Archive for the ‘readers’ Category

This is another report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. My apologies that it’s taken me so long to report on it. The session was called Timeless Tales, with Hereaka & Jones. After this, I have one more session to review and hope to get on to writing it up soon.

I enjoy the live interviews or “conversations”. You get to see authors at the top of their games speaking about their books and answering thought-provoking questions. The theme of traditions of fable and myth drew me in to witness Timeless Tales, storytelling forms I find compelling and endeavour to utilize in my work.

Delayed leaving the house, unfortunately, I arrived at the event late. Bah humbug! It started everything off on the wrong note. I had missed the introduction and the opening questions, and I had to disturb others to find an empty seat. But, that hitch aside, I sat with my trusty pad and pen in my lap taking notes throughout.

Let me tell you, ‘contemporary writers at the height of their powers’ make fascinating conversation. Commonwealth Prize winner and Man Booker-shortlisted Lloyd Jones and 2022 Ockham NZ Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize Fiction winner Whiti Hereaka spoke about their books, The Fish, and Kurangaituku, respectively. They were interviewed by Claire Mabey with a focus on the power of mythology and why each chose them for their stories.

Lloyd Jones put it this way. “The whole of literature is a rewrite. You can find threads in contemporary stories that go back to the beginning of time.” He was making the point that even when we don’t intend to write about mythology, we are inherently familiar with the old storytelling forms and resort to them unconsciously. “Stories are malleable from one generation to the next when they are told and told again.”
I agree with that 100%. That’s part of why I love to draw upon mythology because the stories are ours, and we’re allowed to retell them.
It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview at last year’s writers’ festival. Gaiman said that writers who think their prose all comes from within them are not being honest. He likened it to there being a giant pot of stew bubbling. And we all take bits out and “along the way we get to add a potato or two to the stew pot or a bit of gristle.”

Neil Gaiman said, “I don’t think it’s always dishonesty by the authors. In a lot of cases, you write what comes to you and you do not realize that you are pulling archetypes and story tropes from a treasure trove of shared ancestral memories.” That explains why legends are always the first things to hand in whenever I start a new story. Jones said when he sits to write, he never knows what he’s going to write, but these time-honoured story templates come up readily because we already have the story forms within us.
Whiti Hereaka concurred and spoke about growing up with myths. They “had always been there” so were a natural resource. In her book, Kurangaituku, she is retelling the Māori myth of Hatupatu and the bird-woman Kurangaituku. “In the original story, Hatupatu is captured and finds the strength within him to trick the bird woman and escape from the clutches of Kurangaituku.”

Hereaka found the writing of her mythological story so profound, that she even began to feel taken over by her main character, who was talking to her and telling her the story all the time. Hereaka said she learned “to say a karakia (prayer) to create the space to write and then again to close it and step away” to separate herself from the character. Even so, she was driven to right the balance of male-centric mythology and present a female voice.
Lloyd Jones added, “Fables are at their core an imaginative risk.” And, he elaborated, “You gather stories just in living, and one day you use them. It becomes lodged in you and you never know when they’re going to bubble to the surface.”
What is it about ancient stories that hold us transfixed? I know for myself, that the older the story, the more I pay attention.
“There’s truthiness in fiction because of the lies,” Hereaka said, “There’s an emotional truth that holds us. We are creatures who need a story to figure ourselves out.”

You can say that again. It was a riveting afternoon, guys. Thanks for the brain food.

It’s a fact we all use these fables instinctively. Do you? Do you notice the echoes of mythology everywhere?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“Someone said once when a person is being read to they inhale it and when they exhale it, they have made it their own.’ ~ Lloyd Jones


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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.

