All posts by heidi.skarie@gmail.com

Check out a great historical-fiction TV series on the Danes and Saxons in England: The Last Kingdom

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The Lost Kingdom

England’s history is of special interest to me since it is my ancestry.  My novel, Annoure and the Dragon Ships, opens in 794 A.D. on the east coast of Northumbria, Saxon England, during the second Viking raid on St. Paul’s church and its twin monasteries.

 

Recently I discovered a BBC, British history, series on Netflix. The story takes place in 871 A.D.  In the intervening 77 years between the beginning of the Norsemen’s attacks to 871 A. D., the Saxon swept through Saxon England and conquered all but Wessex in what is now southwest England.

 

The story is told through the eyes of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Alexander Dreymon.  As a boy his father is killed in a battle of the Saxons against the Danes.  Uhtred is taken captive by the Dane Earl Ragnar who later adopts him.  When Uhtred is a young man, an angry Dane (who was banished by Ragnar) attacks and kills Uhtred’s surrogate family.

 

Horrified by the death of his family, Uhtred wants revenge.  He also wants to regain his ancestral lands, but doesn’t have the means to accomplish either of his goals.  He’s a man caught between two worlds, the Saxons and the Norsemen, and he isn’t accepted by either.

 

I found myself caught up in the story.  It is high budget with attention to historical detail in such things as clothing, hair styles, housing, Viking ships and weapons.  The characters are complex, three-dimensional people and the plot is complicated with many twists and turns.

 

One of the more interesting characters is King Alferd, David Dawson.  He was an important Saxon king and held back the Saxons from taking Wessex.  He was a remarkable man for his time because he went to Rome twice and could read and write English and Latin at a time when few of his contemporaries could read.  He was responsible for raising the level of culture in England.  He also had a vision to unite all the regions into one country.

 

King Alferd is a pious Christian man, whereas Uhtred believes in the Norse Gods.  Their difference in beliefs is a source of conflict between the two men because the king needs Uhtred, who is a great warrior, but he can never trust a pagan completely.

 

The two seasons of the show were released in 2015 and 2017. Netflix joined BBC to make a second series.  It’s yet to decided whether there will be a third series.  The shows are based on a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell.  Cornwell descended from one family line of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, of which there were several.  Little is known about Uhtred, so Cornwell created a fictional account of his life.

 

I highly recommend this series.  As in my book, it shows the clash between the Saxons and Vikings in their religious beliefs, customs and the way they view the world.

 

Please note: The show isn’t for everyone.  It has graphic scenes of violence and sex, so much so that I found myself turning away at times.

 

https://www.netflix.com/title/80074249 (trailer for The Last Kingdom)

 

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Check out this new release: You Can Never Go Wrong By Being Kind

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You Can Never Go Wrong By Being Kind: 101 Inspirational Stories of Kindness & Generosity

By Zeal Okogeri

Exceptionally positive and encouraging, this book contains compelling true stories by 67 authors from around the globe, and from all walks of life, who have united to share their personal experiences with the transformative potential of kindness.
Within each story is a gift for you. As you are transported around the world by these extraordinary stories, you’ll be gifted with wisdom, love, compassion, forgiveness, hope, laughter, gratitude, acceptance, and the awareness that life is not possible without kindness. As you read these stories, you will learn how to:

• Be happier and live a fuller and more satisfying life by practicing kindness
• Recognize opportunities for giving and receiving kindness wherever you are
• Transform your life through relentless acts of kindness
• Get unstuck and transcend your creative block through acts of kindness
• Trust more and count your blessings
• Set yourself free through forgiveness
• Develop a kind heart through meditation and spirituality
• Recognize the role of animals in teaching us how to love unconditionally
• Improve your health through spontaneous acts of kindness and compassion
• Multiply your favors through gratitude
• Be kind to yourself
• Cultivate the courage to follow your heart and intuition
• Find more reasons to continue having faith in humanity

Dr. Zeal Okogeri is an inspirational speaker, author, coach, and storyteller. A progeny of generations of African indigenous healers, Zeal leads meditation retreats to Tibet, Nepal, and India. He also travels around the United States and other countries sharing Kindness and Wisdom stories and teaching the Light and Sound Current meditation. Through his writings and lectures, Zeal inspires people to seek the highest and best for themselves. His philosophy is simple, and can be summarized in his celebrated quote: You can never go wrong by being kind.

