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Five qualities of a good novel as shown in the book Shane July 25, 2017

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review, Writing.
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51rRxrScknL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading the classic western Shane by Jack Schaefer, which was published in 1949 and made into a movie in 1953.  The novel set me to reflecting on what made it a best-seller that is still read in schools and has stayed popular for so many years.  As the St. George Daily Spectum wrote: “Shane is a work of literature first and a Western second.”  What qualities does it have that make it a work of literature?

Interestingly, the novel opens at a slow pace.  Today’s writers are taught to open with action or grab the reader’s attention in some way.  However, in this book the author takes his time introducing the characters and setting. The result is very effective.

Here is the opening paragraph: “He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89.  I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuckwagon.  I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.” (p. 1)

For the next eight paragraphs, the boy continues to describe the horseman as he rides closer and closer, then finally into the farmstead where the boy observes him.

This slow pace allows the reader to see the stranger and enter into the world the boy, Bob, lives in.  It is told from the intimate first-person point of view.  We see the horseman, the small town, the river and the fork in the road as the rider draws closer and finally into view.  Bob tells us the stranger’s clothes are different from the local people.  He wears tall boots and a belt, both made of a soft black leather tooled in intricate design and a “finespun” linen shirt.

A child’s viewpoint is an interesting way to tell the story because Bob is a keen observer of life, yet he is young and doesn’t understand everything that’s going on.  We, as the reader, left to our own interpretation of people and events, have deeper insights into what is going on.

The plot is fairly straight-forward.  Bob and his parents live on a farm and a mysterious stranger rides onto their land and asks for a drink of water.  The father, Joe, soon recognizes that Shane is the kind of man whom nobody will push around and asks him to stay as a farmhand.

Shane hires on and is loyal to the family, so when a powerful rancher tries to drive out the local farmers, Shane is pulled into the deadly conflict.

The story focuses more on character development than action and the topics of courage, honor, love and heroes are explored.

The book is relatively short, yet it will draw you in from the beginning and keep you reading to the end, leaving you to ponder its depth and layers of meaning.

The reader never does find out about Shane’s background and what it is he’s trying to escape.  He finds serenity and inner peace on the farm, but this is broken by the tension in town between the farmers and the large rancher.

So what makes this a good novel?

  1. It has well-developed characters with heroic qualities that we care about.
  2. It has an interesting plot with high stakes, both in terms of how the outcome will affect the character’s lives and how it will force them to grow and change.
  3. It has great descriptions and metaphors. Here is the boy’s description of a stump. “It was big enough, I used to think, so that if it was smooth on top you could have served supper to a good-sized family.” (p. 18)
  4. The author, Jack Schaefer, shows the reader what’s going on instead of telling him, leaving the reader to interpret the situation.
  5. The story has good pacing that gradually builds to the climatic ending.

In conclusion, Shane is a great read for anyone who enjoys a good western.  For writers, it’s an interesting study in what makes a good novel.  As you read the book, look for the five qualities listed above and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What draws the reader into a story and keeps them there?
  2. What universal values and ideas make the story worth telling?

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section.  What do you think makes a good novel?  What qualities do you look for in a book?

If you’ve read Shane, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the characters and story.

 

Review of Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum June 29, 2017

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51oy3dgHDYLIf you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, pick up The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour.  A friend recommended this book and I’m glad he did because it was an exciting and educational read.

L’Amour published his first novel in 1953 and every one of his over 120 books are still in print.  There are 300 million copies of his books worldwide.  He is one of the bestselling authors of modern times.  Forty-five of his novels have been made into films.

He is best known for capturing the spirit of the American West.  This novel, written in his later years, is a departure from those books. It takes place in the 12th century, starting out in France, crossing medieval Europe and the Russian steppes, and finally ending in Constantinople.

Young Mathurin Kerbouchard of Brittany is thrust into a violent, dangerous world when he returns from a fishing expedition and finds his mother murdered and his home burned to the ground.  He barely escapes with his life only to be captured and forced to be a galley slave.

