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The Venice Sketchbook

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Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

412 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 13, 2021

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About the author

Rhys Bowen

104 books7,378 followers
I'm a New York Times bestselling mystery author, winner of both Agatha and Anthony awards for my Molly Murphy mysteries, set in 1902 New York City.

I have recently published four internationally bestselling WWII novels, one of them a #1 Kindle bestseller, and the Tuscan Child selling almost a million copies to date. In Farleigh Field won three major awards and was nominated for an Edgar. My other stand-alone novels are The Victory Garden, about land girls in WWI and Above the Bay of Angels, featuring a young woman who becomes chef for Queen Victoria.
April 2021 will mark the publication of THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK--another sweeping historical novel of love, loss and intrigue.

My books are currently translated into 29 languages and I have fans worldwide.

I also write the Agatha-winning Royal Spyness series, about the British royal family in the 1930s. It's lighter, sexier, funnier, wicked satire. It was voted by readers as best mystery series one year.
I am also known for my Constable Evans books, set in North Wales, and for my award-winning short stories.

I was born and raised in England but currently divide my time between California and Arizona where I go to escape from the harsh California winters
When I am not writing I love to travel, sing, hike, play my Celtic harp.
* Constable Evan Mystery
* Molly Murphy Mysteries
* Her Royal Spyness Mysteries

Agatha Award
◊ Best Novel (2001): Murphy's Law
Reviewer's Choice Award
◊ Historical Mystery (2001): Murphy's Law

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,631 reviews
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,069 reviews2,669 followers
April 13, 2021
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

The descriptions of Venice in both the 1928-44 and 2001 timelines are beautiful. Englishwoman Juliet Browning visits 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's path in life has been set since he was young, so there can never be a permanent relationship between Juliet and Leo but they will always be connected because of their actions in 1939. Much later, in 2001, on her deathbed, Juliet utters the word Venice to her great niece, Caroline. In a box, left to her by her aunt, Caroline finds a sketchbook and three keys. Off Caroline goes to Venice, in search of what her great aunt was trying to tell her. 

Juliet's "voice" seems so melancholy throughout her story and she has reason to feel that way. After her 1928 visit to Venice, Juliet's plans to attend art college are cut short by her father's financial losses and she must take a teaching job to support herself and her mom, after her father's death. In 1938 and then 1939, Juliet is able to travel to Venice and each time she runs into Leo. It's on what should be her year long visit to Venice in 1939 that Juliet knows she is in love with the married Leo. War is coming closer and closer but Juliet refuses to return to her home where she would be safer. 

It is through Caroline's timeline and visit to Venice, in search of where she can use the keys, that we learn more of what happened to Juliet, all those years ago. There are so many improbable coincidences, in both timelines, that push this story forward. Between the descriptions of Venice, that sound like they come from a tourist brochure, including the description of the fine cuisine, it is hard for me to feel connected to the women in either timeline. For Juliet, danger is approaching quickly and then it's upon her and those around her but her telling of the events are related in such a monotone voice that there is a lack of tension during events that are devastating and that should be very emotional. This is not a time in history that should have felt so flat but that's the way that it felt to me, in this story. 

Publication April 13, 2021

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Tim.
193 reviews84 followers
September 12, 2021
I've got no qualms about giving this one star because it's got a higher average rating than Hamlet, War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice. (Damning evidence we're not perhaps evolving as a race!)

Romantic fiction is a bit like self-assembling furniture. There's no craftsmanship. Every interlocking component is functional. I skimmed through reviews and sometimes saw it described as beautifully written. It isn't beautifully written. The author has a rudimentary command of language. What she does though is describe beauty a lot.

You expect some research in a historical novel. There is little evidence the author knows anything about Venice in 1939. The Venice depicted is the tourist's Venice. The approaching war is a flimsy painted backcloth, a prop to heighten the romantic adventure. Venice used as a marketing tool. The author only needed to read one memoir by an Italian Jew to know Italian Jews were never made to wear the yellow star. A google search would have informed her that in 1943 the ghetto in Venice was largely a historical site not an active reality. Wikipedia would have informed her the Allies were not in Umbria in 1943. Neither has the author bothered to learn anything about the act of painting despite her character supposedly being a talented artist. She comes across as a child colouring with crayons. And neither has she bothered to learn anything about wireless operators and the world of secret ops despite her character supposedly transmitting vital information about shipping movement back to London. Her understanding on the complexities and dangers of this occupation is non-existent. Instead the narratives fixes obsessively on what the character eats, what canals she's swanning down and, of course, all the ins and outs of her feelings for her Italian aristocrat.

