While it took me awhile to get through this book because of circumstances, Last of the Amazons was a book I couldn’t put down when I resumed reading it in the dead of night ’til the morning.

This is my second book as I make my way through my two challenges :  Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.

Author :  Steven Pressfield

Publication Date – First Edition :  June 1, 2002 (Hardcover)

Publisher – First Edition :  Doubleday

Publication Date – This Edition :  July 2003 (Trade Paperback)

Publisher – This Edition :  Bantam Dell

ISBN :  0-553-38204-7

The Story :

It is about 1250 B.C., way before Troy or the Battle of Thermopylae, a time where stories have been regarded as myth or legend. It has been told that a nation of Amazons, a warrior race of only women, existed as an independent, self-sufficient society that stood as a testament to the strength, intelligence and hardiness of the supposedly weaker gender.  Steven Pressfield picks up on this tale from accounts of Plutarch and legends and carves his own marvelous what-if of an all-female society with its own culture, mores, lifestyle and government.

The story opens with a Greek family’s nanny, an Amazon slave named Selene, who escapes and unwittingly induces her eldest charge to follow her. A search party of some of the noblest Greeks follow the trail of their comrade’s daughter and Selene. While at sea, the men who had  previously encountered the Amazons with King Theseus tell their tales of these extraordinary warrior women.

When King Theseus of Athens accidentally discovers these legendary women, he sets off an irrevocable chain of events that seal the Amazons’ fate. Antiope, the Amazonian queen falls in love with Theseus, and elopes with him. The new queen Eleuthera tells her nation that the elopement was actually a kidnapping.  In their fury, the entire Amazon nation rounds up its allies and marches on a warpath to Athens to rescue their queen. The story that follows centers on the politics, logistics, and brilliant war tactics these Amazons employ in their war with Athens and continues on to when Antiope returns to them as a foe and heralds the Amazonian civilization’s diminishment into the twilight of their age.

The Review :

I have come out impressed by yet another of novel by Steven Pressfield. Last year, I had been floored by Gates of Fire, his gripping must-read version of the Spartans’ desperate stand against the Persian empire at the Battle of Thermopylae. While Last of the Amazons falls a little short of this novel, it, nevertheless, still is a dazzling read.

There is nothing exciting in the first few pages of the book with the plodding pace and a rather abstract ramble on Amazonian beliefs. But if you just hang in there, you’ll notice that the pace picks up in a while. Soon, you find yourself drawn into a fascinating legendary nation of wholly warrior women equal to men in physical stamina and battle skills. Pressfield tells of a civilization of true feminists, sufficient unto themselves and needing no man except for the serious business of procreation.

Although Pressfield has his doubts of the existence of the Amazons, he writes of them as if he himself had gone back in time and been intimate with their society, lifestyle, and psyche. Indeed, Pressfield’s real forte here is his ability to get readers involved with the story and  through his vivid writing, immersed  in the culture and mindset of the Amazonian civilization.

Without the author’s note at the end about the historical reality of the Amazons being largely based on Plutarch’s accounts and unsupported by archeological evidence, I would have thought this story based on historical fact and not simply on the author’s remarkable imagination. I am sure however that his renderings of the battle scenes are well researched accounts of how lance, shield, horse, etc. had been employed or how different ancient warrior nations conducted themselves in battle.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Ancient battle enthusiasts will be delighted with Pressfield’s meticulous and fascinating detailing. It all comes to life with his vivid accounts of battle strategy, politics, weapons, psychology , emotions, tactics and gore in living detail. For instance, it is quite fascinating to read about how the discus was employed as a weapon.

For the more sociologically inclined readers, Pressfield will not disappoint with his wonderful depiction of Amazonian culture and lifestyle.  In addition,  he handles the dynamics of human decisions and emotions very well.  There even is a marvelous debate between King Theseus and Eleuthera on the advantages or disadvantages of civilized society, the Athenian King arguing for the settlement of a civilization for its advancement while the upcoming Amazonian Queen rebutting a wandering society’s grounding for its loss of freedom and oneness with the natural earth.

Just a small caveat:  Some may be confused with the format of the book. The story is told from about four or five character viewpoints so it would be most helpful to take note of the narrator’s name before every chapter. Also, as I have said, this book needs a little more reading attention with the slew of names and the author’s wordy and somewhat old-fashioned prose (perhaps made to match the “ancient-ness” of the story(?) ).

