Thursday, February 22, 2018

Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon (Review & Giveaway!)

After I read Dreaming Sophia, which I enjoyed immensely, I knew I wanted to read Melissa Muldoon's second novel Waking Isabella. And I liked this one just as much, if not more. See my review below and be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Book Details:

Book Title: Waking Isabella: Because beauty can't sleep forever by Melissa Muldoon
Category: Adult Fiction, 250 pages
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Matta Press
Release date: December 2017
Tour dates: Feb 19 to March 23, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (The story begins with violent rape and murder scene, touches on themes of miscarriage, murder, Nazi violence during war, adultery)

Book Description:

Waking Isabella is a story about uncovering hidden beauty that, over time, has been lost, erased, or suppressed. It also weaves together several love stories as well as a few mysteries. Nora, an assistant researcher, is a catalyst for resolving the puzzle of a painting that has been missing for decades. Set in Arezzo, a small Tuscan town, the plot unfolds against the backdrop of the city’s antique trade and the fanfare and pageantry of its medieval jousting festival. 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. Unraveling 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.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

After I read Dreaming Sophia, which I enjoyed immensely, I knew I wanted to read Melissa Muldoon's second novel Waking Isabella. And I liked this one just as much, if not more. The special thing about Muldoon's books is that she can easily transport one to Italy through the pages of a good story, immersing the reader not only in the country's culture and language, but also its rich art history. 

Nora, an assistant researcher, makes a bold move when she decides to move on with her life after a failed marriage. She decides to visit Arezzo, a small Tuscan town where she films a documentary of the legendary Renaissance princess, Isabella de' Medici. The story alternates between the present and the past, and focuses on three women: Nora in the present, Margherita who lived during WWII in Nazi-occupied Italy, and Isabella in the 15th century. The lives of these three women intermingle in ways Nora could not have foreseen and makes for a well-thought-out plot filled with mystery, art and love.

Muldoon's writing talent shines in her portrayal of Isabella, the way she brings her character to life. It made me want to do extra research on this feisty woman whose display of joie-de-vivre and forbidden love for another man prompted her cruel husband to kill her. There is never a boring moment in Muldoon's novel as she fills her story with engaging characters, the beauty of art, and a second chance at love. Not surprising since she herself is an artist and designer. 

I loved learning more about Arezzo's antique trade and its medieval jousting festival. Luca, who Nora meets in Arezzo is very much a part of this. He is also a man tortured by the guilt he feels over his wife's death, adding to the mystery and intrigue of the happenings of the town folk of Arezzo. All towns have their secrets after all. 

I also love the covers of Muldoon's books. They are attractive and immediately draw my eye, making we want to hold them in my hands. I am eagerly anticipating Muldoon's upcoming release (later this year) of Avenging Artemisia, which also has a stunning cover. If you love books set in Italy and want to immerse yourself in a lively story with a good cast of characters while learning more about art history, then I highly recommend reading this one.

NOTE: Cover design is underway. This one is set in Rome, Florence and Montepulciano.

To read more reviews, please visit Melissa Muldoon's page on Italy Bok Tours.

Buy the Book:

Watch the Trailer:

Meet 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 traveling in Italy, specifically Arezzo, as well as her familiarity with the language and art. For more information about Waking Isabella and links to Melissa’s blogs and social media sites, visit

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 traveling 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. Please visit the Pinterest page for pictures of Arezzo, the Giostra del Saracino, and all the places we go in Italy in both books. Visit for more information about immersion trips to learn the language with Melissa in Italy, as well as the Studentessa Matta blog for practice and tips to learn the Italian language.

Connect with Melissa: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Youtube

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends March 31, 2018

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  1. Thanks for this fascinating novel which I would enjoy greatly. The captivating characters whose lives are portrayed during the different eras interests me very much as well as the beautiful setting and the story. Your review was wonderful and the novels all sounds unforgettable.

  2. Ciao Laura, thank you for featuring “Waking Isabella” on your site today! I especially appreciate your thoughtful review. I'm especially happy you liked learning more about Arezzo and the joust! Thanks again for sharing it with your readers. Warmest regards! Melissa

  3. I would love to read this! Sounds great!


Thank you for commenting! I appreciate your feedback.

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