Archive for the ‘Fantasy fiction’ Category

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 on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers 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 the hashtag is #IWSG.

July 6 question – If you could live in any book world, which one would you choose?
I always try to answer these questions as honestly as possible by going with the first thought that comes to mind. My dad used to say that the gut reaction was always right. My gut feeling when I read this question? I would live in the books I’m writing. It sounds like a self-congratulatory thing to say. But every time I get precious hours to pour into my new story, I dive into this imaginary world and love spending time there. My writing has always been my way of escape and still is.
If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, when I was working on editing my middle-grade series, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, I would have wanted to go there. The trilogy took me a decade to write. I became so familiar with the environment I had created that I knew every nook and cranny like my own home and garden. The world, and the characters, were like family, a part of my daily reality.

When I started work on my present children’s series, it was a thrill to build a new world and unfurl my wings over unique and unknown landscapes. This year I have had a ball developing the story bible for this series, figuring out the setting, and beginning to picture it clearly in my mind.
They say that writers write for themselves. That is certainly true for me. Often, in my life, and especially in the last two years, I write the sort of world that makes my heart sing. I can’t tell you any more about that world right now, not until the stories are close to finished. Time has taught me not to speak about my stories while they’re in the nascent stages, for fear the muse will exit stage left and leave me cold. Besides, this is the genesis stage and requires nurturing and sustained silence.

When I started writing fiction for children, I was a teenage mum stuck at home with a baby. All my friends were off traveling the planet, having the times of their lives. My only way to escape the humdrum of nappies and housework was to climb out that golden window of my imagination into a better place. Creative writing was my saving grace. Literally.
Neil Gaiman once famously said, ‘I’d like to say a few words on escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds themself in.’

Like Neil, I’ve never understood why people look down their noses at escapism through literature. There are far worse things in the world. And considering the state of affairs on the planet at the moment, frankly, we need all the escapism we can get. It’s benign, nourishing, affordable therapy. And it works. As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, the only people who warn against escape are the jailers.
I want to provide that escape route for my readers. And I seek the same haven, too. There’s no place in the multiverse I would rather be than living inside my own story worlds. So, yes, please, sign me up.
A close second would be the world of Moomintroll.
Which book world would you escape to and why?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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‘Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.’ ~ Neil Gaiman

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I have finished reading my ninth novel for 2022, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, A Wrinkle in Time was the first book in the Time Quintet series, followed by A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.
Any writer who has a few years behind them will know about not starting a story with the worst opening line ever, ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ I can remember one writing tutor teaching us how to grab the reader’s attention with the first line. The old chestnut, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ was trotted out as the perfect example of what NOT to do. In other words, it is so banal as to send a reader running for the next book. No one told Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time starts with that very line. I gasped out loud, I tell you. I was impressed at the same time. So surprised was I by this bold choice of the first line that I read on with avid curiosity to see how this story would play out.

A Wrinkle in Time starts with great promise. The first chapters are thrilling.
We meet the Murry family through the eyes of Meg. I warmed to our protagonist instantly. Who could resist such a deeply flawed, tetchy, troubled character? “I’m full of bad feeling.” Meg is so honest about her resentments, but why is she so angry? She lives in a cozy home amid a rambling garden. Her beautiful scientist mother is understanding and gives “Meglet” space to be herself. Also, sharing the house are her siblings, the twins, Sandy and Dennys, and the youngest member of the family, the enigmatic Charles Wallace. However, there is sadness lurking in the background. We discover their physicist father has been missing for years. It’s the thorn in Meg’s side. In Chapter One, the family meets an odd friend of Charles Wallace who blunders into the house during a fierce storm. The strange little woman Mrs. Whatsit arrives dressed in rubber boots, an overcoat, a pink stole, and scarves of many colours and says unexpected things like “Wild nights are my glory.”

When Meg and Charles Wallace go to look for Mrs. Whatsit and her friends, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, they join forces with another boy from their area, Calvin, who insists on going with them. The three old women help the children travel via tesseract or a “wrinkle in time” across the universe. They visit other worlds. Along the way, the women tell them about dark energy which is consuming the universe. The three children are determined to stop the Darkness.
They reach a planet called Camazotz where they find Meg’s father trapped. Camazotz is controlled by an evil brain called “IT” which takes control of Charles Wallace. After a period of being scared of IT and distraught about their inability to free Charles Wallace from his mental enslavement, Calvin and Meg manage to free Mr. Murry. They escape (just) to another planet where Aunt Beast heals Meg. With renewed strength, Meg frees Charles Wallace through the power of her love, and the group makes it back to Earth. However, the children still have not managed to touch the Darkness. They may have made it home, but we know the danger is not over.