In A Nutshell:

Steven Pressfield is my go-to for ancient war books.  I have not yet read any author who can match his breathtaking battle scenes laid out in all its  glory, page after riveting page.   If you have, I would appreciate the info for my comparison.  Moreover, this book exemplifies Pressfield’s  exceptional talent in handling  intricate layers in a story.

On the whole, Last of the Amazons is a very well written novel, mesmerizing on all accounts.

My Mark :  Outstanding


Author : Hester Browne
Publication Date : September 5, 2006
Publisher : Pocket
ISBN-10: 1416527265
ISBN-13: 978-1416527268
No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Organized, practical and  self-deprecating Melissa Romney-Jones gets sacked when her company goes into a merger.  She runs into a  school acquaintance and learns that her favorite highschool teacher had gone into her own business.  Desperate to pay the bills, she applies for a job.  Little does she know that the business is actually a dolled-up seedy escort service.  In disgust, she quits but gets an a-ha! moment when she thinks of the business along cleaner and respectable lines — that of providing a pretend-girlfriend service to help men get rid of unwanted girlfriends,   have access to confidence-boosting trophy companionship, get advice on wardrobe and hygiene, among other things, without the hanky-panky.

She sets herself up as the woman any man would want on his arm with a significant wardrobe change, a blonde wig, and a syrupy, girlish name of  Honey.  Honey is the more assertive, cosmopolitan, woman-of-the-world version, the complete opposite of frumpy, timid Melissa.  But when she meets the man of her dreams, she just doesn’t know:  does he want the fantasy Honey or the real-life Melissa?

The Review :

Cute, funny, and spirited, this one is a rather enjoyable read.  Although, not quite up to par with those of Sophie Kinsella,  The Little Lady Agency is quite entertaining,  written in true British style and humor.

If you are to like the book because of the lead character, then Melissa will not disappoint.  With a lot of spunk,  she does what she knows best to do and dares to do so unconventionally.    Although she can be naive, occasionally stupidly so,  some readers would love this imperfect girl ,  who like everyone else,  tries to positively face the world and not cry into her cups of tea.  She isn’t the ideal strong woman who can stand up to any situation.  A girl does need help sometimes.  Well, lots of times for most.  But she is one feisty lady with a big heart.

Pleasant and light, this is another amusing beach read…a nice companion to pass the time with.

My Mark :   Good  — Entertaining!

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  May 19, 2009

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345512251

ISBN-13: 978-0345512253

No. of pages :  384

The Review :

I have dispensed with the summary for this book to avoid spilling the beans on Empire of Ivory (Book 4).

This is a darker piece,  with Laurence and Temeraire forced to make difficult decisions on their own. Both go through a character building process, while trying to defend England from France’s invasion.

Temeraire is forced to deal  with  the  complexity and irrationality that often plague human psychology as he learns human politics and negotiation.  With  straightforward and simplified draconic ways of thought, Temeraire is often frustrated at how difficult humans can make life be when things seem to be plain as day.

On the other hand,  Laurence must temper his ideals and his inherent insistence on righteousness, sometimes misplaced, which earns him more harm than good.  He is faced with the need to reassess his values when they  prove to be impractical nor right  anymore.  For instance, Laurence is challenged with  situations where authority isn’t always right and can be in serious conflict with his personal sense of right and wrong.

The action does not let up in this one as well.   Novik perhaps intends to let her duo travel the world as the next destination for them is Australia.  Books two to four see them through China, the Middle East, Germany, Russia, and Africa.

I can’t wait for the sixth book, Tongues of Serpents due in the middle of this year.   One caveat though:  if you plan to read the Temeraire series, you must start with  Her Majesty’s Dragon (Book One).  You would not appreciate this series should your first book be other than the first.  Novik hardly takes the meticulous pain of backtracking and if she does, it is rather cursory as this is the type of series that must be read chronologically.

My Mark  :  Outstanding!


Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication : May 30, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345481305

ISBN-13: 978-0345481306

No. of pages : 400

The Story :

China’s Emperor allows William Laurence and Temeraire to go back to England.  As they were about to do so, an urgent missive instructs them in no uncertain terms to bring back three dragon eggs from the Ottoman Empire or suffer the consequences.  Laurence, Temeraire and his crew embark on a dangerous crossing across desert and mountains.

