Archive for the ‘readers’ Category

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: Nearly four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: Two and three quarter stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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

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

The May 5th question, if you’d like to answer it, is: Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?

They say you should be careful what you wish for. For the last thirty-five years of writing for children, I’ve longed to get a book into Magpies Magazine, the prestigious children’s literature magazine for New Zealand and Australia. To my surprise and delight, I finally got in this year. A well-known Kiwi writer had read and reviewed my first book, The Or’in of Tane. Woohoo. The only problem was he gave a critical review. Dagnabit. I read the skewering with a sinking heart. Then I did a bit of pacing the hallway, truth be told. I had to talk to someone and as I was on my own in the house; I talked to myself.

While it might be true I myself write negative book reviews sometimes, I try to only ever criticize the superstars who can take a pipsqueak like me, or those writers long gone.

I kept going over the different criticisms the reviewer had made and testing them to see if they were correct. Being the respected and amazing author he is, I had to assume he was being fair. For a moment I felt badly about the series I had poured heart and soul into for the last 15 years of my life.

Thankfully I recovered enough to realize the reviewer had been harsh. He focused a stone-cold sober eye on my fantasy world and picked out ‘problems with scale’ and such, questioning ‘how insects could fly a plane’ and so on. This high power magnifying glass sort of stuff doesn’t hold up too well when you point it at any epic fantasy, because fantasy will never stack up to reality. It’s like asking how did rat and mole from The Wind in the Willows light a fire and make food on stoves in their homes? That would have been impossible for a rat and a mole, and so on.

Feeling perturbed, I turned to my publicist, Karen, for advice, and her response was so wise and experienced I thought I should share it here for the benefit of everyone else.

Karen replied, ‘Unfortunately, this review thing is just part and parcel of being a writer. Of course, it is wonderful when you get a glowing review—which you have had! But it is always a kick in the guts when people say anything remotely negative. But let nothing derail from your vision and your voice! Just remind yourself that it’s all very subjective and if you get an adverse comment, it doesn’t mean it is actually true! Usually it means it just wasn’t their cup of tea, or you got a reviewer who was nitpicking and not reading in the book’s spirit.

You must move on!

Karen and I, seated at the far end of the table

And as an author myself, I know all about the emotional ups and downs. I think it’s about building some resilience so you can come to shrug off anything that might get you off track, but it takes a little time. As you write more books, sell more copies, get more great reviews, your confidence will grow. So hang in there—you are clearly a natural writer, this is something you should do, and I’m sure you will look back in years to come having had much success! It just takes time!’

I was so grateful for these sage words of advice. Thank you, Karen! Moving on.

Last year I took part in an Indie Book event with my Chronicles of Aden Weaver series and talked with other authors. I remember one lady saying, ‘even a critical review is a good review.’ I hope that’s true. All I know is I can’t go back. I’ve done the best I can to this point and shall continue to do so. Not everyone is going to love my books! Now it must be time to get on and write the next one.

Writing is the cure. Do you agree?

Keep Reading!

Yvette Carol

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Remember that moment in time when writing was a joy, and we were excited and ready to take on the world. ~  Alex J. Cavanaugh, IWSG Leader and Ninja

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I’ve finished reading my eighth novel for 2021, I Was a Rat! … or The Scarlet Slippers, by Philip Pullman. This book is one of the author’s shorter works for children which ‘for want of a better term’ he called fairy tales. Although Pullman found these shorter stories very enjoyable, he also admits to finding them ‘immensely difficult to write.’ I’m not surprised, as his books are typically dense with meaning. I was a Rat is multi dimensional with astute observation of people at its core. This small book is such a tidy mouthful I finished it in one sitting. Yet the ripples set in motion by the pebble in the pond continued long afterward. It’s one to get you thinking.

A young boy turns up one night on the doorstep of Bob the cobbler and his wife, Joan, a couple who had always longed for a child. The boy, whom they name Roger, insists he used to be a rat. The couple give him shelter and food. Roger is earnest and confused, unsure how to act like a boy, but every day the couple teach him patiently and Roger tries his best to learn. Bob and Joan go to the police, the hospital, and an orphanage, trying to find a place for Roger, but no one wants him. The old couple next try sending the boy to school, but Roger is not quite tame enough and runs afoul of the teacher. One mishap after another befall poor Roger, who by now is becoming infamous in the village and beyond, as a freak.

