I’ve finished reading my fourth novel for 2021, Charlie Bone, and the Hidden King by Jenny Nimmo. Having grabbed this book in one of my visits to a recent book fair, the slight glimmer on the cover drew me in. I was curious too, as I’ve noticed other titles in the series in second-hand bookstores in the past and wondered what the books were about. I always need to read as much material as I can in my genre of middle grade, so won by the shimmery cover, I picked up Charlie Bone and the Hidden King. It’s hard to resist a little bling.

This was the fifth instalment in Jenny Nimmo’s Children of the Red King fantasy series, which follows the adventures of Charlie Bone. As a child of the Red King, he is one of ‘the endowed,’ Charlie Bone can travel into pictures and photographs, and he uses a magic wand. In The Hidden King, the story starts with a nasty snowstorm and all the animals in town disappearing. Charlie’s friend, Benjamin Brown, desperately wants his dog, Runner Bean, back, and he enlists Charlie’s help. Although Benjamin’s parents are working as spies at Bloor’s Academy, the special school for the endowed, Charlie agrees to help Benjamin, anyway. But our beleaguered hero also has other problems. They have frozen his grandmother Maisie, and he and his Uncle Paton can’t break the spell. The three beautiful Flame Cats deliver a warning, ‘something ancient has awoken.’ Charlie discovers that the shadow escaped from the Red King’s portrait, and that it will do anything to keep him from finding his father.

Though he already has plenty to worry about, the Flame Cats tells Charlie that his mother is also in danger. Sadly, Amy Bone falls under the spell of the strange Hart Noble. Charlie realizes Amy loves Hart Nobel, and that she is forgetting his father ever existed. If Charlie is to find his father, he will need to do so before his mother forgets him totally. Charlie must team up with his friends again, including his new friend, Naren Bloor, to uncover the truth and finally find his father so he can make things right again.

This novel obviously has a decent premise for a fantasy sci-fi tale for young readers. Nimmo seems a capable enough storyteller. She answers all the questions raised. Bone himself is likeable enough for a protagonist. It’s a reasonable light read for a child. Why was I underwhelmed?

Jenny writing

There were several ways in which this book fell short of the mark for me. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, without depth or any form of development as the story progresses. Charlie Bone seems like a substantial lead, but it’s disappointing because we’re never allowed to get to know him. The head-hopping grates maybe expressly because it keeps us at arm’s length from the cast. To jump from point of view to point of view is giddy-making. Also, the style of writing is old-fashioned, as is fitting I guess. However, as a book reviewer and critique group member, I wanted to say ‘show, don’t tell.’ The old-fashioned technique where the author tells chunks of the story with exposition has fallen out of favour these days.

It’s not all bad. It’s cool the way Charlie Bone’s wand has become a moth in this story, and I loved Naren Bloor’s ability to send ‘shadow writing.’ I also liked the twist at the end. In conclusion, I found Charlie Bone, and the Hidden King good, but not great.

Jenny reading

A prodigious author, Jenny Nimmo was born in 1944, in Berkshire, England and educated at boarding schools in Kent and Surrey. She left school to become a drama student/assistant stage manager with Theater South East. Her subsequent work with the BBC led her through a colourful career as a photographic researcher, then floor manager, working mainly on the news, and finally director/editor on the children’s program Jackanory. Jenny left the BBC in 1975 to marry a Welsh artist David Wynn Millward and went to live in Wales in her husband’s family home. When her first child was born, Jenny published her debut novel The Bronze Trumpeter at the same time. Now an author of many books, Jenny is best known for The Snow Spider trilogy and the Charlie Bone stories. Despite dividing fans at first with the series, the Children of the Red King books became very popular and still continue to sell well.