On the way, they meet feral dragons which they end up befriending.  Temeraire, having experienced the more exalted treatment of dragons in China, speak to the ferals about a better way of life — better accomodations, food, etc.  His Chinese exposure, his witness of the slave trade, and his voracious reading have also made him  question the order of dragon treatment  in England where he perceives his kind to have limited choices and freedoms.  Temeraire is growing a sense of social justice for dragons in general and is determined to spearhead changes for the dragons’ lot, starting with the English Parliament.

With the uncontrollable,  undeducated ferals breaching etiquette, Laurence and his company make a bad start with relations at the Turkish border.  The mission becomes more and more disastrous at the Turks’ refusal to hand over the paid eggs and at the machinations of an albino dragon, Lien, who had become Temeraire and Laurence’s vengeful enemy in China.

The situation forces Laurence’s party to take drastic measures and to flee to the Prussian side where they fight as allies against the vast, encroaching army of Napoleon.

Author :  Naomi Novik     

Date of Publication :  September 25, 2007

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345496876

ISBN-13: 978-0345496874

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Laurence and Temeraire finally fly home to England only to find a new threat—a plague of the common cold, fatal to dragons with no known cure.  With the threat of decimation hanging upon England’s aerial corps and the proximity of Bonaparte’s armies,  Laurence,  Temeraire and a bedraggled section of the aerial corps journey to Africa to find a cure.

In their desperate search, they are forced to discover a secret kingdom deep within the continent’s interior protected by African dragons who had forged a unique bond with its people.  These Africans have engaged in their own war against the colonial slave trade.

Danger harasses them throughout the tale and culminates with Laurence having to make a difficult life-changing decision.

The Review :

What keeps one riveted on these books?  It is first and foremost, its dragons.  They are the crux of the series; hence, Novik takes great pains in constructing her dragon world,  building on  different breeds and personalities, dacronian habits, likes and dislikes, their sexuality, intellectual capacities, etc.   She then melds her draconian world to a page in history, selecting the Napoleonic War. Taking care to stick well to factual historical events, she allows us to escape to an alternate reality.

To keep us further immersed,  Novik continues to develop her principal characters, Laurence and Temeraire, albeit almost exclusively which simplifies the story  in a way that the reader is focused on these two characters.  One begins to know them closely  so much so that he is caught in their intimate bond and the reby, the story’s spell.

As she develops Laurence and Temeraire,  she makes them gradually aware of life’s truths, shattering notions and shedding innocence.  From a hatchling to a young adult dragon, Temeraire goes through gradual knowledge of life’s complexities, injustice and  double-sidedness throughout the series.  He increasingly develops a sense of social justice.  With Temeraire’s progressing questions and some uncontrollable events,  Laurence , too, is forced to shift his paradigms to break  previous staunch beliefs especially in the area of England’s superiority and political system.

So far each book, after the first, satisfyingly segues into action-packed continuations, the author cleverly introducing  new, interesting dragon and human characters, pumping new life with new events and making one want to read more and more.

With all these, Novik is certainly going down the right path toward creating a marvelously enjoyable series.  I have enjoyed them, reading much well into the night , caught up in finding out what’s next.  I am certainly out to get the fifth book, Victory of Eagles, the latest published to date .

So far, so very good!  Not to mention that from premiering only in 2006, the books have come in pretty rapidly compared to the usual plodding rate of releases in most series writing.  This year, Tongues of Serpents is scheduled to be released on the thirteenth of July (as per the official website’s announcement on http://www.temeraire.org/).  

My Mark : Outstanding!  — Fantastically Entertaining

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication: April 25, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

ISBN-10: 0345481291

ISBN-13: 978-0345481290

No. of pages :  432


The Story :

China gets wind of where the prized dragon egg, their  lost gift for Napoleon, is.  An  angry Chinese Prince Yongxing and his delegation  arrive in Britain and demand the return of their dragon.

Temeraire is discovered to be a Celestial dragon, the rarest of Chinese breeds.   Venerated like royalty, the Chinese believe that only those of royal blood are worthy companions to these Celestials.  To their utter mortification, they discover their dragon would take no other companion but a common aviator, Capt. Laurence.

Pressured by China with the gloomy spectre of a Chinese alliance with France,  Laurence’s superiors force him and Temeraire to go with the delegation back to China.

Through the perils of a long voyage, Temeraire finally arrives in a country where dragons are treated like humans, with rights to education, property, and remuneration.  Chinese dragons also have a social stratification according to breed and have the chances of gaining wealth or falling into poverty as much as any human.