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Five qualities of a good novel as shown in the book Shane

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Shane

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 also like to hear your thoughts on the characters and story.

 

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Review of Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum

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If 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, 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.

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Book review of Exit Five From Charing Cross by Valerie Keogh

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Book review of Exit Five From Charing Cross by Valerie Keogh

 

Exit 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.

 

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

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African 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 had been 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 Pippa’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.

 

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Book Review of The Passion of Marie Romanov by Laura Rose

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The Passion of Marie Romanov by Laura Rose is written as a diary and has the intimacy of Ann Frank’s diary in the book Diary of Ann Frank. Both novels are about young women in dire circumstances during a time of war. Laura Rose used Marie’s actual diaries to give the reader insights into her character and life. The story opens at the point where Marie’s father, Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, is forced to abdicate.

The story moves between Marie’s current life of hardships and her memories of her former life of privilege as she recalls all the wonderful times her family had together.

In the beginning of the story Marie draws you into her world as she describes in detail the beauty of the palace and her love for her four siblings who are all seriously ill with measles. She is devoted to her mother as together they nurse her siblings. Marie and her mother wonder why the tsar hasn’t returned home or at least contacted his family. It’s winter and Marie lives in increasing fear of the large mobs that could attack the palace, of her siblings dying, and of her father being executed.

Then Marie falls ill with the measles and her own suffering seems to reflect the suffering of the Russian people. Millions were wounded, captured or died in WW 1 and citizens at home suffered from poverty and starvation.

The former Tsar is finally allowed to return to the palace where his family now is being held under house arrest. During their imprisonment, they are moved to Siberia and then to a house in the Ural Mountains.

By the spring of 1918 Russia is in the midst of a civil war. Imprisoned inside the house, Marie longs for a love like her parents have and for freedom for herself and her family.

Instead, in July of 1918 the family is brutally killed. The author chose to describe their murders and the disposals of the bodies in vivid detail through the eyewitness account of a young soldier. The descriptions are as chilling as a horror novel. The gruesome ending seemed unnecessary and some readers may choose to not read that section.

The book could have benefitted from more details about the history of the time to give the reader insights as to why Nicholas II had to abdicate and what led to the family being killed. Marie was nineteen by the end of the story and should have had some awareness of the plight of the Russian people.

Overall the book was worth reading to learn more about the fall of the Russian Empire in a very personal way.

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Book Review of The Bears and I by Robert Franklin Leslie

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The Bears and I

The Bears and I

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. They 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 a 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 plants, 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 live 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 there are forest fires, which wipe out so many of the creatures that live there.

Here is a link to the movie trailer:

http://video.disney.com/watch/the-bears-and-i-trailer-4beae8d9badd4dc60c94e3f9

Here is a link to John Denver singing a song he wrote for the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4aVEbHR8UE

 

 

 

 

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Book Review of Dream Yourself Awake

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Dream Yourself Awake

Dream Yourself Awake; One Woman’s Journey to Uncover Her Divine Purpose through Dreams by Darlene Montgomery

Years ago Montgomery realized her dreams related to her waking life and 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!

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Readings on Where Rivers Converge

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COME IN AND LISTEN ON SATURDAY THE 10TH

If you live in the area, I think you’d enjoy hearing local authors reading their contributions to the newly published anthology Where Rivers Converge

Saturday, September 10 1:00-3:00pm Waconia Library (WC Magazine Reading Room) Live Read of Carver County area Library Writer’s Group will feature picks from their first anthology edition “Where Rivers Converge”. Come support your favorite authors.

Waconia Library 217 S. Vine St. 952-442-4714

Authors will also probably have some of their other books on display as well.

I’ll be reading my fiction piece, “Interrupted Honeymoon”.

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