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His Last Duchess
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VINE VOICEon 30 July 2010
To be honest, this is a title that's based on a poem and a pretty short one at that so there wasn't really any background material to fall back upon for rounding the characters or for authenticity which unfortunately makes for a very weak title. This offering was not well written, the characters were pretty archetypal and to be blunt the author over padded this offering and not only made it something that really didn't do much but took the story arc from plausible to improbable to the ridiculous. Personally I feel that I've been spoilt with historical fiction bodice rippers by authors like Philippa Gregory and really was given an inferior title by this author. Save your cash and vote with your pocket. If you have to read this offering borrow it from the library.
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on 5 March 2011
Quite surprised at the number of positive reviews for this book. Maybe it's me. I found this distinctly below par. The novel is inspired by the famous poem by Browning 'My Last Duchess'. This is one of my favourite poems so a novel fleshing out the events referred to in the poem was always going to attract my interest. However, this just doesn't work as a novel; the author hasn't drawn the characters well and they remain caricatures with very little back story. Some aspects of the book are interesting and well researched, particularly the fresco making but the story itself really could have been set anywhere - sixteenth century Italy or nineteen fifties Long Island as there is little effort made to relate the world which the characters inhabit to how they might think and react to the events in the story. Motivations are loosely explained if at all and there is little insight beyond the superficial. I found myself flicking through it hoping it might get more interesting and it never does. Not really worth the time or money.
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VINE VOICEon 20 August 2010
This is the sort of book to take away with you on a wet weekend as it immediately conjures a sense of the hot sun of Renaissance Italy.One of Gabrielle Kimm's strengths is that she is able to convey that heat and light to someone like me, sitting in Cumbria with the grey rain sheeting down outside. Her other strength is in describing the minutiae of life in a Tuscan estate, including a wonderful description of the kitchens, the intricacies of falconry, the manufacture of lime, and most of all the lost art of fresco painting. Impeccably researched, the history is woven fluidly into the plot so that you never feel as if it is slowing the story.The plot is fast-moving and unfolds from the poem with inevitability, but there is a twist in the tale which is very satisfying to the reader - I shan't spoil it for you though.

Lucrezia comes across as a sweet-natured heroine, out of her depth in a marriage to the sinister and controlling Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. In many ways his conflicted character drives the book, and the reader is both fascinated and repulsed by his developing psychology. In terms of the poem, Gabrielle Kimm has managed to make sense of the hidden story behind the monologue, and I doubt if I will ever be able to read the poem again without remembering this book.

One word of warning though for parents and teachers who might buy this book for a child who is studying the poem - best read it yourself before giving it to younger readers - not just because it is an excellent book, but because you might want to check out the adult nature of the themes before passing it on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the character of Francesca, Alfonso's whore, is one I look forward to meeting in Gabrielle's next book, The Courtesan's Choice.
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on 5 December 2011
This book is excellent. It should be a best seller. I think it holds up against writers such as Phillipa Gregory.

The plot holds you and is fast paced, whilst giving a good idea of the life of a woman living in Italy at that time.

You hope it will come out all right in the end - but will it, how can it? There is more than one plot and the story interweaves. I cant remember now because i read it too fast. So i am going to have to re-read it soon. I hardly ever re-read books - so theres a recommendation for you.

Give this book a try - i was not interested in history/romances before i read The other Boleyn Girl. But there is so much more to these types of books than history, but what history there is brings it to life in a way i never understood it before. Now i know thats been said many times before but its so true.

Its a different world so try it if you like Sci fi also, or time travel. Well there you are it can appeal to all, those who like biographies too.

I will be actively seeking out this writers 2 other books.
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on 30 March 2011
I really loved this book! The story, the setting, the characters, the writing --- everything was absolutely superb. Ms. Kimm's style of writing is so wonderfully descriptive without ever being overburdened by unnecessary details. Right from the start I was drawn completely into the story, and truly felt like I'd been transported right back to Renaissance Italy. In that way, reading this book felt very much like watching a movie --- the scenes unfolded right before my eyes.