My predominant response to this book was one of disappointment. It started with such promise and a banging protagonist in Meg. The three old women were mysterious, while Charles Wallace was some sort of genius and different. But, as soon as they left Earth via the wrinkle, things went downhill. The three old women remained undeveloped. I wanted to know more. The planets visited and subsidiary characters like the Happy Medium were not described enough to satisfy any questions. Meg, who was so feisty at the start, hardly spoke a sensible word throughout their planetary travels. I constantly expected more of her, yet she didn’t step up until the final part. And Charles Wallace, who was so clever, turned into a helpless minion of IT until Meg rescued him. The book won a prestigious award and is the childhood favourite of many. But, upon finishing this book, there is no way this side of a tesseract that I would seek to read any more of the series. My humble apologies to fans and the author. But for me, this book failed to deliver.

Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City on November 29th, 1918. Her interest from the beginning revolved around writing poems and stories, which reflected in her poor grades. When she was 12, she moved to the French Alps with her parents and went to an English boarding school in Switzerland. Returning to the United States two years later, she graduated from University with honors in English. Before meeting Hugh Franklin, her future husband, Madeleine published her first two books, A Small Rain and Ilsa. Hugh was an actor, and Madeleine became an actress to improve her skills as a playwright. She and Hugh married and had three children together. She died in 2007, aged 88. She had published sixty books in her lifetime and is the most well-known for A Wrinkle in Time.
My rating: Two and a half stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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From ‘An Interview with Madeleine L’Engle:’ “Which of your characters is most like you?”
“None of them. They’re all wiser than I am.”


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I have finished reading my eighth novel for 2022, When Did You See Her Last? The second book in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket. The premise of this series has the author writing himself as a kid detective, up against the baddie, Hangfire, both seeking a strange statue, the Bombinating Beast. Throw in a missing father and a missing girl, and you have the basic storyline of When Did you See Her Last?

A girl has gone missing, the Ink Inc. heiress and genius chemist Chloe Knight. Apprentice detective Lemony Snicket, and his incompetent chaperone S. Theodora Markson take on the case. The tale is set in a town that flourished because of ink, aptly named Stain’d-by-the-Sea. The town is becoming deserted because it has run out of squid. It is rumoured Chloe Knight has created a new type of ink that would reverse the fortunes of the dying town. Snicket has to find out more about a strange group called The Inhumane Society. He must piece together the clues surrounding Chloe’s disappearance and hopefully rescue the girl with a lot of hijinks along the way.
Snicket stories tend to cruise along the edge of the ridiculous, bringing to mind other such stars of the genre, like David Walliams and Anthony Horowitz. As always, in When Did you See Her Last? Snicket likes to have fun with words. “A laugh is harder to swallow whole than a honeydew melon. Her mouth twisted every which way, and her eyes flitted madly as she looked everywhere but at me…We waited until it was safe to open up the laugh, and then we shared it.”

It takes guts to do that.
I liked it when the author wove into the story references to classic books the Lemony Snicket character had read without giving us the actual title. However, this device relied on the reader having read all those children’s books. As an adult, I thought it was clever, but it occurred to me that all these finger-on-the-nose references would go over the head of the modern child reader.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the author speaking directly to the reader, yet, it’s a device Snicket uses a lot. The ‘breaking down of the fourth wall’ is a technique some people love. I read an interview with Neil Gaiman last week, in which Neil said the books he had read as a child wherein the author spoke directly to the reader made him feel all warm and cozy inside. So when he started writing his books, he used the same technique.

I find the author’s voice an intrusion. It breaks the spell holding me, which I find jarring. It does not add any warmth but provides a reminder of the puppeteer pulling the ropes.
“No matter how many slow and complicated mysteries I encounter in my life, I still hope that one day a slow and complicated mystery will be solved quickly and simply. An associate of mine calls this feeling “the triumph of hope over experience”, which simply means that it’s never going to happen, and that is what happened then.” ~ When Did you See Her Last?
I guess author intrusion comes down to a matter of personal taste. Snicket is a popular author so it obviously works for him.
Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler (February 28, 1970). The author of several children’s books, including A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series has sold over 60 million copies and was made into a film and TV series. Lemony Snicket serves as both the fictional narrator and a character in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as the main character in its prequel, the four-part book series titled All the Wrong Questions.

