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Saturday, November 10, 2007

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

Yesterday I gave the list of Top 10 Selling Westerns as of 10/28/07. I mentioned I would review each of those titles and see how they stack up against my definition of a western, intending to start with Lonesome Dove.

But alas, I’ve opted to delay my post on Lonesome Dove because, when I went to re-check These Is My Words (#4 on the listing mentioned) from the library, I ended up reading it all over again. 8-)

So let’s see how Nancy Turner’s book stacked up against those elements I look for in a western:

The full title of the book is These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901. It follows the life of Sarah Prine, who begins the book in her late teens. Though parts of the book are set in Texas and New Mexico, it mainly centers around Arizona Territory, which is why it gets many brownie points from me.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, let’s look at those 8 points of my definition:
- Land as character
- Horses
- Guns/Gunfights
- High Action – gritty reality without being too overly graphic
- Death
- Characters of strong principle, who will go it alone if necessary to carry out their convictions. To quote the cliché, rugged individualism and a fighting spirit.
- A setting in the 19th century, though I do not confine it to the ‘cowboy era’ of the 1880’s to turn of the century.
- Geographic location west of the Mississippi

These Is My Words scores 100% based on my definition. This novel is a fine piece of craftsmanship and will wring the emotion out of you at every turn. Sarah’s character is extremely well drawn and Miss Turner’s skill is so good that the development of Sarah’s character over the course of the novel occurs seamlessly – almost without the reader’s awareness. Each character in the book is well utilized and there are none that disappoint you as throwaway characters.

Though I don’t read romances as a general rule, this book contains a very fine romance between Captain Jack Elliot and Sarah. I was pulled into their story completely. There is plenty of emotion to please the touchy/feely in you, and a whole lot of high action with guns, Indians, bandits and the like to please any western reader.

While the novel contains death and a few difficult situations, all are handled tastefully enough for almost any reader.

In addition to the 8 criteria I listed, 3 additional factors I take into consideration when evaluating the quality of a novel are:

1. Will I read it more than once?
2. Do I still think about the characters and their choices after I’m done with the book?
3. Was it so good that it instantly stilled my inner editor?

These Is My Words also gets a yes on all three of these additional factors. I will rarely read a novel more then once. This one I read for the first time about a year ago, and just devoured it all over again yesterday and enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

I also think about the characters well after I’m done reading. And one of the curses of being a writer is that it is difficult to read fiction for enjoyment – I just can’t seem to squelch my inner editor as I read. So a good measuring stick for me is whether or not the book is so good my inner editor is automatically squelched without my even realizing it. Here again, Miss Turner’s book passed with flying colors.

As readers, if you love historicals, women’s fiction and westerns, you will love this book. As a writer, it is a wonderful book to study for craft. I highly recommend it.

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