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I, Mona Lisa

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Overview

"My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa. My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born?"

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a ...

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I, Mona Lisa

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Overview

"My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa. My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born…"

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.

More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths. Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake. But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.

Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for THE BORGIA BRIDE

"From sexual passion to mortal danger, the dramatic shift of real historical events will keep the reader turning the pages." -Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl

"Entertaining." -USAToday

"...a dramatic tale from a heady mix of royal power plays and passion." Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
Set against a backdrop of political and religious conflicts in 15th-century Medici-ruled Florence, Kalogridis's bloody historical (after The Borgia Bride) identifies the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's painting as Lisa di Antonio Gherardini. Lisa was the daughter of Madonna Lucrezia, wife of a wealthy wool merchant who also enchanted both da Vinci and Lorenzo de' Medici's brother Giuliano, murdered by conspirators in 1478. Giuliano's assassination and the later murder of Lucrezia presage a reign of religious terror led by a monk known as Savonarola and the retreat of the Medicis in the face of invasion from France's King Charles. An adult Lisa attracts the romantic attentions of a young Medici scion, whom she marries for love. (His father, Lorenzo, commissions her portrait from da Vinci.) But violent events soon separate the couple and a brutal Savonarola follower tells Lisa that her husband is dead and her father's life in danger unless she marries him instead. Lisa survives, an avenging angel, proving herself worthy of da Vinci's immortal artistry. Kalogridis's fevered bodice ripper invents a passionate woman behind La Gioconda's enigmatic smile. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride) revisits turbulent 15th-century Italy in her latest novel. Young Mona Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, daughter of a respected wool merchant, questions the strained relationship that exists between her sad and intelligent mother, Mona Anna, and her politically motivated father, Ser Antonio. Her mother harbors a secret love for Lorenzo de Medici's brother, Guiliano, while her father is a staunch supporter of a monk who preaches the overthrow of the Medici and urges the populace to burn pagan works of art collected by Lorenzo. The political struggles of the opposing ruling houses, the Medici and the Pazzi, have a major impact on Mona Lisa's life. When Lorenzo asks Leonardo da Vinci to paint her portrait, the commission is a labor of love for the artist, who holds the key to the mystery surrounding Mona Lisa's parentage. Kalogridis vividly describes the artistic and political milieus of Renaissance Florence. Fans of Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus and Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans will enjoy her book. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Extensive library outreach planned. Ed.] Loralyn Whitney, Edinboro Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride, 2005, etc.) chronicles the perils of young Lisa di Antonio Gherardini long before she became the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting. "Known . . . to those of the common class [as] 'Monna Lisa,' " she is the only child of a rich Florentine wool merchant with close ties to the ruling Medici family. In 1478, a year before Lisa was born, an attempt to slaughter the Medicis during mass ended the life of Lorenzo's beloved younger brother Giuliano. Two of the murderers were hunted down and executed; a third remains at large 13 years later, when Lisa's epileptic mother dies at the hands of fanatical priests who believe she is possessed. Within a month of witnessing her mother's horrible end, Lisa is summoned to the home of Lorenzo de' Medici, head of the family and a dazzlingly wealthy patron of the arts. He displays a mysterious fondness for the girl and commissions reigning artist Leonardo to paint her portrait. On his deathbed not long after, Lorenzo promises Lisa a large dowry and mumbles something about "the third man." With his demise and the political turmoil among rival families that ensues, Lisa and her father are caught in dangerous limbo. (Also as a result of Lorenzo's death, Leonardo's portrait of her languishes.) Lisa falls in love with Lorenzo's son Giuliano, named after his dead uncle, and they secretly marry. Giuliano is chased into exile in Rome, but Lisa, pregnant with his baby, is told he is dead. She agrees to marry her father's odious savior, Francesco del Giocondo, although he is much older; moreover, she soon chillingly learns that Francesco has ties to the third murderer. The author provides plenty of cloak-and-dagger goings-on asLisa reconnects with Leonardo, who lives in hiding because of his past ties to the Medicis, and reveals some stunning secrets about her mother. The story is endearingly told in Lisa's sweet, gullible voice, but the characters ring more romantic than true, especially Leonardo. A clever reworking, though not completely convincing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312341398
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 272,687
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanne Kalogridis lives with her partner on the West Coast, where they share a house with two dogs. She is the author of The Borgia Bride, The Scarlet Contessa, The Devil’s Queen, and other dark fantasy and historical novels. Born in Florida, Kalogridis has a B.A. in Russian and a master’s in linguistics, and taught English as a second language at The American University for eight years before retiring to write full-time.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, though to acquaintances I am known simply as Madonna Lisa, and to those of the common class, Monna Lisa.