Ever wondered how Daniel chose that pen name? It originally came from research for Handler’s first book The Basic Eight. Handler told NPR that “the character of Lemony Snicket, this man who speaks directly to the reader and is tangentially involved in the stories that he’s telling is more of a character. We just thought it would be fun to publish the books under the name of this character.”
Essentially it works. Book sales speak volumes. I think the concept is cool, and the pen name is different. The panache is there. The idea of the pessimistic protagonist is an excellent twist. Snicket knows how to spin a web and layer in the questions, whether wrong or not, to keep the reader guessing the answers until the end.

Purely from the point of view of personal taste, When Did you See Her Last? is not my favourite kids’ book. But then it’s not my least. Farcical noir is not a genre I would seek to read for pleasure.

My rating: Two stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Being curious is the most important part of being a journalist. It might be the most important part of being anything.” ― Lemony Snicket, When Did You See Her Last?


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In March, I finished writing the draft for book seven in my new series for Middle-Grade readers. I couldn’t believe it. I had started the series in January 2021. In other words, it took me about two and a half months to write the first drafts of each volume. These books are a lot shorter than my Chronicles of Aden Weaver trilogy, which averaged 250-300 pages each. The new series will likely end up being around 100 pages each. They’re compact stories aimed at the slightly younger Middle-Grade audience.
After finishing book seven, my initial reaction to completing the series was grief. I missed the daily pages terribly. It was so strange. For 14 months, my stories had been my anchor through lockdowns and all the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. Without the discipline of writing fresh copy every day, I was cut off and drifting.

Two weeks of procrastination passed, and still, I had not started editing. I realized there was real resistance to getting underway. It felt like admitting to myself that the writing stage was over. Finally, in the third week, I decided I would simply read the whole series without any heavy editing. I opened the file for book one and began reading. Over the hump, I took a walk through the content, reading the story in three days. The expectation was that I would be jumping for joy at what I read. Nope. I was not jumping for joy. The best description for my reaction would be an utter disappointment.
By the time I wrote book seven, I was familiar with the characters, the terrain, and the world-building rules. It all came naturally. To go back to book one and read it was a shock. The characters are there but not fully themselves. The setting is there but not fully fleshed out. The plot is there, the world is awesome, but the story idea is somehow cold. I was expecting more because it’s a great story. Yet, I kept feeling deflated reading it because I hadn’t captured the essence enough to satisfy my inner child reader. The story has so much promise. The problem is it needs more details, and more blood in the bones. It brought to mind the Jane Yolen quote that writers need to write every day. ‘Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.’ Yeah, they do, Jane. You’re right on the money.

I had spent so many years editing that my fiction writing muscles had seized up. Thank goodness I decided to write this whole new series first and then start editing from book one because, by the time you reach the end of writing the final tome, you get a feel for what needs to be addressed and introduced from the beginning. The bonus of the long-form perspective is familiarity with the storied terrain and the characters enough to see the gaps at a glance.
What was the solution?
Book one needed rewriting. That much was clear. Was I upset? No. Try skipping about in delight. It was a relief to avoid the hard graft of editing a while longer. The first chance I had, I began the day with my pad and pen in hand and wrote half a page. Ah! Bliss. My days are bookended once more with writing in the a.m and typing notes in the p.m. This time around, I know the plot of the story, the characters, and the setting. All I have to do is rewrite book one from memory and embellish it in all the places I felt needed work.

Whoopee! Far from seeing this detour as a burden, I feel uplifted by it, inspired, even. In the past, I have stuck to the genesis material as being untouchable and have edited the copy endlessly. This time around, I am experimenting with the idea of rewriting the story altogether. Revamping from the ground up. It’s freeing to let go of how I thought the storywriting would be and allow for another interpretation.
Thank you to the writer who left a comment on my blog recently, suggesting I try a second, even third, time writing new content. Already the opening chapters are more nuanced. It works.
Have you ever had a creative project take an unexpected detour? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“A childhood without books—that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.” —ASTRID LINDGREN

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In 2020, I released my fantasy trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. Burned out, I took a writing hiatus that summer to recover. In January of 2021, I started writing another fantasy adventure series for middle-grade readers. For me, the rough draft has to be pen and paper. I sit and write fresh copy in the morning. And, it is a rule that I must type up each day’s copy in the evening. It was a lesson I learned the hard way. When I wrote the original manuscript for all three books in The Chronicles, I elected to leave the typing until the end and gave myself the job of typing out 300,000 words of my tiny handwriting. It was as bad as it sounds, and I made it a rule from then on to type new notes for my stories the same day I write them.

