Archive for the ‘Book reviewing’ Category

I have finished reading my second novel for 2022, Fire & Shadow, by T.G. Ayer. Tee and I became friends through Facebook years five or six years ago. We both have kids who have undergone open-heart surgery and have Congenital Heart Disorder. We swap tales of our parental fears and woes. My niece is a big fan of T.G. Ayer’s books, and I knew Tee was successful as she is a ‘bestselling USA Today author.’ However, I had not read any of her work. In 2020, I attended an author event and shared a table with Tee. That was the first time we met face-to-face and we had such a fun day, chatting for hours. Tee is as beautiful and engaging as her considerable body of work. I bought the first volume in her Hand of Kali series, Fire & Shadow, and finally got around to reading it. So here we are.

Fire & Shadow is an urban fantasy for the YA market and is the first in a series of seven books. We meet Maya Rao. Our teen protagonist is an average Indian-American teen, balancing the cultural differences between the expectations of her parents and the need to fit in at high school. I found it insightful to the modern dilemma for children of traditional cultures. Maya juggles the beliefs of her Indian family with her modern ideas, and anyone can empathize. While her parents adhere to the old belief systems, Maya doesn’t believe in the Indian pantheon. She wants to forge her path in life. Having grown up in California with a lot of personal freedom, she largely views the tales her parents shared with her of Hindu folklore as nothing more than superstition.

Maya’s parents are relatively easy-going. The difference is that her father teaches martial arts and has taught her to fight. When a boy attacks Maya at a party, she accidentally incinerates him with a stream of fire. This act of self-defense brings her into the world of Indian Mythology and is when the story kicks into high gear. Maya starts to see and smell monsters, or rakshasas. After confessing the incident at home, her parents reveal that she is the reincarnation of a devoted follower of the goddess Kali. Maya is “The Hand of Kali” and can wield fire. It also brings others into her life. For example, Nik, the boy she has had a secret crush on, ‘the forbidden fruit,’ the goddesses Chayya, Kali, and Varuni, as well as the god of the underworld, Yama. The fabulous cast of characters includes Maya’s best friends, Joss and Ria, one a white American neglected by her parents and the other an Indian whose father rules her life with iron discipline.

I liked the heroine and her plausible rebellion against the constraints of her upbringing. I admired her feisty nature, the way Maya pushes the limits with her culture, and with what is expected of her once she discovers she is the Hand of Kali. I also liked the glimpse Fire & Shadow gives us of life inside an Indian household. Fascinating. Reading romance is not my preference. I appreciated that the romance between Maya and Nik only adds to the heroine’s journey, serving to enhance the narrative without ever being at the expense of the story development. The lovey-dovey stuff takes a back seat to the action and the plot. Thank you, Tee.

At the start, I was curious to see how a friend writes, and happily, I was impressed. A natural storyteller, who has a way with words, Tee strikes a balance between the dark content and humour, which had me seesawing from horror to guffaws.
‘I’m so dead when I get home. Maya’s dad had the nostrils of a shark – he could smell lies, fear, and alcohol within a five-mile radius. So dead.’
The book had a solid plot, a sense of steadily building tension. Fire & Shadow is pure entertainment. The descriptions of characters and setting are on point, and you can picture everything. At times genuinely scary, it kept me on the edge of my seat. I learned urban fantasy romance can be a riveting read. Now I understand why my niece is a fan. I admit I found a number of errors that were missed by the editor. I can’t complain though, as a few mistakes slipped through the editing with my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, too. When you are self-published these things happen. No biggie.

According to her bio, T.G. Ayer was born in Durban, South Africa. Having sat and conversed with her, I know that the red tint in her dark hair comes from Irish blood also in her ancestry. Tee started by penning poetry before she moved on to writing fiction. The lightness of touch which comes through Fire & Shadow continues in her bio. Tee tells us her heart is torn in two between her homeland of Africa and New Zealand, so she ‘shall forever remain crosseyed.’ LOL. She lives in Auckland, is an active member and speaker with the Romance Writers of New Zealand, and has two grown-up daughters.
My rating: Four out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Maya drew her fire again. This time it came smoothly, like a silky liquid, summoned with her mind, and conducted through her body. ~ T.G. Ayer, Fire & Shadow


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I have finished reading my first novel for 2022, Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. It felt exciting to reach a tally of nineteen books read in 2021, compared to thirteen in 2020. We’ll see if I can do better this year. And what a way to begin! After seeing British author, Neil Gaiman interviewed live last year, as part of the New Zealand Readers & Writer’s Festival, I bought his book, Norse Mythology. A big fan of myths and legends, the title drew me in.

