Welcome to the book tour for Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon! Read on for more info!
Because beauty can’t sleep forever…
Genre: Contemporary/ Romance/ Literature
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.
“Waking Isabella” by Melissa Muldoon is a must-read for all fans of Italy, history, romance and intrigue. Eccellente! Muldoon magically weaves together the lives of Nora, Isabella and Margherita, spanning the course of many centuries, into a story that will mesmerize and haunt readers long after the last page is read. — Sheri Hoyte for “Reader Views”
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.
Nora couldn’t help but feel a bit envious of Isabella. How had a Renaissance woman found such a romantic love and she, a forward thinking, liberated woman, had failed so miserably at it? She studied the ceiling. Had Richard ever sent her such messages? She thought back to the early days of their courtship. They’d never really spent any time apart, so the only things he'd ever penned to her were short, itemized grocery lists. Digital texts that reminded her to pick up deodorant and dandruff shampoo hardly compared to the kind of love notes that had made Isabella swoon.
She plumped up the pillow under her head and wondered, Does a love like Isabella’s and Troilo’s really exist?
But that was the fantasy, wasn’t it? Even today, in this modern age, women dreamed of finding a wildly handsome man that would intellectually challenge and complete them, not to mention fulfill them in bed. Dispiritedly, she thought, What a bunch of Hollywood drivel.
Yet, she reminded herself, a life lived entirely on her own could be lonely. If she were honest with herself, she too wanted that dream. She wanted to feel a deep aching love like Isabella’s—but she also wanted mutual respect, independence, and freedom. She reasoned that if a complicated woman like Isabella de’ Medici had found love and an intellectual equal—perhaps there still might be hope for her as well.
Distracted by the fluttering of the curtains, Nora felt the caress of a gush of warm air blown in through the open window. It seemed the museum guard had been right about the thunderstorm. She sat up and looked out the window and listened to the branches in the garden below thrashing restlessly in the uneven evening breeze. From the far edge of the valley, she heard an ominous rumble roll across the fields. It wasn’t long after that a sweet, pungent scent filled the air, and she heard the sounds of water splattering on the ground.
As the rhythm of the rain steadily increased, she fell tiredly back onto the bed. To shield her eyes from the flashes of lightning stabbing the night sky, she pulled the cushion over her head again and relaxed into the soft mattress. Tucked inside a safe cocoon, she was vaguely aware of the storm’s commotion, but it wasn’t until she heard the woman speak that she groggily opened her eyes.
“Svegliati! Wake up, Nora. I have something important to tell you.”
Coming slowly to her senses, Nora sleepily replied, “Something important? I don’t understand.” Running a hand over her face, she opened her eyes and blinked in surprise. Standing in front of her was a woman in white, and she was no longer in bed. How she had come to be there speaking to a woman who was soaking wet, dressed in a flowing white gown, she hadn't a clue.
A bit groggily she asked, “Am I dreaming?”
Ignoring her question, the woman replied, “We must be quick. There is no time to waste. He will be here soon.”
What was she talking about? Nora wondered. Who will be here soon?
Nora assessed the woman, observing how raindrops—or were they tears—dribbled down her cheeks. And, when the vision impatiently tossed her dripping mane over her shoulder, in fascination, Nora watched as the beads of water arched high into the air and remained suspended as if by magic. To Nora, they seemed like precious gems, that glistened and sparkled in the dim light.
“Nora!” the woman admonished, taking a step closer and gently shaking her shoulder. “Sbrigati! There is no time to waste.”
Refocusing her attention, Nora attempted to listen, as in hushed tones the vision continued, “You can trust no one, mia cara! Do you hear me? They want revenge. There is no time… Hurry… Francesco…”
As the misty vision continued mouthing words, Nora strained her ears, but she couldn’t understand completely the cryptic message the woman seemed so intent on delivering. Instead of becoming clearer, the woman's strange message grew more convoluted and confusing. It seemed to Nora she was listening to a weak and crackling radio transmission and the words were coming from a place far far away.
“Aiutami, Nora! Help me. Paolo has come… Leonora dead… Hide letter…”
“Letter? What letter? I don’t understand you.”
The filmy vision only smiled obliquely and withdrew a piece of parchment paper from behind her back. Rapidly she scanned the contents, before kissing it, then extended it to Nora, as if she wanted her to read it too. But, just as Nora was about to take the note from her outstretched hand, the woman drew back and turned instead to a wooden chest by the side of the bed. In a graceful motion, she knelt before it and slid her hand along the back until a secret compartment sprung open.
With the hiding place fully revealed she peered over her shoulder to make sure Nora was watching her, then slipped the letter inside. In a satisfied tone, she said, “There. That is done. The letter is safe.”
Cryptically, she added, “Now, all my secrets are hidden, and only those who really know where to look will ever find them again.”
In slow motion, the woman spun around in a circle and Nora moved in her orbit. They continued their slow spinning dance, but when the woman looked over her shoulder, she came to a sudden stop. Pointing to the far wall, the vision cried out, “The painting is gone!”
Nora swiveled around but saw nothing in the darkness. From behind, the woman crept up to her and wrapped her arms around Nora and embraced her tightly. In the dark room, she could feel the woman's cold, trembling body and the misery that flooded her mind. Softly, the lady in white moaned in her ear, “Do something, Nora. Help me. He has taken it!”
Hearing a low rumble, the woman moved swiftly to the door and rested her ear against it. When she turned, Nora could see her eyes were now wide with fright.
“He is coming. Hurry! We must hide.”
A flash of light blinded Nora.
“Find the painting, Nora. Don’t let them destroy it. Don’t let them win. Let them know…”
When a thunderous pounding on the door began, both women swung around. As another blaze of white-hot light illuminated the room, Nora fell dizzily to the ground. She tried to take a gulp of air but was suffocating under the weight of something covering her face. With all her might, she pushed back at her aggressor.
Now fully awake, she looked down at the floor and saw her pillow lying next to the bed. Her assailant had been a sack full of feathers. Sighing in relief, she flopped back on the bed and thought, It was just a dream.
About the Author
Melissa Muldoon is the author of four novels set in Italy: “Dreaming Sophia”, “Waking Isabella”, “Eternally Artemisia”, and “The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola.” All four books are set in Italy and tell the stories of women and their journeys of self-discovery to find love, uncover hidden truths, and follow their destinies to shape a better future. For more information visit: MelissaMuldoon.com
Melissa is the author also of the Studentessa Matta website, where she promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog written in Italian and English (studentessamatta.com). “Studentessa Matta” means the “crazy linguist” and has grown to include the podcast “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano”, and the “Studentessa Matta” YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Instagram feed. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Programs, which she co-leads with Italian schools in Italy to learn Italian in Italy while immersing in language and culture. Through her website, she also offers Homestay opportunities to live and study in Italy in the private home of a teacher.
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. She is an artist, and professional book designer, and designed the interiors of all three of her books as well as illustrated their covers. Melissa is also the managing director of Matta Press.
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