Book review: Chasing Bees

Uneven writing undermines novel’s spiritual message

Chasing Bees Renate M Bell spiritual fiction metaphysical novel new age novelRating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Renate M. Bell’s debut novel defies classification, even by the fuzzy standards of spiritual fiction. Is it literary fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, or perhaps chick lit? Although it’s beautifully written and spiritually insightful, “Chasing Bees” doesn’t quite hit the mark in any category, resulting in an uneven story that both enthralls and bores the reader.

Story: In her debut novel, Renate M. Bell takes readers into the Lawson’s apiary in Umatilla, Florida, showing how the frailty of life mirrored in nature nurtures greater awareness and fosters spiritual awakening. The author’s firsthand struggles and triumphs as an amateur beekeeper stages a refreshingly unique background to this captivating tale. The unexpected death of Faye Lawson’s husband forces her to face the future alone. While tending the beehives, Faye unknowingly embarks on a sacred journey which tests her to the core. Will she realize death is an illusion, a great mystery of time and relocation, but not an end? Can Faye find the strength to forge a new path, one true to herself, but one that will end her husband’s dream? Will the unexpected telepathic link to a young boy with Down syndrome reveal the truth to who she really is and what her future holds? Will the guidance of the boy’s father open her heart and offer the hope she desperately needs? (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Faye’s spiritual guide is her dead husband Daniel, a beekeeper, accomplished healer, and metaphysical teacher. Visions, dreams, and astral visits from Daniel nudge Faye beyond her paralyzing and self-destructive fear as she learns to stop living others’ dreams and rediscover her own. She reaches out to Daniel for comfort and guidance, and in the process she reconnects with her soul.

Chasing Bees is a detailed, intimate portrait of how Faye moves beyond simply recalling Daniel’s spiritual lessons and puts them into practice, including magnetic healing. Faye’s spiritual journey reveals many personal insights, such as how she views people only through the lens of her own expectations. She meditates for long hours to “free herself from the three-dimensional cage” that traps her spirit,  and then ultimately realizes she’s missed the whole point of meditation.

My take:  I flipped between awe and boredom as I read Chasing Bees. The pace is slow, the conflicts mundane, and the characters hastily sketched. But then I would turn the page and a haunting section of  lyrical description, lavish imagery, and profound insight would hold me in thrall for a few more pages. Bell’s poetic descriptions, particularly of nature, remind me of Annie Dillard’s or Barbara Kingsolver’s literary novels; each sense comes alive as Bell draws us into her world. Bell’s other strength is how she effectively translates metaphysical principles into action, using beekeeping as a metaphor for spiritual growth. The novel lovingly details myriad subtle aspects of the life of a beekeeper and captures both the beauty and savagery of the natural world.

Bell notes that the novel is based on her experience, which lends the story credibility. However, had this metaphysical story been written as a memoir, perhaps the meandering pace and lack of rich characters would have been less distracting. The supporting cast, particularly her husband Daniel, seem  too perfect to be of this world. The romantic aspects are hastily and awkwardly drawn, and despite Faye’s many internal dialogues her character is fully realized only within a few dimensions. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a scene is real or fantasy and whether it occurs in the past or present. Bell’s writing style veers between clunky conversations and lyrical prose, and the story is jammed between two completely different writing styles that try to stitch up the loose ends.

Nonetheless, Bell’s intent is to demonstrate how we can experience spiritual growth, heal ourselves, and accept the cycles of life in spite of–or perhaps because of–devastating personal loss. Chasing Bees achieves this goal, which makes the novel a worthwhile read.

Details: Chasing Bees, by Renate M. Bell
CreateSpace, 2008
Paperback, 152 pages
Buy at Amazon

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Book review: Threads–The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn

Richly textured spiritual novel explores karmic balance, stays true to history

Threads: Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn spiritual novel metaphysical fiction new ageRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Why did King Henry VIII nearly destroy England and create a new religion in order to marry Anne Boleyn, only to have her executed three years later? Nell Gavin’s fascinating, well-written  spiritual novel makes the compelling case that his nearly incomprehensible behavior is explained by the karma created throughout their many lifetimes together.

