The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer #Review @melodiewinawer @TouchstoneBooks

The Scribe of Sienna cover

Back in November, I received an email from Simon & Schuster offering a free ebook if I was willing to take part in a study to help them learn more about how readers engaged with their books. All I had to do was create a Jellybooks account, pick my freebie, and start reading. At the end of every chapter, I would click on a button that said ‘sync reading stream’… easy-peasy.  Of the five book choices, I had already read one of them, and had my request on Netgalley declined for another. Thinking I would choose the latter, I signed up. I had to read the blurbs for the other books—no self-respecting bibliophile would skip doing that, right?—and my mind was changed as soon as I read the blurb for The Scribe of Siena.

I’ll own up to the fact that it was the Outlander mention/comparison that made my choice an easy one. (If you know me, you know I am totally obsessed with love the story of Outlander, so you aren’t surprised in the least.) I think I would have chosen this book regardless, because the plot greatly appealed to me. I went into reading it a bit warily, though, because the last book I read that compared itself to Outlander—despite being a very good book—felt like false advertising, in that regard. After giving it some serious thought, I’ve come to decide that the The Scribe of Siena is worthy of the comparison. The stories, settings, and plots aren’t mirror images, of course. It is exactly like Outlander, however, in that it can’t be boxed into one single genre, but to a group of genres—specifically time travel, historical fiction, suspense, and romance. They are close enough in the ways that count to make it an acceptable comparison to me.

When books have historical settings, it’s important that everything fits the time and place;  dress, language, societal hierarchies… all of it has to be right, to feel right. Lovers of historical fiction are sophisticated enough to hone in on little details that don’t belong, and it can’t ruin the entire book for them when it happens. Thankfully, that didn’t happen with this book. Winawer clearly did the necessary historical research to bring this fourteenth-century medieval Italian setting to life, and it paid off beautifully in vivid characters, settings, and dialogue.

The conspiracy at the heart of the story was gripping, and my breath caught more than once as the conspirators set about committing their dastardly deeds. I enjoyed how it tied in to the research Beatrice’s brother did prior to his death, and why a particular person in the present day was so motivated to get his hands on that research.

As much as I loved the historical portions of the story, the present day story was equally enjoyable to read.  Most of the action understandably takes place in 14th century Siena, but Beatrice’s life in modern-day Siena had memorable moments, as well.

The love story between Beatrice and Gabriele was sweet. As is typical concerning lovers from different centuries, Beatrice ultimately has to decide whether to stay in his time, or go back to hers. The catalyst for this decision wasn’t something I’d foreseen, and that was a welcome surprise.

I absolutely adored this book, and I highly recommend it. I think fans of the Outlander series would really enjoy it, as well as readers who enjoy a good time travel story lush with historical detail, a healthy dose of romance, and a good batch of suspense added to the mix. The Scribe of Siena is a brilliant debut, and I’m fervently hoping to see more novels from this author in the future!

I received an advance reader copy of this book courtesy of Touchstone and Jellybooks.

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Author: Melodie Winawer

Title: The Scribe of Sienna

Genre: Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Romance

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 by Touchstone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Purchase Links

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About the Book

Equal parts transporting love story and gripping historical conspiracy—think The Girl with a Pearl Earring meets Outlander—debut author Melodie Winawer takes readers deep into medieval Italy, where the past and present blur and a twenty-first century woman will discover a plot to destroy Siena.

Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.

After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.

Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.

The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.

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About the Author

Melodie Winawer
Melodie Winawer (Photo © Dana Maxon)

Melodie Winawer is a physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University with degrees in biological psychology, medicine, and epidemiology, she has published forty-seven nonfiction articles and book chapters. She is fluent in Spanish and French, literate in Latin, and has a passable knowledge of Italian. Dr. Winawer lives with her spouse and their three young children in Brooklyn, New York. The Scribe of Siena is her first novel.

Author photo and bio via Simon & Schuster.

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Review: The Hour Glass Witch by Alisha Paige

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The Hour Glass Witch is a Romantic Altered History Time Travel Tale with a splash of Greek Myth.

Travel back to the Salem Witch Hunt when a wicked glance could have you hanging from the gallows, convicted of lustful witchcraft! Accused of being a witch, Clio, the Muse of History is thrown in prison by a former lover from another life. To escape the gallows, she flees back in time, to the Italian Renaissance, where she becomes a courtesan for a famous Italian painter, living a life of luxury while pining for her lost love. Her favorite god and good friend, Dionysus, is living it up in Tuscany. He invites her to a wild party at his palace where she runs smack-dab into her destiny, only to be separated once more by the Queen of Gorgons. While the sands of time run out, she travels to Hades to face the hounds of Hell in search of her love. Can she salvage her one true love, please the gods and save the lost souls of Salem?


Meh. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. The story started in the middle, rather than the beginning, a far as I was concerned. Had it begun at the actual beginning (Pierus meeting and falling in love with Clio, rather than Aphrodite, who wanted him for herself), going forward from there, it would have made for a far richer story, one the reader could become emotionally invested in. The short memory sequences that gave glimpses into Clio and Pierus’ past weren’t enough. I wanted to know all of their history, not be given tiny peeks of it! I wanted to see the event that later angered Aphrodite so greatly… the things that led up to that moment, as well as the thing itself… so that I could easily picture and understand her fury (perhaps even sympathize with it, to a certain degree?) which wouldn’t make the cursing of Clio seem like such an arbitrary thing. It would have meaning behind it, and not seemed a convenient, one-dimensional plot point.

