Virago, £12.99stg

Cecilia Cornaro got a taste for being "loved properly" when she was lured from her bath to fall into the arms of the famed seducer Cassanova. Just thirteen, she was a child of Venice, a city which at that time – the late eighteenth century – spent six months of the year in Carnival. As Cecilia says, "our morals were indeed somewhat nimble' but the people of Venice were happy in their extravagances and amorality. The last woman to be loved by Cassanova, Cecilia blossomed in his devoted care until he was forced to leave Venice and his broken hearted young mistress.

Twenty-five years later, and now a celebrated portrait painter, Cecilia encounters the second man she will love, but he will never be capable of loving her as Cassanova did. His name is Lord Bryon, the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" poet who has fled to Venice to escape notoriety in England. He torments and tortures Cecilia, yet she continues to love him obsessively, although acknowledging his faults and his failings.

Set against a backdrop of Venice's crumbling and decaying splendour, 'Carnevale' is an epic journey through the eventful life of Cecilia Cornaro and both her famed lovers. A radiantly decadent Venice is brought vividly alive as Cecilia observes the city and its inhabitants through her the eyes of a painter. Its sea-kissed sensuality infuses the tale with much charm and character. An entrancing novel, 'Carnevale' is not easily forgotten.

Caroline Hennessy