The Shattered Tree: A Bess Crawford Mystery
An exhilarating, heart-pounding, and totally mystifying novel! The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd took me for a ride from the moment I started reading. Each new twist and turn became more shocking and horrifying than the last. I simply could not put this book down! Bess Crawford is a very strong female lead character, with her pure heart and spunky determination. Being a nurse in WWI was hard enough for most women, but especially so for the daughter of a solider like Bess. She shows intelligence and wit that’s a very refreshing departure from how most people view old war nurses. The drama and mystery she finds herself in the middle of could not be more heart-breaking or curious. Human nature is a very dark and dangerous thing, and I love the way its many facets are portrayed in this novel. The talented teamwork of the authors making up “Charles Todd” definitely are a treat, and I look forward to discovering more Bess Crawford novels from them. This is a highly recommend book for anyone who loves mysteries and historical fictions from the WWI era.
One Cowrie Shell
Sparks’ One Cowrie Shell is a tragic coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of a terrible period in humanity’s near history. Jaiye is a member of the Yoruba tribe. He is on the cusp of manhood, tending his yam field, and dreaming of the woman he wants as his wife. Unfortunately for Jaiye, Kembi is already promised to another. It is the custom of the Yoruba that village elders arrange marriages. Kembi is promised to Ekun, and Akinya to Jaiye. Our young protagonist is very inquisitive and very stubborn. He is ready to go fight the neighboring Dahomey, as his people have done for as long as anyone can remember. He wants to turn prisoners over to the slave traders and earn cowrie shells. While merely pretty shells to the Europeans and Americans, cowrie shells serve a monetary value to the Yoruba and Dahomey.
Jaiye repeatedly insists, with the stubbornness teens anywhere can muster, that he will have Kembi for his wife. Despite the counsel and contrivances of his father, Jaiye will not let go of the foolish idea. He commits a terrible crime, earning him thirty cowries in blood money, and his actions lead to three villagers being taken away by slavers- Ekun, Kembi, and Jaiye’s little brother, Lekan. Jaiye embarks on a perilous journey to find them, crossing the ocean and stalking plantations like a panther in the dark, careful to stay out of sight. His journey takes him up and down the U.S. coast, across the sea to England, and back home to the Yoruba.
Though Jaiye learns of all three who were taken, not one of them makes the journey back home with him. Jaiye returns with a wealth of knowledge, though. He is the first to travel to ’the other world,’ and returned to tell of it. He has seen the atrocities inflicted on the slaves–the beatings, the rapes, the senseless killings. Jaiye has a new mission in life, albeit, perhaps a somewhat futile one. He wants to stop the fighting between Yoruba and Dahomey for good, something easier said than done. Jaiye goes from being g a self-absorbed child, for the most part, to a somewhat respectable man.
Fun stuff: I am an anthropologist by schooling, if not active practice, and I loved the glimpses of Yoruba culture and history. These details seem accurate so far as my knowledge goes. This region/cultural milieu isn’t my forte, but I am now interested in learning more. The details of slave trading, and this era of slavery, were an accurate reminder of a harsh and senselessly heartbreaking period. One particular point of interest for me was the funerary customs of the Yoruba and the superstitions regarding daytime burials, such as the spirit seeing their shadow and retaliate against the living.
Jaiye slowly learned valuable lessons, such as the Yoruba and Dahomey should stop fighting and sending people to the slavers, and that the loss of dignity suffered by captives of either side has no monetary value. I was particularly touched when Jaiye found Ekun and came to the realization that Ekun had seen him as a friend, not a competitor. Jaiye began to realize the harsh consequences of his actions in relation to what happened to Lekan, Kembi, and Ekun, which were horrific events even hearing about them ‘second-hand.’
Not so fun stuff: the writing seemed very simplistic at times. There was a good deal of telling, when showing would have been more engaging. Some of the dialogue, and other phrasing, seems stilted. It comes across as forced and unrealistic. There were also descriptions of daily activity that is random and, while interesting, not relevant to the story.
I would strongly recommend a professional editing round to help strengthen and tighten the writing. There is a good deal of unnecessary repetition that could be phrased differently, implied in different ways, or eliminated altogether. Point: Jaiye’s father reiterating numerous times that Akinya will be his wife; she is the one chosen for him, and it cannot be changed. Jaiye needs a smart Gibbs smack to the back of the head. His poor da has patience to put a saint to shame.
Another issue that cropped up often were places where quote marks were missing or where they are present and should not be. Tense bounced back and forth from present to past in same paragraph, sometimes even same sentence. Occasionally, type switched to italics for no apparent reason, which jarred me from the story as I attempted to suss out why the change had been made.
This story has a lot of potential, and Sparks could take it so much further. There’s certainly room for Sparks to bloom as an author. I hope to see an edited, cleaned-up second edition of One Cowrie Shell in the future! I will happily adjust my rating accordingly, and I do intend to keep a weather eye out for new works by the author.