This month’s question: What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?
Whittling it down to just one is a hard ask. My favourite genre is the one I write, fantasy fiction for middle-grade children. I remember in one of the writing courses I took twenty-odd years ago, the tutor exhorted us to do as Thoreau once said, to “know thy bone.” In other words, to circle your preoccupations, recurring motifs, to explore your particular palette, “bury it, dig it up, sniff it, gnaw on it” – know thy bone. Thankfully, many years ago, I discovered the right genre for me, and I’ve been circling it ever since, figuring out how to say what I want to say. The tutor advised us to “immerse ourselves in the genre” by reading as well. I don’t need any encouragement! This is why I write and read my favourite genre.
What is the best characteristic? Gee, still hard…

To make things easier, I might break the answer into two parts. Let’s start with the age group, middle-grade, or children between the ages of eight and twelve. This stage of life is magical because kids are strong enough to be somewhat independent while still being young enough to be starry-eyed. They are not too old for enchantment. Ava Duvernay said of this age group that ‘it is a time to discover who we are in our minds and our hearts. A time to listen and learn and think and wonder. A time to start to decide for ourselves how we want to walk through this world.’ That’s powerful stuff, right there.
Middle grade is a great age group to write for. The first time I ever saw Kate de Goldi speak in public was when she gave a keynote address at the Spinning Gold Children’s Writer’s Conference in 2009. Every point Kate made hit home when she spoke of why she chose to write Middle Fiction. “I don’t write about or for children, but I write for the once and always child in myself,” Kate said. “When I’m writing for children, I’m chasing down a lost Eden, that hopeful springtime, approximating the pleasure I had in those shaded places. The lost Eden of my childhood.”

Thank you for putting it into words, Kate. I am ever seeking to evoke the bewitching, magical heaven of my idyllic childhood when the joy of reading took hold of my heart and soul.
There is a deep secret fascination with that time of my life. In the years 8 – 12, I was an independent thinker, and I believed in the possibility of magical things, like leprechauns, tooth fairies, unicorns, and Santa Claus. When I was on a writing course with Kate de Goldi once, Kate told us, “Inside, I’m always twelve.” And I am the same. I feel I haven’t lost touch yet with my young life. The inner child who never stopped believing in the possibilities.
Middle Grade is a cool audience. They’re not reading with a sentimental nod back to those days when we used to believe in dragons; these readers can still be thrilled by the idea that such things might exist and aren’t afraid to let their imaginations run wild with it. I love that.

The fantasy fiction part of the genre is an equally important part of my bone. I started as a young reader of fairy tale anthologies, myths, and legends, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S.Lewis and Enid Blyton, and Tove Janssen. It was not that my life was something I sought to escape from as a child, but rather that fantasy fiction was so vivid, such a thrilling place to escape to. As Neil Gaiman said at last year’s writer’s festival, “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.” And that’s exciting.
Why do I write it? The common thinking about our draw towards fantasy fiction is that it’s about ‘fulfilling the heart’s desire.’ This usually means our longing for a better world, a better self, and a better life. I relate to that completely. They say that ‘Fantasy seeks to heal the wasteland.’ Almost every story aims towards the ultimate wish fulfillment, where everything works towards the greater good – the wasteland healed.
Saving the world is the deeper, philosophical view. I also write fantasy fiction because that’s what I read as a child. And, it keeps my inner child happy. Keeps hope alive. Feeds my sense of wonder. And, I gotta tell you, it is rewarding to learn how to trust my style, my voice, my way of adding another carrot to the stewpot. I adore my bone. It’s satisfying to bury, dig it up, sniff it, and give a good gnaw, before burying it again ready for the next time. It somehow feeds my soul, gnawing my bone.
Many people still look down their noses at the fantasy fiction genre. But, I love it. What’s wrong with that? What the heck is wrong with escapist literature?

I appreciated what Neil Gaiman said on this subject. “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, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds themself in.” I don’t get the prejudice. When the world outside my door appears to be on fire, why wouldn’t I escape to a fabulous place which is not on fire, where fantastic things are happening? Writing (and reading) fantasy fiction is a constant spirit lifter. And, I highly recommend it.
What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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When she is most lucky, the poet sees things as if for the first time, in their original radiance or darkness; a child does this too, for he has no choice. ~ Edwin Muir

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I have finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2022, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. I bought this novel because I had read Pippi Longstocking as a child, and I remember being utterly thrilled by the feisty wild protagonist. I’ll admit I was unaware the author had written other books. Bursting with curiosity, I raced home from the bookstore and started reading it straight away.