Norse mythology refers to the Scandinavian mythological worldview that was commonplace during the time of the Viking Age (c. 790- c. 1100 CE). In 2017, Neil Gaiman released his version in a collection of short stories. Though neither original nor new to most of us, Neil reimagines the time-honoured tales in a way that recaptures our attention all over again. In reality, the old Viking myths are gory, tragic, and sometimes incomprehensible. You need a strong stomach. Even so, Gaiman makes them approachable to a new generation. He presents these raw, brutal, bloody tales and makes them cool.
The novel way the author gets around the oral tradition of Scandanavian storytelling is by presenting most of the stories from the point of view of an unnamed narrator. Through frequent addresses to the audience, the narration evokes that feeling of listening. Clever stuff.
In the “Introduction,” Neil Gaiman explains three things: the cultural and literary significance of Norse mythology; the difference between the traditional representations of these gods and the way they have been reinterpreted in popular culture; and the sources used. He also explains how he fell in love with the legends and his passion for the subject matter comes through loud and clear. “The Norse myths are the myths of a chilly place,” concludes Gaiman, “with long, long winter nights and endless summer days, myths of a people who did not entirely trust or even like their gods, although they respected and feared them.”

Gaiman explains that long before the Middle Ages, the Germanic people believed in two types of Gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. Complete with a creation myth that has the early gods killing a giant and turning his body parts into the world, arrayed beneath the World Tree Yggdrasil, and the eventual end of the known world in the Ragnarök, the Nordic mythological world is complex and mysterious.
Given the timeless quality of Gaiman’s writing, he seems to be the perfect fit for a book of Norse mythology. With its influence on Marvel’s movies, heavy metal music, and J.R.R. Tolkien, the references to the mighty Gods of Asgard, who came complete with their doomsday, have become a part of daily life. It’s instructive and fascinating to have a popular author unpack the mythology for a modern audience, already familiar with the main players.

“Many gods and goddesses are named in Norse mythology,” Gaiman informs us at the beginning of his book. “Most of the stories we have, however, concern two gods, Odin and his son Thor, and Odin’s blood brother, a giant’s son called Loki, who lives with the Aesir in Asgard.”
The author fashions these ancient stories into an overall story arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. It is a truly unique worldview and an alternative perspective to modern religions. Okay, you could learn all the same information through reading it on Wikipedia but where’s the fun in that? You’d miss Gaiman’s deft turn of phrase and fairytale flair.

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman is an author of novels, short stories, graphic novels, comic books, and films. The first author to win the Newbery and Carnegie medals for the same work – The Graveyard Book – Gaiman has so far authored classics in almost each of the genres he’s interested in, primarily being fantasy, horror, and science fiction. For example, the comic book series The Sandman was one of the first graphic novels ever to be on the New York Times Best Seller list. In addition, several of Gaiman’s novels – such as Stardust, American Gods, and Coraline – have been adapted into successful movies or TV series. How many books has Neil Gaiman written in his illustrious career? A fan had stacked them up, and apparently, the pile reached over 7 feet. In other words, his output has been prodigious. Long may he write!
This book, dare I say it, is deserving of becoming yet another Neil Gaiman classic.
My rating: Four out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Before the beginning, there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning. ~ Norse Mythology


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I have finished reading my nineteenth novel for 2021, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. Friend, fellow blogger, and poet Susan Baury Rouchard sent me this book, one of her all-time favourites. I had never heard of it or the author, so this was a terrific opportunity. Now that I have finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I can see why it came so highly recommended. Thanks, Susan.

Historical fiction is a rich, rewarding genre. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a young adult novel set in the late 1600s in New England in a society of Puritans. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, yet Speare never wavers, never falters for a minute. She weaves the depictions of Connecticut and the traditions, the daily chores of the people into the story fabric in a way that makes everything seem real. Fascinating stuff. I almost wondered if the author was born in that era. But no, she published the book in 1958. No wonder this book won the Newbery Medal (1959) and was a Vermont Golden Dome Book Award Nominee (1960).

