Blog Tour/Review: Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon

Those yearning for some Tuscan sunshine (or if you’re in the UK, any sunshine) – pay attention!  Because I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon, and to talk about this engaging novel set in Italy.

You can watch the book trailer here.

WinVisit the tour page to see all the other great bloggers on the tour and for links to their reviews of Waking Isabella and interviews with Melissa.  You can also enter the giveaway (scroll right down to the bottom of the page) for a chance to win a copy of Waking Isabella or an Amazon giftcard.

Waking IsabellaAbout the Book

While filming a documentary about Isabella de’ Medici – the Renaissance princess who was murdered by her husband – Nora begins to connect with the lives of two remarkable women from the past. Unravelling the stories of Isabella, the daughter of a fifteenth-century Tuscan duke, and Margherita, a young girl trying to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Italy, Nora begins to question the choices that have shaped her own life up to this point. As she does, hidden beauty is awakened deep inside of her, and she discovers the keys to her creativity and happiness. It is a story of love and deceit, forgeries and masterpieces – all held together by the allure and intrigue of a beautiful Tuscan ghost.

Format: ebook, paperback, hardcover (250 pp.) Publisher: Matta Press
Published: 11th December 2017                              Genre: Adult Fiction

Purchase Links*  ǀ  ǀ Barnes and Noble ǀ Kobo
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Waking Isabella on Goodreads

My Review

‘When Isabella woke that morning with intentions of washing her long dark hair, she hadn’t imagined she would be dead before it was dry.’

This arresting opening sentence is the starting point of a journey that will take the reader from 16th century Florence to the Tuscan town of Arezzo in the Second World War and in the present day.   There are sections told from the point of view of Isabella (briefly), Margherita (in wartime Arezzo) but largely from Nora in the present day.  I found these different viewpoints worked better than the occasions where Nora ‘imagines’ or ‘visualizes’ scenes from the past, complete with dialogue.

Following her marriage break-up and other disappointments, Nora is disillusioned, unfulfilled and wondering about how things might have been had her life followed a different course – the road not taken, if you like.  Fate intervenes when old friend, Juliette, contacts her.  The opportunity to travel to Italy to make a documentary about the 16th century Medici princess, Isabella, offers Nora the chance to revisit pleasant memories, renew friendships and recapture the adventurous spirit of her youth. ‘Just seeing Juliette’s name reminded her of a time when she had used another language and had been unafraid to make a choice, travel the world, and take chances.’   

Once arrived in Italy, as Nora visits the locations connected with Isabella, she begins to feel ‘as though she had tapped into Isabella’s persona’. Nora channels the independence of spirit and determination she associates with the Medici princess to reassess her own life and aspirations up to that point.  In due course, Nora’s stay in Arezzo awakes all sorts of other emotions as well and it’s fair to say it isn’t only the charming town that begins to tug at her heart strings.

The author’s passion for Italy and the Italian language is clearly evident in the novel.  I liked the way that the writing style was subtly different for each of the three timelines.  A minor quibble was that, although the reader understands Nora and those she meets are speaking Italian, frequently the dialogue contains a phrase in Italian, followed by the same phrase translated into English and then continues in English.  This device gives the dialogue a lively flavour and a taste of Italian idioms but I found it repetitive after a while.

Aside from the few minor quibbles mentioned above, I really enjoyed Waking Isabella. I liked the idea it explored that events in the past have echoes in the modern day.  As Nora muses, ‘People’s lives, energy, and actions had resounding effects flowing down through the years, touching, inspiring and sparking change.’ Waking Isabella is an engaging story of secrets, passion, loss, courage, betrayal and finding beauty in everything around you whether that’s art, friendship, food, wine, architecture, culture…or handsome jousters.  It will appeal to those with an interest in Italy, art and who like the idea of awakening a little romance in their own lives.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and Italy Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Engaging, romantic, uplifting

Try something similar…The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus (click here for my review)

Melissa MuldoonAbout the Author

Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta—the crazy linguist! In Italian, “matta” means “crazy” or “impassioned.” Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.

Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta ( Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano,” and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.

Waking Isabella is Melissa’s second novel and follows Dreaming Sophia, published in 2016. In this new novel about Italy, the reader is taken on another art history adventure, inspired by Melissa’s experiences living and travelling in Italy, specifically Arezzo, as well as her familiarity with the language and art.

As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she’d never need it again, but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That “thing” was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event. Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency—a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways. Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not travelling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Waking Isabella and Dreaming Sophia. She also curates the Dreaming Sophia blog and Pinterest site: The Art of Loving Italy.

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