My first take on it would be that despite being published in 1985, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, has a timeless quality to the writing that makes it seem to come from another age. I guess this reflects the author, Astrid Lindgren, having been born in 1907 and quite literally belonging to another age. The story starts with a flourish and continues the same way. On the night that Ronia was born a thunderstorm was raging over the mountains, such a storm that all the goblinfolk in Matt’s Forest crept back in terror to their holes and hiding places.
The story is set in the past. There is no technology. The robbers milk their goats, churn their butter, and hunt for their meat. Ronia is born the only child of Matt, the robber chieftain who lives in his castle in the mountains with his band of twelve robbers and Lovis, his partner. The thieves rob the forest travellers for their goods and live a life of freedom. Ronia, the black-haired daughter, grows up to know every part of the forest so well she can find her way through it in the dark. Like Pippi, she is a free spirit who learns to dance and yell with the robbers.

Life goes on unchanged until the day Ronia meets Birk, the only son of Borka, the rival robber chieftain who lives in Borka’s Wood. Although the kids are initially wary, they also are immediately drawn to one another as children on their own are likely to do. The pair slowly fall in love, which I found a little odd considering their age. Nevertheless, fall in love they do, in utter secrecy as their fathers are arch-enemies. When Matt and Borka, the two rival chieftains, have a major clash, Ronia and Birk reveal their bond and run away into the forest to live by themselves, causing great distress to both families.
The story follows the harsh realities of life in a cave for the two youngsters, in which they grapple with growing up fast. They manage to survive through spring and summer, and finally, much to the reader’s relief, the pair are finally reunited with their families and allowed to return home before winter.

It’s a highly original tale. I had never read anything like it before and perhaps never will again. Ronia, as our protagonist, is described by her mother, Lovis, as “a storm-night child” and “a witch-night child, too.” The dialogue and the phrasing, everything about this tale is evocative of a bygone age. Ronia gasped with rage. Borka’s Keep! That was enough to choke you! What rogues they were, those Borka robbers! And that rascal grinning over there was one of them!
Perhaps the fact it is so unusual and different is why I found it so fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading because I couldn’t imagine what would happen next. And the funny thing is that nothing much does happen. Even so, the story is well told in a quaint fashion that could turn it into a classic. It was certainly enough to inspire Studio Ghibli’s series, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter!

Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren, née Ericsson, was born in Sweden. She was a highly successful children’s book author and screenwriter whose novels have been translated into nearly eighty languages, from Arabic to Zulu. Lindgren has sold close to 165 million copies worldwide. She earned the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 1958. Though she published many titles in her lifetime, it is Pippi Longstocking that is her main legacy as Pippi became an international phenomenon. Lindgren is particularly beloved in her native Sweden, where she appears on the 20-kronor note.
Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. While it is not in the same league as Pippi Longstocking in my humble opinion, it was an entertaining read.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Full of high adventure, hairbreadth escapes, droll earthy humor, and passionate, emotional energy. ~ Horn Book


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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.

August 3 question – When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?
Whew! Talk about a challenging issue for authors, especially unpublished writers. When you’re starting out and unsure of yourself, you wonder do I follow my ideas or try to write for the bestselling genres? If an author wants a long career, can they afford to ignore the demands of the market? That is the million-dollar question.
When I started writing picture books in the 80s, agents and publishers said you couldn’t write about cats or dogs because they were overdone. Although that didn’t stop everyone else from writing about them. When I started writing children’s chapter books in the 90s, they warned against writing about witches or wizards for the same reason. Since then the Harry Potter phenomenon happened, so, yeah, thanks, guys. Several years ago, everyone was writing about vampires, then it moved on, and everyone wrote about zombies. I didn’t bother. Suffice to say, I stopped worrying about what the market wanted long ago.

