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.

Connect with Melissa

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Blog Tour/Review: The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus

Blog Tour January 23, 2018 - February 23, 2018

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus.  You can read my review below.  If you’re interested in art history, Italy or just love a time travel romance, then this is the book for you.

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The Renaissance ClubAbout the Book

May Gold, college adjunct, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis – Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque.

But in reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and older boyfriend who is paying her way. She yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit, and when the floor under the gilded dome of St Peter’s basilica rocks under her feet, she gets her chance. Walking through the veil that appears, she finds herself in the year 1624, staring straight into Bernini’s eyes. Their immediate and powerful attraction grows throughout May’s tour of Italy. And as she continues to meet her ethereal partner, even for brief snatches of time, her creativity and confidence blossom. All the doorways to happiness seem blocked for May-all except the shimmering doorway to Bernini’s world.

May has to choose: stay in her safe but stagnant existence, or take a risk. Will May’s adventure in time ruin her life or lead to a magical new one?

Praise for The Renaissance Club

‘Enchanting, rich and romantic…a poetic journey through the folds of time. In The Renaissance Club, passion, art, and history come together in this captivating tale of one woman’s quest to discover her true self and the life she’s meant to lead. Rachel Dacus deftly crafts a unique and spellbinding twist to the time-traveling adventure that’s perfect for fans of Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon’. [Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author]

‘The Renaissance Club is a beautifully written story about a woman torn between two worlds – the present and the distant past. This time-travel adventure kept me guessing until the end about which world May would choose, and if that choice would be the right one. Highly recommended for lovers of time travel fiction or anyone looking for a compelling story about a woman trying to find happiness.’  [Annabelle Costa, Author of The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend]

The Renaissance Club shimmers with beauty, poetry, and art. Author Rachel Dacus sweeps her readers away to Italy with her, lifting the senses with the sights, sounds, and tastes of that stunning country; imparting her deep knowledge of Renaissance and Baroque art while immersing the reader in a gorgeously romantic story. This book is time travel at its best!’ [Georgina Young-Ellis, author of The Time Mistress series]

Format: eBook, paperback (274 pp.)  Publisher: Fiery Seas Publishing
Published: 23rd January 2018              Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

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

Find The Renaissance Club on Goodreads

My Review

Bernini1When I was contacted by Catherine at Fiery Seas Publishing about taking part in the tour, I was immediately attracted not only by the intriguing premise of The Renaissance Club but also by the fact that I’ve visited some of the Italian locations in the book – Rome and Venice.  I’ve even seen the Bernini sculptures at Villa Borghese in Rome – although I didn’t have a close encounter anything like May does.

The author uses the story of May’s travels around Italy with the other members of The Renaissance Club in an imaginative way to give the reader the story of Bernini’s life and work without the book ever feeling like an art history textbook.

May’s relationship with her boyfriend, Darren, is strained and what she experiences during her journey through Italy only seems to make their differences more apparent.  Although May feels gratitude towards Darren for bringing her on the trip, she feels frustrated at his unwillingness to commit to their future together.  They seem temperamentally very different as well.  He is ambitious and status driven, whilst May is more interested in exploring her creativity through writing poetry. When Darren remarks dismissively, “There’s not much money in writing poetry, is there?” May’s understandable reaction is to think his comments ‘eminently reasonable, but not exactly encouraging’.

At one point, initiated by Darren, they indulge in an academic debate over lunch about who was the better sculptor – Bernini or Michelangelo.  To my mind, the discussion that follows encapsulates the tensions in their relationship – it’s an argument loosely disguised as academic debate.   No surprise that Darren puts the case for Michelangelo, dismissing May’s adored Bernini as “a mere entertainer…a vaudevillian who equates art with spectacle…a showoff.”  May soon works out what’s really going on. ‘He was demolishing her idol with a savage analysis.  This wasn’t their usual game.  This was a fight.  She felt as if he were acting like a jealous lover.’

May, and her boss, Eva, both find their creativity awakened by their experiences on the tour.  For Eva it is getting up close and personal with the greatest Renaissance art, as represented by Michelangelo, that brings about this change and offers her the possibility of moving on from tragedies in her personal life.  For May, it is the master of the Baroque, Bernini, who gets her creative (and other) juices flowing.  Her creative outlet is poetry, the medium in which she can most effectively express her feelings and emotions.

As a reader, I felt almost transported to the various artistic sites The Renaissance Club visit on their tour thanks to the author’s wonderful descriptions of church interiors, frescoes and sculptures.  There are also some evocative descriptions of the cities the group visit on their tour: Rome, Siena, Assisi, Florence and Venice.  For example, this description of Rome: ‘Ancient city walls next to rough-piled medieval palazzos, Egyptian obelisks rising from Baroque fountains.  Rome was a hot mess of beauty.’  (I love that phrase ‘a hot mess of beauty’.  If you’ve ever been there, you’ll realise how apt it is.) Or this description of Venice: ‘White-domed churches shouldered next to palazzos of earthy colours, and the filigreed palaces, with fluted chimneys and Juliet balconies, were jewels against the blue sky.  Venice was the gaudy inheritance of a rich empire built on water, imagination, and bold ambition.’  The author also writes poetry and I got a real sense of this in some of the imaginative phrases and metaphors in the book.  For instance, as May feels herself slipping between past and present: ‘The city kept doing this to her, zigzagging through its eras so fast she had time-whiplash.’

I really enjoyed The Renaissance Club and found much to admire in it on a number of different levels.  I loved the imaginative use of the time travel aspect to provide an insight into Italian art of the Renaissance and the Baroque without feeling that I’d sat through a lecture on art history.  I enjoyed seeing the awakening of May’s creativity and the effect on her of Bernini’s energizing presence: ‘I need to learn to flow. Why do I always feel like I’m encased in stone?’.  And I found myself applauding the changes she decides to make in her life.  As the group’s remarkable tour guide, George, says, “Your life is yours to create, May.  Shape it like a poem, with imagination but also sense”.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of publishers, Fiery Sea Publishing, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

In three words: Imaginative, romantic, time travel

Try something similar…The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Rachel DacusAbout the Author

Rachel Dacus is the daughter of a bipolar rocket engineer who blew up a number of missiles during the race-to-space 1950’s. He was also an accomplished painter. Rachel studied at UC Berkeley and has remained in the San Francisco area. Her most recent book, Gods of Water and Air, combines poetry, prose, and a short play on the afterlife of dogs. Other poetry books are Earth Lessons and Femme au Chapeau.

Her interest in Italy was ignited by a course and tour on the Italian Renaissance. She’s been hooked on Italy ever since. Her essay “Venice and the Passion to Nurture” was anthologized in Italy, A Love Story: Women Write About the Italian Experience. When not writing, she raises funds for non-profit causes and takes walks with her Silky Terrier. She blogs at Rocket Kid Writing.

Connect with Rachel

Website ǀ  Twitter ǀ  Goodreads