The story starts, and we are on board the boat, The Dolphin. Kit is fleeing her past in Barbados. She meets two young men: Nathaniel “Nat” Eaton, son of the vessel’s captain, and John Holbrook, a clergyman headed to study with a reverend. Kit’s unexpected arrival in the fictional New England town of Wethersfield and the home of her Aunt Rachel truly upsets the applecart. Kit has only known the free-spirited way of living that she has always embraced in Barbados. She comes from wealth and all the associated privileges of having slaves and owning the finest wardrobe, part of which has traveled with her to virtual poverty in seven trunks. The clash of cultures and lifestyles which follows is powerful, yet never rushed.
Kit knows nothing of the customs that guide New England. She flaps painfully, a fish out of water. As the pampered granddaughter of the most wealthy man in Barbados, she has no idea how to work or do the basic, daily things. We feel sorry for her innocence and yet see her flaws: her sense of entitlement, her lack of stamina for working. We empathize with the pain Kit goes through.
Her grandfather raised Kit with a lot of freedom. He taught her how to read and write, how to swim. All of these things are enough to cast suspicion on the naive girl from Barbados from the start.
‘She feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely.’

Used to doing as she pleases each day, Kit soon learns her new family expects her to work every day, all day, and to attend Sabbath Meetings which last nearly an entire day. Kit despairs at the boring services but gains the attention of staid William Ashby, a wealthy young suitor, the most eligible bachelor in town. He is her only possible hope of leaving the house of her severe Uncle Matthew.
We follow poor Kit’s painful adjustment process to the constrictions, the rules of the puritan community, and her uncle’s hard-working household. We see that William Ashby is patently unsuited as a husband. We feel bad that all three girls in the house have their hearts set on the wrong men.
Kit, sore, suffering, lonely, one day discovers the meadow.
‘As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From the first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own.’
You feel the healing balm of the moment because Kit has suffered so believably up to this point. It is a piece of prose I read and reread a few times.

In the meadow, Kit meets and is comforted by Hannah Tupper. She learns that the woman is no witch. She is a Quaker, a widow, persecuted in Massachusetts for her religious beliefs. Kit and Hannah become friends with Kit finding ways to visit often, sometimes running into Nat Eaton, who also happens to be a friend to Hannah Tupper.
When a terrible sickness grips Weathersfield, the finger gets pointed at Kit. She gets accused of witchcraft. Who do you think swoops in to save her?
People might call this sort of storytelling “old school,” but I found myself magnetized from the first page, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up and keep reading every time I had to walk away. That’s all you need to know, right there. The ultimate litmus test.

The backdrop of the tension between the English colonists and the New England Men’s fight for independence makes for a dramatic setting. I admired Speare’s tight storytelling. The political drama mirrors and therefore deepens the struggle for Kit between her free rebellious spirit and conforming to what society expects of her. Similarly, the seasons each take their turn. Each season corresponds and mirrors the turbulent journey of Kit’s first year in Connecticut, ending with the dramatic climax when they accuse Kit of witchcraft in the deep, bitter heart of winter. But the book finishes with the return of spring, which I loved. It’s such a clever, complex tale about the conflict between freedom and responsibility, between individual and family/community. A book about the search for identity versus belonging, conforming, and then breaking social rules. Tough, soft, affecting, resonant.
All in all, a cracking read.

Elizabeth George Speare, 1908 – 1994, was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. As well as earning the Newbery Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, she also received the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow. Speare received a Newbery Honor Award in 1983, and in 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and enduring contribution to children’s literature.
My rating: Four and a half out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” ~ Elizabeth George Speare


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I have finished reading my eighteenth novel for 2021, Fifteen Postcards by Kirsten McKenzie. When I attended an author event for self-published authors last year, I met several authors. Drawn by Kirsten’s display, we started talking. She had her bestselling trilogy, The Old Curiosity Shop series, on display. But there was a line of books at the front which had the same titles on plain blue covers. Squabbling Sparrows Press, she told me, was a small imprint through which she and a few friends could produce their titles in a smaller, plain format that made them more affordable for readers. What a great idea, I thought, and promptly bought a blue version of her first book, Fifteen Postcards.

Kirsten is a terrific writer, and as many others have said before me, I was surprised that this was her debut novel.
What grabbed me first was the solid premise. I should be fair and say this was my first foray into reading time travel. Perhaps others have handled the subject matter just as seamlessly, but for me, I felt swept away into the world instantly, and that is just the way good fantasy fiction should be. We should forget everything except what happens next in the story – that’s called ‘suspension of disbelief,’ a goal every author strives for the holy grail, you might say – and absolutely critical in the fantasy genre.
In Fifteen Postcards, our heroine, Sarah, is running the family antique shop, The Old Curiosity Shop, as her parents are missing. When she discovers a set of postcards belonging to a recently deceased widow, Sarah finds herself transported back in time in the guise of female figures connected to the widow’s family every time she touches the cards. Woo. Cool.

