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Playing by Heart

My young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart, was recently released by Vinspire publishing. There's a brief plot summary below the cover image on this page. Scroll down for review excerpts.


At its core, Playing by Heart is the story of two sisters struggling to follow their true calling, even when it conflicts with their father's goals. It's a clean historical romance appropriate for ages 11 and up. 


Playing by Heart was inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time--mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi. For information about them, see this website I created.


I'm thrilled that the response to Playing by Heart has been so positive. I'm especially honored that DePaul University Education Professor Roxanne Owens called the novel "a must-read addition for school libraries everywhere." See her full review below.


Exciting News:
Playing by Heart has also been included in the
"Totally Feminine Genius Generations Book Club" as recommended for mother/daughter book clubs for girls ages 11-15!

        For details, and the complete list of titles, see this article on
Virtue Mentoring for Teens and Girls


If you'd like to read the first chapter, see the publisher's website, where you'll also find "buy" links. 

Review Excerpts

"Martino's romantic read features lovable characters and is vibrant in setting and detail. . . . The attraction between Emilia and Antonio is sweet and innocent, and readers will hope for their relationship to blossom. All in all, Martino's latest is a sweet and pleasurable read."



"Martino explores the gilded passageways of Hapsburg-era Milan's
white aristocracy with technically accomplished descriptions of privilege, luxury, and teenage longing."

—Kirkus Reviews


    "I read this novel in a single sitting! The story of sisters Emilia and Maria Salvini is riveting, rich, and like a lovely piece of music, impossible to forget."

 —Louise Hawes, author of The Language of Stars and The Vanishing Point


     "A virtuoso performance by Carmela Martino. You'll love Emilia Salvini in her impossible quest to be herself at a time and place when girls had no choices."

—Mary Jane Beaufrand, Edgar Award honoree and author of Primavera and Useless Bay


"A beautifully composed tale of love, faith, and family! Playing by Heart is sure to win the affection of its readers."

—A. J. Cattapan, author of Angelhood and 7 Riddles to Nowhere


     "Playing by Heart is a lyrical story that captures the reader from the first page. The words literally sing. Authentic, strong character voice, rich and detailed historical setting, and an intriguing plot all come together to create a can't-put-it-down book. The story provides a look into the fascinating world of 18th-century Italy in a way that no history book ever could. The fact that Playing by Heart is based on the lives of extraordinary real women who were quite ahead of their time makes it a must-read addition for school libraries everywhere. Carmela Martino's writing style blends the historical facts with the emotional family life details in a way that creates a dramatic, beautifully written novel that will capture the hearts of readers of all ages."

—Roxanne F. Owens, PhD, Chair, Teacher Education, DePaul University


     "In Playing by Heart, Carmela Martino transports readers to the palazzos and salons of eighteenth-century Italy, revealing from one sublimely crafted and evocatively detailed page to the next the lives of two passionate and inspiring sisters—women who are both far ahead of their time and absolutely believable, and who, thanks to Martino's rich characterization, linger in the mind as dear friends might, long after this beautiful, compelling, and ultimately hopeful novel draws to its rewarding end."

—Karen Halvorsen Schreck, author of Broken Ground and Sing for Me


     "Playing by Heart is as lyrical as the gifted musicians that inhabit its pages. Carmela Martino, in an impeccably-written story, captures both the grace and refinement of 18th-century Italy and the timeless dilemmas to which the modern reader can relate—the pressure of familial expectations and obligations, living in the shadow of a sibling, the desire to direct one's own destiny, and love tested by time, distance, parental resistance, and class."

—Carolyn Astfalk, author of Ornamental Graces and Rightfully Ours


     "Strong, intelligent female characters and meticulously researched detail drew me into this novel of 18th-century Italy. Intrigue, music, and love are all ingredients in this tale of upper-class teen girls seeking to steer their adult lives. This is an Italian tapestry come to life."

—Mary Ann Rodman, author of Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars



     "It's tricky to write an historical novel. It's even trickier to write a really good one, and for it to speak to an adolescent audience. Yet Carmela Martino's done exactly that: Brought history alive through masterful storytelling. Her teenage Sisters Salvini breathe on every page. You experience their joys and pains as they make their ways in a restrictive society that won't understand or appreciate their extraordinary talents. You cheer them on as they confront their own, internal limitations with a growing maturity, mind, and yes, heart. Indeed, Playing by Heart achieves what we look for in good historical fiction: Teach us something about today through yesterday—and entertain us in the process."

—Marie Ann Donovan, EdD, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, DePaul University


     "This beautiful story takes place over 200 years ago, yet its lessons are timeless. Emilia and Maria have so much to teach us about balancing one's calling, one's gifts, and what brings one joy. Both young women navigate these decisions with grace, beauty, determination, and compassion. And, in our current age where instant gratification seems to be expected, Carmela Martino gives us the gift of watching true love blossom slowly."

—Peggy Goralski, Director, Middle School Faith Formation, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church


     "Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia's father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino's novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale."

—Barb Szyszkiewicz, Editor at 


     "Carmela Martino has created a historical heroine contemporary readers can relate to. Emilia struggles to be her own person and pursue her own dreams while still meeting her need to please her family, friends, and society in general. The fact that Martino was able to do this while immersing the reader in Milan in the eighteenth century is astounding. One doesn't feel overwhelmed with description, yet it's easy to imagine Emilia's world. Little tidbits of detail reveal the extensive research that must have gone into the writing. A glossary aides in understanding this remarkable time and place."

—Gayl Smith, MLS, retired K-12 Teacher/Librarian


     "This is a heartfelt romance, very much a period piece but it would resonate with women in our day. It documents the struggles of any gifted woman trying to overcome gender bias. The relationships between the sisters and their eventual fates is quite captivating as they unfold. And it tells a tale of love, which is complicated by the age in which Emilia and Bellini lived, but love stories are timeless."

—Dorothy Strening, Retired Parish Liturgy/Music Director