My rating: Two stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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It was a golden autumn and leaves fell about them like bright coins. ~ Charlie Bone and the Hidden King

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I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager for all the money in the world. What a roller coaster. My youngest son is at the tender age of fifteen, when his body’s morphing at a gallop and his view of himself and the world is in constant flux. He’s growing taller every week, he’s either a bundle of energy or catatonic on the couch, and he has to question everything. The emotions rocket from simmering to sky-high in an instant. As a parent, I’m used to ongoing frustration with both my younger boys, and feeling peeved when they haven’t done what I’ve asked, and so on. Now every time a flicker of annoyance crosses my brow, I’ve hurt my teenager’s feelings. We’ve been doing a lot of talking, in consequence.

It’s a minefield, I tell you.

The youngest son is morphing in so many ways it’s hard for me to keep up. Not only is he evolving in ever-increasing height and girth, the tone of his voice and his new dialect of teenage slang keeps changing. He’s altered likewise in his preoccupations. Friends used to call him ‘the dancer’ because whenever he had to wait he would dance on the spot. At home he would break into dance between games. Then he turned fifteen… and stopped dancing.

He disappeared into his phone.

As a drummer, he used to tap a rhythm with his feet constantly. You knew where he was in the house by the sound of his drumming feet. It was like living with a tap dancer. He filled our days with the sound. When he turned fifteen, he stopped tapping.

He started playing more Xbox.

It’s official. The youngest son is going through the teenage ya-ya’s. As an adult, I process life using the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, whereas at fifteen, he’s still processing stimuli using the amygdale, the emotional part. The connections between his amygdale and the rational part develop at different rates. He literally is feeling things more than he’s thinking about them.

The rational part of his brain won’t fully develop until after the age of 25, so I have to be patient and be the adult for both of us.

I set rules and limits, and we negotiate the parameters as an ongoing process. He’s expected to do chores and make some of his own meals. He’s on breakfast and lunch, I handle dinner. I feel sorry for the teen angst he’s going through. As a Gemini, when he was little, the boy could talk the hind legs off a donkey. These days he’s tongue-tied. He says he can’t make conversation, he doesn’t know the right thing to say and that he stuffs a conversation up.

He’s painfully self-conscious and self judgemental.

Two weeks ago, the youngest became nervous about going back to school, and the week before first term began, he fretted over distinct possibilities for disaster every night. He ‘wouldn’t know what to say,’ he’d be taller than his height-challenged friends again, (as happened last summer), or he’d have no friends in his classes, and the subjects he’d chosen would be the wrong choices.

Every night I was putting out fires.

Each day his anxieties rise and fall. Yet the glorious thing about kids is they’re indefatigable. Alongside the self doubt, there is an inextinguishable bravado. If I question whether the youngest should walk to school before daybreak, he tells me he’s ‘big and strong.’ If I query whether he should take on more at school, he tells me he’s so far ahead of the other kids in his class; he teaches them the subjects when they get confused, that he’s ‘got it sussed.’ If I worry about him getting home late from school, he rolls his eyes and tells me he knows what he’s doing. No matter what it is, he assures me he has it under control and I should stop worrying.

I’m your mother, dude, I never stop worrying.

I counsel myself that the only things I can do as the parent is:

*To check in with him when he talks, about whether he wants me to find solutions or just listen

*Make him aware of the consequences of his actions and help him link his thinking with the facts

*Remind him of the tough times he’s dreaded and gotten through in the past and that he is resilient enough to get through anything

*Pay attention to him and listen when he talks, even if it’s about the anime shows he’s watching or what happened the last time he played Minecraft or Rocket League.

I need to do all this, while still running the household and writing books. I’m just sayin’.

Have you survived raising teenagers? All tips welcome!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. ~ Sam Levinson

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*Tips for parents from Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

I’ve finished reading my third novel for 2021, Just End It by Donna Blaber. Third novel already, I’m caning it! Donna is a friend, a fellow Kiwi Indie author, and she also edited the books in my Chronicles of Aden Weaver trilogy. An award-winning author of over forty books, she has worked as a magazine journalist, freelance feature writer, copywriter, proofreader, travel editor, lifestyle editor, and as the managing editor in three magazines. In 2016 Donna completed an MA in Creative Writing, graduating with First Class Honours, receiving the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Study.