My likeness has been recorded on wood, with boiled linseed oil and pigments dug from earth or crushed from semiprecious stones and applied with brushes made from the feathers of birds and the silken fur of animals.

I have seen the painting. It does not look like me. I stare at it and see instead the faces of my mother and father. I listen and hear their voices. I feel their love and their sorrow, and I witness, again and again, the crime that bound them together; the crime that bound them to me.

For my story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born.

It was first revealed to me during an encounter with the astrologer two weeks before my birthday, which was celebrated on the fifteenth of June. My mother announced that I would have my choice of a present. She assumed that I would request a new gown, for nowhere has sartorial ostentation been practiced more avidly than my native Florence. My father was one of the city's wealthiest wool merchants, and his business connections afforded me my pick of sumptuous silks, brocades, velvets, and furs.

But I did not want a gown. I had recently attended the wedding of my uncle Lauro and his young bride, Giovanna Maria. During the celebration afterward, my grandmother had remarked sourly:

"It cannot last happily. She is a Sagittarius, with Taurus ascendant. Lauro is Aries, the Ram. They will constantly be butting heads."

"Mother," my own had reproached gently.

"If you and Antonio had paid attention to such matters—" My grandmother had broken off at my mother's sharp glance.

I was intrigued. My parents loved each other, but had never been happy. And I realized that they had never discussed my stars with me.

When I questioned my mother, I discovered that my chart had never been cast. This shocked me: Well-to-do Florentine families often consulted astrologers on important matters, and charts were routinely drawn up for newborns. And I was a rare creature: an only child, the bearer of my family's hopes.

And as an only child, I was well aware of the power I possessed; I whined and pleaded pitifully until my reluctant mother yielded.

Had I known then what was to follow, I would not have pressed so hard.

Because it was not safe for my mother to venture out, we did not go to the astrologer's residence, but instead summoned him to our palazzo.

From a window in the corridor near my bedroom, I watched as the astrologer's gilded carriage, its door painted with his familial crest, arrived in the courtyard behind our house. Two elegantly appointed servants attended him as he stepped down, clad in a farsetto, the close-fitting man's garment which some wore in place of a tunic. The fabric was a violet velvet quilt, covered by a sleeveless brocade cloak in a darker shade of the same hue. His body was thin and sunken-chested, his posture and movements imperious.

Zalumma, my mother's slave, moved forward to meet him. Zalumma was a well-dressed lady-in-waiting that day. She was devoted to my mother, whose gentleness inspired loyalty, and who treated her slave like a beloved companion. Zalumma was a Circassian, from the high mountains in the mysterious East; her people were prized for their beauty and Zalumma—tall as a man, with black hair and eyebrows and a face whiter than marble—was no exception. Her tight ringlets were formed not by a hot poker but by God, and were the envy of every Florentine woman. At times, she muttered to herself in her native tongue, which sounded like no language I had ever heard; she called it "Adyghabza."

Zalumma curtsied, then led the man into the house to meet my mother. She had been nervous that morning, no doubt because the astrologer was the most prestigious in town and had, when the Pope's forecaster had taken ill, even been consulted by His Holiness. I was to remain out of view; this first encounter was a business matter, and I would be a distraction.

I left my room and stepped lightly to the top of the stairs to see if I could make out what was going on two floors below me. The stone walls were thick, and my mother had shut the door to the reception chamber. I could not even make out muffled voices.

The meeting did not last long. My mother opened the door and called for Zalumma; I heard her quick steps on the marble, then a man's voice.

I retreated from the stairs and hurried back to the window, with its view of the astrologer's carriage.

Zalumma escorted him from the house—then, after glancing about, handed him a small object, perhaps a purse. He refused it at first, but Zalumma addressed him earnestly, urgently. After a moment of indecision, he pocketed the object, then climbed into his carriage and was driven away.

I assumed that she had paid him for a reading, though I was surprised that a man with such stature would read for a slave. Or perhaps my mother had simply forgotten to pay him.

As she walked back toward the house, Zalumma happened to glance up and meet my gaze. Flustered at being caught spying, I withdrew.

I expected Zalumma, who enjoyed teasing me about my misdeeds, to mention it later; but she remained altogether silent on the matter.

Copyright © 2006 by Jeanne Kalogridis. All rights reserved.

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Reading Group Guide

Florence, April 1478.  The handsome Giuliano de' Medici, brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, is brutally assassinated in Florence's majestic Duomo.  The shock of the murder is felt throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci to a wealthy wool merchant and his exquisitely elegant wife.  The Medici family is the lifeblood of the city, and the death of one of its golden heirs will be felt throughout time, but nowhere more so than in the life of that wool merchant's daughter: the strikingly beautiful Madonna Lisa. 