I'm probably taking this book too seriously. It's meant to be harmless escapism and who gives a monkeys if it's littered with historical inaccuracies and inventions? I suspect its appeal on a certain kind of woman (few, if any, men would enjoy this book) isn't dissimilar to that of soft porn on the imagination of adolescents back in the day when the world was more innocent. It titillates romantic fantasy.
Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,912 reviews1,440 followers
January 3, 2021
This is the story of Juliet ‘Lettie’ Browning from 1928 through the Second World War years and her great-niece Caroline Grant at the turn of the 21st Century. When Aunt Lettie dies in 2001 at a low point in Caroline’s life, she sets off to Venice to unlock the mysteries of Juliet’s well kept secrets. The story is told in dual timelines.

First of all the setting principally in Venice is very good though I do feel like I’m reading from my trusty DK guide as we take many a stroll or ride in a vaporetto. There are some good descriptions of this unique and stunning city which does transport me back there and captures its atmosphere through the narrow streets, many canals, food, festivals, churches and art. The art element is particularly interesting through the Biennale modern art exhibition and the discussions in the 1920/30’s sections on the ‘new style’ of art of artists like Picasso versus the old masters. The puzzle and intrigue is Juliet’s past is an interesting one but it doesn’t quite deliver on its promise. There are some good characters such as Juliet and although Juliet’s imperious Aunt Hortense is not in the book for long I find her rather delicious in her very definite views and the Contessa Fiorito who befriends Juliet is another interesting character. Other than that many of the characters are rather bland and colourless and we only get a superficial glimpse of any personality.

Caroline’s story is not especially interesting and I find it detracts from Juliet’s which has much more meat on the bones. However, the pace of the book is that of a snail as we take a sllloooowww plod around Venice rather than whisking along at a brisk pace and there’s little excitement. There’s too much Venice, too much sustenance (is the author obsessed with food? On a diet and torturing herself? 😁) and not enough substance. We get a whiff of war, a scent of a love story but there’s not much depth to either. There’s little sense of danger during the German occupation of Italy and the ending should have been dynamite and instead is a briefly ignited Roman Candle. There’s a lot of coincidence, contrivance and plot convenience especially at the end. Talking of which, what an abrupt end - what are we meant to make of it? It’s like the storytelling ran out of steam.

Overall, it’s a really mixed bag. The premise is good, parts of Juliet’s story are interesting but on the whole story is thin. I had the feeling the author wants to transport herself from her Covid bubble and grabbed a much thumbed Baedeker guide to Venice and bobs your aunt Hortense or Lettie. I don’t dislike the book by any means though I don’t think I’ll remember it and so my rating is in Switzerland with Lettie.

With thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the arc for an honest review.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,194 reviews1,245 followers
April 12, 2021
Time changes everything. We can never fully revisit those people and places we've kept frozen in still life hovering in chambers within our memories.

Rhys Bowen presents The Venice Sketchbook which travels in a time-spanning arc from 1928, then to 1938 and then to 2001. The points of destination leap from England and to Venice and back again. The cast of characters adapt to the years, the changing of locations, and the deep impact of historical events.

Juliet "Lettie" Browning first sets foot upon the beauty of Venice in 1928. She's being accompanied by her strict aunt, Hortensia. Both are hardly seasoned travelers. When Hortensia takes ill from an upset stomach, Juliet decides to tour the city alone. It's here that she encounters the handsome Leonardo Da Rossi from a noble shipping family. Although she and Leonardo are taken with one another, Leonardo is promised to marry another. They eventually part company.

The story fastforwards to 1938 when Juliet returns to Venice as an art teacher in charge of a group of students. Wonderously, she comes upon the dashing Leonardo once again. But the current times in Italy are lined with Mussolini's thugs and the seeping in of the Italian fascists. The flames of their affection have never quite gone out. But Leonardo is married and the thought of it dulls the spark and fills Juliet with deep regret.

Bowen ushers in 2001 with Juliet's great niece, Caroline Grant. Caroline faces the end of her marriage and the bitter fight over custody of their young son, Teddy. Fate will place Teddy living in New York with his American father after the Twin Towers have been attacked. The tremors of the time force Teddy to remain in America for the time being.