This was my first chance to read one of Donna’s books. When I realized the topic was bullying and cyber bullying for teens, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It intrigued me. The author takes on a freighted subject, yet she makes it seem easy. The story leads us naturally into a believable situation where a teen’s world gets turned upside down when she’s bullied after the new girl arrives at school. As Jessie’s life unravels, a twin strand of story runs alongside about the obsidian rock she found on the beach, which seems to have stories to tell and adds mystery. There is a wonderful supernatural type element introduced with the rock, or ‘cobble’ (complete rounded stones) as used by the ancient Moa hunters. Our heroine Jessie found the rock on the beach. Then she dreams of a young Maori girl who also had the rock, but in ancient times. She learns the rock has special significance to the Maori people.

It would be so easy with a subject like this to set a foot wrong. The author’s grasp of the young girl’s perspective is on point, and Jessie comes across as a real teen. When the bullying escalates into hateful on-screen messages telling her she should end it, Jessie learns to rely on her own judgement and cultivates her real friends like Mia and Reuben. The lesson of speaking up comes across strong. Because Jessie shares about the bullying with those around her, the unbearable pressures on her ease and the solutions and answers then flow in. There’s some nice character development as Jessie moves through the pain and sadness. She rises, gradually gaining strength to tell her parents the truth and builds self belief, until Jessie knows who she is, that she’s a good person trying her best. She knows who her friends are and which friends to avoid. In the end she has this well rounded actual strength which we find utterly plausible. Well done, Donna!

I thought the story played out the way it should, nothing missing, every necessary corner traversed. Nothing was forced. They say a story should be told in a way that each scene feels inevitable. That’s the way it is with this book. Just End It. Donna Blaber handled the subject of bullying in a practical, no-nonsense way, with the solutions meted out and the consequences playing out as they should. She answered every question raised. There were subtle lessons about the value of communication and transparency, being judicious with your friends and standing up for yourself.

Being a Kiwi, I particularly enjoyed the strongly evoked New Zealand setting. The author has taken the time to do the research, giving us the correct Maori spelling for place names, the names of flora and fauna, the stories of the Moa Hunters and the Maori in the past, the way Whakatane got its name, etc. These delightful details add depth, setting the story in its unique environment using all the senses.

What a great story! There were solid characters to hold on to and the conversations flowed at all times. It was easy to become invested in the protagonist Jessie, she’s a fleshed out character with coherent thoughts and feelings. I liked the bringing in of the different generations of family members, who came on stage with enough gaps between them I could remember who they were. She described family members so I could picture each of them in my head. I was part of the whanau (family) too. Donna Blaber has done an outstanding job with this book. Just End It is a tough subject tackled exceptionally well. She’s given us a warm, uplifting story of triumph through adversity and reminded us of the resilient power of the human spirit.

My rating: Four and a half out of five stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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She’d had enough of being a tag-along, she enjoyed being an equal too much ~ Just End It.

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

February 3 question – Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?

I have! Before I started out on social media about 8 years ago, I expected people to be hostile and for other writers to treat me like the competition. I feared I would shout into the silence and hear my echo, but it’s been the absolute opposite experience. I have found the online writing community to be warm and welcoming. It’s been wonderful. Of course there has been the occasional troll and the occasional pain in the a.. e, but you get that in actual life too. It’s not exclusive to social media.

I’ve mostly met incredible, inspiring and supportive folks.

When I first started out, I was following the advice I’d read in a book by social media guru Kristen Lamb. She had launched an online support group called WANA (We Are Not Alone), which I joined straight away. I set up a group called Writing For Children. The fab group of writers I met were there at the very start. I attribute to them nearly every step forward. At their advice, I branched out into many platforms; I set up my website, had a professional author photo taken, joined critique groups, and had the courage to instigate my email list and to release a monthly newsletter.

Best of all, I established a firm foundation of friends with whom to navigate the world of online writers, and to bounce ideas off along the way.

Some friends I met doing online writing courses and they’ve become my most faithful pen pals.

