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In 1525, Simonetta di Saronno is a young widow who has lost her husband Lorenzo to the Italian wars.  After his death, she discovers that Lorenzo has spent all their money, and she must find a way to make more if she wants to keep hold of her grand home.

Bernardino Luini is a highly talented apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, who is hired to decorate a church, and offers to pay Simonetta if she will be his model for the Madonna.  Although they initially feel hostility towards one another, they soon end up falling in love,  but their love brings disgrace upon them, as people feel that she has disrespected the memory of her husband.

In a further bid to save her home, Simonetta enlists the help of Manodorata, a Jewish money lender, who helps her to create a drink from the almond trees that grow on her estate.

Will Simonetta and Bernardino ever find happiness together, and will Simonetta manage to save her home?  And what effect can a mute, almost dead soldier have on Simonetta’s future?

I was not sure what to make of this book.  Initially I thought I was going to struggle with it, but I did start to enjoy it.  However, I never felt that the characters were particularly well drawn, and I was not able to connect on any level with them.  The story was interesting enough to hold my attention, but I did guess the twist very early on.

The most interesting and shocking part of the story was the ill-treatment of Jews by the Christians at the time.  Although this was something that I was aware of, it is portrayed very strongly in this book, and for me, this was far more effective than the romantic aspect.

I think most fans of historical fiction would probably enjoy this book, and although I wasn’t as captivated by it as I might have hoped, I would probably read more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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