The characters were all vividly drawn --- they all felt absolutely real to me, particularly Lucrezia, Alfonso, Francesca and Jacomo! And I have to say, they stayed with me at all hours. They kept me from falling asleep at night and crept into my thoughts during the day.

Lucrezia, the happy, carefree girl who is suddenly thrust into a situation she doesn't understand (and how could she?!?!). She's such a charming heroine that I kept hoping and wishing for her to have a happy end.

Alfonso, who seems charming at first but who quickly turns out to be a coldhearted, controlling man for whom Lucrezia is not much more than a possession to show off. Alfonso is a cold and distant man whose thoughts are often disturbing, and who is slowly driven into a sort of madness by his inabilty to have a sexual relationship with his wife. There is a darkness in him from the start, and it only intensifies as the story unfolds.

And Jacomo, who truly loves Lucrezia and wants nothing more than to see her safe and happy. Sweet Jacomo who is light where Alfonso is dark.

"His last duchess" is a captivating and beautifully written novel of historical fiction, one that kept me immersed in its story from the first page to the last, and one whose characters I will not soon forget. There was even a point in the book at which I seriously considered calling in sick at work so I could keep reading --- it was that good!!!

I will definitely re-read it in the future, and I look forward to the release of Ms. Kimm's next book, "The Courtesan's Choice".
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on 19 September 2012
By about one-third of the way in I was trying to convince myself that this was not just another chick-lit novel set in Italy, but I failed, and ended disappointed because this could have been so much more. Historical novels are notoriously difficult to bring off, and risk being populated by characters with 21st century sensibilities plonked down in a different age. I think that is what happened here. Anyone who has travelled in Italy and seen the churches and works of art has to be aware of the extent to which religion was a factor in everyday life to an extent to which our secular age finds difficult to grasp. That was the huge hole in the centre of this novel. In the 16th century the first instinct of the characters would have been to weigh the consequences of their actions against their hopes of avoiding Purgatory or Hell. They would not have behaved within the moral framework of a bored modern housewife having it away with the buff young workman. An awareness of the religious dimension could have added much more drama to the emotional struggles taking place, and even, perhaps, have prevented some of the improbabilities involved in everyone unhestitatingly rallying to the Romeo and Juliet conspiracy at the end.
Overall, a reasonable (if scarcely original)story well written and well told, but not a good historical novel. But at least the bodices were mostly unlaced, rather than ripped, and perhaps that confers an appearance of class.
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on 5 December 2011
His Last Duchess is the debut novel by Author Gabrielle Kimm.

At just 16 years of age, it is Lucrezia de' Medici destiny to marry the fifth Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este. Despite her rose-tinted glasses of what marriage to a Duke would be like, she couldn't be any further from the reality!

With outside pressure from Vatican to produce an Heir to be able to keep the title within his family, this is not as easy as it should be. Alfonso becomes more resentful and distant towards his Duchess and runs into the arms of his Mistress, Francesca. Unknown to Lucrezia that this is going on behind her back but his absence makes her feel more and more alone.

When Alfonso hires the talented Artist, Fra Pandolf to paint the Fresco masterpiece, could the sitting for this be the distraction she needs? Can she find happiness within the Castello grounds? Can Alfonso grow to love his Duchess or has his resentment gone too far?

What a fantastic read! Originally inspired by a Robert Browning poem, His Last Duchess. Gabrielle has written a tragic yet very passionate story full of betrayal and twisting plots. everything you'd expect from a Historical novel.

I adore this genre and certainly was not disappointed. Set in sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara, packed full of historical facts that clearly Gabrielle has spent a huge amount of time researching. Great story, beautifully written with lots of "behind closed doors" activity that is very appropriate to the period of the story. Whilst it rather detailed in places, it fits perfectly within the text and not at all out-of-place. Wonderful strong characters and relationship, particular mention about the Duchess's Childhood Nurse, Giulietta and the wonderful closeness they shared. Also loved Francesca's character.