Some friends I made because we were always commenting on the same blogs and followed the same authors. Those beautiful souls invited me to like their pages in other places. We ended up becoming friends on Facebook and keeping up a steady banter and the usual well wishes at birthdays and in the holidays throughout the years. One cool gal I met through commenting on the same blog posts was a blogging queen. She ran three at once for her different styles of fiction.

She said, “I just love the discipline of sitting down each week and writing new posts.”

It was 2014. Though I knew Kristen Lamb and my friends in KiwiWrite4Kids strongly advised to write a regular blog as a tool for writers to reach readers and to practice their writing in a different format, I was too nervous to do so at first. I felt terrified of the idea of having to come up with something new to say every week. (Seriously, when do I run out of things to say?) I didn’t want to commit to readers and then be responsible to providing material for them. (Seriously, when was that not part of being a writer?) I feared falling flat on my face and no one liking or responding to anything I said. (Seriously, when was that not part of being a writer?)

But my dear friend from Writing for Children, Robyn Campbell, said to me, ‘If you write posts regularly, the people will come.’

And come they did. I started my blog. Week by week a few likes and comments trickled in. I didn’t fall flat as I’d feared. People literally replied to me and were really nice. Then a pal from Writing For Children, suggested I join IWSG, as she was a nervous blogger and had found succour there. So I joined. The joy of putting out a blog post each month and having a regular handful of people like it and comment was great. The joy of popping around a bevy of other bloggers and reciprocating was so fun it was infectious. I’ve met cool people, joined more groups and made more friends. What’s not to love?

Have you made friends through blogging?

Keep Writing!

Yvette Carol

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Reach out to other writers, encourage one another, and come up with some new strategies. ~  Alex J. Cavanaugh,

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I’ve finished reading my second novel for 2021, The Hundred Secret Senses. I’m a fan of Amy Tan and have waxed lyrical about her books in the past. Being a daughter of a mother, I find her preoccupation with mother-daughter relationships endlessly fascinating. Amy Tan can write a fantastic story, her blend of East and West is interesting and her descriptions always evocative. I guess I’m trying to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy The Hundred Secret Senses. It wasn’t the writing or the setting, yet this book left me cold. I actually started reading it last year, but I kept putting it down and leaving it for long periods.

The Hundred Secret Senses is the story of two sisters, born to the same father, one girl raised in China, the other raised in America. It follows their relationship as they struggle to overcome cultural differences from the time they come together as a child and a young woman through a thirty-year period of their lives.

The main narrator is Olivia Laguni. A half Chinese woman born and raised in America, Olivia is a photographer whose marriage is falling apart. She tells the story of her childhood through a series of flashbacks. Olivia’s life was changed forever at six upon the arrival of her adult half-sister, Kwan Li, who says she has “yin eyes” and can see ghosts. Olivia’s love-hate relationship with her sister defines the rest of the book. Kwan is the second narrator, a poor girl from the Changmian village in the Thistle mountains, China. She tells of a lifetime of hardship. She tells family stories of wealth, downfall and terror in Manchu China and she also tells ghost stories.

The tale becomes one of two parts, as Olivia and Kwan take turns to narrate. Olivia struggles with the annoyingly wise unwanted sister and reflects on Kwan invading her life and space from the time she was young. Kwan openly shares her superstitions, her belief in the World of Yin, and tells amazing, horrifying stories of their family’s past. As Olivia’s marriage crumbles, Kwan pushes her buttons, never minding her own business. The book culminates with Olivia; her estranged husband and her sister Kwan taking a trip to China, which brings good things and bad things in equal measure, some scares and a final twist.

(Still from documentary feature Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir)

The story is told with a deft hand, Amy Tan knows how to pull the heartstrings and draw us in to her intoxicating world. I was sad I did not enjoy this book. There were a few niggles. For me, the different strands of the story took too long to mesh. As the reader, I questioned when it was going to make sense and that constant sense of waiting palled. But I most disliked the ghost stories. I remember years ago, award-winning author Kate De Goldi saying that when she sees red flags in the story, (foreshadowing the crises to come) it turns her off. We should do the foreshadowing in a way that the reader doesn’t notice. With this story, there were too many red flags. The hints continued, which diminished the ‘shock’ value of the twist. I didn’t like that. I’m not sure who it was but some famous author said, you need to respect your readers. Expect them to be intelligent enough to get what you’re saying without drumming them over the head with it.