A Sworn Virgin
Diana has never felt constrained by the strict traditions that bind people in her mountain town. Her free-thinking father always encouraged her to be herself, to pursue art and never be afraid to speak her mind. But when her father’s past catches up with him, Diana is suddenly left to navigate life on her own, and she suddenly finds herself facing all the restrictions of being a woman that had never seemed to affect her before. Diana feels her only option is to become a sworn virgin, which gives her the freedom and social powers of a man, as well as the ability to escape the marriage her stepmother tried to sell her into. Then, a mysterious man comes into her life, and Diana feels the urge to break her vows, no matter how much it might shame her family.
Readers will venture into the strange world of early twentieth century Albania with A Sworn Virgin: Broken Promises. Author Kristopher Dukes quickly draws readers in with the fascinating story of Diana, a young woman who finds herself changed time and again by life’s circumstances. The mountain town where Diana lives has traditions and gender divides that modern readers may have a hard time wrapping their heads around; it’s hard to believe that the culture Dukes describes was ever real, but the amount of research she put into this book definitely shines through. Some readers may be frustrated by Diana’s character, which starts so strong, but later acts so foolishly over Andri. Some parts of this book move very fast, such as Diana’s revenge for the death of her father or the sudden arrival of her arranged marriage, while other parts meander along, such as her time spent hiding in Andri’s house. The story remains fascinating throughout; readers will definitely find it difficult to put this novel down.
Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined
The Greek myths are ones that have been told thousands of times in every form and to varying levels of degree. Yet, I can never seem to keep myself from reaching for them and devouring page after page. My absolute favorite is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and now there’s Arcadian Nights.
Arcadian Nights is somehow, miraculously, approached differently than the other retellings of myths I’ve read. Author John Spurling draws from his own experiences in Greece to give the reader a sense of the modern country and the land that is very much still Greece from the soil to the olive groves it nourishes, from the seas to the ships they stock with fish. At the same time, however, his focus remains on the myths. Spurling approaches these stories with the tone of an authoritative historian, but his third person narration offers the read a glimmer of the fantastical nature the myths are known for. Inventing dialogue to ease emotional responses into the narration and offering the classic characters with relatable motivations, Spurling’s writing promises to keep even the most well-read mythology lovers intrigued.
I love any telling that is able to bring these characters back to life, but I’m finding more and more now that any great departure from the traditional tellings of the myths is enough to get me to close the book. Spurling walks that tightrope between not transforming the characters enough and tampering with the authenticity and offers the reader a well-balanced collection of myths that hovers nearer the realistic side of the spectrum than Homer and Aeschylus may have endorsed, but it is nonetheless well tailored to a modern audience.
The Cavendon Luck (Cavendon Hall)
The Cavendon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford reminds me so much of my beloved favorite British TV program,Downton Abbey. Both are about keeping the family place afloat during tough times. There’s always a disaster of some sort just around the corner and right after everything seems to be doing well. Barbara Taylor Bradford lures her audience back to 1938 where it all begins. The Cavendon Luck is an extraordinary historical fiction that will grab readers instantly with its intrigue and fascinating cast of characters. The emotional journey is quite a ride. Just as in real life, times are tough, or easy and joyous.
After reading The Cavendon Luck, I would love to see it as a movie. The story brings readers in emotionally. The scenes are so vivid that they pop off the pages in the reader’s mind. The tightly knit family showered with so much love makes readers’ hearts melt.
When Cavendon Hall is safe, readers will wonder how much longer it will last. Readers will love the two families portrayed in the book. The tale is told from the characters’ points of view, as well as the narrator’s. Livelihoods are all on the line. So many have put in so much to keep Cavendon Hall going. World War II is just around the corner fear, death, and loss will soon be upon them all. Friendship, romance, and courage are all a part of this thrilling novel. I couldn’t put the book down until I read it all. Readers will fall in love with Bradford’s masterpiece. Overall, I highly recommendThe Cavendon Luck.
Tales of Inner Asia
Tales of Inner Asia by Todd A Gibson features two interesting stories set against the backdrop of an Asia that is unknown to many modern travelers, an exotic world of adventure and discovery. A wounded seeker sets out to locate a place that holds the secret to his well being and the promise of a beautiful future. Will he succeed in locating this secret place and will he be able to survive his physical wound before he gets the chance to find the place? In the second story, a soldier sets out to fulfill an old prophecy, but there are obstacles on his way and he has to overcome them, but also encounters dubious characters and must learn to choose his allies wisely and play the right cards in a world where evil and goodness coexist. Will he succeed in fulfilling the prophecy or could it be it’s even not true? With his lyrical style, Gibson paints an impressive tapestry of values of friendship, love, and the faith of a people rarely remembered in association with Asia, a beautiful culture lost in history. He writes with confidence and as one reads the stories, this confidence draws him into the story and suffocates him with its mirth. The stories are sprinkled with terrific descriptions of places and the occasional use of the local dialects makes them more powerful and convincing to readers. It is also interesting to see how the author combines cultural values and the traditional wisdom of the Tibetan traditions to create an alluring setting for these beautiful tales. The characters are well developed and they are drawn from a wide cast, including sorcerers, sages, soldiers, courtiers, and a lot more. The author has the knack for creating witty and intelligent dialogue that is both entertaining and plot-driven. Tales of Inner Asia is one of the books that will entertain and inspire readers.