Caroline will travel to Venice on behalf of her great aunt Lettie who has passed away. Caroline wishes to honor her with dispersing her ashes in the lovely city. It's here that we will come upon secrets in the lives of these women.

I am an avid fan of Rhys Bowen and have read tons of her books. The Venice Sketchbook seemed formulaic to me with a predictable plot and characters that we have run into time and time again. Lost loves and all that. World War II stories have almost taken over most readers' reading lists as of late. Don't get me wrong. The Venice Sketchbook is still a fine offering from the highly talented Rhys Bowen. Perhaps there is a certain weariness nowadays during these times that have suppressed our mobility and put a damper on our usual desire and zest for life. Perhaps we're searching for something more that catapults us into a different dimension.....far from the pain of the past and far from the shadows of today.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Lake Union Publishers and to the talented Rhys Bowen for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Pat.
2,310 reviews395 followers
January 3, 2021
This is not a genre I read very often (historical/WWII fiction) or even enjoy very much but there are exceptions, and the fact that it was largely set in Venice called to me.

The story is told from the point of view of Juliet (Lottie) Browning before and after the start of WWII and in 2001 from the POV of her great niece Caroline Grant. In 1928, when Lettie was 18 she visited Venice briefly with her Aunt Hortensia (that is some name). Naturally she met a handsome young Italian man, Leo da Rossi, son of a Count. They share a kiss. In 1938 Lottie is back in Venice, she is now an art teacher and is chaperoning a group of schoolgirls on a trip to the continent. Who should she run into - you guessed it. She sees Leo again. In 1939 she is granted a year’s bursary (is that the right word?) to spend a year in Venice at the Art Accademie. No prizes for guessing how it goes from there. But it is not all roses for these guys, there are dark clouds on the horizon.

In 2001 Caroline’s husband has taken their 6 year old son to New York to spend the summer with him and his new girlfriend. Then the twin towers terrorist hit happened and suddenly the boy is traumatised and cannot travel. Meanwhile Great Aunt Lettie is ailing and calls for Caroline who takes leave from her job and races to her aunt’s side. Aunt Lettie is on her deathbed but manages to give Caroline a garbled message and three odd keys and tells her to go to Venice.

So Caroline thinks to hell with her ex and jets off to Venice to solve the puzzle that Great Aunt Lettie set her. While the story was pleasant enough and it certainly evoked Venice really well, I thought the plot was a bit predictable and contrived. The war stuff was quite lightweight and the characters seemed a little cliched and one dimensional. If you like a quick, undemanding ‘feel good’ romance with a twist of mystery this one is for you. For me, I actually really enjoyed reading it but will probably forget it very quickly. My thanks to Netgalley, Lake Union Publishing and Rhys Bowen for providing a copy for me to review. My opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Karren  Sandercock .
740 reviews143 followers
July 27, 2021
Caroline Grant’s married to Josh, they have a little boy Teddy and she works as an editorial assistant at a women’s magazine. Josh is offered his dream job in New York, she and Teddy stay behind in England and it doesn’t take long for Josh to meet another women, Caroline’s marriage is in tatters and he wants Teddy to spend the summer in New York.

Caroline's close to her grandmother Winnie and her great-aunt Lettie, she visits them in Surrey and she’s in need of some moral support. Aunt Lettie lost her sight years ago, she’s getting very frail and she passes away. She leaves Caroline her sketchbook, three keys and with her last breath whispers the word Venice. Juliet Browning wants Caroline to scatter her ashes in Venice, the city she first visited as a teenager in the 1920’s and she will discover her great-aunts shocking secrets that have been kept hidden for over sixty years.

In 1938, Juliet Browning is an art teacher, she arrives in Venice with twelve students, for them to experience the cities, art, history, culture and food. A beautiful city built on water, getting around Venice is a challenge, lots of bridges, canals and boats are needed. For Juliet it brings back memories of her trip as a teenager, she visited Venice with her aunt Hortensia and she met the handsome Leonardo Da Rossi. He comes from one of the oldest, wealthiest and most powerful families in Venice.

Juliet returns to Venice in 1939, she’s studying art at the academia and Leonardo is now married. The outbreak of another war is looming, her fellow art students start leaving Venice and Juliet decides to stay. Juliet has friends in Venice, she can help the British government with vital information and eventually she can’t leave due to a change in her circumstances.