That said, if I found myself marooned on a desert island with The Hundred Secret Senses, I would read it again. The overall core message of the story was transformative, being about the power of love, when our self-centred Olivia opens her heart and learns to love others. Amy Tan is a talented writer. I appreciate the glimpses she gives us through the keyhole into other cultures, other’s worlds. Readers don’t have to like everything by an author to still be a fan. No doubt I will buy the next book I see by Amy Tan and love it.

California born, Amy Tan is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She received a Master’s degree in linguistics. Both her first novel, The Joy Luck Club and her second, The Kitchen God’s Wife were number one in the US. They adapted her first book into a successful film. Amy Tan is the literary editor for West Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. She has written several other novels, including The Hundred Secret Senses, and two children’s books.

My rating: Three stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“Too much happiness always overflows into tears of sorrow” ~ The Hundred Secret Senses

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Time seems to slow down over summer. It is good because summer helps anxious types like me to unwind. Last year I burnt myself out releasing three books at once, and I’ve been in recovery mode ever since. It was perfect timing to launch the books in spring, a season which matches the energy of new beginnings and planting seeds to grow in the future. I released The Chronicles of Aden Weaver in October and applied myself to the marketing. Then summer came along and I used that as my excuse to stop. Thank goodness summer triggers chillaxing. I needed it!

The marketing side of being an Indie author is a monster with a voracious appetite for your time and energy; you can never feed it enough. Through October and November, I had sat at my computer day after day, hour after hour, reading guidelines, scouring websites, scratching my head over what I needed to do to upload the books. The jobs seemed endless.

The sales, the marketing, the business side of being an author bore me witless. It’s not me. I’m one of those annoying sorts of people who is a dreamer. You want a million ideas a minute, no problem, but I don’t do as well with the practicalities. My son is a dreamer too, and that’s how I know it’s an irritating trait in a person. But as much as I strive to do better, I seem to still let some things slide and I struggle to follow through. In fact, it’s one of the biggest struggles in my life at present. I love the creative writing side of being a writer; it is deeply fulfilling whereas attending to marketing and distribution and sales is utterly stultifying.

Thank goodness for summer as I took a welcome break. I was beyond exhausted on every level. My father used to be the same. We’re the sort of people who prefer to be busy and spend our time productively, but sometimes that can lead to burnout. It means we let ourselves go too long without rest and end up wrecked, feeling unable to function.

December, I realized I was becoming like a deer in headlights, needing a retreat from everything book related. I closed up the laptop, walked away from being ‘Yvette Carol, author,’ and took a deep breath of the air outside. It’s been fantastic, weeding the garden, swimming regularly with my kids and family, going on picnics, taking scenic walks, attending lunches and parties. I’ve been reading, and I’ve watched movies and my favourite cooking shows on TV. Not being a writer for a while it has been heaven.

Last week, a good friend invited us to stay with her at her beach house. So my two youngest boys and I could travel out of town for a few days of sun, sea and surf. Beach walks, picnics, swimming twice a day, barbecue dinners, games in the evening, long conversations. It was as good as it sounds. It was just what the doctor ordered, and we returned to the city refreshed.

However, I still didn’t feel ready to start back at work. I looked at my computer and the stack of “to do” jobs and sighed. No. Not yet. I was not ready to don the author hat again. I hadn’t recovered enough or rested enough. There was still some tension left in the way my shoulders seemed to squeeze tight. No matter how often I reminded myself to relax them, I found my shoulders up around my ears. The drowsy contentment of summer is a necessary tonic for the system to reboot.

It’s vital not to fall out of love with being a writer. Therefore, I decided to continue to rest until the boys go back to school Feb 3rd. Then I can crank up the marketing machine, get more distribution channels sorted and attend to all that needs doing to release my stories, and perhaps even write again.