Since the beginning of last year, I have added to the copy for the stories every day and transcribed the notes each evening, including Christmas Day. It has been soothing to my creative soul to write genesis draft material again. I thought the exhaustive editing of The Chronicles for the last few years might have drained my joy in the process. But it hasn’t, thank goodness. Throughout the rollercoaster of the past year, I have cruised through each day, escaping via my writing portal. I have taken daily flights of the imagination and returned from each trip refreshed. These new stories have given me upliftment, comfort, and joy.
Creative outlets are good for us. My firm belief is that every adult needs one.

My father used to tinker away every afternoon building things in the garage. My mother used to knit or crochet her blankets. Throughout every trial and tribulation of our childhood, Ma’s needles would click and whirr most reassuringly. A sort of soft background track to our lives.
My outlet is my writing and new stories are the best. They are my happy place. Coming up with the material is the easy part, and I have loved every minute, enjoying the wild ride of “inspired thoughts,” as my grandmother used to call them. What could be more fun than writing each day to discover where your story is going next? But I write now, in the same way the dog days of summer turn into fall, with a tinge of sadness, knowing the changes to come. The picnic of penning the rough draft is nearly over. That means the unrelenting focus of the editing is about to kick in. Summer ends. Autumn begins. And so will the editing. Soon.

I can’t think about that yet. Right now, the hard graft of editing does not exist. It is just me, the pen and the empty pad of paper, out gamboling through the rosy fields of imagination, reveling in every moment.
*Good news* Drum roll. I am happy to report that my nephew and I are already conjuring up the cover art for the first book. Si was the artistic genius behind the covers for my trilogy. As a busy young working father of two, he needs a year’s grace to work on his art pieces. I told him, take as long as you need. I believe in his artistic ability and will always champion his work. Cover art from Si Kingi is worth the wait.

As a hobby illustrator myself, I have several pieces of artwork for most of the books. Some of them feature on the side panel of this blog. I have enough to put one original illustration into each book but still need to draw a second illustration for each volume. The one character I have not drawn yet is the young 8-year-old protagonist, Emily. I told Si, I look forward to seeing her!
The wait to see Si’s work is full of anticipation.
Vincent Willem van Gogh once said, “…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” Exactly. We must have all these things in times such as these to give us the strength to carry on and get through. Nature, art, and poetry are important because they bring us joy. They uplift our spirits. For me, penning new stories is bliss and to be part of the arts coming out now is exciting!
What about you. What are your creative outlets? Or are you yet to discover the right creative outlet for you?

(A pencil test piece Si created with his four-year-old daughter, my grand-niece)
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Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. – Ellen Bass


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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 on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers 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 the hashtag is #IWSG.

March 2 question – Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?
Yes, the example that stands out in my mind concerns the first book in my Chronicles of Aden Weaver series. In the first book, The Or’in of Tane, Aden Weaver lives with his grandparents, Nana Jeen and Papa Joe. One night, two assassins attack Aden in the vegetable garden of his grandparents’ house. A big fight ensues between Aden and the two assassins. Nana Jeen and Papa Joe arrive, and the fighting is ferocious. In the first draft of my story, both grandparents are killed in the fight.
My then critique partner, the wonderful author and YouTube queen, Maria Cisneros-Toth, took exception to this version of the book. She cited good reasons: it was too much for child readers to lose both beloved characters so early in the story, it was unnecessary, gratuitous to kill both of them, etc. But what it boiled down to, Maria admitted, was that she did not like the idea of losing both the grandparent characters. Maria pleaded with me to keep them alive and change the storyline.

