of ghostly tales and romantic suspense.” – V.S. Alexander, author of The War Girls

"You’ll get lost in the pages of this lush, entertaining story as you follow aspiring actress Silvia Whitford through the dark towers and crumbling staircases of a remote Italian castle, where she uncovers twists and turns around every corner, including shocking family secrets you’ll never see coming.” – Ellen Marie Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author


"The perfect mix of gothic horror, historical fiction, and family intrigue.” – Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks (Winston-Salem, NC)

“From page one you are in Italy, and even better, Rome in the 1960s… with the excitement of making a film and the tension of keeping secrets… as old mysteries unfold and new ones build, Kelsey James takes you through a perfect blend.” – Kira Wizner, Merritt Bookstore (Millbrook, NY)

“Get ready to be swept away by this deliciously atmospheric gothic romantic mystery set in 1960's Italy. Set in a moldering castle this tale about family secrets, forgiveness, ghosts and old Hollywood will keep you guessing till the end!” – Carrie Deming, The Dog Eared Book (Palmyra, NY)

“A little mystery, a little ghost story, and a whole lot of family. Reading this fun novel feels like watching an art house movie filled with color and theatrics. Grab some popcorn and let yourself be transported." The perfect mix of gothic horror, historical fiction, and family intrigue– Mary Webber O’Malley, Skylark Bookshop (La Grange Highlands, IL)

“The 1960s Italian setting gives the story of a young, aspiring actress named Silvia a dramatic, gothic mood … Full of frenetic energy and a cast of charmingly eccentric characters, readers will love this historical mystery.” —Lauren Nopenz Fairley, Curious Iguana (Frederick, MD)

“What is a more perfect setting than a rundown actual castle in the cypress-covered hills of Italy? Filled with tension, love and hate, secrets and hidden castle chambers…James has done a stupendous job and the reader will be on the edge of their seat watching for the final reel to be finished.”—Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books (Mystic, CT)

“As a long-time fan of both Silvia Moreno Garcia and Fiona Davis, nothing draws me in better than an atmospheric tale and a strong protagonist. I couldn't believe this was a debut novel. For us here at Thunder Road Books, we find this to be the perfect book club pick for summer 2023!”—Kate Czyzewski, Thunder Road Books (Spring Lake, NJ)

“A mystery, some family drama, a romance, all set in a crumbling castle in Italy! Yes, please!”—Sue Lucy, Page 158 Books (Wake Forest, NC)

“Part mystery, part family saga, part historical fiction, and totally engrossing.”—Fran Ziegler, Titcomb’s Bookshop (East Sandwich, MA)

“An intriguing historical fiction and literary gothic at its best. A dilapidated castle in Italy, a young actress who is a long way from home and desperately looking for a way to support her child, an aunt and mother at odds over something secret from the past, a horror movie being shot by Italian masters, a mysterious disappearance during the shoot—all ingredients to give us the shivers and have us glancing back over —what's true and what's not? Did someone or something from the past know that Silvia would make her way to the castello, and if so, were they waiting for her, or is art simply reflecting real life? It’s fun to entertain the possibilities!”—Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore (Spokane, WA)

“Prepare to be swept away. Kelsey James elegantly immerses readers in a thrillingly gothic tale of mid-century movie-making, romance, and intrigue in this dazzling tale.”—Pamela Klinger-Horn, Valley Bookseller (Stillwater, MN)

“I honestly can’t think of a more fun setting for a story full of family secrets, political strife, and even a haunting! With a young single mother and hopeful actress at its center . . . appealing on so many levels!”—Becky LeJeune, Bookbar Denver (Denver, CO)

“An irresistible read that is impossible to put down.” —Rachel Martin, Books, Inc. (San Francisco, CA)

“An immersive historical with a fast-paced mystery that pulls you into its decrepit Italian castle setting and the world of 1960s movie production. James brings a nuanced understanding to the still-healing wounds and conflicts that linger from World War II and fascist Italy while adding lighter moments of developing romance and friendships for Silvia. Personality clashes on the movie set and the complexity of mothering and family conflicts add another level of human drama.”—Cori Cusker, Bright Side Bookshop (Flagstaff, AZ)

“I could not get enough of this haunting suspense debut from a promising new voice.” – Jenn Jordan, Syosset Public Library (Syosset, NY)

“The perfect addition to your beach bag this summer.” – Laurie Walters, Brighton District Library (Brighton, MI)

“1960’s Italy: a horror film being filmed in a crumbling, possibly haunted, castle owned by the estranged aunt of the leading starlet. What could be better?” – Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library (Flemington, NJ)

“Escapist literature doesn’t get much better than this.” – Vicki Nesting, St. Charles Parish Library (Destrehan, LA)

“Combines the richness of historical fiction and the intrigue of suspense to create a beautiful tapestry of family drama, romance and mystery. Kelsey James brings the gothic 1960s setting to life and readers will not want to put this down, right up to the shocking conclusion. This will appeal to fans of Martha Hall Kelly and Ella Ferrante.” – Cyndi Larsen, Avon Free Public Library (Avon, CT)

“I love nothing more than a good ghost story, and Kelsey James has written a humdinger! Feuding sisters; a crumbling, lakeside Italian castle; a desperate, want-to-be actress with a toddler and a terminally ill mother, a missing aunt and messages written in blood all serve as the backdrop for making a horror movie that I would love to see!” – Julie Failla Earhart, St. Louis Public Library (St. Louis, MO)

“This atmospheric, historic gothic mystery is perfect for fans of THE VILLA by Rachel Hawkins.” – KC Davis, Fairfield Woods Library (Fairfield, CT)

“A dangerous cat and mouse game played out in a spooky Italian castle and a powerful ending. The perfect escape and an easy pick for Agatha Christie fans or gothic mystery lovers. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.” – Kim McGhee, Lake Travis Community Library (Austin, TX)

 “A lost legacy, an ambitious actress, and a haunted castle set the stage for romance, movie-making, and redemption. Silvia's attempts to succeed on an Italian film set unexpectedly provoke fear in those eager to maintain the secrets from their pasts. Each revelation brings new questions, bringing Silvia's dramatic story to a satisfying conclusion.”—Tina Panik, Avon Free Public Library (Avon, CT)

 “A well-written spellbinding story that will keep you turning the pages! Set in Italy during the 1960s during Hollywood's heyday, Kelsey James has spun quite the who done it/did anyone do it tale.”—Sue Nakanishi, Langley-Adams Library (Groveland, MA)

“The 1960s in Rome, a crumbling Italian castle on the edge of a volcanic lake, a glamorous aunt she’s never met, and a starring role in a horror movie that begins to feel a bit too real…Kelsey...

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