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4.2 out of 5 stars34
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 22 November 2009
In the early 16th century, a brash, womanising but talented young artist studying under Da Vinci, has to leave town in a hurry, fleeing from a cuckolded husband. Twenty years later, he commences a great religious fresco using a reluctant and recently widowed beauty as his Madonna and a strange love affair develops. In a parallel story, a young orphan girl believes she has seen her future husband when his reflection appears in a well. She describes him to her `grandmother' and they bring the ragged mute to their home and here too, comes love. Each story is told in memorable scenes and the narrative contains many vivid characters. This story of art, beauty and love is suffused with all three for there is art and beauty in the writing and obvious love of her subject by this talented author. At the heart of the story lies truth for the artist is Bernadino Luini and the fresco and its Madona can still be seen in Saronna. Apart from a maybe doubtful climax which had echoes of 'Lord Jim' about it, this was a pair of love stories beautifully interwoven.
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on 30 June 2009
This is a beautifully writen novel set in Renaissance Italy and a skilful blend of fact and fiction. One of the attractions of the novel is the well researched setting and the weaving of the fiction into the factual historical background. The story is brilliantly constructed and the characters have depth and passion which makes the reader care about them. Fiorato introduces them skilfully and builds them for us so they are thoroughly believeable.
This is a story about love, art, the struggle against adversity, religious intollerance and about making sacrifices. Bernadino Luini, the apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci meets and falls in love with Simonetta di Saronno - a noblewoman who has been widowed by the wars. She has fallen upon hard times, so agrees to let Luini paint her as the Madonna in one of his frescoes. So the story begins. Fiorato crafts her story skilfully and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 17 October 2009
I read this book on holiday.... It's a fantastic read. A great page turner. Couldn't put it down. It's really well researched and the art history became an interest all of its own alongside the storyline. The author has a vast knowledge of history, art history and religious history, it's gives the book an added layer, all too often a depth that's missing. She leads the reader through the story, explaining the context and history, not by way of distraction, but by way of moving the story forward, intriguing. Lads, there is a little romance in it, but it's not soppy at all so don't be put off. The author is not shy of character or dialogue. And the central character is a strong but human woman who you immediately relate to. I highly recommend it.
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on 8 November 2012
Marina Fiorato's books are really good holiday fare. A gripping adventure and a romance. The Madonna of the Almonds is a bit like an Italian fairy story - including fairytale castles and the old woman living in the forest. But for those that love that kind of fantasy and love Italy, it's an easy pleasurable read with lots of exciting moments and sufficient complexity to keep the reader gripped, but not so complicated that you lose track. One of Fiorato's strengths is weaving in bits of Italian history to her novels and this gives the book a richness that this sort of tale would otherwise lack. Find yourself a nice relaxing chair, a sun drenched Italian terrace, a glass of chilled white wine and drink this book down. I did.
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Lovers of historical romances will not be disappointed in Marina Fiorato's follow-up to her super debut The Glassblower of Murano.

Her second novel is set in Lombardy, specifically Saronno - home to the famous liqueur Amaretto, and the story behind the creation of that exotic tipple is the inspiration for the novel. In the early 1500s a church in Saronno commissioned frescoes from one of Leonardo Da Vinci's students - Bernardino Luini. Luini needed a model for the Madonna and a young widowed innkeeper posed for him - and became his lover. To thank him, she created Amaretto from apricot kernels steeped in brandy, and the legend was born.

Bernardino Luini is real - his work can be seen in museums around the world, and his frescoes of the Madonna in Saronno, and the Saints in a Milanese monastery exist. The latter in particular are said to be particularly fine and equal in skill to that of his master. Apart from his art, not much is known of his life, so the author was able to create a strong narrative involving him and the Amaretto legend.

The author has made the widow of this tale a young noblewoman, Simonetta, forced into straightened circumstances after her husband's premature death in battle. With no money in the coffers, she may be forced to borrow money from a Jew, but in Manodorato the local moneylender, she finds a friend who persuades her to try to make some money rather than borrow. She reluctantly agrees to pose for the painter, a known philanderer and unbeliever, and of course he falls in love with his muse and she begins to have feelings too - however she's still meant to be in mourning. A stolen kiss leads to their denouncement in front of the visiting Cardinal and Bernardino has to flee. Simonetta retreats to her villa where she finds a still and experiments with the almonds growing in her orchard - and we know where that will lead!

The main story is set against a period in history where the Jews were being subjugated wherever they settled, extra-marital relationships would very likely end in execution, and corrupt cardinals had their fingers in many pies. Yet (renaissance) art is a powerful redeemer; and having escaped to an abbey in Milan, Luini starts to paint frescoes of the Saints - martyrs all, and finds himself and what he must do in their agonies.

Marina has created another richly imagined world and this made for an immensely satisfying comfort read - a summer bestseller for sure. Her first novel had Venice as a co-star; here, art fulfills that role admirably. Should I go to Milan, I'd love to see the Luini frescoes. The only irony though is that although we strongly associate Amaretto with almonds, the current liqueur is apparently 'Nut-free'!
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on 10 July 2009
After reading The Glassblower of Murano, I wondered if a second book could possibly live up to it! Guess what? It did! I was in the book with the characters, living their hardships, their loves, seeing the scenery - absolutely stunningly well written. I really need to know when a third book might be released, I can't get enough of this lady's writing.
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on 1 June 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed this book more so than the Glassblower of Murano. There were so many fascinating characters each with their own story to tell. I enjoyed the rich descriptions of art, history and the stories of the Saints and I loved the message of how love and faith can conquer all. Another immensely satisfying read.
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on 13 August 2013
This is quite a complex story involving a young lord, his wife, an arrogant young artist and a young peasant girl. The young lord is killed in battle, leaving his wife with far less money than was thought; the young artist studied with da Vinci but is indiscreet with a wealthy client and effectively banished; the young peasant girl learns to behave as a young woman and helps her granny save a life. Into this mixture is thrown a wealthy Jew who helps the destitute lady, and who in turn finds out that the artist helps his son. The details of 16th century Italy are cleverly woven into the story so it avoids the pitfall of being just a history lesson. The influence of the Church, the anti-semitism and the social structures of the day are clearly portrayed so that the reader fully understands the restraints society places on each character, and the ramifications when these are breached. The lady grows from a very sweet but very spoiled young woman, to a business woman who earns respect for herself rather than her rank. The denoument of the story centres around the wounded soldier found by the peasant girl, and how the characters chose their futures.
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on 22 October 2012
By Marina Fiorato. Another of her fabulous novels. I have found it most entertaining, better than one or two of the others.
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on 18 November 2012
I had just returnd from an Italian holiday when I read this. The central characters were charming but the story is not always believable. BUT, it was a lovely read and I will certainly read others books by this author and suggest to my friends.
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