In the world of writers, there are plotters and there are pantsers. Plotters map out a story in detail first. Think of JK Rowling’s grid pattern story plans which detailed every significant development and turn in the seven-book series. Whereas Pantsers write stories as they come, flying by the seat of their pants. Then they edit for years afterward. I’m a Pantser, and I write all my copy as stream-of-consciousness material coming straight from the muse onto the page. I had set down the content for The Or’in of Tane as faithfully as it came to me. In other words, I felt wedded to the content. That’s one of the things I find most valuable about joining critique groups when I’m working on new material. They offer the dispassionate third-person perspective. They can reflect things the author can’t see. When it comes to editing I can delete an adverb and correct punctuation. But, I find it difficult to question the big things. And this was one of those times. Maria was able to reflect that it was too much to kill the grandparents so early in the series. And, I could hear the truth.

When I thought about it, I felt excited at the thought of them surviving the fight. I couldn’t wait to get started on the changes. And that told me I was going in the right direction. I went back to rewrite. In the new version, Nana Jeen and Papa Joe get badly injured in the fight. It changed many things about the way the rest of the story played out. It was the right thing to do. Furthermore, having the grandparents there in the final scenes of the trilogy, to witness their grandson on his triumphant return, gave an emotional resonance to those end scenes. I never once regretted saving the grandparents and rewriting that scene. I was just glad there was a seasoned eye on hand to guide me on the story development at the right time. Thank you Maria for the advice.

I had written the grandparent characters into the narrative for a reason. As the daughter of immigrants to New Zealand, our little nuclear family grew up without the benefit of extended family. My only experience of grandparents was through letters and those grandparents I saw in the movies or read about in books. My grandmother moved out to New Zealand when she was 79. We had some sweet years getting to know each other before she passed away ten years later.

My siblings and I grew up without grandparents, and for that reason, I revere the elderly and always have to add a grandparent or two into my fiction. I didn’t want to kill off Nana Jeen and Papa Joe. But, I struggle with questioning the muse. Maria more or less gave me permission to throw out something I didn’t feel worked and to replace it with something lighter. The story immediately improved.
Some edits are too scary to make on your own.

Sometimes you need a friend to hold your hand and say, it is okay. You can do this.

Sometimes you need friends.
What about you. Have you joined a critique group? Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


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I have finished reading my fourth novel for 2022, Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, and what a doozy. I have been looking forward to reviewing this book. It’s one of those books that gets inside you, haunts your thoughts, and creeps inside your dreams. You become so caught in the spell that you anticipate every opportunity to sit down and read more. When you have finished the novel, as I unfortunately have, you continue to think about it for a long time afterward. I love books like that. It is truly remarkable and potent fiction.

Piranesi was a Christmas present. The enigmatic cover image features a statue of Pan atop a carved pedestal and the author’s name, plus a few embellishments embossed with gold. The medallion on the cover of my copy tells me Piranesi won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. The blue cover displays soundbites from various movers and shakers, like The Sunday Times: ‘Full of wonders’ Erin Morgenstern: “Spellbinding” and The Guardian: “Utterly otherworldly.” All this before we even open the book. When we open the cover, we are treated to seven pages of gushing review snippets from everyone who has a voice in the media, from the New York Times, to Esquire and Observer, from BBC.com to Literary Review. It is almost overkill.
But does the content live up to the hype? In a word, yes.

Okay. At first, I was all at sea. The novel is so divergent from anything I had ever read that I was thoroughly off-put. Instead of chapter numbers and so on, Clarke divides the story into seven parts. Then she heads the chapters with surreal titles. For example, the opening chapter starts with the heading:
When the Moon Rose in the Third Northern Hall, I went to the Ninth Vestibule
ENTRY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF THE FIFTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS

There is no dithering at the door or slow easing into this fantasy. We become transported via the confounding title into another place, another world. We then read the entries and, in that intimate way, dive into the life of a naive, wandering, fascinating man as he recounts his life living in the House. He is alone apart from visits twice a week from an impeccably-dressed man he calls ‘the Other’ – called such because he is the only other person alive in the world.

Piranesi and the Other are scientists. The latter needs help with his research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi tells us about the ’15 people who have ever lived.’ The 15 include himself, the Other, and the 13 bodies whose skeletal remains he visits to take gifts. Through these diary entries written in our protagonist’s journals, we discover that our narrator is a man in his thirties. The Other calls him Piranesi, although our protagonist is sure that this is not his real name. But he has no recollection of any other name so he adopts it.
The House is a riveting, unique fantasy landscape I had never encountered before, a world where ocean and architecture mix. There are thousands of classic halls, endless epic architecture, and statues half-filled by the sea and afflicted by king tides and floods.