For Temeraire, his life in China as a Celestial is every dragon’s dream; but, China is not all that ideal after all, for diabolical plans are afoot.

The Review :

Throne of Jade sees much more action. The story takes a on a faster pace than the first book as  Novik throws in a lot more danger for all characters involved.

She injects a lot of humor, too, about 19th century British exposure to the Orient, making her characters have a lot of droll moments coming to terms with unfamiliar things like chopsticks and century eggs.

Novik successfully mimics the dry, genteel British verbal and writing style of the early 19th century which has a tendency to downplay or understate everything, even such incidents as death, danger, etc.  so that the full emotional impact is not felt and comes across as trivialized.  Injury to a crew member, for instance doesn’t seem to be of importance; however, emotional emphasis is given when the principal characters, Temeraire and Capt. Laurence are at stake.

Throne of Jade makes one immediately reach for Black Powder War, the third book of what promises to be an exciting series.

My Mark :  Very Good

I’ve missed out a lot on YA books last year so I decided to start on a genre that had been my reading preference in highschool — elves, dwarves, genies, dragons, magi— anything that smacks of high fantasy.

This is a series of which I only have four books. As to why I started on a series novel again (I had developed a wariness to unfinished series books), the pull was just there as the books have been staring at me from their shelves for two years now. The author promises nine books, five of which are published. The fifth book, Victory of Eagles has just been released in 2008.

The novels are all set in an alternate history during the Napoleonic wars,  concentrating on the French invasion of England.  In this alternate world, dragons are very much a part of life, indispensable in the military for they are the century’s air force along with their  human “pilots” or aviators.

What is central to this series is Novik’s world of dragons which she goes into detail, expounding on the different breeds, their weight, class, physical and mental abilities, preferences, etc.  Novik’s dragons are, like humans, varied in breed, intelligence, and ability.  The more intelligent ones have highly developed linguistic and analytical capacities.    She also imbues them with very human emotions so that we get to know them and identify with her dragon characters on a  personal level.   Her dragons are what caught my interest and made me stick to her series.

So, I’m settling down to review the series which Peter Jackson (best known as director of Lord of the Rings) is planning to do a miniseries on.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Book 1)

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

No. of Pages : 384

ISBN-10: 0345481283

ISBN-13 : 978-0-345-48128-3

The Story :

The English make an immense discovery of a Chinese dragon egg aboard a French ship they had taken in battle. As the shell is hardening and land far away, English Captain James Laurence, has no choice but to await the hatching and be ready for the loss of any crew member the hatchling would take to.  As soon as the little dragon allows a harness to be donned by someone,  it is an inviolable law that the chosen person be duty-bound to leave his naval career, ambitions, and plans of future wife and family for a life of an aviator, a career demanding a lifelong bond with his dragon.

The egg hatches and the first person the baby dragon takes to is Captain Laurence.   With a deeply imbued sense of duty to country, Laurence bravely accepts the choice, names the dragon Temeraire and divests himself of naval rank and accoutrements to prepare himself  for aviator life.

As Captain Laurence begins his association with Temeraire, both start a deep love that would strengthen through their training and battles as each discovers himself and the other.

The Review :

Novik charmingly evokes the feel of the Napoleonic era with her characters’ genteel prudish language, cultural notions, dress and code of conduct of that bygone era.

Book One displays how interesting and endearing Novik’s dragons are so that readers get excited about reading Book Two  : The Throne of Jade.  While intimidating, her dragons are lovable, intelligent and excellent companions.  You’d wish they really existed.  As an added bonus, her dragons and their aviators form filial-like bonds that add to the escapist’s pleasure of identifying with the aviator.

His Majesty’s Dragon is a good first book that entices one to immerse in the series.  Novik’s world is so elegantly well-detailed that I really don’t mind spending my time immersed in it.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  Allan Folsom

Date of Publication :  May 1999  (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Warner Books

ISBN-10: 0446604534

No. of pages :  667

The Story :

A Cardinal’s confession seals Father Daniel Addison’s fate as a VIP target of a conspiracy rooted in the highest echelons of the Vatican.  Before he disappears, he leaves a desperate message for his brother, Harry.  The cardinal vicar of Rome is suddenly assassinated and Father Daniel is blamed. Soon after, a bus explodes with Father Daniel onboard.

