Reviews for Totem

Author Katherine D. Graham: In a masterful work combining historical fiction with a touch of fantasy/mythology, Sheldon’s newest epic novel Totem beautifully marries the best aspects of time travel and reincarnation tropes with modern-day real-life stakes.
Sarah is a troubled teenager whom grief has plagued, and is set up to continue that unlucky lot into the newest (third) volume of Sheldon’s Strong Heart series. Having not read the prior two volumes, I can happily say that no prior knowledge of the series was needed for me to be drawn into and captivated by this book.
I should also point out, in fairness, that while the 500+ page count is daunting at first glance, Sheldon has written Totem in “books” within the book itself (similarly to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, where multiple “volumes” are housed within one cover). This read is a fast, page-turning read that doesn’t let you go even with the historical and political backstory woven in, so the 500+ pages goes by fairly quickly
Partially due to its length, and partiall due to tragedy, there is a heavy turnover of characters in Totem. As this is a spoiler-free review I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that loved ones are not guaranteed fulfilled lives or happily-ever-afters in all cases in this book (though some are happier than others).
The twists and thrills of surviving in the wild are some of the most exhilarating moments of this read, and the chapters where we experience life in the past are truly magical and captivating in a way usually reserved more for epic fantasy than for historical fiction. It is truly as though we are there with the characters throughout their journeys…
I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in reading a respectful historical fiction that handles First Peoples’ legends and traditions with pride and care, while keeping the stories relevant to the struggles of modern day society (history repeats itself, but can we do better). A superb job to Sheldon!


Kirkus Reviews: In this gripping conclusion to Sheldon’s Strong Heart series, uncanny events occur after a mining operation is planned in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
In Strong Heart (2017), surly teen Sarah Cooley arrived on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with a steadfast loathing of the “boonies” but gained a near-mystical connection with the wilderness. In this final book in the trilogy, Sarah, who’s now 14, is intent on returning to the peninsula at the very moment that Buckhorn Industries are about to begin extracting erbium, a trace mineral which the company claims can detoxify coal emissions. The mining operation will affect the lives of everyone on the peninsula, including William Williams, a Haida merchant sailor, who took center stage in Adrift (2018), the second book of the series, and his daughter Myra, a tribal archaeologist. The narrative also follows Victoria Oldsea, an environmental project manager at Buckhorn, and Carl Larsen, who, accompanied by his niece Laurie, is investigating the appearance of grisly elk kills in the vicinity. Sarah and her friends are intent on boycotting the mining operation, but when Victoria spots what appears to be a black saber-toothed tiger, it becomes clear that other, strange events are afoot. A terrible windstorm brings additional chaos, and as those on the peninsula begin to experience unnerving visions, the veil among reality, history, and the spirit world seems to grow gossamer thin. The series accelerates toward an exhilarating conclusion as Sarah strives to protect the beguiling landscape.
Readers who are familiar with Sheldon’s writing will already know that descriptions of backwoods hiking often form the backbone of his Strong Heart narratives. In this latest offering, he again succeeds in evoking a clear sense of walking in nature: “The trail was easy. We were on an old road, rising steadily, following the river. We crossed a bridge high over a creek, the water boiling from the snowmelt.” The complexity of the novel springs from the author’s deft handling of a broad range of psychologically distinct characters and the skillful synthesis of key thematic elements, such as environmentalism, spirituality, and elements of Indigenous history. The latter’s intersection inspires stirringly poetic passages that add welcome texture to Sheldon’s minimalist prose, which otherwise remains direct and unadorned in style: “The meadows were a rich red from the summer’s dying, flowers burning their spirit. We walked through fields of blood, passing groups of trees, ledges of rock, pockets of snow.” Newcomers to the series may struggle to get a fix on the various characters at first, but this book can still be effectively read as a stand-alone work. Those who have been impatiently awaiting a denouement to the series will enjoy the gratifyingly intricate route that the author follows as he employs new and familiar characters. Overall, Sheldon has written an undeniable page-turner that’s full of intrigue and peril, as well as an emotive love letter to the natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest and its people.
An engaging and thoughtfully conceived finale to an impressive series.