To travel effortlessly between the modern-day and yesteryear several times in a story it would be easy to lose the reader. But somehow, McKenzie steers us through this epic journey through space and time like a professional. It was smoothly done. Impressed, I was.
The story takes Sarah back to her modern life in the shop between bouts of time travel to Victorian London, the goldrush in early New Zealand, and into the India of the Raj. As a deeper mystery starts to unfold through each journey, we watch and empathize with Sarah who struggles believably to fit her twenty-first-century mind to the manners and mores of the time. It is the story idea that keeps on giving because the conflict created by this ‘girl out of time’ scenario creates tension and drama aplenty. Add the mystery element, and it makes a wonderful cocktail.

The years the author, Kirsten McKenzie, spent working behind the counter in her parents’ antique shop have served her well in this book. The flavour of authenticity permeates every scene inside The Old Curiosity Shop and sets Sarah up as an intelligent, informed, likable protagonist. I loved all the insider details, which gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of antique shops.
When Sarah starts to make classic blunders, like falling in love and bringing objects from the past back to the present, I worried about the repercussions. I was involved! That’s a good sign. Unfortunately, I never got to find out about the repercussions. My beef with Fifteen Postcards is the ending. At a dramatic part of the novel, it just stops. It is more than a cliffhanger. It is a cliff. You topple over the edge into the ditch, going, wait a minute, what happened?
The sudden pitch to a stop felt like a cheap shot after such a quality ride.

I’ve banged on about this before. But every book should have its arc and closure, even when the novel is couched within a series.

That aside, Fifteen Postcards is a thrill ride through history. I love the title. It is an accomplished, mystery drama that can hold its own against others in the genre. Author, Kirsten McKenzie, is a former Customs Officer in both England and New Zealand, who took up work famously in the family antique store. Now a full-time author of time travel trilogies and thrillers, she lives in New Zealand with her husband, her daughters, and two rescue cats.
Fifteen Postcards won five-star reviews and a lot of nice noise after release. The standard of writing is world-class, and the premise kicks butt. I especially enjoyed the sequences set in the gold rush era in New Zealand. It felt like being transported back in time. Kirsten, pat yourself on the back. If it were not for the cliff at the end, this debut novel would have earned a coveted four stars.
My rating: Three stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Change your thoughts and you change the world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale


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I have finished reading my seventeenth novel for 2021, Fire and Ice by Shannon Hale. Book four in the Spirit Animals series, which Scholastic has marketed as an ‘epic multiplatform fantasy series.’ It is a book and a game. Readers only need to use the code at the end of each book to play the online game. The series of novels follows four young heroes, the Greencloaks, Conor, Meilin, Abeke, and Rollan. Thankfully, they receive the help of legendary spirit animals in their mission to save Erdas from the Conquerors.
In the beginning, Gerathon, the menacing Great Beast, is at large, massacring people. Our four young protagonists are off to the land of icy tundra in search of the Crystal Polar Bear talisman. They must do what others fear to do, seek out the polar bear Great Beast, imprisoned in an ice cave for the safety of all. Despite receiving little help, the Greencloaks find their way to the polar bear and then deal with the repercussions. They escape and eventually fight for their lives against the Conquerors.

If you ever wanted to read a book where the odds are twenty to one against the heroes, this is the book for you. The situation starts dire and gets steadily worse until the final act. Fire and Ice is book four, after Blood Ties, Hunted, and Wild Born. I’ve read book two, Hunted and reviewed it, and I enjoyed that book far more than this one. I thought Maggie Stiefvater helped us feel closer to the characters and led us through a real adventure to the outcome. Whereas Shannon Hale seems focused on building tension and conflict points, and the character development and the story suffers in consequence. I felt apprised of the odds stacked against them and very little else. The experience is akin to becoming wired, as the tension mounts and with hardly a spot to sit and rest.