The sense of being somewhere ‘completely other,’ of being slightly off-kilter persists without let-up from the first chapter, where our protagonist climbs a statue fifteen metres above the pavement to avoid the ‘joining of three Tides’ below. As we read, a few things start to make sense, but Susanna Clarke never lets up presenting more questions as the story goes on, and the mystery of where the House is and what is happening becomes deeper and more complex.
Clarke does not stop with intricate plot lines and compelling character development. She also plays hardball, boldly using the simple visual device of adding capitals liberally everywhere. For example, This Tide thundered up the Westernmost Staircase and hit the Eastern Wall with a great Clap, making all the Statues tremble.
We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Clarke teases and tests us every step of the way. Once I had adjusted to this crazy ride, I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it each time I had to stop. The austere august magnificence of the House entranced me and captured my imagination. It was depicted in marvellous detail until I was walking in that world.
As it went on I knew Susanna Clarke’s talent was next level because of how much I cared for Piranesi. I worried about him as I realized he was in danger. It was affecting. During the climactic scenes, I was stealing minutes to race back and read. I needed to know how it would turn out. It was with regret I finished this book. Since then, I have looked back with nostalgia upon my time moving through the hallowed halls of the House with its beloved child, Piranesi. It was so new and cool. It was everything.

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959. Educated in towns across Northern England and Scotland, she worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. After a stint teaching English in Bilbao, Clarke returned to England in 1992. Living in County Durham, she began working on her first novel, the bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In 2020, Clarke released Piranesi. She has also published seven short stories and novellas in US anthologies. One story, “Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower,” was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001. Clarke lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.
I take my hat off to the author and her stellar work, Piranesi. This fresh story transcends genre, and we must call it what it is – Art.


Susanna Clarke has earned herself a rarely seen top rating from me.
My rating: Five stars and a Huzzah!

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley

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I have finished reading my third novel for 2022, Frankie B – Faerie Lights, by Andie Low. For sure, I am an impulsive shopper. I buy books in several ways: I read the cover blurb, I read the first page, and sometimes, I buy a book on pure impulse after reading the title. Faerie Lights was the latter. This book is a self-published Witch Cozy Mystery from the Marina Witches Mysteries series.

A couple of years ago, I met the author at an event for Indie authors. Andrene inspired me because she’s making a living as an author, creating her empire, writing a library of material with her women’s fiction: That Seventies Series, her paranormal cozies: Marina Witches Mysteries, The Blood Bond Agency, or her romance fiction under the pen name, Hope Malone: The Coogan’s Break Series. Andrene is a marketing ace and works assiduously to build her brand and promote her work.
I bought her book, Frankie B – Faerie Lights. The story follows Frankie B, the young redheaded witch with a spunky attitude. She gets invited to spend the winter solstice with the family of her good friend, Magda Zilonka. No matter that the Zilonkas are vampires or that they have a long-running feud with the Nautilus clan, the family of Frankie’s boyfriend, Zane, a merman. Frankie disguises Zane so he and Frankie can be together for the holidays. The risky part is that his discovery would be fatal. ‘Add to this a stolen relic, newly discovered powers, and a drop-dead gorgeous vampire, and for Frankie, this will be a Winter Solstice to remember. Or forget’ goes the blurb.

Until reading this book, I was unfamiliar with “cozy mysteries” and was unsure what to expect. I did a bit of research and discovered cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies,” ‘are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence occur off stage, the detective is an amateur sleuth, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.’
The whole tone of Faerie Lights I would describe as light-hearted. It is fiction that never takes itself seriously, which is fitting considering the author, Andrene Low, used to work as a stand-up comic. The Winter Solstice is fast approaching, and Frankie Bonny is desperate to spend it with family. Unfortunately, she’s light on relatives, knowing only three and two of them are jerks. Sometimes humour in fiction is forced and doesn’t work, but humour from a comic is a cut above.

