Book Review: Waking Isabella

Waking Isabella

You all know how am kinda obsessed about reading books set in different countries currently. Though I do not explicitly search for them I am paying attention to the locations these days. I think it is partly due to the fact that I am re-learning the forgotten geography and partly because of the new series, Flyaway Friday, in my blog. So when I had the opportunity to review Waking Isabella, that is set in Italy I grabbed it with both hands. How did it turn out for me? Read on.

Book Name: Waking Isabella

Author: Melissa Muldoon
Genre: Fiction – History Drama
Characters: Leonora (Nora), Isabella, Gianluca Donati, Margherita,
Setting: Italy
Disclaimer: Thanks to the Author and iRead Book Tours for the Review Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The story begins with the murder of Isabella de Medici, an Italian princess in the 16th Century. We then read about the protagonist Leonora (Nora), a young researcher (a glorified fact checker, as she calls) who is recovering from a failed marriage and focusing on her passion finally. Nora reconnects with an old friend which ignites to return to Italy;. She packs her bags to Italy to film a documentary on Isabella, the renaissance princess with whom she has a special bond.

She meets Luca, an antique businessman who tells her about a missing antique painting that belonged to his family of the princess Isabella and her mother. The story now deals with a young girl Margherita, Lucas grandmother, who smuggled antique paintings from the country during the World War II. How these three women are connected and does Nora find the missing painting form the rest of the story.

Waking Isabella is clearly an output of sheer hard work in terms of research and writing. One can understand how much effort has been put in by the author to bring about a sense of authenticity to the art and history world.

Waking Isabella

Waking Isabella may be tad difficult to get into, but if you want to cherish the language and to learn more about Italy and the art world it would be worth it. I liked how the author’s writing style changed between the historic and the contemporary worlds, ie, between the stories of Isabella and Margherita, and that of Nora.

I liked and felt invested in Margherita’s story and maybe even Isabella’s, but I never felt the same with Nora’s. There are a few Italian sentences sprinkled in between during thedialogues, though they were not as intruding as I would feel generally. In fact it is one of my pet peeve finding vernacular languages in between the English prose. You might have to watch out if you are the same.

On the whole, Waking Isabella is a story of lost love, betrayal and some newfound love and friendships in the background of art and history. If you are interested in reading a story based on Italian history and art with a bit of mystery element, you should pick Waking Isabella. 

Meet the Author:

Waking IsabellaMelissa 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


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


Prizes: ​ Win a paperback copy of Waking Isabella. One winner will also receive a $10 Amazon gift card (3 winners total / open internationally to wherever Amazon delivers)
(Ends March 31, 2018)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you read a book set in Italy? Do you like books that are difficult to get in? How long you persist before you give a book up? Let us chat.


  1. I do really love reading books set in different countries too! I have read quite a few set in Italy and I really like the sound of traveling there again. I love when an author has done a lot of research and paid attention to detail when it comes to their descriptions but it can lead to things being a bit too informational at times. Which is why I am not sure about this. Thanks for the giveaway 🙂
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  2. I am usually slightly sceptical of location-based books because as much as the story progresses, I am unsure if all authors take the liberty to paint the pictures of the streets, nooks and crannies they cover in their books. Authors like Jeffery Archer and John Grisham usually cover areas in London and America respectively for practical purposes (more as an indicator of material matters like time or a part of a plan in action). But otherwise, I am unsure if I get a vibe of the city while reading through those couple of pages that goes on about the local area. The only authors that have ever worked for me this way are Ruskin Bond and Hemmingway. Or, perhaps it’s just my naiveté in reading books talking here.

    • I agree with what you are saying here Madhvi, especially in cases of authors like the ones you specified. But those are mostly plot driven books aren’t they? Those stories could work anywhere else. But I am in a quest (of sorts) to find books that talk more about the place and its history. Not the descriptive, sometimes purple, prose that offer more or less nothing to the story (I am looking at Dan Brown here).

      When it comes to stories like ‘Kite Runner’ that offered so much insight into Afghanistan or our very own ‘Malgudi Days’ that told us more about the fictitious town than anyone else did about real life towns. That is the kinda of books I am looking for.

      • I am with you here, Gayathri. The description of the town is what makes the picture vivid, and in it begins to pan the story. Such tales are brought to life by sheer expressions of the town’s lesser-known bylanes or dilapidated nooks, and the reading becomes like a painting in progress. I am absolutely with you here when you say you’re on a lookout for books that colour the town and do not necessarily contribute to the overall story. It was here that I became doubtful in the first instance, for there are only handpicked authors who achieve this balance of artsy storytelling with invisible ease.


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