Archive for the ‘Fiction’ 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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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.

January 5 question – What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?
I guess I regret turning down two offers from publishers. When I was first starting out and was submitting my children’s manuscripts to editors in New Zealand regularly, there were two yes replies. However, I turned them both down. One said they would publish my picture book, Free Wally, but they wanted to change all the characters’ names. What can I say? I was young and green. My creative soul felt they were going to tamper with my “artistic integrity” by changing the details. Therefore, I said no thank you and imagined I would easily find another acceptance for the story. Yet, I never did. It was the one and only offer I received for that book.
In the 90s a different publisher said they would release my middle-grade fantasy, The Scrifs and Stirrits, but they would only pay me a 5% royalty fee. In those days the going rate for royalties was 10%, and I was miffed. Why were they offering me less? I turned down the offer, thinking I wanted to be paid the same as everyone else. But I never found another publisher for that story so never got the chance.

Looking back at those decisions now, it’s easy to laugh at the folly of youth. What did it matter if they changed the names or paid me less royalty rate? I would still have had two books released by traditional publishing houses behind my name to help me stake a claim to this writer’s life. Instead, I hang in the wind of self-publishing and take the financial/emotional/mental hit of being Indie for every book. As a wide-eyed beginner, I did not know that getting any acceptance at all was fantastic. It took many more years of submitting my work to realize that acceptances are few and far between. And these days there are even fewer publishers accepting unsolicited work.
When I released my trilogy in 2020, I did a bit of research to see how many traditional publishers there were left in New Zealand. If I had wanted to submit my stories for consideration, there was only a handful of children’s publishers still accepting unsolicited manuscripts and after reading the t’s and c’s, my stories would only have been suitable for two of them. Two options? Pitiful. The current situation is very different from what it was when I was young and sending my stories to editors all over the country. I had no idea then how good I had it. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Therefore, if I could go back and change one thing about the past, maybe it would be rejecting the publishers’ offers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Because I did overcome that obstacle. Early on, I made that mistake. Yet, I learned a lot through the years of “failing” that followed. They say if you change one thing about the past it alters the course of history. Would I want to mess around with the perfect plan for my life? Probably not. Maybe I was supposed to go it alone. Becoming an Indie is diabolically hard but it does have its rewards. I made all my own choices about covers, style, and everything for The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, which was satisfying. I’m proud of my trilogy. For the cover art, I collaborated with my nephew, Si, who is a consummate artist. We had such fun in the creative process, brainstorming and tooling around with options. I didn’t have to compromise his vision or question my choices. We had no interference which is a blessing only bestowed upon the self-published.

Looking back now, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did it my way, and there’s something pure in that. I cherish the books I’ve put out into the world so far. Would I have been able to say that if I was under the wing of a publisher? Or would the end result be something mutant and divorced from the original vision? With my name on the cover. No. The more I think about it, the more glad I am that I turned down those offers back in the day. I set myself on course for putting out books that authentically belong to me, and my creative intelligence is my service to the world. It will live on long after I’m gone. No, I’m convinced now I did the right thing when I was young.
So in a roundabout way, I have come back to the first question. What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What about you, what do you regret most about your writing?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler


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I confess. I like reading children’s literature. For years I’ve said, I have to read middle-grade fantasy fiction because I’m “reading within my genre.” Yes, if I want to have an idea of what’s going on in the world of children’s literature, then I have to read what my contemporaries are doing. If I want to add to the body of that literature, I need to read everything in my genre. Most writers know that. But the truth is the last 35+ years I have learned I prefer reading middle-grade fantasy fiction to adult fiction. Uh-huh.

Now and then someone forces me to read adult fiction and I always regret it. The only adult fiction I enjoy is the classic mysteries like those by Agatha Christie. I would say my taste is eclectic. My sister usually buys me adult literary fiction for gifts. Some of the nonfiction books she has bought me over the years have been a hit. But I confess I am not a fan of literary fiction. There has been more than one occasion where I have opened one of these books, then closed the cover, and never looked at them again. Sorry fans of the art. I just can’t.

As I turn into the crone my interest in middle-grade fantasy fiction is far from dimming. On the contrary. It has grown. Here write my favourite authors of all time, Brian Jacques, Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis, Tove Jansson, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Maggie Stiefvater, Philip Reeve, and J.K Rowling. What I love about these stories, apart from the comforting point of view of innocence, is the way the stories move forward and then something special or magical or unusual happens. As the reader, it’s like lifting off into outer space. You are transported somewhere different. In children’s literature, it is a smooth transition, there is no strain or effort. Children are there already, living in the Twilight zone. They accept what happens in cartoons and animations.

It feels to me with this style of fiction as if ‘anything can happen’ and I like the creative freedom that affords me as a writer and a reader. It’s like happy juice.

It transports me to childhood. As one of my favourite teachers, Kiwi, Kate de Goldi, once put it, she ‘wrote children’s fiction to recreate the shaded places of childhood.’ I’ve thought about my writing that way ever since. Reading middle-grade literature is about childhood and it helps me to reconnect with that innocent wide-eyed part of myself, which I cherish. It helps me to connect with my target audience and better understand my readers. The benefits, I tell you, are multifold.


At least, that’s what I tell myself.


What do you like to read and why?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Reading is dreaming with your eyes open. ~ Unknown


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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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.

This month’s optional question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?
The most stress I’ve been under in my entire life was the six months I spent last year doing the final edits on all three books in my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. I believed they were ready to go. At that point, the books had gone through their paces. I’d polished all three with the help of my critique group (twice). I put them through my online editing suite with prowritingaid.com, then paid a professional proofreader and a copy editor. But, a funny thing happens when the actual deadline for publication stares you in the eye. Suddenly all the remaining issues that escaped detection up to that point gained a spotlight.
When I read again from book one, line by line, word by word, I found so many tiny errors that it became alarming. That’s the thing with checking copy, the intensity of focus required to question each word in an 80,000-word manuscript is almost a superhuman feat. Times that by three (volumes), and you start to get some idea of the Herculean task. It seemed like every time I made it to the end of a manuscript, thinking, right that one’s done, I’d re-read and find more errors. I began to fear I was losing my mind.

Electrified by pure panic, I stretched the working hours of the day longer and longer. I had freaking deadlines to meet. I got up earlier, went to bed later. I stopped doing the less essential things, like housework, gardening, exercise, and eating. To publish a novel as an Indie, the layout, cover design, printing, and PR, need to be booked months in advance of the launch date. The printing, likewise. My designer is particularly busy, and if I wanted any hope of releasing the book on the date advertised, I knew the date we would have to start working on it. That was my deadline.
My youngest son asked me, “When is this going to be over?” I gave him the death stare. He said, “You’re no fun anymore.” And he was right. Knowing the kids were suffering added stress, but I was knee-deep in the quagmire, and the clock was ticking. I had to slog on night and day until I thought I would combust.
Six painful, exhausting months later, in September 2020, I released my trilogy.

Party. Celebrate.
A collapse in relief.
A few days later, my brother said, “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but I’m halfway through reading The Last Tree (3rd book in the series), and I’ve found an error.” No, I did not want to hear that. I was so beyond repair, so frazzled and burned out, I walked away from my laptop for six months and did no creative writing at all.
The youngest son asked with trepidation, “Are you going to put out another book?” Just between you and me, I am still undecided. I told myself I’d write my stories and keep them all in the bottom drawer where stories go to retire. I already have a plastic box in my room full of manuscripts from the last 40 years of penning fiction for children. I may just keep adding to that and die happy.

That was March. I took a pen and paper and sat down to write a new story. And that’s where the delight part kicked in. Like a soothing balm to my weary soul, the sheer joy of creative writing began to fill in the cracks and heal the tears. The bliss of writing a new copy is unequaled. To gambol about in the meadows of my unfettered imagination without the specter of publication hanging over me is akin to stepping back to the giddy glee of childhood. No restraints. No rules. No pressure. Just the daily outpouring of my collaborations with the muse in the heady blooming fields of my mind.
Realigned with my purpose and the delight is effortless. Inspiration needs no electric current. No data. No technological interference. Just a pure connection with life. Just daylight and fresh air. Just time to dawdle.

Give me time to daydream.

Nine months later, I am part way through writing a new children’s series. I’m in the zone. The genesis draft of any story is always the ecstatic part for me. The thought of publishing the result makes my knees knock, so necessarily, there is still no plan to publish the result. At least not yet. I might feel burned out as an Indie, but I have learned in this life “never to say never.” A faint maybe will have to suffice. I’m writing. That’s the main thing and always will be the main thing.


What stresses you most about writing? What delights you?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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You only fail if you stop writing. ~ Ray Bradbury


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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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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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.

This month’s optional question: What’s harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb?
For me, for sure, it’s writing the blurb. A title is short and pithy, a soundbite. It can fly in on the wind and be dropped into your lap as the muse wings by. I like to use the wind metaphor. It’s one I borrowed from Elizabeth Gilbert. In speaking about writing during one of her TED talks, Elizabeth mentioned a friend who said ‘the muse came by on the wind.’ Whenever this author was out on her farm and ‘heard the wind coming,’ she would run for the house to get a pen and paper so she would not miss the words or lose the fleeting grace of the inspired thoughts. I liked that idea. Though I heard it years ago, I still use it frequently.

As for the title of a story, I never worry about it. Because I know that sooner or later, the muse will blow through and gift me something. If I’m paying attention and act quickly enough to catch the inspiration I can jot it down. Simple, huh? Not.
The blurb, on the other hand, is more complex. It is a short passage of text on the book cover, a teaser that invokes the entire story. It’s like the precis of the precis, and it has to be dynamic. For many readers, the blurb is the deciding factor on whether to open the book or not.

The author needs to get the tone right. There are parameters to keep in mind: the blurb needs to tell the reader about the book; it must give insight without spoiling the surprise; the blurb must elicit interest without making false promises. It must cajole, persuade and entice. Some blurbs I edited more times than the stories. It’s not the sort of paragraph that wings in with the breeze. Nah. A blurb is the sort of copy that gets worked to within an inch of its life. And then changed again two years later.

There is an expectation that the blurb is in line with the style of the story. If the book is a horror, the word choice and imagery need to chill. A cozy mystery needs to elicit knowing smiles and whet the curiosity. Comedy should make us titter. Blurbs should match the content.
However, some folks try to cheat by simply setting out a string of questions. Whenever I read a book cover like this, it feels like a cheap marketing ploy. *Note: do not piss off your potential readers. An author needs to be careful about posing a list of questions. A little more finesse is required. A blurb must lure the reader in without sounding like a bald advertisement.
If the blurb doesn’t say enough, the reader may walk away, but on the other hand, if it says too much, the reader may also be turned off. There is a fine line to walk between the two.

What to do?

Copy the greats. That’s what I do. I always look to my role models in children’s literature for tricky jobs like writing blurbs. Look at this excellent example, for Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. The blurb reads: Badrang the Stoat dreams of becoming Lord of the East Coast. After two long seasons of killing and conquering with his ferocious army of weasels, ferrets, foxes, and rats, it seems as if nothing will stop him. But Badrang hasn’t bargained for the bravery and fighting spirit of a young mouse called Martin – a mouse who refuses to bow to the deadly tyrant and who will stand up for his right to freedom at any cost. This blurb does it all in three sentences, does nothing wrong, and manages to elicit reader engagement without asking a single question. It’s perfection.
Only the greats can make it look easy. The rest of us continue sweating.


If you’re a writer, what do you find harder, the title or the blurb? Or, if you are a reader, which do you respond to the most when it comes to choosing books, the title or the blurb?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. ~ Milton Berle


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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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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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.

October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
LOL! I draw the line in so many places there is hardly anything left on the table! One of the keys to writing for children is figuring out how to look at the world from a child’s point of view. When I started, that was one thing my critique partners would always say. ‘This sounds like an adult thinking/talking.’ ‘Your child protagonist seems to be an adult.’ I have worked on it for years to figure out the child-friendly view. One of the things Beverly Cleary attributed her success to was that she ‘had never grown up.’ Cleary maintained a powerful connection to the child view and what they’re interested in that made her able to connect with a vast audience of appreciative readers.
Along with writing at the this age level for a children’s author comes the responsibility to keep the language clean and the topics suitable.

In the first draft of my debut novel, The Or’in of Tane, I had written a romance between the characters of Henny and Dr. Milo Mahiora. My friend and then editor, Maria Cisneros-Toth, pulled me up on the romance and kissing scene. She said, “No, no, no. Not in middle-grade fiction.” I cut the scene out, removing the whole romance. To my surprise, I discovered the story was the better for it and I understood Maria was right. I have not crossed that line since.

In the last few years, I have read the occasional middle-grade novel that has included romance, and it has struck me afresh why Maria told me no. The effect is a shock. It’s not appropriate for kids whose lives still involve bouncy balls, bikes, and games of Go Fish. Yes, okay, kids are exposed to all kinds of things via social media these days. But that doesn’t give license to authors to introduce elements to 8-12-year-old readers that we would be uncomfortable with our children reading. That gave me a gauge for the level of what should be off-limits. What would I want my children of similar age reading? Age-appropriate fiction.

I draw the line at romance in my genre, either reading it or writing it.

As for topics, there are so many contentious subjects these days. The list is endless. Writers fear they might say one wrong thing and attract a backlash. There is a strong sense of staying within the confines of what is deemed politically correct. I have a friend who writes urban romantic fantasy. She included one of the mythical gods from religion in her book and received death threats. This sort of thing naturally scares authors.

At the same time as wanting to stick within the limits, I also feel strongly that the ultimate choice about topics and language should remain in the hands of the individual. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to our society would be for the artists to lose their freedom of expression or creative license. I’m mindful of that sublime quote by Jane Yolen, ‘Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions.’
What about you. What sort of language or topics are off-limits in fiction?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. You never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.” —Joe Bunting


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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com