Playing by Heart by Carmela A. Martino

She could compose anything . . . except the life she wanted.


Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Ironically, Emilia’s pious older sister, Maria, would gladly become a nun. But Father won’t allow it—her brilliant language skills are too important to his quest for noble status. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents are as indispensable as her sister’s skills. First, though, Emilia must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams but her sister’s very life.

The novel is inspired by the lives of two extraordinary sisters who were far ahead of their time.

Catholic Press Association award-winner 2018
2018 Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA) winner for Children's/Young Adult Fiction


"This well-researched novel will leave you feeling like you time-traveled to 18th century Italy,

but Playing by Heart's story of young women trying to fulfill their potential and find their place in the world is timeless."

—Today's Catholic Homeschooling

"The characters in this book are interesting and very likable. Topics covered are family ties, vocation and feminism.

Being a historical romance will enable this book to be appealing to a variety of readers.

So much of the history of Italy is noted in this book that it could be a selected read for high schools."

—Catholic Press Association

“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

"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

"Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. "

—Barb Szyszkiewicz, Editor at