In L’Amour’s usual style, Kerbouchard goes from one adventure to another as he sets off on a quest to find his father (who is reported to be killed at sea or sold into slavery) and revenge his mother. Kerbouchard is bold to a fault, trained by the Druids to have an amazing memory, and a seeker of knowledge who can speak and write many languages (an unusual talent for the times).  He is skilled with a sword, but also relies on his wit as he works toward achieving his nearly impossible goals.

The book is broad in scoop and covers several years as Kerbouchard grows into manhood.  He faces life with courage and honor, making friends and enemies along the way.  He is a unique character whom the reader will remember long after they finish the book.  We see the 12th century world through Kerbouchard’s active, intelligent mind.  He travels from the dark, dirty cities in France where the Christian church forbids new ideas and books are rare, to the Moslem cities of Spain where books are plentiful and scholars are valued.

The book reads quickly, especially the first half, which is filled with one hair-raising adventure after another.  But it slows down in places where Kerbouchard, a brilliant scholar interested in different ideas and places, tells us the history of the city he’s traveled to and shares his philosophy of life with other scholars.

In his Author’s Notes section, L’ Amour said he was fascinated by this period of history.  He feels that our schools ignore two thirds of world.  “Of China, India and the Muslim world almost nothing is said, yet their contribution to our civilization was enormous, and they are now powers with which we must deal both today and tomorrow, and which it would be well for us to understand.  

“One of the best means of introduction to any history is the historical novel.” p. 462

L’Amour planned to write two more books about Kerbouchard’s adventures; regrettably, he died before he completed them.

I was partly intrigued by the book because I also researched this area of the world for my book Annoure and the Dragon Ships.  My historical saga is set almost 400 hundred years earlier and takes the reader from Saxon England, to Viking Norway, to the Russian steppes.  It was interesting to see how the world had changed over those four centuries.

If you’re in the mood for a fascinating, exciting adventure filled with treachery, violence, passion, love and friendship, check out The Walking Drum by best-selling author Louis L’Amour.

Book review of Exit Five From Charing Cross by Valerie Keogh April 5, 2017

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51YvPr2Vz4LExit Five From Charing Cross by Valerie Keogh is told in first person. Jake Mitchell begins his story by talking about missed opportunities and wonderful lives almost lived. “A life like mine.” We find out he’s at work at his dream job where he’s worked eight years. He set out to be rich and achieved his goal. “money was God.” But now business has dried up and he’s struggling to hold on. He leaves work to meet his best friend Adam at a café at Charing Cross. Sitting outside the café, is a woman he’s instantly attracted to and hopes to see again.

 

After this initial opening Jake goes back in time and tells us how he met Adam, and then about his family. Over the course of the book we learn of the lies he told and how, once they were told, he had to keep lying to keep his secrets. One poor decision led to another as Jake set out to build a “wonderful life”. At the end of chapter four he says, “Didn’t know then, in my enthusiastic youth, that every little action, choice and deed had a consequence.”

 

What makes this book interesting is how we see the world through Jake’s eyes and hear his inner thoughts. We learn why he lied and what led to the destructive decisions he made.

 

The book was an enjoyable, quick read with a haunting quality to it. The story twists and turns in interesting ways and has a surprise ending. I reminded of the recent movie Gone Girl in that things are always what they appear.

 

I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers. It’s well written with a strong plot and well developed characters.

 

Book review of The Immortal Life of Piu Piu: A Magical Journey Exploring the Mystery of Life after Death (Dance Between Worlds Book 1) January 25, 2017

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41fel8exsnlAfrican author Bianca Gubalke has written an uplifting visionary fiction novel about the journey of soul. It started out in the first chapter with Anata, a soul in the inner realms, talking to an elder about her next life. She’s picked a hard life for her spiritual advancement in a small village in Western Cape coast of South Africa. A place that is beautiful with numerous plant species, animals, mountains, and ocean.

The elder warned Anata that her memory of who she really is as soul will disappear so she can create a new life. She won’t remember her true home but will search for it.

In the second chapter, we met a little girl named Pippa and MadMax (a delightful talking cat). They heard a peep and find a little gosling on the ground. Pippa brought it into the house, determined to take care of the small, helpless creature. Thus begins the tale of Pippa, MadMax and her goose Piu Piu.

The story explored the loving relationship between humans and animals and included many beautiful photographs of plants and animals.