I guess I’m fortunate. Being a hobby writer, sales are not my main focus.
I don’t strive for originality, either. Over the years, I’ve learned that the prose has to come through me in whatever state it arrives. Then I enjoy tinkering with the muse’s gift. After all, isn’t most of an author’s time spent on editing rather than the original free writing? It’s up to us how much we change the form.
At the editing stage, I appreciate the input of critique groups. I feel they give insight into how readers might think or feel. My sister always urges me to leave my stories untouched. Her point is that too many cooks can spoil the broth. I get it. However, I value the opinions of my critique group, feeling that at some stage, an author does need to consider their audience, even if they self-publish and their audience is few.

The danger is when you overdo the critique and meddle to the point that the essence of your creative intelligence gets diluted. Was it Terry Pratchett who said if you question the muse too much, you might stuff the whole thing up? I’m paraphrasing. But it was something like that.
Creativity is a divine splash of energy in our brains. My dear elderly friend, Meg, used to call it ‘the inspired whatevers.’ The writer’s task is to watch for when the muse might strike and endeavour to catch ‘the inspired whatevers’ straight off the ether. I remember one writing teacher telling us that we had to ‘grab the first word given, and from there, the rest would come.’ That has been true for me with my fiction. Sometimes, I have failed to catch the first word, which resulted in floundering, unable to get started. But, if I catch that first word, then we are away. The rest of the story tumbles out of the cosmos, ready and willing. That magical feeling occurs when art can happen, that tingling when you capture the spark. We authors act as the conduit for the sublime. As do all artists.

During the editing stage, we turn into alchemists. We try to bash and hammer the divine spark forcing it into a round hole. We take inspiration from the ether and try to make it fit within the standards of storytelling. I remain uncertain about how to get the balance right. How much do you add, and how much do you lose? It’s a constant balancing act.
How about you? Do you strive for originality with your writing? Or do you try to conform to current literary expectations? What do you think?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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I’m never truly happy with everything I ever put out. There’s always something I can improve on. Phrase a sentence better. Make the message pop. Not be such a dullard. But facing that doubt is part and parcel of the writing life. ~ Stuart Danker

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I have finished reading my twelfth novel for 2022, The Dragon Defenders, Book One, by James Russell. In New Zealand, you can’t move without hearing about this author and this series. Every time you browse through a secondhand bookstore, firsthand bookstore, or library, you are apt to see one or other of the five-volume series pop up. Whether it is Book Two: The Pitbull Returns, Book Three: An Unfamiliar Place, Book Four: All Is Lost, or Book Five: The Grand Opening, The Dragon Defenders series is everywhere. As is the author, the self-published James Russell, who tours Indie fairs and conferences, featuring as a bestselling author. A big fish.
Recently, I picked up the first book in the series and could hardly wait to see what all the fuss was about. I think I started reading The Dragon Defenders the same night I bought it.

The middle-grade novel series follows the adventures of Paddy and Flynn, brothers who live with their parents and little sister Ada on an island populated by dragons. Brought up isolated from technology and today’s world, the boys spend their days honing their bushcraft outside. They are self-trained sharpshooters with their slingshots and bows and arrows. Athletic and strong, the boys have excellent surviving skills. When a group of egg and dragon poachers led by a guy called Pitbull come to the island, Paddy and Flynn must outwit them, aided by their pets – Clappers (their horse), Lightning (their falcon), and Coco (their dog). The boys use a combination of planning and tricks to save the dragons.
There is a lot of action at times. The boys are proactive risk-takers. Nothing is too violent, however, and the author’s message of not taking revenge on one’s enemies makes a timely point of difference. The feature of extra digital content is a bonus, which the reader accesses through a device or smartphone. It’s the sort of multimedia feature that kids love these days. For an old fuddy-duddy like me, it was a novelty to see the maps and videos appear, yet it also felt like a distraction from the more important business of reading. Digital enhancement is not my preferred way of imbibing a book. I prefer the paper versions. I find it hard to get lost in a fantasy world when I’m fumbling with my smartphone.