Passion, heartbreak, illicit affairs and sorrow makes this a must read - fabulous!
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on 26 October 2011
I read this book - which I was attracted to by the title which refers to a favourite Robert Browning poem - over two gloriously hot, sunny October days sitting by the Thames near London and it wasn't that hard to imagine myself in renaissance Italy. Kimm's very good on atmosphere, and her achievement owes much to some excellent research and attention to detail, as well as some fine writing. I particularly enjoyed the fascinating description of the technicalities of fresco painting, which could have been boring, but not the way she tells it, woven in and out, as it is, with the tension of Lucrezia's burgeoning desire for the artist's assistant, Jacomo.

Alfonso, the narrator of Browning's poem, could so easily have been a pantomime villain, but in Kimm's hands he's a complex, psychological study; it's possible to understand and pity him while at the same time finding him seriously scary.

This is also a novel about feisty women, Lucrezia herself, who develops from a naïve teenager into a determined young woman, ready to risk everything for happiness, and Alfonso's mistress, Francesca, a whore with not only a good heart but a strong moral centre.

As the action develops the plot grows increasingly gripping, with several unexpected but entirely believable twists. The ending is brilliant and I have to confess I didn't see the way in which it returns to the poem coming. Very clever.
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on 15 November 2011
It's very rare that an author can take something as amazing and timeless as a poem such as Browning's and turn it into a successful novel.

Browning's poem, on which the story is based, is one of my favourite poems, so when I first saw this title I knew instantly it just had to be based on the poem.

Gabrielle Kimm tells the intimate story of the Duke of Ferrara's Duchess, a 16 year old Lucrezia de' Medici. Throughout the story we see the marriage struggle as no heir is conceived and Lucrezia discovers that love (outside of the marriage) is a dangerous game to play when your the duchess of a man in violent torment.

The writer successfully weaves a story around the poem, dropping in hints, such as Fra Pandolf's painting, and the Duchess not respecting his ancient family name, as she loves all the people around her, and refuses to be rude to her servants.

The feelings and emotions of the character's are so well described, the reader can empathise and understand; even at the end I felt a little sorry for the Duke, which shows the writer can bring feeling to even the most disagreeable character.
Kimm also gives us depth and passion to each of her characters and we can see the psychological torment the Duke experiences.

In the poem the Duke 'gave commands', but what Kimm does is give the reader a twist to the story and some mystery that satisfies the audience.

For a first novel it doesn't get much better than this; the novel has love, trauma, twists, mystery, empathy and brings the reader into sixteenth century life for a Duchess. Undoubtedly it establishes Gabrielle Kimm as an upcoming novelist that I'm sure will write many more great novels.
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on 6 March 2011
Normally books like this dont capture me, but this one certainly did!

I was intrigued after studying 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Downing at GCSE. The poem was very dark, and it made you want to know more about what happened. I wish the book had been around when I was doing my GCSE's, it gave me a better understanding to the poem and made it much more interesting.

The book itself is brilliant. The characters are so believable what with Alfonso's dark and chilling ways and Lucrezia's sweetness. I found it very chilling reading Alfonso's bits as he is such a dark character and is most definantly a villain what with his madness which is so cleverly portrayed.

The book had me gripped from page 1 right to the end. It is incredibly well-written with a lot of detail which makes it such an interesting read. It has such a touching love story that it is frustrating that Lucrezia is 'trapped' within Alfonso's grasp and you can really see the desperation of her situation. The ending is the best bit though. I stayed up 2 hours later than I wanted to just to read right through to the end. It almost had me yelling in furstration, but then in the end it was a brilliant ending and I cant say anymore without giving away spoilers!

All in all I recommend to anyone who is/has studying/studied the poem as it makes it much easier to understand and in turn a lot easier to write about (I think). But even if you've never heard of the poem, I still recommend as it is so touching and a really interesting novel showing what 17th century Italy was like!
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