The novel had a powerful message because it delved into the spiritual realms and the longing of soul to return home in a time when many baby boomers are wondering what happens after they die.

In places, the story of Piu Piu, the goose, reminded me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Both birds long for freedom.

The book also reminded me of Oversoul Seven by Jean Roberts, which is about Oversoul Seven who runs three bodies at once in different times and places as part of his education.

I was exposed to the idea that soul takes part in choosing their next life in Dr. Michael Newton’s work Journey of Souls and Life Between Lives. Dr. Newton hypnotized people to take them back to their childhood so they could heal. Once when he hypnotized someone they ended up in the inner realm where soul goes between lives. After that Dr. Newton took many people back to their life between lives on earth and asked soul about their experience there.

In the Immortal Life of Piu Piu I was fascinated to see how Bianca was able to weave together the idea of soul living more than one life and choosing that life based on what that soul needed to learn for its spiritual growth. I especially enjoyed the action-filled second half of the book that shares the backstory of Poppa’s parents during a raging forest fire.

The end of the book was a treat for it nicely tied up the whole book and brought clarity to the story.

I highly recommend this story for those who enjoy visionary fiction. You might find yourself wondering if this is simply a magical world where animals talk, have human emotions and past life memories or if there is a golden thread of truth that can help us in our own journey home.

Do you believe in reincarnation?  Do you have any memories of a past life?  Do you think we decide what our next life will be?

Here is a wonderful book trailer of the novel.

Check out Heidi Skarie’s website bluestarvisions.com where you can get a free short story and get on her newsletter.

Book Review of The Bears and I by Robert Franklin Leslie November 15, 2016

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51f5sntxuml-_ac_us160_A friend gave my husband The Bears and I.  I picked it up to see what it was about and once I started reading I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

The story is set in the wilderness of British Columbia where Bob, the author, is panning for gold for the summer when an old sow bear leaves him with triplet orphaned black bear cubs.  Bob’s heart goes out to the small creatures that he describes as the size of teddy bears and he decides to raise them until they are old enough to survive on their own.  The cubs end up sharing his cabin even sleep with him in his sleeping bag.

What makes this story remarkable is the amazing bond of love that develops between Bob and these three bear cubs and the insights we gain into bears.  After reading this book I don’t think I’ll ever look at them the same.  The bear cubs each had a distinct personality and enjoyed playing tricks on each other. They also had a wonderful spirit of fun and adventure.

As the cubs grew older they also learned to hunt together and to protect each other. They were highly intelligent creatures and soon learned their names and to respond to simple voice commands and gestures.  Like when there was danger Bob would say tree and point to the tree and they would run up it.

The book is also an exciting adventure story especially in the first half as Bob tries to keep these three cubs alive against all the dangers of the wilderness including predators that eat bear cubs.  There is also devastating fire that sweeps across the forest they live in and a harrowing journey by canoe deeper into the wilderness with a winter’s worth of supplies.

The author vividly describes nature with its planets, flowers, birds, animals and changes in season in such detail that I felt I was right there with him every step of the way.

It helped that I’ve had enough of my own experience in the wilderness to relate to his.  I’ve been backpacking in the Bitterroot and Rocky Mountains in the United States and in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve also been canoeing in the Boundary waters wilderness of the US and Canada.  I’ve experienced having a bear come to my campsite at night and breaking the branch of a tree where we’d carefully tied up our food bag ten feet above the ground.  I’ve also paddled a canoe across rough lakes in the rain with high winds and chopping waves.

I could also relate to Bob’s winter experiences with deep snow and long months of cold weather as I lived just across the Canadian border in Minnesota.

Moreover, the book is enjoyable because the writing is excellent with detailed descriptions, original metaphors and good insights into life.  Bob wrestles with questions like how much of the wilderness should be a game refuge or park and how to do we protect wild animals.  Bob also ponders the questions of why animals live by killing one another and why is there are forest fires, which wipe out so many of the creatures that live there.

The book was written 1971 and made into a Walt Disney movie in 1974.  I haven’t seen the movie but from the movie trailer it looks to be a fun family movie with three cute, mischievous cubs and beautiful scenery.

Do you have any good stories to share about a wild animal?  I loved to hear them.