If you asked me my main takeaway? I’d say too much exposition. In the opening chapters, the author tells us a lot about the characters, setting, etc. ‘They were allowed to explore the natural world, and as little children, they got hurt. A lot. There may never before have been two children with so many bumps and scrapes, bruises, and cuts.’ It’s the sort of thing we get rapped over the knuckles for by modern tutors and critique groups. I recall reading the Harry Potter novels with the same sense of surprise at the amount of exposition. These days the arbiters of style recommend less is more. Yet, J.K.Rowling’s book sales are only rivalled by the Bible, and James Russell is one of New Zealand’s bestselling authors. For some writers, the rules don’t apply. Good on him/them for sailing above the prevalent writing mores. They are staying true to themselves, and we need more people like that in this world.

James Russell is also the author of the best-selling Dragon Brothers Trilogy of picture books (The Dragon Hunters, The Dragon Tamers, and The Dragon Riders). The Kiwi author launched his first book for adults, Mine – A Surfing Odyssey on North Sentinel Island on June 1, 2021. He lives in Auckland with his wife and two young sons.
The Dragon Defenders, Book One, is a gripping adventure for 7 – 12-year-olds. It is a solid start to the series, and I always applaud a happy ending.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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‘As you’ll have realized by now, Paddy and Flynn were born adventurers.’ ~ The Dragon Defenders


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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.

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 eleventh novel for 2022, The Gypsy Crown, by Kate Forsyth. It is the first book in the six-book series, The Chain of Charms, published in 2006. Kate followed this with The Silver Horse, The Herb of Grace, The Cat’s Eye Shell, The Lightning Bolt, and The Butterfly in Amber. Recommended for grades 5-9.
Set during the time of Oliver Cromwell (1658), Emilia and her cousin, Luka, are Romany gypsies (the Rom). The story starts with two gypsy clans coming together for the marriage of two young members. They make a wedding agreement. 13-year-old Emilia, Luka, and other family members travel to the nearest village to sing and dance to help raise the dowry. But singing and dancing are considered the work of the devil. The gypsies are captured and imprisoned, then threatened with hanging. Only Emilia and Luka escape, with Emilia’s horse, Alida, a pet dancing bear named Sweetheart, a trained monkey called Zizi, and a faithful dog, Rollo.

After a hair-raising journey, Emilia, Luka, and their animals make it back to the matriarch of their clan, the Queen of the Gypsies, Maggie Finch. The matriarch tells them the legend of the chain of charms. Long ago, a gypsy matriarch had broken her chain of charms, giving one charm to each of her five children, and ever since then, the luck of the Rom had turned foul. Maggie Finch gave Emilia the gypsy crown, her first charm from the chain. She tells the children if they can gather the charms from the other gypsy families, it would help bring their family freedom and turn the tide of fortune to favour the Rom.
The Chain of Charms series follows the adventures of Emilia and Luka as they seek to find each of the families that hold the charms on their quest to reunite the legendary chain. The first book, The Gypsy Crown, sets the stage for the five books to follow and establishes the high stakes involved. Emilia and Luka have a deadline. They must free the imprisoned members of their families facing the gallows. Whew!

I love historical fiction, and I picked up this slim volume purely because it takes place in England at the time of Cromwell’s rebellion. Historical fiction can be hard to write convincingly, and I always read with curiosity to see if the author has managed to live up to the challenge. It didn’t take long to feel reassured she had. As well as adventure, there is historical value in a book like this. The reader will learn about life in the 1600s. I learned something new because prior to reading this, I was unaware they persecuted gypsies. Across Europe, punishments included flogging, torture, branding, mutilation, hanging, and shooting. These details put the reader firmly on the side of the Rom. Who doesn’t love a good underdog tale?
Once Emilia and Luka get into trouble and are on the run, the action becomes high octane, and I was on the edge of my seat. At first, I was annoyed that they took the bear, Sweetheart, with them. How do you run for your life with a bear in tow? It seemed an insurmountable problem. But what it does very successfully is to pile on the tension. Brownie points to Kate Forsyth.