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A brief summary…reader reviews for Strong Heart and Adrift

The Strong Heart Series – three linked but stand alone tales set in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park, and the Gulf of Alaska

Strong Heart:   An ornery 13 year old girl appears at Tom Olsen’s door and announces she is his granddaughter. Tom and his friends take her with them on a camping trip because she has nowhere else to go. She hates it. They hate her. She sees something. They don’t believe her. Then she disappears…..

…a beautiful and heart-warming story…

…fabulously plotted…

 …this book gripped me and would not let go…

 …this is a must read for everybody…

…the perfect blend of the deep-rooted legends and harsh realities of life…”

 …I would recommend this book to anyone…

 …it’s as if you are immersed in the story….

 …one of the most incredible fiction novel I have ever read…

 …if you are an adventure lover, this will make a wonderful read…

 …this is a must read book…

 …makes me wish I had listened to stories my great-grandfather and grandparents told a little more closely…

…if you are into folklore, dreams and magic, this book is a definite must read…

 …a fictional story of learning about one’s past heritage and how that knowledge can assist us in our lives today…

 …themes…so universal that I believe they will speak to any reader of any age…

 …if you are looking for a story with suspense then this is the book for you…

 …this unique story is a book of fiction, or is it? It is similar to science fiction or fantasy, the difference being that this story just might have actually happened. Is it the author’s  vivid imagination, or is it based on actual data?… Mr. Sheldon’s ability to describe scenes makes one think he vividly sees them in his mind and then is able to translate those pictures into words. I was able to visualize what was happening to Sarah, where she went, what happened to her on the way, in a way I have not experienced before. The beauty of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest comes to life on the pages…

 …absorbing…alternates constantly between the past and the present and before long you lose yourself in a beautiful world with beautiful people whose experiences you joyfully share. You go through pain, anger and even helplessness with the characters…..

 …the simplicity of the writing makes it for an easy read, and the charts and landmarks noted in the first few pages gives the story an authentic feel and helps you as the reader to understand the layout and journey that was taken. It is not only a voyage and adventure, but also a building of character and the display of our most basic and ferocious instincts; survival and procreation. We all want to live the best lives we can and leave something behind for the generations to follow by which they can commemorate us and remember us by. Be it in drawings, skills or just legends and stories told around a warm campfire…”

 …more than a wilderness adventure, the book is good in bringing out the value of traditional knowledge in a world where scientific facts sometimes overshadow reality itself…

Adrift:

When the Seattle Express goes adrift…
The Seattle Express, a 700-foot container ship bound for Seattle, is on fire in the Gulf of Alaska.

Three hundred miles away, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Larry and Louise fire up their old tug, Warhorse, and head into the open ocean to salvage the burning vessel. The money from a salvage claim might just save their business. But it’s a race against time, the elements, and the secretive, powerful Buckhorn corporation, owner of the Seattle Express, who launches its own high-speed tugs hot on Warhorse’s tail.

Onboard the crippled ship, William (whom readers of Strong Heart will remember), fears this disaster may become a dark homecoming for him on the jagged shores of Haida Gwaii, the remote islands off British Columbia, where William was born and where he now may meet his fate. After William’s lifeboat goes missing for days, William’s daughter, Myra, and friends Sarah, Tom, and Sergei form a desperate plan.

Strong Heart took readers deep into the storied wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. In Adrift, Sheldon, a veteran of the sea himself, carries the story into a beautiful, brutal frontier of ice, wind, slicing cold, roiling waves, and ancient, mystic faith.  

“Thank you for writing such a wonderful story. Makes a person think about how we all came to be here and our first peoples. Anything is possible with his our earth seasons change. I loved the flow of his it read, the history. Loved this book. I would say it’s an amazing, awesome read and anyone would enjoy it. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like. I will enjoy reading this again. A new favorite to add to my collection. Sheldon is a great writer. Keep them coming and I will keep reading. Your added to my favorite Authors. Thank you for a wonderful book.”

“Life is a grand story…this slice of grit and love is amazing! Adrift is about life challenges. Family, friends, tribes, and businesses clash with all their forces as people face fire, snow, ragging waters, loss, and picking up the pieces of all that life can deal. It holds out a hand to those searching for grit to hold on and hope beyond what we can logically see. It reminds us all our stories are precious, and they best told roundabouts with friends. Adrift invites all to great adventure!”


Totem: Coming later in 2021: Sarah and her friends, about to embark on another adventure deep in the Olympic wilderness, suffer a life altering event just as they enter this land of myth, magic and mystery.


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