Andrene’s bio is a bit of faff that tells us sweet nothing, apart from the fact that Andie lives in the beautiful Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand with a tabby cat called Mia. However, it displays more of the trademark tongue-in-cheek. Andrene, or Andie as her cozy mystery readers know her, has a love of writing instilled in her by her mother. Although, if her mum were still alive, she’d be smacking Andrene across the back of the head given the direction some of her writing has taken.
Faerie Lights is not a genre I would usually read, yet at the same time, this sort of lightweight romantic fiction has a definite place. The same way television fills a need, chick-lit fiction is entertaining and relaxing because it does not overtax the brain. Any escapist entertainment is vital these days, and I don’t hate it.
My rating: Two and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“In a time of destruction, create something. A poem. A parade. A community. A school. A vow. A moral principle. One peaceful moment.” ~ –MAXINE HONG KINGSTON


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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 on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers 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 the hashtag is #IWSG.

February 2 question – Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone, you miss?
I miss my parents. They were my biggest supporters, especially my mother. In the early days, as a writer in my teens, I used to edit my stories, then print out several copies, have them spiral bound, and give them to people. I had given my parents many copies over the years. Ma was my biggest fan, and she kept my handmade books on their bookshelf. Anyone who came over their threshold, be it neighbour, friend, or stranger, Ma would bring out one of my stories and read aloud to them. As a younger, more foolish person, I can remember feeling red-faced and embarrassed at having my early stories paraded in public. But after my parents died, I missed Ma’s earnest, innocent, unerring support more than words can say. It struck me that no one (apart from maybe paid professionals) was ever going to sell my stories every chance they got or with such fervour ever again.

I was very close to my parents and was the only one of four siblings to live at home* for long periods in adulthood. (*see, starving writer). When my parents retired, they shifted to live in a log cabin by the seaside for twenty years of bliss. I would travel down from the city to visit them for a three-day weekend every six weeks. Not once did Ma ever fail to ask how my writing was going. Even after the six mini-strokes that slightly addled her brain. She always asked about my stories and – wonderfully – would sit and listen to the answer with rapt attention. Ma genuinely wanted to know what I was writing. She would ask interesting questions and I loved to fill her in.

Every writer knows that the process of submitting work to publishers and competitions is soul-destroying. If I faltered in my self-belief and began to feel I couldn’t send out another manuscript to a publisher, Ma’s enthusiasm and unfailing belief in my ability would keep me going. She loved my stories and was utterly convinced that it was just a matter of time before someone turned them into bestsellers. Her strength kept me aligned due north.

About twenty years ago, I was unpublished and still entering stories into every competition and awards contest. I submitted the first manuscript in my future trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, titled The Or’in of Tane, to an international “unpublished manuscript” competition. The first prize was the publication, physical copies, and worldwide distribution of the resulting ebook. It was a pretty awesome prize by anyone’s standards. The publisher would contact the shortlisted authors after they chose the final winner. Everyone else would hear bad news within a few days of submission. A month after the deadline passed, I still had not heard from them. I felt tentatively excited. Publisher silence meant my story still had a chance.
But then another month passed, and I still hadn’t heard. I finally emailed the publisher. I found out my story had arrived a day after the deadline. I realized I had made a simple mistake calculating the difference in time zones. Therefore, they had not even considered my manuscript. After all the years of rejections, to think I had potentially crossed the finish line, only to find out I’d failed again, was too much. I fell into a black hole of depression and stayed in a dark place for an entire week.
At the end of that week, the phone rang. I picked it up. “Hello?”
My mother’s voice. No preamble. She said, “The darkest hour comes before the dawn.”
And with those words offered as a lifeline, she pulled me out. I started to weep. While I bawled my eyes out, I could hear Ma saying positive, encouraging, uplifting things. Then I dried my eyes, and we talked. Later, when I got off the phone, I realized my perspective had shifted, and I could move on with my writing life. Ma always knew when to ride in on the white horse.

Both my parents were avid supporters.
When I finally went the Indie route and self-published The Or’in of Tane, it was September 2015. My mother had died in June of that year. She never got to be at my book launch. But my father was there. At the age of 82, he traveled all the way to the city to attend, and in the speeches, he stood up and started his piece with ‘I’m Dad.” He was proud, and I got to feel my parents’ faith in me was vindicated.
By the time I released the second and third books in the trilogy, my father had passed away, too. There were two empty chairs at the launch, which I allocated to my parents because they would have loved to be there. The dedication I gave them on the front page of The Or’in of Tane read, For my parents, who believed in me, no matter what.
I sure do miss them.
What about you. Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone, you miss?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. ~ Hellen Keller


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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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