Story: In 1536, Henry and Anne are at the mercy of influences outside their control, explosively incompatible, and caught in a marriage that ends in betrayal so shocking that Anne requires lifetimes to recover. Henry, seemingly in defense of Anne (but more likely acting out of “stubborn perverseness,” she observes), terrorizes England and decrees widespread political murder in order to protect her. Ultimately, to Anne’s horror, this once passionate husband turns on her and has her executed as well. Threads, a reincarnation fantasy, opens with Anne’s execution. Her fury at her husband s betrayal has enough momentum to survive centuries, but in Threads she learns that she has been assigned a hard task: she must review their history together through a number of past lives, and find it within herself to forgive him. This may prove difficult and take some time. The husband in question is Henry Tudor, the notorious Henry VIII. The narrator is the stubborn, volatile Anne Boleyn, who is not at all inclined to forgive. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. In the opening chapters, Anne finds herself in a “place of peace” after her execution. There she reviews her life with Henry VIII in England, as well as a dozen other lifetimes that she and Henry, along with other family and friends, share in various combinations. Gavin suggests that the crux of Anne and Henry’s tumultuous relationship partly results from Anne’s abandonment of her child (Henry) in a previous life. Henry  pursues her and obsesses over her beyond all reason, she says, “as only a lost child could or would.”

Gavin carefully constructs the “place between lives,” where words are physical beings with vibrant form, color, and substance. With the help of the Voice, Anne begins to understand the complex interactions within this group of souls, which choose to incarnate together across three millenia.  She focuses on the emotional relationships within the group, what lessons they need to learn, and what contributes to or hinders their growth. Toward the end, she feels herself “grow small with understanding” as she glimpses the true nature of reincarnation.

Gavin offers an interesting approach to understanding karma: Success earns us karmic cash,  while failure forces us to borrow. We “pay for what we take and are paid for what we give” across lifetimes. If a person successfully completes their assigned job, says Gavin, that success can be used “like currency toward the next existence on earth. The tally determines destiny, good or bad, upon one’s return” to the place between lives.

My take: This elegant literary novel, rife with imagery and insight, focuses on the emotional and spiritual relationship between Anne and Henry, emphasizing psychology over history. I was grateful that I had read several of Philippa Gregory’s excellent novels about the English Reformation, which helped me follow Gavin’s minimalist portrayal of  events and time lines. The historical details are painstakingly researched, and Gavin offers fascinating psychological insight into how karma and reincarnation nicely account for the almost inconceivable manner in which Henry VIII pursued and then discarded Anne.

Gavin is a skilled and powerful author, and Threads is an elegant tapestry of Henry and Anne’s many lives together. Gavin develops her characters more fully than most books can, not only exploring the physical and psychological dynamics of their relationship, but also projecting those dynamics across 3,000 years of shared history. This adds a rich spiritual dimension to her characters that is not possible in many novels. I highly recommend this historical novel to readers interested in learning how reincarnation may influence their own relationships.

Details:
Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn, by Nell Gavin
Book and Quill Press, 2011
Kindle, 6500 (approx. 300 pages)
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Walking In

Despite slow start, novel about walk-ins evolves into clever page-turner

Walking In Myles Murchison new age metaphysical spiritual visionaryRating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

I typically shy away from stories about UFOs and Plieadians that take over human bodies, but the spiritual premise of Myles Murchison’s new spiritual novel “Walking In” seemed promising enough to take a chance–and his visionary novel made me glad I did. Despite a weak beginning, the story grew into a fascinating page-turner that had me racing to the finish.

Story: Walking In is a funny and inspirational book about walk-ins, angels, karma, love, sex and E.T. 101. It’s about Joanna who believes she is Deevorrah, an extraterrestrial fifth-dimensional spirit from the star system Pleiades. Is she really? Or is she crazy? She wants to create heaven on earth but now she’s fleeing in a stolen bus with an armed felon, chased by a new lover and half the cops in northwest America. Will she transmute the planet or simply lose what’s left of her mind? (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. At every turn, Murchison introduces metaphysical principles, occult practices, and popular spiritual themes: Channeling the energetic power in Sedona, New Mexico, focusing energy with pentagrams, performing chakra work to clear negative energy, using psychometrics to manipulate matter (such as starting a stalled engine), talking to dead spirits,  teaching the law of attraction, and offering the “Wisdoms”: life-affirming spiritual beliefs that underlie many spiritual/metaphysical/new age works.