What was there, was enjoyable to read, don’t get me wrong. I just wish I’d been able to read the whole story that was available to be told, rather than the middle of it. That complete story, I’m sure, would have earned a five star rating from me.

Author: Alisha Paige

Title: The Hour Glass Witch

Published: February 17, 2011

Rating: ★★

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This review was originally published on Goodreads on March 18, 2015.

 

Review: The Long Way Home by Andrea Stark

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Terra is 28, single, and muddling through her life as though locked in a time capsule of early adulthood. She obsesses about an old crush, commiserates with her best friend from high school and scours her old diaries for answers. That is, until a strange encounter with a violent waitress whisks her back to the world she documented in her diaries — a world where she is 16 years old, her life hasn’t yet ground to a screeching halt, and she might still have a chance with the boy of her dreams. As Terra sets out to change the mistakes she made as a teenager, she discovers that her memories and reality don’t quite fit together in this new version of her old life. A boy who claims to be in love with her becomes more dark and controlling, her own crush is more aloof than ever, and a mysterious girl lurks in the periphery, threatening to tear down the walls of Terra’s past. As the truth begins to unravel, Terra slips into a time-bending spiral of memories and lost dreams that she might not be able to escape with her life.


I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded great. But, like so many free kindle books, it didn’t live up to its potential.

I thought I could overlook the bad spelling, but I doubt I’ll ever forget seeing ‘common’… instead of ‘c’mon’, which would have made more sense. Or ‘axe’…instead of ask. How does that mistake happen? Good grief!

After a certain point, the story just fell apart. Time shifts happened without warning, and it took too long to realize it. The closer to the end, the more confusing it was, and it seemed to break all the rules that had been previously established. The ending was abrupt, and made no sense whatsoever.

A careful rewrite (and edit of all the spelling mistakes!) would do this book a world of good. I’d even be willing to give it another shot, if it happened. I just hate to see good ideas go to waste. What a shame…

Author: Andrea Stark

Title: The Long Way Home

Published: June 9, 2011

Rating:

goodreads-badge-add-plusThis review was originally published on Goodreads on February 28, 2015.

 

Review: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon

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Diana Gabaldon’s brilliant storytelling has captivated millions of readers in her bestselling and award-winning Outlander saga. Now, in her first-ever graphic novel, Gabaldon gives readers a fresh look at the events of the original Outlander: Jamie Fraser’s side of the story, gorgeously rendered by artist Hoang Nguyen.

After too long an absence, Jamie Fraser is coming home to Scotland—but not without great trepidation. Though his beloved godfather, Murtagh, promised Jamie’s late parents he’d watch over their brash son, making good on that vow will be no easy task. There’s already a fat bounty on the young exile’s head, courtesy of Captain Black Jack Randall, the sadistic British officer who’s crossed paths—and swords—with Jamie in the past. And in the court of the mighty MacKenzie clan, Jamie is a pawn in the power struggle between his uncles: aging chieftain Colum, who demands his nephew’s loyalty—or his life—and Dougal, war chieftain of Clan MacKenzie, who’d sooner see Jamie put to the sword than anointed Colum’s heir.

And then there is Claire Randall—mysterious, beautiful, and strong-willed, who appears in Jamie’s life to stir his  compassion . . . and arouse his desire.

But even as Jamie’s heart draws him to Claire, Murtagh is certain she’s been sent by the Old Ones, and Captain Randall accuses her of being a spy. Claire clearly has something to hide, though Jamie can’t believe she could pose him any danger. Still, he knows she is torn between two choices—a life with him, and whatever it is that draws her thoughts so often elsewhere.

Step into the captivating, passionate, and suspenseful world of The Exile, and experience the storytelling magic of Diana Gabaldon as never before.


I haven’t read a graphic novel in a very long time (or even a comic book, for that matter), so I had forgotten just how enjoyable something like this can be to read. There is a downside, though. I read through the first five chapters so quickly I decided it was best to set it aside for a bit and read something else, so as not to finish it too quickly. (If you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, you can easily understand why I would wish to linger a bit before finishing the story!)

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I will simply say that reading the story from Murtagh’s and Jamie’s perspectives and being able to see things through their eyes, rather than Claire’s, was quite interesting. I was horribly disappointed to reach the final panel and see that dreadful phrase… “the end”. I wanted to see more, for the story to go on, to perhaps reveal something that was known only to Jamie and never revealed to Claire! Ah, well. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. (But there’s no harm in wishing for more, right?)

The story itself was, of course, very well written. I was very impressed with Ms. Gabaldon’s ability to condense the many events that happened and make it fit within the framework of a graphic novel. Of course, this would not have been possible without the beautiful artwork of Hoang Nguyen. Mr. Nguyen is incredibly talented, and his illustrations truly made the story come alive. His artwork combined with Ms. Gabaldon’s writing made The Exile enjoyable to look at, as well as enjoyable to read.

I highly recommend this to fans of the Outlander series… it is definitely a must-have addition to your Outlander collection!

Author: Diana Gabaldon and Hoang Nguyen (Illustrator)

Title:The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel

Series: Outlander #1.5

Published: 9/21/2010 by Del Rey

Rating: ★★★★★

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This review was originally posted on Goodreads on March 18, 2012.