Caroline arrives in Venice, with three keys and her beloved great-aunts ashes. Once she solves the mystery of the first key, key by key she unlocks her aunt’s wartime secrets, she discovers the sacrifices Juliet made, and her undercover work for British intelligence.

The Venice Sketchbook is a story about love, loss, courage, friendship, secrets and self-discovery. For Caroline her time in Venice is valuable in so many ways, she comes to terms with the end of her marriage, she can see things from a different perspective, she has great admiration for her great-aunt Juliet and the lasting legacy she left behind. I received a copy of The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, I was totally engrossed by Juliet’s story, I highly recommend the book and five stars from me. https://karrenreadsbooks.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for Amy.
912 reviews227 followers
April 9, 2022
I'm upset! I did not enjoy this book. It was pretty much okay, nothing particularly angering, until the ridiculous ending. I'm disappointed and frustrated. I am usually very gentle with authors, knowing it is not easy to produce a novel. But instead, even a few hours later since having read the ending, I am more like "What the Hell?!" I really disliked and failed to understand the modern day character. The one shining light in this debacle, is that I get to talk about it with another Goodreads friend who also just finished it a day or two ago, that I get points in Bracket C in a challenge for having read this thing, and that I get to warn all of you. This might be a fine author for other works, but I would not judge her based on this book, and I wouldn't bother picking this one up. You will be screaming at the end too. You know what? Its almost like she had someplace to be, and just didn't have time to write the ending? So she tried to sum it up, tie up loose ends too quick, and just kind of left it unfinished. That didn't work for me. And after having stuck with her for 400 pages, I deserved a decent ending. The book could have been 350 pages and still have pulled of a decent conceptual ending. Thats what this particular novel was. A rough draft that was in need of a workshop, or some serious editorial consultation. Rhys, I beg for your forgiveness, and I encourage others to pick up her other works.
Profile Image for Sandy  McKenna.
656 reviews16 followers
June 9, 2021
An excellent read.

When Caroline's great aunt dies, she leaves a sketchbook and three keys; these lead to Venice where Caroline unravels several secrets which have been hidden from the family for over sixty years.
A well written multi timeline taking the reader back to Venice in the lead up to World War II and beyond. I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant story, and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Shereadbookblog.
562 reviews
April 27, 2021
I can’t believe it…this is the first book I have read by prolific writer Rhys Bowen. Although I thought it somewhat fairytailish, after the last few years, maybe it was just nice to escape into a fairy tale, albeit bittersweet.

Although somewhat formulaic, I found the story gripping; I couldn’t put it down. I liked how the plot unfolded by moving forward and backward in time. As a bonus, the beautiful city of Venice is also one of the main characters….and I enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite experiences, locations, and foods.
Profile Image for Morgan .
795 reviews131 followers
May 20, 2021
Another dual time line story. This one is easy to follow as each chapter is headed up with the person, date and place.

The book description is sufficient so I don’t have to repeat the entire story line here. What I will say is:

This is not a spectacular WWII story nor is it a hot romance story.

It is, however, a story about forbidden love and heartbreak aplenty.

I enjoyed it for the most part, however it seemed to take forever to get to the point.

There are never ending passages that read like a travelogue of Venice which may be of interest to someone who has been to Venice. I have not.

Caroline’s story (2001), to me, was superfluous and just took up space and I did not care for the idea of cousins getting together.

I feel sure that I would have liked the book more had it been Juliet’s (1938) story alone. Juliet certainly had enough oomph in her life to warrant a good read all on her own.

Profile Image for theliterateleprechaun.
1,124 reviews30 followers
October 31, 2020
Pour a glass of Prosecco, make yourself a plate of tramezzini or some bruschetta, fill a little bowl with olives and let’s pretend we are soaking up the sun on the balcony at Hotel Danieli whilst reading Rhys Bowen’s latest masterpiece, “Venice Sketchbook”.

Caroline Grant has shed enough tears for a lifetime. Not only has her husband left her for another woman overseas, he’s proposing that their son should live with him in New York, an act of terrorism has caused the Twin Towers to fall while her son is there, and now she’s received a letter that her ninety-year-old Great Aunt Lettie is dying. Rushing to make it in time, Caroline arrives to hear her aunt’s dying wish and receives a box containing some jewellery, 3 keys and a sketchbook. Why does her aunt want her to go to Venice? What do these keys unlock? Armed with fortitude, she heads off to La Serenissima to scatter her aunt’s ashes and uncover secrets hidden for 60 years.