Who is Kate Forsyth? I was curious to know, as the book surprised me (in a good way). Kate writes with assurance, yet I’d never heard of the author before. It surprised me to read her biography. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a master of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller. The girl is over-qualified! She writes Historical Fiction, Children’s Books, and Fantasy. Born in Australia, Kate is now the internationally bestselling author of 40 books. She lives in Sydney with her husband and three children.
My only beef with The Gypsy Crown is that it was too brief. The subject was so meaty and could have included a lot more historical details, but I inhaled it in two sittings, leaving me feeling short-changed. I wanted to get to know the characters more, too. However, since the idea is to entice the reader into the next book, it succeeds on that level. And since I assume the story length would be ideal for child readers, it is an easy-to-read, engaging story that all children would enjoy.
My rating: Two and three-quarter stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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‘They can imprison us and beat us, but they cannot stop our hearts from feeling and our minds from thinking and our tongues from speaking, can they?’ The man heaved a great sigh, and then repeated, very low, ‘Can they?’ ~ The Gypsy Crown


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I have finished reading my tenth novel for 2022, The Dead of the Night, by John Marsden. Sequel to the powerful, critically received Tomorrow, When the War Began, this book is equally compelling. This is one of those happy situations where the second book is as good as the first. There are seven books in the Tomorrow series by this popular author, A Killing Frost, Darkness, Be My Friend, Burning for Revenge, The Night is for Hunting, and The Other Side of Dawn. The Dead of the Night is the second book in the series, also known as The Ellie Chronicles.

The Tomorrow series is based on a horrifying premise. A group of young people leaves on a camping adventure in the Australian outback. They return to find their country invaded by an army. The invaders have ransacked the teenagers’ hometown, and everyone has been rounded up in prison camps, leaving this one band of teens to survive on their own. At the end of the first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, Corrie was shot in the back and Kevin had taken her to the hospital. The Dead of the Night takes up the story a short time later when Ellie, Homer, Lee, Robyn, Fi, and Chris decide to brave going into the hospital to see if Corrie’s okay and discover Kevin’s whereabouts. They get the answers they wanted but then have to run the gauntlet to return to Hell, their hiding place in the bush. After a lot of teenage angst about their lot and the nature of warfare, the gang decides they can’t sit around forever. They need more supplies for living in Hell. They want to take action against the army that invaded their land, took over their homes, and took their families prisoner.

Ellie is the narrator. A wonderfully imperfect human being, Ellie is an honest and relatable protagonist. Ellie, Homer, Lee, Robyn, Fi, and Chris make a smaller more manageable group of characters. Despite their inexperience, this doesn’t hold them back or make them think they would be unable to make a difference. These young people are clever, resourceful, and daring enough to think of creative solutions. Through Ellie, we see how the gang has toughened up since the first book. They are turning into warriors. It is rewarding, especially when they meet another guerilla group of adults, Harvey’s Heroes, whose outdated views, odd rules, and meaningless attacks mess everything up.
Our brave teens make meaningful foray after foray. But war is no walk in the park. They face the reality of violence and have to kill people to survive. Blood and guts galore. It makes the stakes life and death. Poor Ellie suffers greatly over her killings. The nature of warfare is debated in various ways throughout the entire book. Every death has a meaning and a consequence which is as it should be. Whew. It was hard to read and just as hard to put down at times.

Despite the striving for survival and the strife of war, the cast is still made up of fallible teenagers. They fall in and out of love, make mistakes, suffer emotional rollercoasters, and (gasp) touch one another. This series is for the Young Adult market and not appropriate for underage readers as there is a sex scene between Ellie and her boyfriend, Lee.
Our heroic gang inflicts damage on the enemy, especially at the end of the book, where some homemade bombs include the ingenious and diabolical use of humble kitchen toasters. I felt the characters were believable, especially our heroine Ellie who is a little spitfire. The story is a non-stop adrenalin ride once you hop on board, and also, it is also emotionally satisfying. If I saw another book in this series on the shelves, I would probably buy it.