 

More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings, books, and scuptures as easily as he sends men to death.  Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake. When he, too, meets a tragic end, Lisa must show extarodinary courage and gather all of her cunning and charm to untangle the sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.  For hundreds of years, the intriguing truth remained hidden behind history's most famous smile...until now.   

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 59 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(27)

4 Star

(17)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2009

    Mix of History and Imagination

    The story takes place in Renaissance Florence and incorporates many sites, people and events of the period. The portrait of Savanarola is strong, and seems quite accurate, however, it appears the author has taken quite a bit of liberties with other actual people, and that's confusing and disconcerting. It would be better if she'd limited her imagination to those characters she invented while constraining her accounts of historial people by actual, reliable facts. Aside from that it is an interesting read, painting a vivid picture of upper class lifestyles during this period against the poverty of the struggling worker classes. It also quite accurately portrays the instability of a government that yearned to be a republic as long as their own people where in charge, and the ruthless tactics required to retain power. But if that truly interests you, read Machiavelli. This is fiction and should be read as such. Slow starting, gains interest about mid-way. Characters are lively, but not always well-developed. Some are even conflicting. However, the suspense builds and is not resolved until the very end, which does make for a good story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Far-fetched but enjoyable tale of the lady behind the mysterious

    Far-fetched but enjoyable tale of the lady behind the mysterious smile in the portrait of the Mona Lisa. Lisa Ghirardini, who later becomes the wife of Francesco Giacondo, a well-to-do merchant in Florence, becomes involved in treachery, murder, and religious terror during the time of Savonarola (who seems to have been given a bum rap by history). Ms. Kalogridis plays fast and loose with historical facts when Lisa marries Giuliano de Medici, who actually married a member of a prominent family, while Lisa remained married to Francesco Giocomo for decades and bore him several children. But never mind that, the story is a real page-turner and could even be classified as a thriller. Good reading!



    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2012

    Loved it!

    I love historical fiction and this book was a great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

    It was good

    Overall, I really liked this book. Because I read through it so fast, sometimes I would confuse certain characters. The plot was really well done and I certainly applaud that! I think the very beginning of the book could have moved a bit faster as well. The Lisa and Guiliano romance had a strong Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, but that was okay with me. I would recommend this book to any historical fiction reader.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Super exciting! A must for hist-fic lovers

    This book was great! The reader gets to meet so many famous characters of the Italian Renaissance. I had some misgivings about whether it would be cheesy to try to make a story about how a painting came about, but they were quickly proven unfounded. I thouroughly enjoyed this one. I bought it forever ago and only recently read it because I had some issues with the download. But they fixed it & all is well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Lisa de Medici

    Wow, what a delightful find! A trip through ancient Italy with an all star cast, da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Medici family, the Pazzi family and of course Mona Lisa and her family. The book is a good blend of historical fiction and non-fiction creating a garden of delightful tales in an otherwise bloody point in Florence's history. A new twist as to who Mona Lisa is, at least one I haven't heard of before; and a well told family story to go along with it. The book has everything one could want; action, adventure, villains, unlikely heroes, tragedy, murder, passion, revenge. I am looking forward to trying another book by Jeanne Kalogridis, her writing style was a breath of fresh air and built a world that was not only believable but somewhere I didn't want to leave when the book ended.
    Godere!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A book to remember

    I Mona Lisa, will catch your heart and will change the way you feel about.. love. It is a thriller, a romance novel, everything to love and nothing to change. There's intense emotional moments and your heart gets locked into the thickening plot. The surprise ending left me screaming in the middle of the night while i was reading it, and I have read and re-read this over so many times- it gets better everytime! It portrayed ancient Florence and Rome precisely and will captivate readers 14- 106 (;

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful Writing, Bad History

    On one hand this is a very well written book with lots of research behind it. I was drawn in right away, and my interest held through the entire novel. I learned a lot about historical Florence, particularly dealing with the Medici dynasty. It was a captivating novel all the way through and I fully enjoyed it.

    However, I can only give it three stars. It is obvious the author put in a lot of research. The novel was packed with historical information. That is why it was severely disappointing how she portrayed the main character Lisa. Lisa del Giocondo was a real person, and scholars are pretty certain that she is the face behind the famous Mona Lisa. While she made an effort to stick with actual history when dealing with the general atmosphere of the setting, she completely dismissed the history behind Lisa del Giocondo and the Mona Lisa. The Lisa in the book is in a situation completely opposite from the real life Lisa. In a Q&A section in the back of the book, the author spoke of how she wouldn't change what is historical fact. Unfortunate that is exactly what she did with Lisa's character. At one point she mentioned that there was not a lot known about Lisa del Giocondo, so she had a lot of room to take artistic liberties. That may be true for some details, but what we do know about Lisa del Giocondo was completely ignored in this novel.