Many folks preferred this book to book 3 in the series, calling it an improvement. What I liked about Fire and Ice was the absence of any notable adults. All decisions, actions, and even the fall-out of the bad decisions are the responsibility of the child protagonists. You feel for them in horrendous situations. In this book, we meet a new child character, Maya. Maya’s spirit animal is a salamander which is unusual. A salamander does not seem helpful, then its element of warmth and fire comes in mighty handy when the team starts to suffer from the cold in the frozen wastes. The addition of Maya to our group begins to make sense. The five learn to work together and rely on one another, which is an appropriate moral in these times.


Shannon Hale is a fine writer. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the United States, she is the New York Times best-selling author of six young adult novels. Shannon won the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, is a multiple award winner Book of A Thousand Days, and the highly acclaimed Books of Bayern series. She co-wrote the hit graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack, with her husband, Dean Hale. They live near Salt Lake City with their four children.


I enjoyed this book for the most part, although I prefer books set in warmer climes.
My rating: Two and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”–Winston Churchill


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I have finished reading my sixteenth novel for 2021, Gods and Warriors, by Michelle Paver. Frankly, I was curious. I kept seeing this author’s name every time I was out buying books. Paver featured in every new and secondhand book store as well as gracing our library’s shelves. Who was this new author?
I’m always looking for middle-grade fiction to read my son with special needs as part of our bedtime ritual. Man, I was not ready for Paver. I was unprepared for the shock value in the opening pages of Gods and Warriors. Paver hits the ground running. In the first five paragraphs, our protagonist, Hylas, has an arrowhead buried in his arm. We learn his sister is missing, his dog is dead, and he is running for his life. By the fifth page, the Crows hurl a boy’s body down the slope in front of Hylas, ‘it was now a terrible thing of black blood and burst blue innards like a nest of worms.’

This unexpected element of shock and gore made reading Gods and Warriors to my nineteen-year-old son, who has the equivalent mental age of a twelve-year-old, a bit awkward. I ad-libbed at random to cover the frightening parts, which seemed more suitable for an older audience. For some more sensitive middle-grade readers, I fear they would suffer nightmares for weeks. If you are an actual middle-grade reader, I warn you to read through your fingers.
Our hero, Hylas, is a 12-year-old goatherd. As an Outsider, the Crows are hunting him and his kind. The terrifying Mycenaen warriors are ‘a nightmare of stiff black rawhide armour, a thicket of spears and daggers and bows. Their long black cloaks flew behind them like the wings of crows, and beneath their helmets, their faces were grey with ash.’ While hiding from the Crows in a tomb, Hylas finds a dying man who gives him a bronze dagger (a priceless gift to a simple shepherd) and speaks in verse about his fate. Hylas takes the dagger and carries on to try to find his sister. Along the way, he meets Pirra, the daughter of a High Priestess, who is also on the run, trying to escape a forced marriage.

Hylas befriends Spirit the Dolphin, who has lost his Dolphin pack. And Hylas has a conflict with his best friend Telemon, the son of a Mycenean chieftain, who is torn between wanting to be a good friend as well as a good son.
What I liked about this novel were the Bronze Age setting and the mythological elements. Although I did feel confused at times by the mysterious “higher” powers: the Goddess, the Earthshaker, the Angry Ones, the ghosts. They were referenced, feared, placated with gifts, yet, they were never fully explained or seen. They provided a vague background threat that sometimes sprang forward to scare the pants off us. However, on the plus side, it was cool the way Paver included the different customs around the Greek Islands in the Bronze Age, depicting the unique ways people worshiped and lived. Paver evoked the time and era with ease.

What I didn’t like was the sometimes shallow feeling to the characters. I didn’t like the head-hopping, especially when we were given Spirit, the dolphin’s point of view. Though a fan of anthropomorphism, it has to be done a certain way. I found the sudden switching from Hylas into the mind of a dolphin a step too far. The other three characters showed great promise, especially Telamon, but they weren’t developed enough for my liking. The issues presented were different for each character, Hylas to find his sister, Pirra to escape her marriage, Spirit to find his pack and help Hylas, Telamon to please his father and his friend. Yet, none seemed truly compelling. At the end, none of the characters achieves their goal except for the dolphin, Spirit, who saves the life of his friend Hylas again and again then finds the other dolphins at the end. I thought the writing was competent. The problem was the story had no grand goal to get behind. It felt like eating junk food, you enjoy it for a moment but once you’re finished, you feel unsatisfied.
Michelle Paver was born in 1960 in Malawi, Central Africa, moving to the United Kingdom at the age of three. She earned a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford University and became a partner in a law firm. Paver’s books reflect her lifelong passion for animals, anthropology, and ancient history. She is most well known for her bestselling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.
As for Gods and Warriors, I won’t be seeking out the sequel.
My rating: One and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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A classic children’s book…superb writing. ~ Anthony Horowitz