S Collin Ellsworth, Finding the Route 40 Phantom September 29, 2016

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41dcma-8gjlS Collin Ellsworth is one of the authors in the recently published anthology Where Rivers Converge. For the anthology, she wrote a gripping short story entitled Coward about a hit and run woman driver.

Ellsworth’s novels feature elements of life after death interwoven in the lives of women. She writes witty women and comical children that appeal to readers looking for relatable characters.

Her latest novel, Finding the Route 40 Phantom weaves two different women from different times: Natalie, an eighteen-year-old living in the 1950s with ambitions ahead of the era and Alexandra, a small town newspaper writer who constantly has to justify her contentment to her intellectual mother and sister. The two women’s lives intersect with the mystery of the Route 40 Phantom.

The Route 40 Phantom is a Southern Ohio legend. In the early fifties, a man terrorized the truckers of Route 40 by driving dressed as a skeleton. Despite not being an actual ghost, the Route 40 Phantom appears on many Haunted Ohio history sites. The real phantom’s identity remains a mystery. In her novel, Ellsworth gave him a persona of a beatnik mechanic with mysterious intention.

Filled with, suspense, and bucolic charm; Finding the Route 40 Phantom is a great fall read.

 

 

Book Review by Heidi Skarie, Dream Yourself Awake by Darlene Montgomery September 22, 2016

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41danpw89l-_sx298_bo1204203200_Dream Yourself Awake One Woman’s Journey to Uncover Her Divine Purpose through Dreams

Years ago Montgomery realized her dreams were relating to her waking life.  She found they revealed recurring themes and lessons. The images and feelings she began to see formed a map that led to her purpose as Soul. Montgomery states, “Dreams tell a story about Soul’s everlasting wish to journey back home to God.” (p. 18)

The basic premise of the book is that if you have a yearning to know your purpose in life, Spirit will let Soul see its greater destiny and clear away illusions. The law of growth drives Soul on.

Each chapter begins with an insightful quote. Then Montgomery shares a dream, waking dream or inner experience and gives her interpretation of it as she sheds light on the spiritual side of what she’s experiencing.

In the sixth chapter, The Messengers of Life, she quotes from Marianne Williamson: “Ultimately, it is not our credentials but our commitment to a higher purpose that creates our effectiveness in the world.” (p. 28)

In this chapter Montgomery explains that Divine Spirit guides us to experiences that remind us of agreements we made before we were born into this life. Messengers in life may come to us as teachers, friends, movies and books. The people around us show us qualities inside ourselves and help us figure out our life’s mission.

Montgomery also shares what she learned about her career as a writer. In one dream, Montgomery meets Oprah Winfrey. She realized Oprah’s dream appearance intended to awaken her “to my own potential as a voice of change in the world” (p. 11) In the same chapter she says, “To write a book is to open a door literally into another world. Every work of art leaves an impression, which shapes the thoughts of others and more importantly their dreams.” (p. 13)

In Dream Yourself Awake, Montgomery takes the reader on an intimate journey. Through Montgomery’s experience, we see our own fears, failings and limiting ideas. We also see our ability to grow, learn, overcome these limitations and move into a place of love, abundance and gratitude. We see how we are divine sparks of God and how our dreams are here to teach us, give us truth and help us deal with challenges. When we pay attention, dreams will tell us about our higher goals and we can wake up, as Montgomery did. We can become strong spiritual beings, aware that we are children of God, knowing we are powerful, loving beings.

While writing this blog post, I had a waking dream experience at the end of my yoga class. The instructor said she had a quote to share and I knew it was related to this post. The quote is from the inspiring author, Marianne Williamson:

“Relationships are our primary teacher. They are the context in which we either grow into God consciousness, or deny ourselves and others the opportunity to do so.”

Have you had dreams, waking dreams or inner experience that helped you wake up to a higher truth about yourself on your journey home to God? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

 

Hector and the Search for Happiness March 22, 2016

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urlI recently saw Hector and the Search for Happiness about Hector (Simon Pegg), a quirky psychiatrist, who has a good business, a beautiful girlfriend, Clare (Rosamund Pike), who does everything for him, and an expensively furnished apartment. Yet he isn’t satisfied with his life. Everyday he listens to his client’s problems, yet he feels like a fraud because he’s giving them advice and they aren’t getting happier.

