Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sword by Da Chen


The Sword by Da Chen was an enchanting Chinese fairy tale that tells the story of Miu Miu, the daughter of a famous sword maker who was murdered because the Emperor did not wish anyone else except himself to ever own such a beautiful sword as the one Miu Miu’s father made for him.

Miu Miu sets out to avenge the murder of her father in order to fulfill the destiny her mother mapped out for her. Her travels are both delightful and dangerous, and Da Chen beautifully writes with such fluidity the story seems to flow out onto the pages. I’ve read many fairy tales, and this ranks among the most well told I’ve ever read.

Even more intriguing than the fairy tale of Miu Miu and her betrothed Ting Tong, is the opening twelve pages that tell of an ex-convict named Ar Kin who returns to the village after serving a twenty year sentence in Siberia. I wish more had been written about Ar Kin. I found him fascinating and I was left wanting to know more.

My biggest criticism of this book is that the end wrapped up too quickly and too neatly. Da Chen could have easily written two different endings and up until the end of the book, I wasn’t quite sure which way it would go.

I found every part of this book to be tastefully written, and would not hesitate to recommend this book to any adult or child 11 years and up.

The Triumph of Deborah


The Triumph of Deborah provided an interesting portrayal of the early conflicts between the Canaanite people and Israelites, and the important role Deborah played in attaining peace. Although nearly all of this novel is a fictional in nature, it provided a glimpse into a little talked about time period in Israelite history that is vastly different from today’s society in terms of economics, justice, education, and human rights.

Much of the novel focuses on Barak, a reluctant battle leader, and his earthly desires for women and prosperity. He is torn between two women, the one he loves, and his trophy wife. The story is rich in detail, and treats the reader to a story rich with romance, historical tidbits, and just enough conflict to keep it interesting.

Three women play prominently in this story, Asherah, the Canaanite daughter of the defeated and deceased King Jabin; Nogah, the secret daughter of King Jabin; and Deborah, the Israelite Judge and Prophetess. Barak has throws his values out the window and pursues each women in turn, before finally realizing his true love.

Deborah remains level-headed, honorable, and wise throughout the novel. It’s easy to see why she is so admired and respected. At every turn she unselfishly helps anyone in need, and her heart reaps the rewards eventually.

The character I most liked was Nogah. I found her life to be so fascinating as she moved from slave to Kings daughter, to maid, to scribe, to wife. She leads her life in the best way she knows how despite the odds against her at every turn.

Very little of this book focuses on the Jewish religion, instead it’s more about a time period in Israelite history. The writing is at times very formal, but I believe that adds to the overall historical romance feel. I'm not normally a big fan of romance novels, but I do enjoy biblical history and historical fiction, so this was a pleasure to read and certainly enriched my understanding of this time in history.

The White Mary by Kira Salak


The White Mary ranks in my top 5 books of the year. Provided I got past some obvious but indirect disdain for Christianity at times, the story itself was and adventure worth taking.

The novel is about Marika Vecera, a foreign journalist, who ventures into the most remote, most dangerous places she can find. In doing so, she seems to toss her soul from place to place hoping something, or someone that can awaken its true purpose and she can ultimately find joy and love.

Marika is a strong female character, who loses her Mom not physically, but in mind, when her Mother loses her mind. She has already lost her father, so Marika goes to live with relatives, and by thirteen, wins a scholarship to boarding school, where she finds herself on her own from that point on. Her hero through her school years is foreign journalist Robert Lewis. Robert Lewis is assumed dead due to a suicide note, and in researching a biography she is penning about him, she uncovers clues that he may still be alive.

Marika sets out on a treacherous journey through the forests of Papua New Guinea, where amazing events, scenes, people, and places play out in a story that dwarfs the likes of Indiana Jones and other adventure tales. With Marika’s guide Tobo beside her most of the way, Kira Salak provides two voices for this captivating journey of the body and the spirit.

If you love adventure and the exploration of other cultures and places, you’ll love this book.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane


The Given Day was one of the most interesting and complex books I’ve read in a long time. Most central to this book is the story of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer caught before, during, and after the famous 1919 Boston Police Strike. Alongside him are a vast array of characters, from dirty politicians to his two closest confidants who hide a sordid past, and everything in between.

Also just as important to the novel is Luther Lawrence, a black man on the lam from Tulsa, Oklahoma after being blind sided by being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lives of Luther and Danny intertwine to create a captivating story of friendship that defies race, economic status, and social norms. Luther is perhaps the warmest character in the book, and he comes to confront his past with honor and courage when a lesser man would have run.

The final integral character is Nora, a young lass that’s run away from her hopeless life in Ireland. Her past catches up with her just as she almost finds happiness, nearly destroying her life once again.

The lives of these three characters weave their stories within the lives of police officers, co-workers, family members, neighbors, politicians, and anarchists to create a vivid portrait of so many historical events that occurred in 1919 including the mind boggling Molasses flood, the May Day riots, and ultimately culminating in the city-wide Police strike that brought the city to a grinding halt with out of control crime and riots everywhere.

These three characters manage to extricate themselves from the situation pretty much intact, but the cost is high, almost too high at times.

This is an epic novel, which should be of great interest to fans of historical fiction, Boston history, early NAACP history, as well as the labor movement. Although there was little sunshine in this long 700 page novel, if you can tolerate that, you will probably come away with a greater appreciation for the brilliant crafting of this famous time period in the history of Boston.