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I have finished reading my fifteenth novel for 2021, Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins by Carlos Fuentes. It was one in a pile of books I picked up while visiting my sister on Waiheke Island in the upper north island of New Zealand. We popped into the Salvation Army shop. I drifted into the books section and walked out thirty minutes later with two bags of books! That always happens. I got the lot for ten bucks. You’ve got to love that.
Usually, I stick to reading within my genre of middle-grade fiction, but I will also buy anything that takes my fancy. Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins sounded so quirky. I thought, what is that about? And I recognized the author.

The book consists of five short stories. In the title story, a kind and happy husband discovers the true nature of his marriage. ‘As though he has walked through a mirror and found that the life held in the glass was not his own at all.’ ‘…you repeatedly seem to shudder awake, you think you’ve opened your eyes, but in fact, you’ve only introduced one dream inside another.’ I would try to precis the stories, but I fear that might be beyond me. From a doll coming to represent a human woman to a story narrator in bed with a ghost, the stories pitch you from the boat into a dark swirling morass of imagery and ideas in which there is no life raft. There is no way of making sense of the stories contained within this book. The stories located from Savannah, Georgia to Glasgow, depict the moments in life when worlds collide, and they are fittingly chaotic.
Carlos Fuentes Macías (1928 – 2012) was a Mexican writer. He also served as a diplomat in 1965 in London, Paris (as ambassador), and other capitals. Though he became one of the best-known novelists of the 20th century in the Spanish-speaking world, he found the time to teach courses at Brown, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, George Mason, Columbia, and Cambridge. The author of thirty works, his first book, Aura, was published in 1962. He published Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins, in Spanish, Constanciay otras novelas para virgines by Mandadori Espana, in 1989.

The book received mixed reviews. The deconstructionists of the world heralded Constancia as a miraculous conception and a great example of the ‘imagination unbound.’ The great unwashed masses, of whom I count myself one, reviled the book, like a big shiny house to which we did not possess the key to get in. There are no story structures, nothing to grasp, no compass or road map through the forest of words.
I would not go so far as to say what some of the critics said. I wouldn’t call the book ‘the ravings of a madman,’ or ‘a senseless mess,’ or ‘UNREADABLE.’ But I will tell my ultimate truth, and that is I couldn’t finish it. It’s not often I can say a book has beaten me. This one did. It is one of the few books I have put down halfway through and walked away from. I literally could not take another word of such nonsense. Magical Realism. Definitely. Not. My. Genre.
My rating: No stars. But I will give it two groans.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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As a literary fiction style, magic realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements, often dealing with the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality. ~ Wikipedia

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I have finished reading my fourteenth novel for 2021, The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle. Book two in the award-winning bestselling Storm Keeper Trilogy, they translated it into over 20 languages. The Lost Tide Warriors is the sequel to The Storm Keeper’s Island, followed by The Storm Keepers Battle. I have heard it said that book two is not a great entry point to the series, as there is not enough exposition to fill in a new reader as to what has come before. Nevertheless, I did jump in at book two.

When I see books at fairs, charity stores, and second-hand bookshops, I buy whatever appeals to me. I often do not know whether they are part of a series. I would hope that any book should be readable, whether it is part of a series or not. It is something I worked hard on with my trilogy and am doing with my current work-in-progress, making sure each novel can stand alone with its own story.
It is up to the author to make each story in a series accessible to everyone. That said, it is hard to do. I forgive Doyle for doing a less-than-great job filling me in as a new reader to the trilogy. The story was interesting, so I continued reading even though I did not fully understand what was going on. And the magic candles? I was still none the wiser by the time I finished. Perhaps the concept was too fantastic for my brain.

Catherine Doyle set The Storm Keeper Trilogy on the Irish island of Arranmore, a special place where her grandparents grew up. The stories draw on Irish folklore and magical history. In The Lost Tide Warriors, our youthful protagonist, Fionn Boyle, is the new Storm Keeper on the island of Arranmore. With the arrival of the terrifying soulstalkers, Fionn’s secret inner struggle, his seeming inability to wield the Storm Keeper’s magic becomes public knowledge. The threat is real. If the soulstalkers raise Morrigan from the dead, they will take over, and everyone on the island will die, as will many others. Only Fionn believes that with the help of a white conch shell, the Tide Summoner, he might be able to summon Dagda’s army of merrows to defeat the horrifying enemy.