Harry Addision flies to Italy to claim his brother’s body, only to discover that his brother is alive but missing and himself, framed for the murder of an Italian policeman.  An American on the run in a foreign country, Harry relies on his wits and luck while on the trail of his brother, to unravel the horrific conspiracy he had unwittingly become the target of.

The Review :

Folsom tries to a spin a thriller of a grandiose scale and fails miserably.  The basis of his conspiracy encompasses elements too immense in scale and too opposite (i.e. China, the Vatican) to be woven together believably.  Well, at least by his attempts in this book.  The plot to get the Vatican to have a strong religious hold in China is just way too preposterous.

Even the characters behave unrealistically, by whom I mean:  the evil Cardinal who believes he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great (Catholics do not believe in reincarnation);  a young nun who just has the temerity to face a man in a sheer nightgown; a very sick priest still able to fight from a wheelchair.  Moreover, the sex scenes seem forced into the story.  The story could actually do without them.

On the whole, though, Day of Confession isn’t a very bad read, if you like books equivalent to B movies.  As a thriller, it still fast-paced enough;  it’s just some stuff are hard to swallow.

In A Nutshell :

This is a book to skip if you have other options in line.  Day of Confession feels like a contrived piece by an author who needed to come up with something for a deadline.

If you were to look into other reviews, it seems people picked this up on the merit of Folsom’s earlier work, Day After Tomorrow, which everyone agrees was a smashing good thriller.  I’ve read Machiavelli Covenant last year (my review here) and it was rather enjoyable.  Perhaps, Day of Confession just happened to be this writer’s dud.

My Mark  :  Fair

Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

Finally, my last book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I made very good time despite adding two more books to the list.  But early as it is, I’ll have to wrap up as the Holidays draw near and my chances to read more books decrease as things are starting to get hectic.

I’ve wet my feet in breadmaking and I’m experimenting on perfecting scrumptious cinnamon rolls and ensaimadas (Filipino brioche) for gift-giving.    As I’ve never baked anything except for the occasional brownies, I forsee myself ambitiously wrestling with bread recipes, baking my day away, and snatching up my book only in between rising times.  So, let’s see how many more reviews I can dish out.

This book was a great finale to the challenge, albeit  a dark and brooding one.

Author :  Tobsha Learner

Publication Date :  January 2, 2007  (Mass Market Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765350467

ISBN-13: 978-0765350466

No. of pages :  480

The Story :

Ruth bas Elazar Saul is daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Cologne and a very good midwife with very unconventional methods.  Her  advanced  midwifery skills coupled with her studies in Kabbalah, taints Ruth’s reputation with suspicions of witchcraft in an era paranoid about heretics and devil worshippers.

She becomes the unfortunate target of the malevolent obsession of a Spanish friar and head of the Inquisition to Cologne.  Solitario takes his vengeance on an unknowing Ruth simply because she is the daughter of the woman who had jilted him and shredded his pride many years back.  Ruth is tried for witchcraft; but in the process gains the interest of the cleric, Detlef  von Tennen, cousin and close aide to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Detlef falls madly in love with Ruth and does everything in his power to avert her fate.  He succeeds and both start a love affair that in its time,  was unforgivable to both Jews and Catholics alike.  Amid this difficult union, Ruth and Detlef must struggle to live in a dangerous century at war with new philosophies threatening to overthrow its established beliefs, power and social structures.

The Review :

The book opens with “a woman writhing in labor”  which gave me the correct impression that I’d have a toe curling time with this one.

Learner is  an intense,  graphic writer who writes with a sensuality that is both raw and elegant.  Her torture scenes feel  horrendously realistic ; her descriptions of everyday life and her characterizations are rich and intimate, full of vivid details of seventeenth century Cologne, its lifestyle, its predominant psyche, and its prevailing social and religious atmosphere.

This novel is first and foremost a microcosmic representation of  a Europe inexorably marching toward the Age of Enlightenment, torn at one end by traditional society clinging tenaciously and fearfully to established institutions of power, thoughts, and morals and on the other, by radical philosophies and emerging new acceptances by free thinkers or the libertines of that time.

Solitario, the Spanish  Inquisitor, is the embodiment of the 17th century Roman Catholic Church, an institution reacting dangerously to threats to  its centuries-old European dominance by the emergence of new thoughts, values, mores and the new Protestant religion.  He is obsessed about bringing onto the Inquisition table  the Jewess, Ruth, and the breakaway cleric, Detlef, both of whom represent radical opposition to the faith which have begun to erode the Church’s right to absolute power.

