So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fractured Fairy Tales

Fractured Fairy Tales by A. J. Jacobs

As part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Jay Ward produced 91 cartoons between 1953 and 1964 in a series called "Fractured Fairy Tales," humorous retellings of classic fairy tales narrated by Edward Everett Horton and written by the staff writers for the show. This book, written by A. J. Jacobs in 1997, takes 25 of those cartoons and adapts them as short fairy tales. Some references are updated for a new audience but he is fairly faithful to the scripts and does well at turning them into stories. While Jacobs' retellings are funny and faithful to the originals, they have a limited appeal now that all of the original cartoons are available on DVD or YouTube.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Witch of Cologne

The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner

Set in the second half of the 17th Century in the city of Cologne Germany, this book tells the story of two people seeking rational truth in an age of religious superstition, political turmoil, and economic change. Ruth, the only child and daughter of the local rabbi, is a midwife trying to perfect her craft through scientific observation. She has returned from Amsterdam, the center of modern thinking, where, disguised as a young man, she studied under the great philosopher Benedict Spinoza. Detlef von Tennen, the younger brother of a local count, is the canon of the cathedral of Cologne. He has wealth, beauty and privilege, but he seeks truth and longs to study the forbidden books of the modern philosophers of Amsterdam. They are brought together when Ruth is accused of witchcraft by a sadistic monk of the Inquisition. While the monk sees black magic in her birthing skills, Detlef understands that her skill comes from the scientific method rather than a deal with the devil.
Although the book is about an impossible love between two people, it is more a historic thriller than a romance, Tobsha Learner has named the chapters after the ten Sefiroth of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. She includes a Historic Backdrop, Glossary, List of Characters, and Bibliography of reference books used in her research to help readers not up to date on German history. Weaving together the rich cultural, philosophic and religious differences of the times into an exciting adventure that keeps the plot changes coming, I found this an adventure and a romance that touched me deeply. Yet it provided a wealth of historic detail that satisfied my desire for historical accuracy and depth.