Along with the unfolding drama, we get regular updates on the front page of the local newspaper, The Daily Scourge, and the articles continue to pop up throughout the book. Though published in 1999, I Was a Rat is an unblinking meditation on the power of the press (social media) today.

As the innocent Roger becomes demonized by the newspapers, and the public opinion builds around the negative imagery provided, Roger becomes popularly regarded as a monster and they line him up for the death penalty. This reveals the ugly side of the press, bearing parallels with today’s social media trolls and the gang-banging that often happens around those poor souls who fall foul of popular opinion and have the misfortune to become blacklisted. Mob mentality is an almost too real a theme. Yet, the book never really gets bogged down in worthiness or making a point. I Was a Rat can still make us laugh and be funny.

As the story unfolds, we get the twist, the key to understanding our boy who says he was a rat. And we realize how imaginative this tale truly is, being in fact, the follow up to a world famous fairy tale, giving us an alternative view. The story premise is not only intelligent, it’s different. One feels as if the author took a leap out of the box and it paid off.

Philip Pullman was born in England in 1946. A teacher most of his life, he is also the author of twenty books for children. He is best known for the trilogy His Dark Materials, beginning with Northern Lights in 1995, continuing with The Subtle Knife in 1997, and concluding with The Amber Spyglass in 2000. His books have earned Pullman the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Book Award, and they gave him the Whitbread Book of the Year Award (the first time in the prize’s history that they gave it to a children’s book). Pullman was the 2002 recipient of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for children’s literature. And in 2005 he won the Astrid Lindgren Award.

Reading I was a Rat was a curious experience for me. While I wasn’t sure what was happening, the quality of the writing sucked me in and kept me turning the pages, anyway. Packed into the light volume are many levels of meaning. It’s one of those books where it is possible to enjoy it at face value and also plumb the depths for more meaning. I loved the subtle morality. “See, I don’t think it’s what you ARE that matters. I think it’s what you DO.” We learn not to “… go by surface appearances. It was what lay underneath that mattered.” In I Was a Rat, Pullman reminds us that, just as with his wonderful stories, beauty is more than skin deep.

My rating: Three and a half stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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In the pleasures that literature affords us, we may see immediately that tomorrow does not have to be like today. Such immediacy makes free. ~ Charles Hallisey

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I’ve finished reading my seventh novel for 2021, Immortal Guardians by Eliot Schrefer. This is book one in the second series of the popular Spirit Animals books for middle-grade readers, Fall of the Beasts. A different author wrote each book in both series, although Schrefer is a repeat offender, having contributed to the first series also, with book six, Rise and Fall. This time round he gets to kick off the sequel series and as a New York Times bestselling author, he seems a good bet.

In Erdas, each child in the kingdom must find out for themselves whether they will summon a spirit animal. This rare gift can happen to some children. Our heroes from the first series, Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan were lucky enough to summon the four “Great Beasts” as their spirit animals. “Great beasts” are immortal guardians who sacrificed everything to end a brutal war. In a strange development, some children summon the other Great Beasts—but then they are stolen! An evil force has interfered with the spirit animal bonds, to steal the Great Beasts and make them his own.

Quite dark, with the hideous Wyrm causing the Great Beasts to turn evil, and the Evertree dying, there is a pervading sense of hopelessness in this book which can be heavy going. I assume this was intentional, and a way of setting out the serious obstacles facing our heroes if they are to succeed and win the day by the time the second series concludes.

Eliot Schrefer does a good job of filling in the blanks for readers who are new to this series. He adds to the characters we love a little and introduces new characters to the fold. Set about six months after the last novel, Against the Tide, the next title, Immortal Guardians carries on the story. Right from the opening chapters, Schrefer does a superb job of drawing us into being invested. One child’s city gets destroyed. One child’s tribe disowns him, and the other summons one of the most feared of the Great Beasts. Scary!

Eliot Schrefer is an American author of many kids’ books, living in New York, and he reviews books for USA Today. A bestselling author nominated for many awards, they have translated his works into different languages. Recently, Schrefer joined the faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson’s low residency MFA program, as well as the MFA in writing for children at Hamline University. You can find him on Twitter @EliotSchrefer.