Juliet Browning has made a dream come true! She’s come back to Venice as an art student and hopes to find the boy she kissed beside the Grand Canal. As luck would have it, the star-crossed lovers find each other, but fate has dealt a cruel hand; he’s unavailable. Furthermore, war is looming and foreigners are being asked to return home. That’s not an option for Juliet. You’ll have to pick up this fabulous historical fiction on April 13, 2021, to find out what choices Caroline and Juliet make and how it affects those they love.

A perfect read for those who love to travel and who love a great love story! It brought to mind being in Venice during Aqua alta and walking on tables in St. Mark’s Square, experiencing luxury at Café Florian, and pretending we were guests at Hotel Danieli so we could sneak in and wander in awe through the stately palazzo. Bowen will help to make your armchair vacation seem real with her vivid descriptions of food, sights and sounds all the while reminding you about the importance of family and doing what’s right even though it’s painful. I loved reading her blog while she was writing this book; she revealed that her least favourite part of writing was the “copy-edits”. It was worth the pain! Bowen’s characters are endearing and realistic and her plotline transitions are seamless. Her storyline unravels gently like a gondola on a leisurely ride down the Grand Canal…until a speedboat zooms past and you are hit with the wake of twists and turns! It’s everything you’d expect from an accomplished writer. I didn’t want to turn over the last page; it was THAT good. Buona lettura!

Thank you Rhys Bowen, Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Tracy.
538 reviews44 followers
May 19, 2021
In 2019 I had the good fortune to visit Venice and absolutely loved it. So, just the fact that this book was set there had me interested.

This tells the story of Julietta Browning who is an English citizen and ends up in Venice during WW 2. I have to be honest: I'm kind of getting sick of WW 2 books. It seems the literary world is obsessed with them and I appreciate authors who find other times and places to write about.

That being said, I did enjoy this story. There are parts that are predictable and parts that are not. There are parts that are possibly unreal and others that are more likely to have occurred. There were times I felt it was going into too much detail and other times when I was nervous for the characters.

There is sadness, but it does end on a bright note so you're not horribly depressed. Of Rhys Bowen's recent historical novels, I'd say I like this one the best.

And more than anything, I must visit Venice again somehow, some way!
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 10 books804 followers
July 16, 2021
This is definitely one of those books where a good writer gets away with an unconvincing story. I read this one pretty quickly (and it is definitely a quick and easy read) but I could easily have had my snark on and loaded up my Kindle with OH COME ON notes. I wouldn't recommend this one if you're a critical reader, but if you're just looking for a story to while away a few hours and you like the setting and premise then go for it. Just suspend belief, pour yourself a glass of wine (preferably Italian) and off you go.

What this really isn't is a WWII spy story. I can't help feeling that the storyline of Chapter 1 was a deliberate attempt to hop onto the WWII female spy bandwagon and lure in the readers, because most of the book is a dual timeline love & loss story. We get back into the WWII action in about the last ten percent of the book, so naturally a lot of it has to be "and then this happened and then this happened" telling rather than showing all of what could have been a good story. With a bit of extra thought they could have split this one into a good series, come to think of it (I have the writer's habit of rewriting other people's books, sorry) and even kept the dual timeline framework, although I don't think it's strictly necessary (also jumping on the dual timeline bandwagon, perhaps? I just did the Historical Novel Society conference and dual timeline is apparently hot again).

The result of all this trend-cramming is that the whole book feels rushed and shallow. This may be the publisher's fault and not the author's--I've noticed before that good authors' quality drops once they're with Lake Union, as if they're on too tight a schedule and being dictated to re including certain plot elements. It's a short-term strategy designed to compete with us indie authors (although I'm definitely not on board with the indie publish-fast philosophy as my pace of publication demonstrates) but imo it strips the heart out of the stories.

There's also a big problem for me with the main 20th-century character, Juliet. She just doesn't seem to care, so I didn't care about her even though she really went through a lot. The 21st-century MC was pretty much Juliet Mark II, and the love interests were your standard Italian hunk x 2, all testosterone and la famiglia. Leo, frankly, is a bit of a shit in my opinion.

