Playing by Heart

Written by Carmela A. Martino

Carmela Martino’s debut novel is a charming story of two sisters, Emilia and Maria, who are accomplished young women—so accomplished that their father shows them off at every opportunity. Set in 18th-century Milan, this romance explores the customs of the day, such as fathers using their daughters to enhance the wealth and status of the family. For Emilia and Maria, this tradition conflicts with their own desires. Emilia, from whose point of view the story is told, falls deeply in love with a violinist/composer, Bellini. However, trouble arises when Emilia’s father wishes to become part of the nobility and insists both his daughters marry someone from that class.

Particularly of interest is the description of the lavish balls held in Italy; sumptuous clothes and fancy carriages come alive, as does the hustle and bustle of such events—and the pressure. Although somewhat predictable as a romance novel, the fact that the two sisters are based on real women (one, a composer; the other, a nun) makes the book even more enjoyable. Composing music at a time when women simply didn’t participate in such activities is a nice twist. Another interesting addition is the relationship between Emilia and her stepmother, which grows from dislike to comradery and even love. The writing is smooth and easy to follow. And, of course, there’s a happy ending.