Stories like these make me glad I was born in the 20th century, where we have education, modern conveniences, good medical knowledge and practices, and in most parts of the world, respect and freedom for all sorts of religions and ideas.  Imagine living in fear of torture and death because your ideas are heretically opposed to the prevailing beliefs of a Church which hold both  secular and spiritual domains in its grip.

It was also interesting for me to find out that Judaism has its own brand of occultism.  It has its own demons, grimoire, incantations, spells, and talismans.  The Kabbalah is practiced by a certain Jewish sect which does not find ready acceptance in the general Jewish populace; but nevertheless is a recognized albeit esoteric branch of the Jewish religion.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I have read reviews that slam this book for its love angle and gratuitous sex (which I didn’t find unwarranted at all).  The romance here is simply a support angle to the overall story of the book and is not the author’s point at all.  So if you are looking for a nice historical romance,  pass this up; this novel would be way out in left field.

However,  if you just want a well written story with a good historical background, The Witch of Cologne will be just the thing.  Although, be prepared for a very dark and somber tone (well matched with the era) throughout its entirety and for a substantial amount of graphic elements assiduously detailed in this book.

In A Nutshell :

Learner’s unconventional writing style marries quite well with her  objective of presenting a glimpse of medieval Europe in the cusp of social change, a dark and fearful transition for many,  when institutions of power, both political and religious, clawed desperately to maintain the status quo.  The story poses intelligent questions, some of which must have influenced how modern Europe evolved.

Don’t let the suggestive cover fool you into thinking this book is a shallow, sleazy read.  The book has the complexity and depth that makes it interesting and well worth your while — a perfect example  to heed the the adage:   “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

My Mark  :  Outstanding



I wanted a short, easy no-brainer.  I got everything I wanted in this :

Author : Annette Blair

Date of  Publication : December 2006

Publisher : Berkley Sensation  (Mass Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0786296577

ISBN-13: 978-0786296576

No of pages : 389

The Story :

Vickie, a witch in denial, inherits a wardrobe and opens it to find a beautifully carved carousel unicorn inside.  Desperate to pay her grandmother’s medical and funeral expenses, she advertises its sale on TV.  Rory, a descendant of the  once respectable Mackenzie clan now turned community pariah, sees  the woman of his dreams (I mean, literally) holding the answer to restore the good name of his family.

Long ago, his ancestor, a famous carver,  broke his engagement with a beautiful witch (Vickie’s grandmother) who people said, cast a curse upon the Scottish village.  Regretful all of his life, Rory’s grandfather, before he died,  sent his beloved witch his most splendid creation — a carousel unicorn, part of a merry-go-round that brought prosperity to the village;  but one that would never run again until the curse is lifted.

So, Rory goes to find this unicorn, with a mission to take it, bring it back, rebuild the carousel, and restore the community’s prosperity and his good name.  Only thing, he has to contend with the witch and choose between love and family honor.

The Review :

As I mentioned, I just wanted a short easy read, a no-brainer after “Exile. Well, a real no-brainer is what I got!  I know, I know…the synopsis sounds cheesy and serves me right for picking this out of a sale bin again just because the title was a parody of  “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe“.  I’m not above reading shallow, fun  lit and I thought this was a cute, little romance with some magic thrown into it.  NOT!

The characters were odd and totally without some self-respect, either.  I don’t know what Blair was trying to accomplish. For instance, I think she wanted everything for her main character, Vickie.  She wanted her sexy, yet dressed her in dowdy vintage clothes;  a bold sex siren yet a frightened virgin (technically speaking since she deflowered herself years ago with dildos all named Brock—*shudder, shudder*–but has never been with a man); bohemian, cluttered, and fun but essentially good for nothing — can’t do business, cook, clean, balance books, etc. to save her life!  So here comes the knight in shining armor, the ruggedly handsome Scot who can do everything!  Cook, clean, balance books, organize, repair anything, and make her and others’ blood  boil for want of this stud. Thankfully, he falls short of being perfect by his hermitic attitude.

With amateurish writing, a main character whose personality ridiculously morphs from one thing into another, and annoying minor characters in the mix, you just gotta be drunk to like this trash.

My Mark :  Poor — Laughable;  Don’t Bother