    The author is a wonderful writer, but not so great at historical fiction. A truly gifted historical fiction writer could take historical fact and make it an interesting story without completely changing who a person was and what their life was like.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2013

    It was ok.

    It was historically accurate in regards to events occuring. It was interesting but the similar names were confusing.there are a lot of characters to keep up with. The climax was intense but rushed and short lived.the ending was satisfactory...nothing spectaclar.

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  • Posted August 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    ENTERTAINING

    It is quite an entertaining read, nothing more than an engaging story full of twists and plots involving the Medici clan and Leonardo DaVinci.
    By the end, it gets a little flat.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2009

    don't miss this book!

    i almost missed a plane because i was so engrossed in this book...what a fabulous read!!! i am a great lover of historical fiction and this book did not disappoint. Jeanne Kalogridis is an incredible author and i would highly recommend this book. it falls into the category of not being able to put it down, yet not wanting it to end!

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Haven't I seen you somewhere?

    I love historical fiction and art, so...Well developed characters, political intrigue and just plain fun reading about Leonardo from a different non-art perspective.

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  • Posted November 15, 2009

    Great Read!

    Wow, I didn't want to put the book down! I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and thoroughly enjoyed this one! Great author!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

    Bookgroups Be sure to read this book

    I found the book a wonderful read. At first I confused the many names, but once into the book, they eyes flew. My book group enjoyed discussing the main characters and Italy at the time of the story.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic read!

    I'm not a huge Italian history fan but Jeanne Kalogridis has set me on a new mission to read as much as I can about an Italy from long ago. Her details of the characters and small nuances make the book come to life and gives a whole new meaning to the Mona Lisa painting.

    Wonderful story, I'm so glad I picked this up. It's a great addition to my library!

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  • Posted February 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Leaping Lisa!!

    Difficult to accept even this fictionalized version of who Lisa was? The characaters really existed, the geography is real, the events are recorded in history but it feels like the author took all these pieces, crammed them together and added transition filler.<BR/><BR/> This would make a darn good movie.

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  • Posted January 7, 2009

    Was just okay

    I was really excited to read this book when I bought it but was disappointed with the whole thing. Parts of it dragged and were boring. Some of the book was okay but overall I wasn't thrilled with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2007

    one of my favorite books i have ever read!

    Even though I paid far too many pounds for this book at the London Airport during my five-hour layover, I have no regrets. Trying to pass the time, I stumbled into the bookstore, where I was drawn to the words 'Mona Lisa' on the cover. As an artist, I have always found the little known history behind the famous painting, The Mona Lisa, intriguing. So, I caved and decided to buy it, and justified my purchase due to my extreme boredom. From start to finish, I have never been so captivated by any novel, other than Harry Potter. Immediately, I was sucked into Jeanne Kalogridis¿ world and I never wanted to leave. The story begins with a young girl, Madonna Lisa, who grabs the reader¿s attention almost instantly by explaining that a murder, one year before her birth, will continue to darken her future, as it did her parents¿. The action only escalates as Lisa learns the truth of her parents¿ dark past and how she was linked to the death of the wealthy ¿darling of Florence¿, Giuliano de¿ Medici. After loosing her beloved mother, Lisa is left alone in the world, with only her trusted servant Zalumma and her miserable father. As Lisa uncovers more of her mother¿s past, her relationship between her father only worsens, leaving her with less hope to hold on to in such difficult times. Luckily, her beauty attracts the companionship of a middle aged painter, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the heart of the youngest son of the great Lorenzo de¿ Medici, Giuliano. However, as the forbidden romance kindles between Giuliano and Lisa, the rest of Florence is crumbling under Lorenzo¿s death bed. Unable to please the people of Florence in Lorenzo¿s absence, his eldest son, Piero, fails to sway the public¿s opinion once again in favor of the Medici. Taking advantage of the public¿s recent change of heart, the church, under the powerful Savonarola, further fuels the hatred against the Medici family and promises salvation to those who listen to the influential Fra Girolamo. Caught in a world of violence and corruption, Lisa does everything in her power to assure that she and her Giuliano are together. This sad, yet passionate tale includes a compelling combination of romance, loss and betrayal. The author leaves his reader hanging on his every word, wondering whether or not Lisa and her Giuliano will survive the suppression of the evil Savonarola¿s increasing power and triumph happily in the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2007

    A must read book!

    This was an excellent book!!! After I started reading it I just couldnt put it back down!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2007

    A wonderful book

    This book is outstanding , and this comes from a person that hardly reads. From the beginning to the end i was engage to it and couldnt drop the book for a second.And also with all the secret that are in the book the more you read the more surprise things get discoverd

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews

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