Title: The Stargazer
Author: Michele Jaffe
Release Date: January 2014
Length: 374 pages
Series?: Arboretti Family Saga #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Thriller
Source: Diversion Press
The midnight shadows of Renaissance Venice conceal intrigue, romance…and murder.
Bianca Salva’s love of science has led her to defy the conventions of her day and illicitly practice medicine among the poor of Venice. She’s managed to keep her pass time a secret–until she is discovered over the lifeless body of a young courtesan, by the last person she’d ever want to see.
Ian Foscari, Conte d’Aosto, is known for being rich, handsome…and heartless. Finding Bianca over the dead body, he concludes she’s the murderer. Yet for reasons he cannot explain, her protests move him. He offers to give her one week to prove her innocence, but she’ll have to move into his house and be his prisoner. Her other option: the authorities and certain death.
Bianca has no choice but to agree to his maddening terms. She’s furious at having to cede her hard won freedom, and unprepared for the effect of his presence on her, for the longings he awakes in parts of her body she’s only studied in books. As Bianca struggles to focus on finding the killer, Ian fights his own battle between the undeniable attraction he feels for her and the painful scars of his past.
When their mutual attraction blazes to life, they are both dazzled by it’s force. Passion burns through their reserves, teaching them both to trust again. Love again. But this fragile alliance is soon tested. Lured into a web of scheming and betrayal, Bianca and Ian find themselves in a race against the clock to save their lives, their hearts, and the city of Venice itself.
This book is different in a lot of ways. First, the novel is set in Europe, which is different than my typical fare, but not unappealingly so. The focus of the novel is Bianca. She has essentially been shackled to her aunt and uncle since her father’s death. She practices medicine in a time when it was unseemly for a woman to do so. There are a few comments from her aunt throughout the book about how she has embarrassed the family because of her chosen occupation. This endeared her to me even more.
I think it is because someone hurt you once, and now you want to hurt someone. – Bianca
Bianca is a strong character: young, smart, kind, beautiful, talented, innocent, naive, strong, prideful. She ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and appears to be a murderer. Her discoverer, the Count, takes her prisoner for his own personal reasons. He does not want to believe Bianca a murderer, but he does not want to believe what she says either.
Women’s minds were so utterly devious that they could be trusted to think of anything that would contribute to the illusion of their innocence, to remove the burden of culpability from their narrow shoulders. He had learned that lesson well and would not – would not – be duped again.
The Count is another character altogether. He is a cynic of everything, drowning his present life with his failures and losses of the past. He suspects everyone of something – most especially Bianca.Yet at times he can be very kind and thoughtful. He is an odd man haunted by his own demons – demons that he will give in to over the love of his own family, the Arboretti.
Now get back to your job, which is to make enough money so we all continue living like princes, and let us do the work of ogres. Doesn’t suit you at all. – Franscesco
The Arboretti are an interesting bunch. There are the two uncles who act like old biddies, trying to marry the Count off. They both come from the medical profession so this was an interesting quirk. They hover and coddle like no female character I’ve yet read.
Then there is the brother and the cousins. They each have their own famous – or infamous – ways about them, and they all love the ladies of the land, which is also the major focus of the novel in the context of Bianca’s work. Often she administers to the prostitutes and poor, and through this she has developed extensive connections that come back to benefit her in several ways throughout the novel. The Arboretti men are all protective and supportive of Bianca, welcoming her into the folds of their warm, friendly and humorous family.
What I was waiting for was how the novel would fall into place, how the plot would get moving, and Michelle Jaffe delivered! All I can say is the Arboretti are arms and weaponry dealers, and are much hated by quite a few, and there is an explosion – and missing items! Narrowing down the whodunit list – and finding the murderers – becomes increasingly complex…but there is a traitor in the midst!
This is a wonderful read. The characters are well-developed with their own individual strong suits and flaws. I felt that I became a part of the Arboretti family while reading this novel. The murder and Bianca’s commitment to solving it kept me going – along with the Arboretti’s arising business problems. I could not manage to put two and two together until it was almost staring me in the face. The novel is tied up nicely, with no loose ends that seem hasty or overdone, which is always a plus in my book. I am looking forward to reading the other Arboretti novels.
Michele is the author of the Bad Kitty series of YA books as well as thrillers and romances for adults. After getting her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard, she retired from academia and decided to become an FBI special agent or glamorous showgirl, but somehow instead ended up writing. A native of Los Angeles, California, Michele and her sparkly shoes currently reside in New York City.