Book review: Dead End Date

Adventures of  a Lightworker series mates chick lit and metaphysics

Adventures of a Lightworker Caroline A Shearer new age fiction metaphysical novel spiritualRating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Dead End Date, the first book in the Adventures of a Lightworker series by Caroline A. Shearer, is an entertaining romp through metaphysics and relationships. The tone is light and fun, and the pairing of spiritual concepts and the narrator’s relationship challenges helps make the book both amusing and insightful.

Story: Dead End Date chronicles a woman’s mission to teach the world about love, one mystery and personal hang-up at a time. Faith’s dating disasters and personal angst have separated her from her purpose of being a lightworker, and she has only one year to prove she is capable of fulfilling her life purpose. The death of her blind date launches her first challenge. Working with angels, psychic abilities, and even the murder victim, Faith begins a personal journey to help heal those around her while proving she can fulfill her life purpose. (From book jacket)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Faith’s life purpose is to be a lightworker, which Shearer defines as an evolved soul sent to Earth to increase love. Metaphysical concepts such as trusting intuition, looking for signs, staying mindful, and connecting with guides (angels) are a substantial part of the book’s theme. For example, she demonstrates meditation fundamentals and energy work, including the real-world challenges of both. Practical advice includes energy work  such as how to do a space clearing and basic feng shui. An important theme she emphasizes is the interconnectedness of everyone and everything; the story line demonstrates how our smallest actions can have wide-reaching effects on everyone around us.

My take: I enjoyed this book. Using the popular chick lit genre, Shearer weaves basic metaphysical concepts such as mindfulness and energy awareness into her philosophical musings about whether men are worth the bother. Although some of the plot points are forced, the end result is a feel-good mystery that strives to both entertain and enlighten. Note that this is Shearer’s first book; I expect that the quality and consistency of the writing will improve over time. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Details:
Adventures of a Lightworker: Dead End Date, by Caroline A. Shearer
Absolute Love Publishing, 2009
Paperback, 230 pages

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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

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
Buy at Amazon

Spiritual novels appeal to regular folks, too

Guest post by Meryl Davids Landau, author of Downward Dog, Upward Fog

I never expected my novel to get a “cute stiletto” rating, but there it was on a women’s fiction blog last month, rated the most adorable of the her shoe-style ratings: the hot high heels that signify the blogger “absolutely loved it and wants a sequel.” Of course, it’s not a total stretch; on the surface, the novel does meet the criteria for contemporary women’s fiction, a genre some call chick-lit.

Main character Lorna has a good job, a hot boyfriend, a great group of girlfriends, and a problematic, overly critical mother. But rather than revolving around her job or relationships, the plot centers on her spiritual evolution—whether she can learn to take her budding spiritual practice off her yoga mat and into her daily life, especially when a personal tragedy strikes (read PJ’s review).

I knew spiritually seeking women like me would be interested in reading a story like this. What I didn’t anticipate—indeed, I probably would have bet against–was the enthusiastic reception the book has gotten by mainstream chick-lit book bloggers, and by readers who had never even put a toe down a personal spiritual path before. When my novel came out last summer, the book’s publicist and I were in total agreement that spiritual media—blogs, radio shows, magazines, those free newsy publications given out in health-food stores…—would be the best target.

As an aside, I sent books to a few mainstream book bloggers. Her publicity efforts yielded great results, but, surprisingly, so did mine. The first review in a general interest book blog gave the novel 5 out of 5 stars, with the writer noting that “anyone could, after reading this book, choose to begin a similar spiritual journey with a level of comfort she may not have had before.” (I suspect she was talking about herself.) Several glowing reviews on other general book blogs followed.

I still would not have thought bloggers who focus on contemporary women’s fiction would be open to the spirituality in my novel. But, this fall, on the reading website Goodreads, I linked up with a woman who happened to be the publicist for the blog, Chick Lit Central. That interest—and their subsequent glowing review—gave me the confidence to contact other pink-paged reviewers. In my email pitch, I was clear about my novel’s deep, spiritual theme.

To my amazement, a majority of chick-lit bloggers I contacted expressed interest, and several have already sung the novel’s praises in their reviews–with quite a few enthusing over the originality of using the chick-lit genre in this new way.

The moral I’ve learned from this story: The audience for a spiritual novel isn’t limited to people who are already on a spiritual path. As long as the spirituality is accessible and not preachy, regular people will feel resonance, too. I’m looking forward to getting more of those stiletto ratings—and if you’ve written a spiritual novel, you should anticipate them, too!

Meryl_Davids_Landau_author_Downward_Dog_Upward_Fog_spiritual_fiction_novel

 Meryl Davids Landau is the author of “Downward Dog, Upward Fog.” ForeWord Review called the book “an inspirational gem that will appeal to introspective, evolving women.” It was recommended by Yoga Journal and Science of Mind national newsletter. Readers can find her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Meryl-Davids-Landau/197101476991678?ref=tn_tnmn.

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
Buy at Amazon

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

Book review: ReBecoming

Holistic approach, vivid writing bolster novel’s appealReBecoming: The Way of Opportunity by JR Maxon, spiritual novel, new age fiction, metaphysical

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

J.R. Maxon uses a holistic approach in his novel ReBecoming: The Way of Opportunity to illustrate how to develop both the mind and the body to accelerate  spiritual growth. Occasionally vivid writing helps elevate the book from merely informational to inspirational.

Story: Diana Archer struggles with the challenges many of us face: relationship issues, an unsatisfying job, and a feeling of, “Is this all there is?” Overstressed and out of shape, she joins a gym where she meets a man who becomes her personal trainer and spiritual guide.

From amazon.com: Can you teach me to be happy and content? With these words, Diana Archer embarks on a fateful quest for the answers that elude us all. Guided by a mysterious teacher and her own knowing heart, she awakens to the preciousness of life and soon discovers that the secrets of the universe really aren’t secret. Adventure, danger, and even romance are drawn to Diana as she searches for the tools she needs to change her fortune and her life.

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Readers of metaphysical novels such as Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior will recognize the story line–Diana’s new personal trainer becomes her spiritual teacher as well. He introduces her to basic spiritual concepts and teaches her how to contact her higher self for direction. Instruction alternates between weightlifting technique and meditation, diet tips and mindfulness. The narrative includes practical tips and tools for seeking inner guidance and making better life choices.

My take: The tone of the book is light, verging on chick lit. However, the story is interspersed with vivid dream sequences that illustrate the spiritual principles and add depth and color to an otherwise unremarkable plot. The metaphysical fundamentals are sound, and the guidance may be particularly helpful to novice spiritual seekers. Many will appreciate Maxon’s holistic approach; he covers mind and body issues as well as spiritual growth, including practical guidance for diet and exercise to accelerate spiritual development.

Details:
ReBecoming: The Way of Opportunity, by J.R. Maxon
Dassana Press, 2009
Paperback, 270 pages
Buy at Amazon