I admire John Marsden’s writing. He is solid. When you see his name, you know it’s a book worth reading. Marsden finds unique ways of expressing feelings and navigates the large cast with ease. Born in Australia on September 27, 1950, Marsden writes for the Young Adult, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Nonfiction markets. His first book, So Much To Tell You, was published in 1987. This was followed by Take My Word For It, a half-sequel written from the point of view of another character. His landmark Tomorrow series is recognized as the most popular series for young adults ever written in Australia. And, rightly so.
My rating: Four stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Write something that’s worth fighting over. Because that’s how you change things. That’s how you create art. ~ Jeff Goins


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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

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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 seventh novel for 2022, The Secret Forest, by Enid Blyton. I have reviewed books by Enid Blyton before. She was a favourite author of mine from childhood. My jam used to be The Famous Five or The Secret Seven. As the great author wrote 800 books in her lifetime, there are always books of hers I have yet to discover. Recently, I bought a couple of novels in The Secret Stories series at a secondhand bookstore.

Though I was unfamiliar with the series, reading The Secret Forest, I immediately warmed to the Arnold children, Peggy, Mike, Nora, and Jack. Enid Blyton is such a straightforward, old-fashioned storyteller. Within the first pages, we have the setup when Prince Paul invites the Arnold children to the (made up) kingdom of Baronia for the holidays. It’s not just any old holiday. Prince Paul wants them to stay in his castle. Once the children are on holiday, we hear there are robbers abounding in the countryside, and we are alert that there is a mystery afoot. The Secret Forest is at the heart of the story, a completely inaccessible woodland in the depths of the Killimooin mountains. We meet Prince Paul’s family. Enid Blyton depicts the royal residences and lifestyle with simple vigour. She had a particular grip on understanding what children want to read. Beverly Cleary was the same and once described it as having the capacity to vividly recall being a child and write to the child she once was.

In The Secret Forest, the story’s climax builds with a steady tension as the children and their minders tangle with the robbers. When Prince Paul’s handlers are taken prisoner by the robbers, the boys go on a dangerous rescue mission. They enter the mountain through a hidden passage leading to the Secret Forest. The boys rescue the men, but on the way back, a ferocious storm nearly catches them in the rising floodwaters.
I felt the book had a darker feel than The Secret Seven or Famous Five adventures of my youth. The obstacles seemed almost insurmountable, and the threat of mother nature was the scariest of all. I’m sure if I’d stumbled on this series as a child, I would have devoured the other three – The Secret of Spiggy Holes, The Secret of Moon Castle, and The Secret Island in the twinkling of an eye. It’s exciting stuff.

Enid Mary Blyton (1897 – 1968) was born in London. She published a volume of poetry called Child Whispers in 1922. In 1925, she released her first full-length novel, The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies. Her vast catalogue of titles is still being republished for the digital generation of young readers. Although modern readers reject her descriptions of gender, race, and class (her Noddy books featured golliwogs until they updated the later editions), there is a general curiosity and a fascination with these old books. Stories like The Secret Forest belong to another era when such things as racism and casual sexism went unquestioned. It gives us insight into the morals and beliefs of those times, which is fascinating in itself, like a slice of our collective past, although we may not agree with it.

These days you would stir major controversy if you wrote a boy character saying, ‘you girls can’t go on the adventure you’d just get into trouble.’ A modern audience reads stories such as these by Enid Blyton with curiosity to see what outrageous thing the characters say or do next.
That being said, reading The Secret Forest was like stepping back to childhood when things were so much simpler. I enjoyed the ride. Enid Blyton clearly knew how to tell a story. According to the Index Translationum, ‘Blyton was the fifth most popular author in the world in 2007, coming after Lenin but ahead of Shakespeare.’ In the UK, Enid Blyton still sells over one book a minute. It’s the sort of success any writer hopes to achieve. The Secret Forest is another volume from her legacy.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~ Albert Einstein


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