Walk-ins are energy beings from the planet Plieadia that inhabit the bodies of willing humans who have chosen not to live. The human leaves the body to become one with Spirit, but a small piece of energy remains. The Plieadian goal is to help “earthlings” co-create heaven on earth by helping them into the fifth dimension of energy and light. Hindering their efforts, however, is the fourth dimension,  which encases the earth like a force field. This dimension holds the negative energy generated by humans, described as “emotion pollution.” Humans have difficulty evolving spiritually not only because our own negative energy surrounds us, but also because the fourth dimension is the dominion of disembodied spirits that want to inhabit the earth through psychic control.

The Plieadians are here because it’s time for humanity to break free of the fourth dimension and enter the realm of the fifth. The walk-ins use the New Thought industry to fund the Third Planet Mission, which attracts and trains humans who can help channel the energies necessary to transform the planet. And why has the emotional cesspool of earth been chosen to receive help from Plieadia? Because of our capacity for love.

My take: Murchison is a competent writer and works hard to create a compelling blend of romance, mystery, conflict, and hope. He describes the experience of walking in to a human body in finely honed, convincing detail, as well as the psychological struggle to determine who will ultimately control the body that Dee is inhabiting.

However, Murchison’s writing style hinders the story’s flow. Multiple points of view and frequent flashbacks sometimes left me wondering–and wandering–as a reader. Unnecessary back story cluttered some scenes. The book took a while to gain steam, and the Plieadian concept was a stretch for me. But once I got past these hurdles, the story picked up momentum and thundered to a satisfying conclusion. By the midpoint, the plot had morphed into a page-turner that I was reluctant to put down.

Details: Walking In, by Myles Murchison
Kelly Books (Canada), 2011
Kindle, 3085 (short)
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Book review: Dancing in the Shadows of Love

What is love anyway?

Dancing-in-the-Shadows-of-Love-Judy-Croome spiritual fiction new age novel metaphysical

Reviewed by: jesse s. hanson
Rating; 4 out of 5 stars

Judy Croome’s spiritual fiction work, “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” is a fine example of how fiction can be an attractive medium for conveying an intended message. “The driving motivation of my characters is the search for love in all its forms.”

Story: In the haunting Dancing in the Shadows of Love, three emotionally adrift women fight to heal their fractured worlds. Not everyone can be a hero. Or can they? (from Goodreads.com)

My take: Set in South Africa, Judy has created a spiritual enclave—the Court of St Jerome—that proves to be the point of convergence of the principal characters, three of whom are women of diversely troubled backgrounds. All three are indeed seekers of love, but to find or obtain love, they must first learn what true love is. The lessons are often exquisitely painful; and they are, I think, uniquely feminine lessons.

In truth, Dancing in the Shadows of Love is a very feminine story. At times, I felt somehow embarrassed while reading, as if I was included in conversations/thought processes inappropriate for my male presence in them. In any case, the writing is very good—if the character’s thought processes seem slightly redundant on certain points, it is perhaps so in keeping with the redundancy of the mind, which maddeningly returns to the same issues again and again.

The novel is also one of insistent symbolism. This aspect of the work, I wasn’t quite sure if I liked. The symbols are quite clear, for the most part (to my mind they were obvious references to Christianity and Catholicism), but the use of alternate terms, for instance, was perhaps necessary for Croome to convey her own notions of love and spirituality without the constrictions of religious convention (the book  is not religion fiction). I would perhaps have liked to see her find a way to write directly within the context of Christianity, since it seemed so present anyway, but I’m not harboring any real judgment in that regard. Anyway, maybe I wouldn’t have chosen to read it if she had. For a first novel, her approach and her execution are very admirable.

