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April 29, 2021

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

I first discovered Rhys Bowen when I picked up a book in her cozy mystery series. I loved it so much I looked to see what else she had written and discovered she also wrote standalone, dual timeline historical fiction, mostly to do with WWII. You know I'm a big WWII fan so I was all over those books. I really loved the last one so I was anxious to see what she would come out with this year with The Venice Sketchbook.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Venice Sketchbook
April 2021; Lake Union; 978-1542027120
audio, ebook, print (412 pages); women's fiction
I found this book a little slow to begin with, but that might be because I was so eager about reading this book and couldn't wait to get to the meat of the story.

The "present-day" chapters with Caroline are set in 2001 and the historical chapters with Juliette span a time frame from the late 1920s to the late 1940s (though there is a jump of about 10 years that are not covered). Juliette is Caroline's great-aunt and when she dies she leaves a box of mementos for Caroline. As Juliette has lead a typical British spinster life, the items in the box are a total mystery. In addition to the death of her great-aunt, who has been living with her grandmother for many years, Caroline is also dealing with the unpleasant business of a divorce and custody battle. So a trip to Venice to discover a life she never knew her great-aunt had seems to be just the thing to take her mind off her own troubles.

I've read all but one of Bowen's standalone novels so while I enjoyed The Venice Sketchbook, it is nowhere near my favorite. I didn't really care for Caroline. I think I would have been on a plane to the U.S. to see my son if I had been told he was traumatized by the events of 9/11 and couldn't fly to return home. Instead she flys off to Venice. I admit that is the much more romantic option. I think I would have thought better of Caroline if she went during the summer when her son was scheduled to be in the U.S. with his dad instead of as a response to her fear that his dad would never let him return. The chapters with Caroline are pretty sparse so the reader doesn't get a lot of opportunity to connect with her. Outside of her discoveries of what the keys go to, I much preferred to be in Juliette's chapters.

I really did like Juliette and I wonder if I would have liked the story better if it had been her returning to Venice after all those years to discover what happened. I loved the descriptions of Venice in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s that Juliette provided us with. Caroline's descriptions were less colorful and lively because she was there in late fall so it was just rain. Whereas Juliette enjoyed the many festivals and parties. 

Overall, though, the book felt a bit too much like a cookie-cutter of the previous books for me to enjoy it as a fresh new story. I would have liked to have more of Juliette's thoughts after she returned home at the end of the war but at least we get more of her story than perhaps Caroline will ever discover. If you are looking for a pleasant read to pass the time with, then I recommend getting this book. If nothing else, it will make you want to travel to Venice and maybe satisfy slightly the travel cravings we've had to deny for the past year.

Oh, and the descriptions of food will make you hungry so make sure to have snacks handy while reading.

Buy The Venice Sketchbook at Amazon
(The ebook is free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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