And yet I did enjoy the story because Bowen's a good writer and storyteller, and would be OK with reading more of her books at this point (I have dipped into her Royal Spyness series but didn't get far with it, so maybe I'll try again). It's definitely relaxation reading and free from the annoyances of some of the series, so perhaps...
Profile Image for ShannaBanana✨.
485 reviews29 followers
July 14, 2022
Omg. My heart. Words can’t begin to describe how much I love this book. I went into this not knowing what I was getting into. This was a beautiful but heartbreaking, gut wrenching read. I could not put it down as you can see by the started and finished date. The characters were absolutely brilliant and extremely likable and I rooted for them the whole time. Juliet and the charming Leo are star crossed lovers and it seems nothing can come between them. One way or another they find a a way to be together. I fell for him the moment he was written on the page. I won’t say anything else and I’m not all that great with reviews. Just read it. If o could give this 50 stars I would.
Profile Image for Susan in Perthshire.
1,534 reviews52 followers
April 17, 2021
This sounded such a fabulous premise - and it was set in Venice in two different time periods! I was so excited, especially as this is a new writer to me so the prospect of a whole set of new books to reead was exciting!

It should have been fabulous but I'm afraid I found it predictable, slow paced and lifeless. The events covered in the 1939-1943 segment were undoubtedly the more interesting but not enough for me to actually care about the predictable events which unfolded.

The modern day (2001) segment was much weaker and the characters were dull and unexciting. I really was very disappointed in this and I think if the author had settled on concentrating on one time period, she might have managed a more riveting story. Sorry this was not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
512 reviews121 followers
December 3, 2021
Truly delightful both the story and the writing. Using a dual time line pre and post WW11 (Juliet Browning) and 2001 (Caroline Grant). Both periods mainly set in Venice. Both involving our heroines falling in love with Italian men from a prominent Venician family.
Profile Image for Shirley McAllister.
975 reviews121 followers
March 18, 2021
Bells, Birds and Boats

An amazing story of romance, war, spies, and survival against the backdrop of WWII.

Juliet meets Leo in Venice and when she returns to a entice they find that even though Leo is married they cannot resist each other. When war breaks out she cannot leave because of a secret between her and Leo. She is stuck in Venice during the war and must hide her identity and pretend to be Italian from Venice, until her cover is blown. In those last fatal days Juliet leaves behind a part of herself that she can never recover. It is a story of Juliet's love of Venice, her love for Leo, and a bitter betrayal by someone she trusted.

In a duel story line, Juliet's great niece Caroline comes home to stay with her mother when her great aunt Juliet becomes I'll. Right before her great aunt passes she tells Caroline to go get a box with her name on it and to go to Venice. Caroline goes to Venice to take her great aunt's ashes. She searches for information on her great aunt during the war and uncovers a secret her great aunt took too her death.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it.

Thanks to Rhys Bowen, Lake Union Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of the book to read and review.
Profile Image for Vlada (Vladkabooks).
268 reviews14 followers
February 21, 2021
I can say with 100%, no with 1000% certainty that I am in love with this book, with every word that I have just read and with author's style! It was my second and I am absolutely sure not the last book by Rhys Bowen that I have read, I would like to discover more books by her. One more time she has proven to me that historical fiction is a great genre and that she is amazing British/American writer.
The story is told from two POVs and several different timelines:
1) Juliet (Lettie) Browning (1928; 1938; 1939-1945), young British girl who came to Venice for her 18th Birthday in 1928, where she met a boy from powerful Italian family Da Rossi , she came back later in 1938 as a school teacher accompanying girls on a trip and in 1939 as a foreign student, just before WWII began;
2) Caroline Grant (2001), young mother, who is trying to accept the end of her marriage and to move forward in her life. When her great-aunt Lettie died she received a task to go to Venice to scatter aunt's ashes and find the truth about Juliet's youth.
I am in love with both female characters - Juliet and Caroline. I was shocked how Juliet managed to leave everything she had been through behind and continue peacefully living. This is an example of extremely strong personality!
This book is not only heartbreaking and at the same time heartwarming story of eternal love, tragedy and courage, it is also an incredible Venice guide book, which make you feel like a Venetian and a part of this city. Now I want to go to Venice even more in order to walk in the streets where the novel took place.
I definitely recommend this book and I know that I have found one more all-time favourite historical fiction novel.
I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the review copy!
Profile Image for Piper.
39 reviews
April 21, 2021
probably more 2.5

i didnt care about caroline at all and im sorry girl idc if youre second or third cousins....maybe itd be one thing if something had already happened between them before she knew but EVERYTHING HAPPENED AFTER SHE KNEW THEY WERE RELATED.

