Review of Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon

For the sake of complete honesty, adult fiction has never been my reading genre of choice. However, when I read the synopsis of Waking Isabella, the storyline just called out to me. The author promises to take us on a journey filled with discovery, history, art, and culture set in a beautiful place -- who would want to say no to that? So I jumped at the opportunity, waited for my free copy and gotten so much more than what I expected.

Title: Waking Isabella: Because Beauty Can't Sleep Forever
Author: Melissa Muldoon
Release Date: December 2017
Published by: Matta Press
Category: Adult Fiction
Source: Copy Given by Author and Italy Book Tours


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.


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One of the things that I loved most about Waking Isabella and the author's writing style is her ability to transport readers to the beautiful country of Italy. From art and culture to the people and language, one could easily be lost in the pages of the book. Even though I'm not very knowledgeable about art, the way Melissa Muldoon talked about it in her novel, with so much passion and detail, I can't help but appreciate the beauty of it, especially its rich history.

Waking Isabella takes us on an interesting journey when one woman, Nora, decides to move on with her life after a failed marriage. She visits a small Tuscan town named Arezzo and that's where she started her path to uncover a mystery that will change her life. The story jumps through different timelines and different personas -- we have Nora, Margherita, and Isabella, different women whose lives are intertwined in some ways.

Before I started reading, I feared that the story may be boring at one point which can sometimes be the case with adult fiction (at least with my experience with them). However, that's not at all the case with Waking Isabella. Muldoon gave her characters so much life, and every scene was described in so much detail that it's impossible not to hang on every word. It's obvious that the author's personal background with art and design seeps through her writing as well.


Waking Isabella is truly a wonderful read. It's not a one-dimensional story. There's a lot of layers to the plot and a lot to uncover and learn. I'm also now more inspired to visit Italy and learn the language and culture because of this book -- that's how good it is. This book is definitely one to be enjoyed by women who are looking for more than your average romance novels. I highly recommend it.



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.



Book image provided by Italy Book Tours

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful review of Waking Isabella with your readers. I'm so glad you enjoyed your journey to Italy and Arezzo with Isabella, Margherita, and Nora. I write for readers like you…and you make me want to continue to write!


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