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EJ Tanda
Queen of Secrets
E.J. Tanda, author
In this family saga that spans several generations, two women—a Alzheimer’s-stricken former mafia queen and her caretaker—form a united and unshakeable bond against the common enemies of greed, heartbreak, and unimaginable danger. Set against the rolling San Jose, California landscape in the 1940s and present day, Queen of Secrets is a triumph of the female spirit over forces determined to divide and destroy.
Tanda’s sweeping historical fiction debut follows Barbara, a caregiver for elderly patients with Alzheimer’s, and her patient, Violetta Giordano, a Mafia widow with a storied past. Barbara, trapped in a relationship with her abusive, gambling addict boyfriend and out of options, seizes the opportunity to work for Violetta in San Jose in 1939 as a last-ditch attempt to earn a living. When the two women meet, their relationship is initially tense, and Barbara worries it won’t improve–but soon Violetta begins to open up about her past, eventually relating her entire life story to Barbara.

Tanda suffuses her storytelling with heart, and readers will be transported back to an earlier time, following new Italian immigrants eking out a living in California. Violetta’s whirlwind romance with handsome Sardinian newcomer Gaetano sets her heart aflame, even as she is promised to another man to seal a Mafia deal. There are sharp, suspenseful moments when readers will clearly experience Violetta’s desperation alongside her, but at other times, some flowery choices (the two lovers are wont to quote Shakespeare) can prove distracting to the overall tone of the plot. Nonetheless, the tender and tense moments scattered throughout this story help buoy its dark atmosphere.

While the novel offers the suspense, intrigue, and even the romance you would hope for in the kickoff to a series titled “Mafia Matriarchs,” historical fiction readers will appreciate Tanda’s serious handling of the Italian immigrant experience, as she draws on her own Italian heritage to paint an honest picture of the trials her community faced–while not shying away from the drama of what one character calls “The Black Hand, the Commission, Cosa Nosta. The mob. The Mafia.” Tanda consulted with sensitivity readers on her depiction of Barbara, a Black woman who encounters the systemic racism faced by Black people in America. The essence of Tanda’s message: that we are all not that different.

Takeaway: The start of the “Mafia Matriarchs” series offers tense historical fiction in early 20th century America.

Great for fans of: Amy Harmon’s The Song Book of Benny Lament, Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-