Monday, March 12, 2018

G969 Book Review of Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon

Name of Book: Waking Isabella

Author: Melissa Muldoon

ISBN: 978-0-9976348-2-2

Publisher: MattaPress

Type of book: Italy, dreams, fairy-tale, WWII, 1500s, Medicis, Isabella, paintings, hidden secrets, 2000s, Arezzo, jousting, teams, competition, whimsy

Year it was published: 2017


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.


Main characters include Nora, an American girl from California who travels to Italy for creating a movie about Isabella Medici. Nora is best described as talented and is at crossroads at what to do. She is also atuned to the spirits of Isabella Medici and Margherita and often witnesses scenes from the past. While at first fearful and uncertain, she plunges head-on to embracing what life gives her. Isabella Medici is from the famous Medici family who gets killed by her husband (end of first chapter, first sentence) She is stuck in an unhappy marriage but is best described as someone who loves life and joy and parties but at the same time she has high expectations from life that end up disappointing her. Margherita is from WWII and is Nora's love interest's grandmother. Margherita is also resourceful and determined when it comes to life. (Pity we don't see her stories continue after WWII) There are other characters such as Luca, Nora's friend Juliette and Marco who happens to be Luca's best friend as well as Carlotta and Carlotta's grandfather, but they are not as well drawn as Nora and the two women who guide her.


Let the past be one's guide


The story is in third person narrative, mostly told from Nora's point of view, although Margherita and Isabella also play roles in the story as they guide Nora in professional and personal life. Like the previous story, this one also has a touch of fairy-tale and whimsy but its a bit more localized than Dreaming Sophia. It also has more focus on specific characters rather than on many characters as in Dreaming Sophia which makes it for an easy and delightful read. I personally would have liked there to be more tidbits about Isabella Medici because she sounds pretty fascinating, but other than that a pretty good read.

Author Information:
(From Italy Book Tours)

Buy the Book:
Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Barnes & Noble,
Book Depository, Books a Million, IndieBound, Indigo
Add to Goodreads

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

Previously I've read the author's beautiful and whimsical novel Dreaming Sophia a few years ago in 2016, thus I was pretty excited to begin Waking Isabella and seeing if her sophomore novel could match up to her previous one. To my delight I can confirm affirmatively that it can. While the story is localized to Italy, its even further localized to a village named Arezzo and the reader gets to learn fascinating tidbits about Arezzo such as the jousting match, or even the history of the rescue of art by the locals. Similar to the previous book, the main character, Nora, comes to Italy to recover from some shocks in her life and to begin healing herself. Listening to stories of Isabella as well as Margherita, she starts to learn to listen to herself and what she needs the most. In this story, unlike the previous one, the author does include a few historical scenes now and there that take place in different time periods be it WWII when Margherita is introduced, or 1500s when Isabella and Medici family is introduced. For someone who wants to learn more of Italy as well as someone looking for unexpected inspirations, I would highly recommend Waking Isabella as a good place to start.

This is for Italy Book Tours


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4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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