But in the meantime, there are twelve more days of summer fun ahead. Recently Alex J. Cavanaugh, IWSG Leader and Ninja, wrote, Remember that moment when writing was a joy and we were excited and ready to take on the world. That’s exactly what I want to do, to ‘remember that moment when writing was a joy,’ as I try to relocate my mojo.

What do you do when you finish an extensive project? Do you take time to reflect or immediately begin a new project? Or do you tackle several things at once? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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The cyclone derives its power from a calm center. So does a person. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

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I’ve finished reading my first novel for 2021, The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Oprah Winfrey brought this book to my attention when she recommended The Poisonwood Bible for her Oprah Book Club selection, many years ago. I didn’t read it then however, I recently picked up a copy at a charity store and have consumed the 600+ pages over the summer break. This is the perfect sort of novel to tackle when you have time at your disposal, because it’s a meaty behemoth that takes more than a bit of digesting. It is the story of ‘one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction in postcolonial Africa,’ as Kingsolver put it. Not a walk in the park, in other words.

Set in 1959, the sweeping saga takes us on an epic journey through three decades in the life of the Price family. The story gives us the perspectives of the wife and daughters of Nathan Price, a bible-thumping evangelical Baptist from Georgia who believes God has sent him on a mission to save the souls of the “savage” citizens of the Belgian Congo. The narrative sucks us into a whirlpool of suffering along with Nathan Price’s wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters, Rachel, the twins Leah, and the damaged Adah, and the baby, Ruth Ann, as they attempt to start their missionary work.

The weighty story has a heft to it. It surprised me at first, the subject and tone of the material. Hailed as an “examination of personal responsibility,” some people criticised The Poisonwood Bible for portraying a “narrow-minded” view of colonialism, faith and Empire. The robust, fearless writing also created ‘a thing of terrible beauty’ (Lost Angeles Times Review). The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the national book award of South Africa. 

Treading into such sensitive territory as subjugation, religion, colonialism, with an anti-imperialist and anti-missionary stance was brave. At the same time as feeling awe of Kingsolver, I was curious to read the story and see how she would handle it. Answer: Kingsolver handles the tough material like a pro. Her skilful hands weave a tale that draws us in and never lets us go. Her descriptions of Africa are vivid, evocative and teeming with life. The deprivations for this poor American family uprooted from suburbia and dropped into the deepest heart of Africa are both visceral and haunting with the punishment in every moment of every day, alleviated only by the aching beauty of nature and the desperate salve of human relationships. I felt exhausted after reading, sometimes I’d weep, and sometimes I needed to put the book down for a week. Whew!

Born in 1955, Barbara Kingsolver grew up in Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. They named Kingsolver one of the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, a high honor for service through the arts.

There is no doubt in one’s mind, reading The Poisonwood Bible, that the author is in control. The masterful descriptions of time and place work their way inside until you hurt when the characters hurt and fear when they fear. Powerful writing and impressive craft bring the tale into an unsettling, richly told tapestry of raw human endeavour.

I should make clear I despise the use of multiple point of views. The strands of the masterpiece can become too clever and complex and work to alienate me rather than endear. I cannot tell you how many times I got confused reading this book. I’d have to go back to the beginning and find the same character’s earlier chapters to remember who it was, and the process often left me cold. Just as I warmed to one character’s voice, her chapter would end and another voice would start. It made a ‘prickly’ tale even more unsettling. I am just a humble girl and like simple story-telling. Another issue for me was that it seemed unfair we heard the perspective of every family member except for the perspective of the husband/father/missionary/raving lunatic himself. It would have fascinated me to hear how the tyrant’s mind worked. For this reason, I marked it down in my rating.

My rating: Four and a quarter stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“What keeps me awake at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall. — Barbara Kingsolver

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

January 6 question – Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?