Profile Image for Bskinner.
116 reviews4 followers
May 1, 2021
If this were the first book I had read by Rhys Bowen, it would be my last. I’m not even sure what genre this novel is—it fails as a historical novel. It’s even worse as a romance novel. The only part I enjoyed was the setting of Venice.
Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,368 reviews44 followers
April 13, 2021
... ahh Venice!

Two seperate times, two women who travel to Venice to discover the art world that exists there..
Juliet Browning has been before in 1928 but left hurriedly with her great aunt. She travels there again in 1938 to attend La Accademia di Belle Arti, the Academy of Fine Arts, a life dream. She’s reacquainted with a young man, Leonardo Da Rossi who Juliet had met on her previous visit. When war breaks out Juliet remains in Venice—until she can’t!
Caroline Grant, her great niece, who’d previous to her marriage had studied design, is in the midst of a divorce and child custody questions, all at the time of the Twin Towers attack. From her Great-Aunt Lettie she inherits some money, a box with Caroline’s name on it, containing three old fashioned keys, a ring and necklace and two sketchbooks.
Caroline decides to travel to Venice, to scatter Aunt’s ashes and to see if there’s anyway she can solve the mystery of the keys. I loved the way she uses her Aunt’s sketchbook to follow in her footsteps.
Questions are invoked, questions that open up the past and uncover some startling events that have had long term consequences.
I really enjoyed this dance between times.

A Lake Union ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Connie Cook.
536 reviews4 followers
May 17, 2021
I liked this book. It was a real fast read, and I was able to keep track of the characters. The setting was Venice during WWII. There was true love, art, hiding Jews, spying, a baby, wonderful descriptions of navigating Venice, deception, loyalty, and a secret kept and discovered after the death of Juliet.
Profile Image for Toni Osborne.
1,368 reviews45 followers
January 18, 2021
A sketchbook, three keys and a final whisper...Venice, a dying bequest by Caroline Grant’s beloved great-aunt Lettie, a wish that will bring Caroline to scatter Lettie’s ashes in the city she loved....

What a beautiful love story said with dual time-lines from 1928-44 when Juliet (Lettie) visited Venice with her aunt then when she returned in 1938 to attend Art College and hopefully rekindle her love affair with Leonardo Da Rossi. This sweet story said in a melancholic voice tells us what Lettie and Leo were up to. In alternate chapter we move forward to 2001 with Caroline reliving the precious moments of her gr-aunt and experiencing similar feelings. These two loveable women narrate their experience as it unfolds.

Venice seemed to be well known by the author. Ms. Bowen paints a stunning picture of the city with its vaporetto, narrow streets, many canals, festivals, churches, art exhibitions and of course the food, the colourful people and family ties . Yes, reading this story you need to pour a glass of Pinot Grigio, set aside a plate of prosciutto, some green olive, warm bread with some oil and voilà your taste buds are ready to savour succulent dishes and the Italian life style. yum...

As the story moves along at a snail pace just like a romantic gondola ride along the canal and lagoon islands, back and forth in time seamlessly we go to enjoy a story that mostly brings Venice and its people to life. Yes the author also mentions Venice’s Aqua Alta that floods the streets at high tide. What a sweet story this turned out to be even if part of the setting was during WW11. The characters are reasonably well developed even those who mysteriously disappear. I like following Lettie and Caroline in this story of doomed love....

I received this ARC from Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for my thoughts
Profile Image for Betül.
978 reviews233 followers
February 19, 2021
**ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review**

Every now and then I pick up a Historical Fiction novel because I enjoy the setting and the emotional punch it delivers. It is not easy for an author to make the reader connect and care for two main characters who live in a different time period. I always enjoy seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together and show a complete picture. I love trying to predict what will happen next and how everything is connected. The Venice Sketchbook started really good and I loved the setting of the story. I thought the division between the two timelines was done well. I looked forward to seeing what happened to both Juliet in the past and Caroline in the present time.