The writing is taut, the setting atmospheric, the danger building, and the characters well depicted so that I imagined I knew them. The story problem was intriguing, and Doyle maintained the tension throughout. It was frightening in parts, and funny (thankfully) in others, and emotional. The strong relationship between Fionn and his grandfather, Malachy Boyle, formed the heart of the story. I love it when a story has a heartbeat. Fionn’s love for his grandfather was believable, palpable, and ultimately heart-wrenching. Their grandparent-grandchild bond was the solid bedrock for the rest of the tale. It was a hard book to walk away from at times which is always a good thing.

Catherine Boyle is forging a formidable career at a young age. Backed up by holding a BA in Psychology and an MA in Publishing, she wrote the Young Adult Blood for Blood trilogy (Vendetta, Inferno, and Mafiosa). Puffin published her re-imagining of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, The Miracle on Ebenezer Street in 2020. And her eagerly-anticipated new YA novel, Twin Crowns, is due for release in 2022.
How would I describe The Lost Tribe Warriors? A scary tale well told. However, I did not enjoy it fully, as the nasty treatment of Fionn by his sister Tara was jarring at times, and I found the soulstalkers amassing, the raising of the Morrigan to be somewhat disturbing. It was a tad too scary for me. I prefer not to read or watch horror in any form. Not to my taste, is all.
My rating: Nevertheless, three stars.


Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Flickers with rare and wonderful magic…An unforgettable story.” ~ Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song


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I’ve finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2021, The Enchanted Flute, by James Norcliffe.

‘A flute that will only play one mysterious song? A strange old man in a wheelchair somehow rejuvenated by this music? A leap from a window into a strange and often frightening world where nobody can be trusted and from which there seems to be no escape?’ So goes the promo material. The mythical base to this story and the new take by placing the protagonists in the modern day and age is solid. However, we readers can often be simple creatures, easily led. Here’s a secret some of your fantasy writers may want in on. As any fan will tell you, merely including a word like ‘enchanted’ in the title guarantees a certain amount of reader interest. I picked up this New Zealand novel purely for the word enchanted on the cover, so I congratulate Mr. Norcliffe on a wise choice.

The Enchanted Flute gives us fully realized believable urban fantasy. Norcliffe, an award-winning poet, author and lecturer in New Zealand, is an assured storyteller. I’m a sucker for anything to do with mythology, so I truly savoured the way he took mythology and more or less wove various strands together to give us a new twist. The Greek tale of Syrinx is about a chaste nymph pursued by the God Pan. Syrinx escapes by turning into some pond reeds. Pan scythes down the reeds and makes a flute to console himself. Mixed in with this key ingredient of Greek myth, the author adds parts of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack in the beanstalk. It seemed admirable to me that Norcliffe could look at an ancient folktale in a new way and be bold enough to dare to say, What if I did this and this? I became quite fascinated as the modern story unfolded, reading about characters from mythology, and I really wanted to know what it all meant.

Close-up of a woman playing the flute. Musical concept

The flute Becky’s mother bought at a pawnshop turns out to be enchanted. Becky, herself, as the one who plays its enchanted music, becomes the focus of everyone’s needs and animosities. Because of this mythological flute, Becky Pym and Johnny Cadman literally jump from the realities of modern day life out a window into an ancient world. We experience this strange, scary, Arcadian place as they do, which makes the ride really exciting. It was seat-of-the-pants stuff. There seemed to be a palpable feeling of their entrapment, that there really seemed to be no way out. We were not let off the hook until the end. Talk about suspense.

Born on the West Coast (Kaiata, near Greymouth), James Norcliffe currently teaches at Lincoln University and lives in Church Bay with his wife and ‘an ungrateful cat named Pinky Bones.’ Norcliffe is both an award-winning poet and author of a dozen novels for young people including The Loblolly Boy series (Penguin Random), winner of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award, published in the United States as The Boy Who Could Fly. His novel, The Assassin of Gleam, received an award for the best fantasy published in New Zealand in 2006.