This is a timely question because I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately. I’ve read several books in the last two months, being our summer holidays here in New Zealand. The novel I’m reading at the moment is by an Indie author I met recently. When I took part in a local book signing event with other Indies, I ended up buying more books than I sold, as usual. Seriously, how can you resist? I could have bought a dozen more great looking books, but I had to be discerning, so I kept it to five. I sold four. These new purchases I added to the teetering tower of my “to read” books in the corner of my bedroom.

As much as I’m new to being self-published, I’m also new to reading Indie fiction. I plucked one of the books I’d bought from the top of the pile and started reading my first Indie work. I wasn’t sure what to expect, however the story has a great premise, and it interested me.

The hitch came in the first part of the story when there were one or two wobbles with context and grammar. They were simple little things yet because of this I don’t want to name the story, to protect the author. What did these slight errors do? They made me hesitate in my headlong flight into belief in the story unfolding. So instead of getting further sucked into the magic and the mystery, it jolted me back to reality. When I started reading again, there was a hesitation within. Sometimes the errors were so minor, I almost didn’t notice them, but then I’d question what had just happened and have to go back to check earlier parts of the narrative. Spell broken. It’s that dreaded moment in every author’s book where the reader might put the tome down, never to return!

Why did I stick with the story after a so-so start? Because I’d paid twenty bucks for that book so I was determined to get my money’s worth. But also the story is solid. This is the thing. Fortunately, with this Indie tale, there were only a few mistakes, and as the story is progressing, the author’s confidence grows. No more wobbles. I am back into becoming fully immersed in the tale. (I’m still only halfway through).

What I have learned from reading my first Indie novel is that if you have a good enough story line, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make, the readers will stick with your stories, anyway. I am thoroughly entertained and I literally look forward to picking it up and reading more each day.

I should file this under ‘Lessons learned so far in 2021.’ It’s all about the story and only the story!

Before going, I’d like to say a big thank you to Alex J. Cavanaugh, IWSG Leader and Ninja, for the stirring piece written for the January issue of the IWSG newsletter. ‘Reach out to other writers, encourage one another, and come up with some new strategies. Remember that moment when writing was a joy, and we were excited and ready to take on the world.’

Yes! Needing to pick up the reigns and get writing again this year, it has dismayed me to feel no energy towards getting started. I truly do feel encouraged reading Alex’s post and more than that, inspired to create. If I feel the joy in writing again I will write stories people want to read. That’s the goal, right?

What stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?

Keep Writing!

Yvette Carol

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If ever there was a time to reboot our lives and set some goals, it’s now. Leave 2020 in the past. Find that creativity and hope and make plans for a new year. ~  Alex J. Cavanaugh,

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No matter how bad the year has been, I always try to take time on December 31st to think about what I’ve achieved during the year and all the things I have to be grateful for. My dear grandmother used to say something wise at the end of every visit. As I would reach the door, having hugged and kissed and said our farewells, reminding her when I’d be back again–the following Thursday for our weekly lunch and afternoon together–Gran would say something wise, usually the same few old sayings over and over. I never tired of hearing her say them. I felt I needed to hear the words that often to get the message. And one of her favourites was to say, “Remember, my dear, to always look for the silver lining and you will find it.” I loved that saying then, and I love it now.

I remember, Gran, I hear you saying the words and it helps guide me in my life. You had certain wisdom you passed onto me that has become part of who I am and how I deal with things. In the most horrible of situations, I try to look for the good that can come out of it. My grandmother was a great believer in “the power of positivity” as she called it. Gran believed and often told us about the transformative power of having an optimistic attitude. She was an ardent admirer of the Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale’s work, and The Power of Positive Thinking was her favourite book, one she often quoted from. She would grab her well-worn hardback copy, kept in a bookcase by the front door, and open the plain blue cover to thumb through and read aloud a much-loved quote. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

I respected Gran’s enthusiasm for the topic and warmed to Peale’s ideas immediately. I have several Norman Vincent Peale’s inspirational books in my library and refer to his wisdom often. It helps to have tools such as these when looking back on 2020, as I was doing last night.