Ultimately, each of the three characters learns the lessons she needs to learn. Do they find love, any or all of them? Well I won’t say. Is it a love story? Yes. Is it a unique love story? I do think so. It is well worth reading. I recommend it to those who are interested in exploring the question: What is love anyway?

As always, I hate using the stars, but I’m giving it four of them. Have to save some room to go up as I expect Judy Croome’s writing to get even better.

Details:
Dancing in the Shadows of Love by Judy Croome
Published  by Aztar Press, July 1, 2011
Paperback, 255 pages
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jesse s. hanson Song of George spiritual novel new age fiction metaphysical novelGuest reviewer: Jesse S. Hanson is a North Dakota (rural Midwest USA) native, writer/musician, currently living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He has also lived for a considerable time in the Pacific Northwest (USA) and briefly in the Southwest (USA). “… I suppose restlessness is a part of my nature. I’m never quite at home anywhere in the world. And that is part of why spirituality is the focus of all my writing.” His novel, Song of George/Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man was published with All Things That Matter Press in July, 2010.  Jesse is currently working on a second novel and is also compiling a collection of his song lyrics and poetry, with the intention of publishing a combined volume.

Book review: Enlightenment for Idiots

Spiritual novel is part chicklit, part exposé, and always fun

Enlightenment For Idiots Cushman new age fiction spiritual novel metaphysical fiction

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Want to see what a spiritual journey to India is really like? Forget “Eat, Pray, Love” and pick up this gem of a novel: “Enlightenment for Idiots” by Anne Cushman. Published in 2009, the book exposes India’s spiritual warts with a humorous touch, packaged in an engaging tale of self-discovery. This fun, fast-paced story reaches emotional and spiritual depths beyond standard chicklit fare.

Story: Nearing age thirty, Amanda thought she’d be someone else by now. Instead, she’s just herself: an ex-nanny yogini-wannabe who cranks out “For Idiots” travel guides just to scrape by. Yes, she has her sexy photographer boyfriend, but he’s usually gone—shooting a dogsled race in Alaska or a vision quest in Peru—or just hooking up with other girls. However, she’s sure her new assignment, “Enlightenment for Idiots,” will change everything; now she’ll become the serene, centered woman she was meant to be. After some breakup sex, she’s off to India to find a new, more spiritual life. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. The story charts Amanda’s path through a slew of ashrams, temples, and hermitages as she desperately searches for spiritual enlightenment. In addition to the many details about various yoga practices and meditation traditions, Cushman threads the story with Zen philosophy and metaphysical principles that infuse Amanda’s personable character with nuance and heart.

My take: In addition to offering an amusing and insightful story of personal transformation, the novel presents a biting examination of how the American spiritual journey has become a very profitable industry in parts of India. Cushman reminds us that an ashram is also a business with salaries, overhead, marketing costs, and human quirks and failings that all contribute to a seeker’s experience. Enlightenment for Idiots is a brisk, engaging tour of India’s enlightenment industry and an excellent example of spiritual fiction.

Details:
Enlightenment for Idiots, by Anne Cushman
Published by Crown, 2008
Paperback, 372 pages
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Book review: Strays

Novel’s insight is highly accessible, but only mildly entertaining Strays by Jeanne Webster new age fiction metaphysical novel spiritual novel

Rating: 3 1/2  out of 5 stars

As a parable, this story of a city girl who flees to the mountains and discovers the wisdom of the earth is an easy, interesting introduction to spiritual insight. However, Jeanne Webster’s “Strays” fails to deliver the key to a good novel–a compelling plot.

Story: Laid off from her first job as a staff writer for an Atlanta newspaper and stuck in a dysfunctional relationship, Jane retreats to a cabin in the Smokey Mountains to demand guidance from a so-far silent God. When she accidentally falls and hits her head, she acquires a seventh sense that allows her to understand the language of animals and plants. Her divine guidance comes in the form of an abandoned stray dog and a cast of unusual characters who describe their purpose here on earth through enchanting and profound stories. With the animals and plants insights leading her, Jane finds enlightenment, authenticity, personal empowerment, and travels out of confusion and complexity into a world of simplicity and personal choice. As she recaptures her own true nature, she discovers that even the most lost can eventually find their way home. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Using magical realism, Webster lets nature talk directly to Jane and help her discover the power of choice and how that affects her life. The teachings are simple and direct, packed with useful life lessons. Novice spiritual seekers will find the teachings easy to read and understand.

