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Welcome to Alternative-Read.com, we’re so pleased to have you here.
Today we are really excited to welcome back New York Times bestselling writer of historical mysteries and Agatha, Anthony and MacAvity award winner, Rhys Bowen!
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen brings to life the city of Venice. It is a love story not only between the hero and heroine, but between the heroine and the Italian city. Throughout the story, WWII looms as a backdrop which in some ways also becomes a character to the story along with Venice Italy.
The plot has Englishwoman Juliet Browning visiting Venice with her aunt in 1928 and then she visits again in 1938 and 1939. Each time, she meets and spends time with wealthy nobleman Leonardo Da Rossi. Leo is an Italian count with whom Juliet has an affair. Unfortunately, he is unhappily married to a wealthy Venetian girl. They cannot marry, even after Juliet becomes pregnant with Leo’s child. Plus, because of her father’s financial losses and untimely death, she cannot achieve her dreams of attending art college.
In 1938 Juliet gets a teaching job in Venice and rekindles her romance with Leo. But the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever. She is put in danger now as she agrees to become a spy for the English government.
Fast-forward to 2001 when on her deathbed Juliet whispers “Venice” to her niece. In her will she leaves Caroline three keys and a sketchbook. Caroline, having marital problems of her own, decides to find herself by traveling to Venice to unlock the mysteries left to her by her aunt. The story now alternates between WWII and Caroline’s quest.
Readers will enjoy the detailed descriptions provided by Bowen. She brings Venice to life with its amazing gondolas and canals, vaporetto, narrow streets, festivals, churches, art exhibitions, food, the colorful people, culture, and family ties.
The story takes readers on a journey, a history lesson of sorts. The details of art, culture, religion, food, and traditions are blended with romance, secrets, a world war, and amazing courage.
Interview: Elise Cooper: Why Venice?
Rhys Bowen: It has always been one of my favorite places going back to my childhood. My aunt went to Venice every single Easter. My parents would take us there to visit. We got to know the city very well, because my parents allowed us to do whatever we wanted.
EC: How did you get the idea for the story?
RB: In my teens I wondered why my aunt went to Venice every year. Did she have a secret romance there? This idea, plus I wanted to write about Venice, was the driving force behind the story.
EC: Did you do any research?
RB: Yes. I enjoyed going back to Venice in the summer of 2019. We stayed at the hotel Pensione Academic where my aunt stayed. It gave me a feel for the city. My aunt liked to stay there because of its garden. It is a lovely old villa next to the Academia Museum. I did a lot of research in the library to find information on Venice prior to and during WWII. It had huge walls of books.
EC: How would you describe Juliet?
RB: Her secret life made me think of my aunt although Juliet was much more of a free spirit. Both, in their later years, shut off their emotions. But as a young woman Juliet was hopeful and looked at the world as a wonderful place. Then things went bad as she lost her wealth, father, and hit hard times. In Venice, she is facing a World War. Throughout her life, she has been cheated.
EC: You made Juliet a spy?
RB: I have been to the Spy Museum in Washington DC and saw the radios used for Morse Code. I had Juliet write a simple message, not long sentences, to make the story believable. There were lots of British women spying. They took tremendous risks with a small survival rate. World War II is a catalyst in the story.
EC: How would you describe Leo?
RB: A heartthrob. He is a traditional Italian bound by family. He gave up his chance of happiness to make sure he did not embarrass his family. In the end he made the ultimate sacrifice for Juliet.
EC: How would you describe Caroline?
RB: Her life did not go in the direction she planned. She is devoted to her son and feels betrayed by her ex-husband. At the end of the book, she realizes she deserves more out of life.
EC: How about the sketchbook?
RB: I had many characters who have been artists in my books. For me, art ties everything together. It is what brought Juliet back to Venice and allowed Caroline to gain her freedom. I also sketch and have put on the inside copy of the hardback one of my sketches.
EC: What about your next book?
RB: In October will be the next “Royal Spyness Mystery” titled God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen. It is a lovely English Christmas book with a few bodies thrown in. Sometime next year will be another standalone about WWII. It has the Brits in London evacuated next to a bomber base. The story is tense with some tragedy along the way.