However, when there are two timelines it can get a bit difficult to tell a complete story in detail. That was my biggest letdown in this book. I just didn't have enough time to fully connect to either main character. The stories felt rushed, and especially that of Caroline was over before it really begun and it felt unfinished. It was lacking depth. I needed more time to build a relationship with the characters and I unfortunately wasn't able to. I also didn't feel like the romances where genuine. I just didn't feel any real love between the main characters and their love interest. I liked the writing style of the author, and it definitely was very easy to read and had a great flow. It was also emotional at times and I appreciate the author being able to make me shed a couple of tears. I am curious about this author's other books, so I'll probably check them out.
Profile Image for Patricia Sands.
Author 18 books950 followers
April 23, 2021
History, romance, mystery and total immersion in the canals and calles of Venice! Anyone who has spent time in Venice will relish rekindled memories and those who have never visited will feel as though they have by the end of this book. The dual timeline of the late 1930's into WW2 and then 2001, provides a most effective backdrop as this poignant story unfolds. Once I started I could not put this novel down.
Profile Image for Caroline arrow_reads.
90 reviews38 followers
April 29, 2021
The author pulled me in from the prologue and the setting of Venice with her wonderful writing. I learned so much about the unique city of Venice, Italy. As Caroline’s marriage has just failed, her loved great-aunt is dying. She is left with a box of sketches a few items, then with her final word of “Venice.” We also follow Juliet and her time in Italy back in 1939 as there are whispers of war in Europe. This story is full of secrets, art, and romance!⁣
Profile Image for Emily Frances.
137 reviews14 followers
May 20, 2021
4.5 Stars: I really enjoyed this book. I love how strong of a woman Lettie was and how strong she made Caroline. The descriptions in the book made me want to visit Venice! The only reason I did not give it 5 stars is I felt like the last few chapters felt rushed to wrap things up.
Profile Image for Pocahontas.
205 reviews9 followers
June 6, 2022
Caroline ist frisch getrennt, als ihre geliebte Großtante Lettie ihr ein ungewöhnliches Erbe hinterlässt: ein Skizzenbuch, drei Schlüssel und einen letzten Wunsch. Sie fliegt nach Italien, um ihr Versprechen zu erfüllen. Die Reise führt sie tief in eine Vergangenheit, die mehr mit ihrer Zukunft zu tun hat, als sie ahnt …
Die junge Kunstlehrerin Juliet reist 1938 nach Venedig, wo sie endlich ihre große Liebe Leonardo wiedersieht. Dessen adlige Familie missbilligt die Verbindung, doch nichts kann sie trennen – bis der Krieg Venedig erreicht und sie gezwungen sind, zu kämpfen und ein Geheimnis zu schützen, das sie für immer aneinander bindet.
Das Buch "Drei Schlüssel für Venedig" erzählt die Geschichte zweier Frauen.
Vergangenheit und Gegenwart wechseln kapitelweise.
Ich kann garnicht sagen welche Seite ich spannender fand, da sie miteinander verwoben waren.
Ich habe das Buch in einem Rutsch gelesen so gefangen war ich von der Geschichte. Tiefgründig, spannend und hoch emotional.
Ein echtes Lese Erlebnis.
"Die einzigen Geschichten, die sich zu lesen lohnen, haben ein glückliches Ende. Und deshalb habe ich während der Überquerung des Ärmelkanals beschlossen, sie zu zerreißen und ins Meer zu werfen, als hätte dieses Kapitel meines Lebens niemals existiert."
Große Lese Empfehlung
Profile Image for Kandi Steiner.
Author 72 books9,405 followers
January 4, 2022
This was a beautifully written and absolutely enthralling historical fiction that I just couldn't put down. My first Bowen read and I was amazed at how she so intricately weaved this story, unveiling more and more as the plot progressed. It was also an absolutely gorgeous tribute to Venice and Italy as a whole, which has a special place in my heart. I loved reading about all the fascinating characters, the art, the city, the love, the heartbreak, and more. My first read of 2022 and I'm very happy to have started my year with this beauty!
Profile Image for Morana Mazor.
342 reviews73 followers
February 18, 2023
Ukratko, ako ste osoba koja voli putovanja (i/ili opise istih), a trenutno ih niste u mogućnosti fizički upriličiti, ovo vam je knjiga uz koju zaista imate osjećaj da ste u Veneciji.🇮🇹 Da šećete njezinim trgovima, mostovima, uličicama i vozite se kanalima. Prepuna je opisa tamošnjih znamenitosti, života "na vodi", temperamenta Talijana, talijanskih jela i pića...🍕 Idealno da se malo "prebacite" u neko drugo okruženje.
U priči se, inače, isprepliću prošlost i sadašnjost, imamo i poneku ljubavnu priču, poneki razvod, a tu je i 2.svj. rat...
Čak mislim da je ideja odlična i da je mogla biti i bolje realizirana.
Sve u svemu, knjiga koja će vam ispuniti pokoju (hladnu) večer.
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