My take: As an extended parable, Strays is well-written and effective. Webster constructs a believable world with strong chick lit influences in which spiders, trees and snakes communicate shared wisdom in a seamless, natural fashion.  I found the book more fun to read than the comparable The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and much better written. However, I can’t wholeheartedly endorse the book as a great novel because it lacks a sense of drama and anticipation. Strays delivers simple and useful spiritual lessons; however, the lessons are not seamlessly integrated into a compelling plot filled with fascinating characters, which is the foundation of good spiritual fiction. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading the book, but don’t expect to be enthralled while you’re being educated.

Details:
Strays, by Jeanne Webster
Dupois North Publishing, 2010
Paperback, 232 pages
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Book review: Downward Dog, Upward Fog

Well-written new age novel both energizes and inspires

downward-dog-upward-fog-new-age-novel-Meryl-Davids-Landau-metaphysical-fictionRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

I loved this book. Meryl Davids Landau’s new novel fulfills my requirements for good new age fiction: compelling characters, a strong plot, and a well-structured theme that supports the story without overwhelming it.  New age novels must appeal to both the emotions and the intellect, and “Downward Dog, Upward Fog” does both.

Story: Lorna Crawford has a great boyfriend, longtime friends, and a well-paying job as special- events coordinator at a premium ice-cream manufacturer. But, out of sorts and filled with self-doubt, the 33 year old soon realizes that what she really wants is to stay on the spiritual path she keeps diving off of. Lorna jump-starts her efforts at a silent yoga retreat. But after returning from the mountain, she quickly loses her connection in the face of scheming coworkers, judgmental girlfriends, and, especially, her overly critical mother. Lorna also wrestles over her future with her boyfriend, a hot guy who takes her to the hottest places, but who can’t discern a meditation cushion from a toad stool. Reading spiritual books and visiting a channeler and energy healer move Lorna forward, but her confusion remains. Lorna’s seeking is put to the ultimate test when personal tragedy strikes. Will she come to truly understand that living spiritually has little to do with how you pretzel yourself on the yoga mat (although she gets plenty good at that), and everything to do with embracing the twists in everyday life?  (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. As Lorna works through her personal issues and grows spiritually, the author references information from books such as A New Earth, A Course in Miracles, and other sources that can help expand the reader’s knowledge. Lorna learns how to apply a number of spiritual concepts to better manage her relationships, both personal and professional. The author details specific yoga postures and practices (stomach wash, anyone?) that helped me gain a deeper understanding of unfamiliar spiritual techniques. She shares practical meditation techniques, mindfulness tips, and mind/body/spirit principles that everyone can use. In particular, I enjoyed reading about the power of joining a spiritual community.

Landau does a great job of describing what living a spiritual life feels like, including the “high” that can come from living in the moment and learning to apply spiritual techniques to everyday life. However, she also makes it clear that the goal is not the elation, or even the occasional peaceful moment in meditation, but the “lingering calm that sustains every moment, regardless of what transpires.”

My take: I’ll say it again: I loved this book. New age novels must entertain and educate; they must appeal to both the emotions and the intellect, and Downward Dog, Upward Fog does this in spades. Meryl Davids Landau’s writing is excellent, and she spins an engaging tale that will appeal to readers who enjoy the lighter tone of chick lit.

My only observation is that the book has an unrealistically happy ending; in the real world, living a consistently spiritual life does not guarantee happiness. However, the feel-good ending is in keeping with the chick lit genre. I felt energized and inspired when I finished the book, which is precisely the point.

Details:
Downward Dog, Upward Fog, by Meryl Davids Landau
Published by Alignment Publishing, 2011
Paperback, 285 pages
Buy at Amazon