As I say, I take the time on New Year’s Eve to appreciate the twelve months gone before. When I looked back on the year we’ve had, it was hard at points to see the good in it. Man, it has been and continues to be a struggle. 2020 took a toll on me. The strain and anxiety around the whole Covid situation was intense, my concern being for my two younger boys. Both are at high risk. Nathaniel, the youngest, is asthmatic, and Samuel lives with a condition called “wet lungs,” caused by his aspirating food and fluids. Both boys were/are highly susceptible to infection, and Covid would be a death sentence. So we lived through months of tension and strife just going to the store.

At the same time as being confined to my home with two huge teenage boys and an adult nephew underfoot, I was editing The Last Tree and revising the first two books in my series, The Or’in of Tane and The Sasori Empire. I had a release date that kept getting pushed further and further back because it took so much longer than expected. Home, property, and kids went neglected as I slogged my way through editing day and night. It turned into six long months of stress and toil, PAINFUL in the extreme. I thought it would never be over, and I vowed I’d never release three books at once, ever again.

But I got there, releasing The Chronicles of Aden Weaver on October 10th. That was a big win for me in 2020. The book launch was the culmination of fifteen years writing this story and pursuing a dream, and I’m proud of myself. The trilogy sits on my bookshelf, the crowning achievement of 38 years writing for children. I’m glad I achieved that goal. Now I have these books and my children to leave as my legacy to the world which is a good feeling.

When I looked back, I saw other blessings too. I’ve made positive changes for my health and wellness. I doubled my meditation time, so now I start every day with twenty minutes of meditation, and I have more barefoot time in the garden, which helps me feel grounded. The boys are well and have done more reading. When schools reopened, we found a carer supporter, so Sam started Special Olympics basketball, and Nat made it into “A-team” in volleyball. All good things!

Gran you were right, I looked for the silver lining and it was there. What’s your silver lining?
Here’s to 2021. Happy New Year!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Change your thoughts and you change your world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

When I first started this blog, I shared how to make a homemade greeting card at this time of year. The tradition of making my own cards with photos of my youngest boys started with my middle son’s birth. Samuel was born with Down Syndrome in 2002, and featuring him on our card was a way of celebrating his arrival.

Sam’s younger brother came along two years later, and I’ve made these photo cards every year since then. I love the ritual of taking the photo for the card and bringing out all my card-making materials. Crafts are fun! Just seeing my glitter and stickers and the carefully saved paper brings a smile to my face. It’s like being a kid again. Personally I am a fan of homemade looking festive things rather than the store-bought variety.

This year I failed to get my two teenage boys to smile for our greeting card photo, however, it’s still an excellent likeness of them and I made the best of the shot I got. For those who are new to this blog, I will share how we make our family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Start by organising the kids, the dog, whatever your subject is, and snapping your photo for the card. Then print on regular A4 paper at a dinky size and cut out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the dollar store) and make them smaller. I use “guides” for the sizes which I made myself out of cardboard, so the layers have the same dimensions.

You have the first two items you need for your card, a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible) and a stack of your cut out photos.

Next is the saved wrapping paper. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper for making the following year’s cards.

At this stage in the card production, I take my saved paper, set the iron on a low heat and iron out the wrinkles. *My tip, iron the paper with the picture side down, in case any ink comes away. Then it doesn’t mar your iron’s surface and it also protects the ink.

Take a second cardboard “guide” that is smaller than the card and larger than the photo. Cut your saved Christmas paper to this size.

Now you have your photos, your cards, and cut-down Christmas paper.

The next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix.” This is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. Hot Fix come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat and the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

The first step of constructing the cards entails gluing the Christmas paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends like a flag.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile various weights on to press them. The second step is to glue the photo on top.

The third step is the best part—embellishments! Time to decorate the front of the cards with the glitter and ‘gems’ and stickers and doodads to your heart’s delight.

Inside each envelope I like to include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Make sure to match your envelope as closely as possible to the size of the card. It looks better that way.

Write personal messages inside your works of art and post away.

What do you think of this year’s greeting card?  

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

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