The pressure within Hector builds as he listens to a client’s seemingly “trivial” problems until finally he explods and yells at her.

After another incident where Hector overreacts, he decides he needs to take a journey to figure out what happiness is and to resolve some issues from the past. Clare is too busy at work to come on the trip with him and her immediate reaction is that he wants to break up. He says he doesn’t and asks her if she’ll be there when he returns. She asks him how long he’ll be gone. When he replies that he doesn’t know, she says then she doesn’t know if she’ll be there or not.

Clare gives him a journal as a parting gift and he uses it to write down his own insights into happiness. He also asks the people he meets what they think happiness is and jots down their answers. His journey takes him to different places in the world with his focus being on interacting with people not on seeing the sites.

The story is told with humor mixed with some real insights into life and the different ways people look at happiness. In the journey Hector is confronted with life, death, illness, love, wealth, poverty, sex, family, and nostalgia.

The movie is good in that it makes you reflect on what happiness means to you. It shows how each person defines happiness differently and how some people aren’t happy now but think they will be in the future after they make a lot of money or retire or are healthy etc.

As I watched it, I thought about my own concept of happiness and how to live a happier life. I realized I have many good things in my life, but I often don’t see them. For me being happy should be in the moment, in the here and now, not in some time in the future. I don’t have to wait for something to happen to be happy. I also don’t have to let other people’s actions control my happiness. I’m happier when I see the blessings in my life and the gifts that are all around me. I also realized love is the key to happiness.

We’re all like Hector in that we are each on our own journey of self-discovery to find the meaning of life and happiness.

What makes you happy? Have you ever longed for something thinking it would make you happy and when you got it, discovered that it didn’t give you the joy you thought it would? What does happiness mean to you?

Here is the official trailer of the movie.

 

Louie Schwartzberg: An Amazing Videos February 4, 2016

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For the new year I want to share a special video called Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg. What better time than the beginning of the year to think about all we have to be grateful for. Schwarzberg talks about being present and celebrating life as he shares his amazing time lapse photography. He has captured some flowers unfolding, the movement of clouds in the sky, and butterflies. His talk and films are both inspiring.
The second part of the video is called “Happiness Revealed” and is from the point of view of a child and elderly man. One of the things the elderly man says is to look at the faces of the people you meet. Each one has an incredible stories behind their face.

I hope you are uplifted as much as I was by this wonderful video

The Martian January 29, 2016

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Being a science fiction writer and hearing that The Martian was a good film with Matt Damon as the star, I had to check it out. I’m glad I did. It was an enjoyable movie with an urlinteresting premise and lots of drama.

Astronaut Mark Watney is thought to be dead when he’s caught in a terrible storm on Mars and ends up being left behind by his crewmates when they head for home. He finds himself stranded on Mars without enough food to survive until a rescue ship can come for him. He has to use all his skills to find a way to signal earth, stay alive, and grow his own food.

The story is based on real science and the Watney is a funny, smart man who we enjoy being with as the viewer.

The film won two golden globe awards for best motion picture and best actor.

The story behind the movie is also interesting. The book, the movie was based on, was written by Andy Weir, an American software engineer. It was written to be as scientifically accurate as possible. It was first published as a free serial on Weir’s personal blog and received feedback from the readers. At the reader’s request it was eventually made into an e-book that sold for 99 cents. It shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller science fiction list. An agent contacted Weir and it was sold to a large publisher. Four days later Hollywood called for the movie rights. It all happened so fast even the author had a hard time believing it.

Here is the trailer of The Martian.

Another Youtube I ran across was an interview with Matt Damon, Andy Weir, and Dr. Jim Green (from NASA). In this interview we find out that elements in the movie are already being developed by NASA. The people who made the movie visited NASA to make it as real as possible. Here is a link to the youtube.

Do you think we’ll someday go to Mars and set up settlements? If we do, would you want to go there?

Weir’s first work to gain attention was a short story called The Egg that was adapted into Youtube videos. Here is a link to one of the youtubes if you’d like to see one. It’s an interesting story exploring soul’s experience after a person dies.

The Egg: