Archive for the ‘morality’ Category

I have finished reading my fifth novel for 2022, Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan. This book was chosen as a last-minute rush-buy on my way out of a bookstore, and it was one of those times when you make a snap decision on one factor alone. In this case, I bought it because I recognized the author as the man who wrote Atonement.
Amsterdam is a contemporary adult novel, a short read at only about 200 pages long. When I started reading it, I was put off at first by the whiff of literary fiction. The pretension of literary fiction makes my toes curl. I thought, is this…? But then McEwan began to relax a bit, and I no longer had to re-read every sentence three times to understand it, so I began to enjoy the ride more.

The story begins with two friends meeting at a London crematorium where a service is underway for Molly Lane. Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday were both Molly’s lovers at different times in the past. Also at the funeral is Julian Garmony, the Foreign Secretary, a right-winger in line to be the next prime minister.
We hear the story from Clive and Vernon’s point of view as dual narrators. It is written in a linear style, apart from a few deviations. Clive is a highly successful composer, and Vernon is the editor for a local newspaper, The Judge. We meet both men when they are at the height of their careers and powers. However, they say pride comes before the fall. Amsterdam is a disturbing instructive tale to make anyone think twice. Alain de Botton, reviewer for The Independent on Sunday, called Amsterdam ‘a pitiless study of the darker aspects of male psychology.’ While I couldn’t comprehend the terrible choices the two characters made as the tragedy unfolded, I couldn’t look away.

Vernon sees compromising photos of Julian Garmony and makes the fateful decision to run an expose about the scandal in his newspaper. He aims to topple the Foreign Secretary from his pedestal while at the same time plumping up readership numbers for The Judge. Every moment of self-applause from Vernon anticipating the fall of his rival made me squirm.
Concurrently with Vernon setting up an editorial trap for Garmony, Clive is under pressure to deliver an orchestral score for an important social event. He is already late delivering the music and struggling to find the peaceful frame of mind necessary to create art. He is drinking too much. Then he takes himself away to the country to write. Unfortunately, the stress follows him, and Clive makes a terrible moral choice while there, of such epic poor judgment, that I blanched. I blanched and knew he was doomed. No spoilers though, sorry.

The dominoes start to fall. The political maestro, Garmony, turns the tables on Vernon. Clive and Vernon bicker and things spiral even further downhill from there until the book ends in catastrophe. It is a moral tale only for those with the stomach for it. Touted as a comedy, albeit a dark one, I failed to find anything comedic about Amsterdam. Perhaps the funny aspect was so high-brow it went over my head? I also failed to connect with the lead characters. Clive and Vernon were rendered too shallow for my liking. And yet, Amsterdam won the Booker Prize in 1998, so what do I know.

Some say this win paved the way for the rapturous response granted to Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement. Either way, his works have earned the author considerable acclaim. Born in the United Kingdom in 1948, McEwan studied at the University of Sussex. He received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 and later received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia. The recipient of numerous awards, McEwan was awarded a CBE in 2000. He is the well-regarded author of seventeen books.
My rating: Two and a half stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
— Robert Benchley


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I’ve finished reading my ninth novel for 2021, Infinite Threads, by Mariko B. Ryan. You know a book is powerful when you’re still thinking about it a week later. It’s the sort of book that stays with you. I may still think about the 100 indigenous insights for years to come, it might take me that long to understand it. Almost written like a poem, the insights form the meat of this fascinating sandwich that starts and ends with the author’s observations and personal story. Mariko B. Ryan generously shares some of the background to how she found herself ‘kaitiaki, guardian, of the once hidden writings of her great-grandfather, a tohunga, sage.’  

It is the author’s first book, and it’s a hardback. Mariko’s style of writing is erudite, almost poetic in her minimal delivery, getting maximal effect.

The author presents the 100 Indigenous Insights in eleven sections, covering every part of the indigenous life and viewpoint, from rituals of encounter to leadership. Each insight shows up as a heading and Mariko has translated the Maori words. Insight 1: Tae-a-tinana. Show Up. Then she relates the insights in well-crafted numbered mouthfuls. Most sentences start on a new line with a new number.

1. Today, you convinced yourself to show up.

2. Willing to be scrutinised. To go down. To get back up.

(and so on).

At first, I was so taken aback by this unusual book that I felt off put. But Infinite Threads has a universal appeal in its unexpected presentation and style. There is something, like a mystery, always drawing me onwards. What do the rest of the insights have in store? I wonder. What else did the old man, as Mariko fondly refers to him, say to enlighten and guide his great-granddaughter and all the future generations?

Although the author’s genealogy gives her the pedigree needed to interpret the writings of the sage, she admits she had to struggle against her own conditioning and confront her own fears to take on the role of authoring the book. Her blurb says, “Recent world events and challenges have inspired her to share the knowledge of her ancestors.” I appreciated the courage shown and the spirit of wanting to share this information with the world when it’s needed most. It drew me to find out what else the book had to say.

The more I read, the more I had to read. And it was not a flip through. Infinite Threads is no lightweight walk in the park, this is some thought-provoking, candid, clear-eyed, straight talk about us, the state of our lives and the world we live in today. And the indigenous viewpoint is such a balm to my soul right now that I really wanted to understand it as much as possible before I moved onto each new chapter, or section. I took my time over reading this book because I was learning new things.

The story starts out with the author Mariko B. Ryan sharing her thoughts and viewpoint. Speaking as an insider, she gives us the native New Zealander’s perspective on the history and culture of her people and the devastating effect of colonization. We are told the story of how Mariko came to be entrusted with the hidden writings of her great grandfather, Takou, who was an esteemed chief, sage, visionary and prophet, as well as a shape-shifter known to change into an emerald green gecko.

The insights in the novel are wonderful. They’re instructive. And the novel ends with Mariko relating her journey to take on the responsibility of sharing her great grandfather’s words. It’s the sort of personal struggle to step up anyone can relate to and envision.

Mariko B. Ryan lives in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and hails from the northern tribe of Te Rarawa. I thank her for Infinite Threads. This book is deep, real, and a timely reminder about how to live on this earth together the right way, lessons we could all benefit from right now. It’s the sort of book you keep on the shelf, and keep dipping into now and again. It’s a serious book, one for grown-ups. A must read. Well done, Mariko!

My rating: Four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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However, when we are all tending our gardens, when we are all fed and are all engaged productively, the need to take up arms is quelled and the realisation of Peace is affirmed. ~ 1182. Insight 61: Kaingaki Mara. Rangimarie. Gardeners. Peace, Infinite Threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: Four and a quarter stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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

I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2020, Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott. I can’t pass a thrift store or book fair without looking at the books, and Anne Lamott is one of those authors that the title doesn’t matter: you snatch it up, anyway. It wasn’t until I brought Plan B home I realized it was an autobiographical account written in part about her struggle with the Bush administration and an internal tug-of-war around her faith.

I’ll admit I felt hesitation. I wasn’t sure if it would get past one page. But after reading the first line I was in hook, line and sinker.

Who could resist a book that begins, ‘On my forty-ninth birthday I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.’

The book is mesmerizing, a searing, endearingly honest account of one woman’s struggles in life with herself, her child, her mother and with her Christianity. It is tough stuff to tackle and yet done with such disarming honesty you forget your preconceived concepts and tag along for the ride. Plan B follows on in the same vein as Lamott’s first memoir, Travelling Mercies. Plan B is a series of articles on everything from the Bush administration to single parenthood, to judgement of others and self, to grappling with her mother’s Alzheimer’s, and her son’s adolescence, to getting older and losing friends.

Some reviewers have called Plan B ‘a spiritual antidote to anxiety and despair in increasingly fraught times.’ This is spirituality presented by someone who never takes themselves too seriously. Because of the deceptive ease with which Lamott deftly handles the big subjects, we find ourselves drawn to contemplate our own stand in life. At the same time, we appreciate the lightheartedness, the rawness that reminds us even the top writers are human and we’re all in this together.

Anne Lamott, April 10, 1954, is an American novelist and non-fiction writer. She is also a progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher. Born in San Francisco, she now lives in Marin County, California. Most of Lamott’s nonfiction works are autobiographical and of her books, they have made The Midnight Gospel, Raise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins into TV shows and movies. Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was also a writer. Anne wrote her first published novel Hard Laughter for him after his diagnosis of brain cancer.

Freida Lee Mock researched Lamott’s life in the fascinating documentary Bird by Bird with Anne. After the documentary aired, Lamott became known as “the people’s author.” We feel there is a familiarity there.  Marked by self-deprecating humour, Lamott is unafraid to share the difficult issues like alcoholism, depression, solo motherhood and faith, or as one reviewer on Newsweek said, ‘call it a lowercase approach to life’s Big Questions–she converts potential op-ed boilerplate into enchantment.’

Lamott is nothing short of genius and she is a really interesting character to read about.

In Plan B, we recognize ourselves and our frailties. Lamott reflects our imperfections and the continuous life lessons on self acceptance. By revealing she has learned to love the jiggly parts of her legs and butt (“The Aunties” as she calls them), she allows us to see ourselves yet in such a light-hearted way that we laugh too. As a narrator of her own experience and ours, the essays in Plan B are eclectic and often unexpected, but always eye opening, warm and relatable.

Of her writing, Lamott has said, ‘When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.’

Here is someone speaking my language. Plan B surprised me. I read it avidly to the end; I laughed and sat thinking deeply too. The essays cover the broad, raw spectrum of life and are given with nothing withheld. Lamott’s candour is as refreshing as taking a dip in a pool of fresh water. A novel I would put aside for a few years, then pick up and gladly read again.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. ~ Anne Lamott.

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I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2020, Bill’s New Frock, by Anne Fine. At just 90 pages, the small chapter book is a nice quick read for the middle grade level, yet still thought-provoking. The simple premise of a boy waking up as a girl and spending the day as the opposite gender is rich material. Bill feels out-of-sorts because he is in the wrong body, and through observing with a child’s innocent eyes the differences in the way people treat him, we see ourselves and society as we know it. This is deep stuff. Of her fiction, Anne Fine says, “A lot of my work, even for fairly young readers, raises quite serious social issues.”

It must have struck a chord with readers, because young readers in Leicestershire, England, chose Bill’s New Frock as their favourite title for 2012. They thought it reflected the Olympic values, being inspiration, determination, courage, respect, equality, friendship and excellence. Bill’s New Frock was winner of the Smarties Award (6 – 8 section) in 1990, the Carnegie Medal 1990, the Nottinghamshire Libraries Award 1990, and the Leicestershire Children’s Book Prize in 2012. First printed in 1989, they reprinted Bills New Frock in 2007 and again in 2012. Egmont reissued the popular novel in June 2017 as an Egmont Modern Classic. People still consider this book highly relevant to today’s generation, as the story speaks about gender stereotyping and those who feel they are born in the wrong gender.

The story begins, When Bill Simpson woke up on Monday morning, he found he was a girl. We readers then tag along as Bill must wear a pink frilly dress to school, and we groan in dismay as he slowly wrecks his beautiful dress throughout the course of the day. It adds a subtle layering of metaphor, as hand-in-hand with the stains and damage happening to Bill’s frock, we observe his candid reactions when he discovers the inequities that go along with his sudden change of gender. As a girl, Bill hardly gets into trouble for punching Rohan while Rohan gets told off for kicking Bill. With humour and the child’s view, we look at ourselves anew. It is the age-old requirement of good fiction, to hold up the window and the mirror. We feel Bill’s confusion as he finds even the educational expectations of him have changed. While Bill gets growled at by the teacher for messy work, and the boy sitting beside him whose work is far messier gets praised with the comment ‘well done,’ we readers say ‘unfair’ and sigh with memories of our own. Bill’s New Frock is a gentle traipse through the minefield of socialization without ever being heavy-handed. Child-centered, it never once loses sight of what it is, an amusing children’s story.

I admire Anne Fine’s effortless style. The second Children’s Laureate is an author for children of all ages, with over fifty books to her credit. She has also written for adults to considerable acclaim. As a young woman, having tried various jobs, Fine discovered her talent as a writer by accident. “In 1971 my first daughter Ione was born. Unable to get to the library in a snowstorm to change my library books, in desperation I sat down and started to write a novel. Clearly this was the right job for me, for I have never stopped writing for more than a few weeks since.” Clearly!

Bill’s New Frock is a thoughtfully rendered child-friendly look at gender. A tricky topic handled well.

My rating: Four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Whatever I’m writing, I always end up with the kind of book I would have loved to read (if only someone else had bothered to write it for me). ~ Anne Fine

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I’ve finished reading my fifth novel for 2020, Infernal Devices, the third book in Philip Reeve’s children’s series, The Hungry City Chronicles, better known as The Mortal Engines Quartet (2001-2006). The first book in the series, Mortal Engines, won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize for readers aged 9-11 years and made the list for the Whitbread Book Award. The book made a huge impression on my boys and I when I first read it to them as a bedtime story some years ago and inspired many late-night discussions about the post-apocalyptic world. I reviewed both book one and book two, Predator’s Gold, for my now-defunct Goodreads account. The kids and I were looking forward to reading the third volume in the series, Infernal Devices. And it didn’t disappoint.

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It is said that Philip Reeve worked on The Hungry City Chronicles for ten years. Coming up with the original ideas in 1989, he developed the story between illustrating jobs. When he felt sure he could do the series justice, he cut back on illustrating and began writing, leading to the publication of Mortal Engines in 2001. The story centres on two young protagonists, Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw living in a lawless, dystopian world with the intriguing premise of being populated by roaming predator cities. We followed their adventures through the second novel, Predator’s Gold, and in the third book, Infernal Devices, we catch up with Tom and Hester, sixteen years later. They have settled in the now static city, Anchorage-in-Vineland, where they’ve raised their daughter, Wren, in peace. However, Wren has inherited her parents’ wandering genes, and she escapes seeking adventure, taking with her a mysterious Rasmussen family artefact called “the Tin Book.” As Wren falls into captivity and slavery, and loses possession of the Tin Book, it becomes apparent that every criminal also wants the Tin Book, because it contains the activation codes for weapons left over from the Sixty Minute War. Hester, bored to tears by her peaceful life in Vineland, leaps to mount a rescue expedition for Wren. She and Tom set out to find their daughter, and a chase ensues, while Wren works on her own escape and the Tin Book changes hands again.

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As always with The Mortal Engines Quartet, Infernal Devices, was action-packed, full of imagery and description – a futuristic world sumptuously brought to life. You can count on Reeve to take you on a journey. The world is so familiar while remaining unknown that it continues to capture us and inspire thought even on the third outing. The book delivers gut-wrenching, scary, sad, and triumphant moments in equal part. Reeve doesn’t shy away from bloodshed, gore or killing people off and sometimes you read between the fingers you’ve thrown over your face it gets so graphic and startling. Yet, you can’t stop reading.

My son and I would end up in moral discussions after each night’s session. When the world has blown up and the survivors are fighting to stay alive, what changes, what is right and wrong, what’s permissible when there is no government and every moving city is out to “eat” the next? You could think about the repercussions for days. And we did. I love it when a book makes you think.

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Philip Reeve (born 28 February 1966), is an English illustrator and author. We can find his illustrations in the Horrible Histories and Murderous Math series. His 2007 novel Here Lies Arthur also won the Carnegie Medal, a British award celebrating the year’s best children’s book published in the UK. However, it was through Mortal Engines, and the sequels and prequels, the Fever Crumb series, with his keenly imagined world of predator cities, that Philip Reeve made his name in the literary world.

Made into a movie in 2018, the film of Mortal Engines received a lukewarm reception globally. But according to reports, Reeve praised the  Mortal Engines film adaptation, saying they had “done a fantastic job – a huge, visually awesome action movie with perfect pace and a genuine emotional core…. There are many changes to the characters, world, and story, but it’s still the same thing.”

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Was there anything I didn’t like about book number three, Infernal Devices? I found it a wrench to leave Tom Natsworthy as the main protagonist. Being asked to switch allegiance from him (and Hester) to Wren was a “hard ask” at first, and I resisted it. But the action drew me on and I ended up getting invested in the teenage daughter of our former heroes. The only other thing for me is that sometimes, as an eternal optimist, I find the tone of the series too bleak. A story well told is still worth reading, however, and I persevere with this series because it’s so darned fascinating.

My rating: four-and-a-half out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“…and then we shall release a storm which will rid this world of the infernal devices happily ever after forever.” ~ Stalker Fang in Predator’s Gold.

A good friend said to me a few years ago, that entering one’s “middle years” was like fall, in that ‘things started to drop away from you like leaves from the tree.’ I think that is a handy analogy for this season of life I find myself in. After losing both my parents in the last two years, as well as a good friend, thinking of this time in my life as ‘being like fall’ helps me achieve the right mindset. That way, I accept loss as the natural order of life and the way things go.

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I put this realisation into my work-in-progress, a middle grade fantasy novel called, The Last Tree. Because of the youth of the characters, the realization becomes an initiatory one. I was able to use my recent experience with grief to write more realistically about the grief we feel as kids when we first take those first tentative steps towards adulthood, and we start to leave childhood behind. I can clearly remember being that age of twelve to thirteen and not wanting to grow up.

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Our young hero, Aden Weaver, was eleven in book one of The Chronicles of Aden Weaver series and each book covers the course of a year in his life. The Last Tree, being the third volume in the trilogy, includes the final battles, and the flowering into fullness of the child character/s must transpire.

As Aden Weaver is thirteen in The Last Tree, he is therefore on the cusp of change, walking that fine line of the transition between boyhood and manhood. He would naturally entertain his first thoughts about mortality. I did this through having his beloved mentor start to age rapidly. The thin line I had to walk was to have Aden experience loss while not dwelling on it to the point of being morbid.

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I knew I had to handle everything about the final book with care. In The Last Tree, Aden Weaver says goodbye to people he loves. It is a graduation story after all, and with graduation comes leaving people and places behind, so while there is bliss there is sadness. That’s life. It’s how we handle what happens that defines us.

It’s vital for the reader’s sense of resolution that Aden displays the depth of character at the end of the series absent at the beginning.

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The protagonist must demonstrate a growth arc and become that thing that was promised in book one, the wannabe must become the warrior, the hero, the more evolved, more complete version of themselves.

Aden, must taste the bitter fruit of reality and grow up a little and move on with new maturity. It’s a delicate piece in the mechanism of the coming of age story. However, I don’t prefer writing morbid fiction for children. You can see in the success of series like The Hunger Games that this generation of kids has high tolerance levels for death and violence. I read the Hunger Games trilogy to my boys earlier this year, and I was shocked at the content. It’s that sort of thing I couldn’t do.

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I want to do my story and characters justice in a potent way without the gore.

To me, there should be some reflection of life’s difficulties in our children’s books, and it also needs careful treatment. When you are writing for the 9-13 year-old age group, this acknowledgement of the child grasping the intransience of life needs to be touched on in some way, to be authentic to that stage of life. It’s about our passage over the threshold, from the first phase of life to the next. It can be symbolic, through leaving town, or changing schools. It needs to be present but not at the forefront, and not put in a way that is irresolvable for the immature mind.

Life’s tragedy can be delivered in junior fiction in a way that enriches the story without overwhelming it, if it’s done well. Just think of Charlotte’s Web.

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In writing about loss for young people, you must, also offer hope. Just as we do in real life, seek a counterbalance. The aim is not to leave your young audience devastated. We have a responsibility to reveal the glimmer of light along with the darkness.

At the end of The Last Tree, I sought to redress the balance back into the light. I only wrote the triumphant scenes a couple of months ago, and now they’re among my favourites in the whole book.

Hope is restored, as it should be. Life does go on.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Good stories are about the getting of wisdom; let your children grow up.’ ~ Jane Yolen

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Wonder Woman has inspired many conversations recently about strength and stereotypes and gender roles, about societal conventions and morality and violence, about relationships and responsibility and identity. ~ Jami Gold

When I was starting out as a writer, the prevailing wisdom was to avoid writing a female lead. In fact I can remember being told, “Boys don’t want to read about girls.” So I’ve only ever written about male heroes with female sidekicks thrown in for good measure.

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When I published my first book in 2015, my niece read it and her beef with me was that I’d written the female sidekick as “less than the hero.” She pulled me up on the fact that the boys were made to seem as all powerful while the girl character came across as a bit feeble. She said, “What sort of message do you think you’re putting out there for young girls today?”

Until she said those words, I’d never thought about it like that. I was born in the 60’s and the mindset of those times, that women were subordinate to men, had somehow become a part of me and filtered into my work without my even being aware of it. I thought, wow, she’s right. I have a responsibility to the young female reader.

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And then, the new Wonder Woman movie came out. I went to see it and emerged from the cinema feeling revolutionized. For the first time, I’d seen a female lead portrayed on screen who was at once, heroine and human. She could hold her own as a warrior, which she must, and also, even more importantly, lead with her strength of character. As Jami Gold said, ‘… show elements of emotional strength, like compassion for someone in need, fighting for what’s right or being determined to survive, being resourceful and brave, and just being an all-around interesting and cool person.’

You need to see all of that humanity in a hero these days. The world was ready for this Wonder Woman. With all respect to the goddess, Lynda Carter, whom I worship and adore, Gal Gadot is sensational in the part, eclipsing even beautiful Lynda’s performance. Gal’s version has a depth of humanity and compassion the world needs at the moment.

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I loved it. I always say, a sign of a good movie is if you come out really thinking about the world in a new way afterwards. And I walked out thinking, I’ve been tooling away at my children’s stories for over thirty years and yet, I’ve never written a heroine protagonist? I’ve let myself be limited in literary scope by thinking about the market first. Never do that. The whole thing is a creativity killer. Besides, what’s wrong with writing for girls?

When I was growing up, I read Heidi, Pippy Longstockings, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, and Little Women. Pippy was a wild girl like I was inside so I could relate. Those books were important to me. I was inspired by those books, by those feisty, headstrong, smart girls. I thought about the young girls who might go to see Wonder Woman and how they would perhaps feel about themselves afterwards as young women in the world. I thought I want to be part of that.

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Writing female characters who kick ass doesn’t mean the male sidekicks need to be weaker, either. Another really nice, refreshing thing about the new WW movie was that the male love interest, Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, was also allowed to shine. As one of Gold’s responders commented, ‘I love that you mentioned how Steve Trevor is portrayed as a hero in his own right. I’ve long said that truly strong men are not threatened by truly strong women.’

I thought, yes, what a great way forward, to write potent female characters without belittling the men. How about writing stories in which the power is more evenly redistributed between the sexes? How about writing for boys and girls, showing the power balanced between the two…now there’s a thought… The future is bright!

Thanks, Wonder Woman, for inspiring me. You’re my heroine!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“It’s total wish-fulfillment. I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time – the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs.” – Director, Patty Jenkins

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“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

I missed the mark with a speech at Toastmasters this week. With a topic I knew well: writing, and raising children. I flubbed a few lines, got some words mixed up and forgot a key point, and felt it was an overall disappointment.

It was another one of those notches in the belt of life’s defeats, which turn into teachable moments only in hindsight.

I knew I hadn’t hit the mark even at the time I was speaking. I could feel the audience’s attention slipping. I didn’t have them in the palm of my hand, the way I do when I’m in the zone.

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After the meeting, instead of shaking my hand warmly, there was some avoidance. I came home and watched the video back. I saw that I started the speech with a sigh, which is never a good thing. I used the wrong word in a couple of places without realizing, and that had changed the message. I waffled on at the end. It was a disaster. No wonder people avoided me afterwards.

I felt disappointed. “You picked the wrong word,” I said to myself, watching the footage. “If only you’d stopped and taken a silent breath.”

I berated myself on and off for about half a day. After that, it wasn’t that I felt bad, I felt nothing. I was blank.

Which brings me to the point, how useful are the things we say to ourselves? What effect are they having on our lives?

In my case, I went to that giant therapist in the sky, Facebook, and shared via status update.

Normally, my posts about stuff on Facebook might garner six or so “likes.” When I went back online the next day, I saw that my post had 22 “likes” and there were comments: beautiful, heart-felt encouragement.

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Friends had taken the time to remind me of the steps forward I have taken. The words melted my heart. I sat there and wept into my keyboard like a baby, until my tea went cold.

Later, I dried my face, made a fresh cup of tea, and I could feel the difference within. The veil had lifted. The blankness was gone. I could feel again, I could smile again. I was free. Wow. What a revelation about the power of the right words and a good cry. Thank you again to all my beloved friends.

By sharing with others, by caring about others, and by practising the mindfulness of saying loving words to ourselves and those around us, all manner of ills in this world can be healed.

The right words at the right time can be good medicine.

I remember back in the day, about twenty-five years ago, I read a small, life-changing book called “Creative Visualization” by Australian author, Shakti Gawain. https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Visualization-Meditations-Imagination-Create/dp/1511326948

That was when I became introduced to this idea of the manifestational juju of the words we say to ourselves. I learned we can radically alter the experience we have by changing our inner dialogue. Gawain taught about the benefits of saying positive statements to ourselves, which she called daily affirmations.

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In essence: we can aid and sustain ourselves by saying the right words.

Here’s a good example. About the FB post on the “failure” of my recent speech, friend Sharon Hinckley said wisely, “Could you lose those ‘high expectations’ and just go out there and have fun?” She altered my perception and let in the light by using the right words.

The right phrase can alter the atmosphere of our lives and elevate the tone.

The truth is, our inner dialogue is always going on anyway, and so we might as well use it to our advantage. The first step is to come up with some phrases which work for us. The next step is to remember to say them to ourselves a few times daily. *Tip: try making it part of the daily routine so they end up becoming automatic. *Tip Two: try thinking of three things each day you are grateful for.

To return to the question I started with: how useful are the things we say to ourselves? They’re potentially life-changing, if we use the right words. What we say matters.

Have you ever tried doing affirmations? Do share…

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“To transform your life, you must find a way of being grateful for what you have now.” ~ Rhonda Byrne

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