Fresh off the heels of his enormous success with The Loblolly Boy and its sequel, The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer, I’m sure they expected much of his next title. The Enchanted Flute did not make quite the same splash. The reviews were mostly good and star ratings were excellent. However, some folk criticized the length of the story, as too slow and drawn out. Other people found a little too much juxtaposition between the two very young naive protagonists, Becky and Johnny, and the lecherous intentions of Faunus or Pan.

Those things aside, I dived into the narrative wholeheartedly. The base of ancient mythology, the twist by basing it in modern day, and taking us with the main characters step by step, never letting too much information slip, teasing out the answers so we cannot tear our eyes away, building the mystery and the oppressive feeling of being trapped in Arcadia with them is taut stuff. What a thriller. It’s a master class in fiction. As an author I’m always looking for the nuts and bolts but when the writing is next level, the mechanics become invisible. Am I biased because he’s a fellow Kiwi author? Yes! But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great fiction. Well done, James Norcliffe. Now I want to read The Loblolly Boy.

My rating: Nearly four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“Literature is news that STAYS news.” ~ Ezra Pound

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I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2021, The Diamond Brothers in Two of Diamonds, by Anthony Horowitz. He wrote the book for World Book Day 2013. World Book Day and World Book Night are creative initiatives designed by all those in the literary industry on both sides of the fence in the UK and Ireland. They run the events annually in both countries to encourage people of all ages to read. Now that’s an idea I can get behind.

The Diamond Brothers are among Anthony Horowitz’s least known characters. The elder Diamond, Tim, tagged as ‘the world’s worst detective,’ makes for an intriguing start. Then I love the twist that it is the kid brother, Nick, who is the protagonist and who is solving all the mysteries. Tim bumbles from one error of judgment to another and has his neck saved repeatedly by his underestimated little brother. The entire premise is kid-centred and a hoot.

Two of Diamonds gives us two stories,The French Confection (2002), and I Know What You Did Last Wednesday (2002) packaged together, with a special cover that “comes to life” when you download the app and hold your phone over it. 

Though I had heard of his name, this was my first time reading an Anthony Horowitz. After reading the line, ‘I like horror stories–but not when they happen to me.’ I knew to expect these stories would be firmly tongue-in-cheek. Here is an author going for the laughs and the fun quotient. ‘It’s not fair. I do my homework. I clean my teeth twice a day. Why does everyone want to kill me?’

The Nick Diamond character is relatable and lovable. How many of us have had the experience of being the beleaguered sibling in the family? Here, poor Nick has to look out for his elder brother, Tim, portrayed as thick as a plank. The smarter younger brother Nick watches over the hapless Tim in an easy-going way that endears Nick to us. He is literally “saving the cat” throughout every case. But that’s what the key is to our interest in the characters and the series, is that the elder boy is an oaf while his thirteen-year-old brother saves his bacon on the regular. Kids win. Score! Meanwhile, the eldest is none the wiser and still thinks he know best. Hilarious. It’s a premise to have every child reader groaning with recognition–a deft move by Horowitz.

The enjoyable part is that in Nick’s superior intelligence he can have a little laugh at the elder brother’s expense, which is enough to make any kid titter. ‘Tim said little on the journey. To cheer him up, I’d bought him a Beano comic and perhaps he was having trouble with the long words.’ It makes the child reader feel they are in on the joke, which is a pleasant feeling. The sense of irreverence coming through in the wit and humour is cool, too. ‘The boat was old and smelly. So was the captain.’

Yet Horowitz does not shy away from the tough stuff. The trail of bodies surprised me. It gives his stories an unexpected element. It keeps the reader on their toes. Anthony Horowitz, OBE, is an English author who has been writing fiction all his life. He is best known for his Alex Rider books. He is also the writer and creator of award-winning detective series, Foyle’s War, and more recently event drama Collision. In 2011, he gained a significant feather in his cap, being the first author ever endorsed by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel, titled The House of Silk.

As for Two of Diamonds, where did Horowitz get it right? In the unique premise, the humour, the “in joke” of the siblings, the tone, the mystery aspect. Everyone, young and old, gets sucked in by a mystery. I think the entire thing works and made me an instant fan. Where did Horowitz go wrong? Great premise, intriguing characters but the books are too short, about 80 pages per story, which left me wanting more. Great story, but not enough meat on the bones! Some critics also complained that the mysteries were too easy to figure out. I’m guessing they were adults and as this book is for middle-grade readers, I think it is fine. To be left wanting more is a good sign, right?

My rating: Two and three quarter stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“I don’t think anything takes the place of reading.” ~ Beverly Cleary

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