Schrefer is competent, that is not in doubt. However, it has to be said I found the relentlessly dark nature of this story a drag. The dour side renders Immortal Guardians somehow a less satisfying read than the books in the first series. Is it because, as some critics asserted, the sequel series feels “unnecessary,” and was a case of “publishers attempting to drag out a dead series for money?” I don’t know.

Oprah would say, “What do you know for sure?”

The one thing I know for sure about this book is I gave it a low rating for its miserable excuse for an ending. The content was serviceable but I’m tempted to hold a rally and stage a protest AGAINST CLIFFHANGERS. I was romping through the last chapters, thinking wow this ending is going to be a doozy, and then suddenly it was all over. No wrap-ups, no answers, no twists, no resolutions, no lovely satisfaction of understanding, no being let off the hook, nothing.

The story ended like two fingers in the face. You thought you would get resonance? Ha! You thought you’d have the lovely relief of knowing how things turn out? More fool you! Read the next book if you dare. I walked around the house, railing against the authors these days who think they can get away with unrepentant cliffhangers. Let me tell you something, they went out with the dark ages for a reason. No one wants to read that! I was so hacked off. I’m against being held hostage by my reading material. And quirky whatnot that I am, I felt resistance at the idea of being sucked into reading another entire book that might not end at THE ENDING either. I felt burned, Spirit Animals. Close, but no cigar!

My rating: Two stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Gimme an honest frown over a false smile any day. ~ Gregory David Roberts

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

April 7th’s question, if you’d like to answer it, is: Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

No, I’m averse to risk. Although I write middle grade fantasy, which is different and “other,” I still find it hard to stray outside of accepted styles. Maybe it’s because I still feel like a beginner, a novice at all this. Imposter Syndrome, anyone? Someone said once that the truly popular authors are the ones who have the most guts. I believe this to be true.

Take a great like Lemony Snicket, for instance. Snicket writes crazy books no sweaty beginner could ever hope to get away with, but he’s so bold and brassy, he gets away with it. Not only that, he’s a bestselling author getting sales other authors could only dream of. Balls of steel, that’s what an author needs to succeed in this business.

Look at David Walliams. I know, I know; he got a foot in the door of a publishing house because of his fame as a comedian, but his many books have gained him a whole new fan base following with good reason. My son and I just finished reading Walliams’ latest release, Codename Bananas, which my son received for Christmas. This guy’s fiction is so out there, it’s almost verging on mythology, but when the impossible things happen, it’s penned with such panache and aplomb you’re ready to forgive him anything, as long as he keeps telling the story. I’m reading a book by the fabled Carlos Fuentes at the moment (Constancia and other stories for Virgins), and this book is so off the wall, so bizarre, that it turns into art. That’s what these brave writers do by being innovators.

When I read books by authors such as these, I realize that an excellent storyteller will keep the audience coming back for more. The best storytellers don’t care about tradition, or the accepted mores, they kick sand in the face of the rules. They write stories from a more pure place, that of gut instinct. They write whatever they want to write. End of. That’s the sort of writing bravado I long for because I imagine that is the greatest freedom like being a kid again.

In October of last year I released a trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, a set of books I’d been working on for fifteen years. Since I finished the series, I’ve struggled to relinquish the world I’d created and the characters I loved. It took a long time to let go. Then I tried to start a new book. I’ve been doing some free writing exercises each weekend, trying to loosen up the writing muscles, but I have felt stymied, stifled, stuck. The needle simply hasn’t moved.

It felt like a turning point when I came across a rather triumphant, sassy little blog post this week called Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney on First Drafts and Battling Writer’s Block. I really needed to hear her sage advice, “write the first draft for yourself.” Because I think that’s where I’ve been going wrong the last few months. When I wrote The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, I was an unpublished writer, I wrote fiction as an escape route for a harassed mother of two boys under the age of five. This time round I’m a published author and I’m thinking of genre, age group, who might read it and what they might be interested in reading–a total buzz killer. When I read “write the first draft for yourself” I thought that’s what I need to do! The goal is to write all the drafts for myself, to have the courage to totally and utterly back myself and my own creative choices, whether they fly in the face of the rules or not, just like the greats do. Yeeha!

Do you try new things?

Keep Creating!

Yvette Carol

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The process of writing—for me and for almost every writer I know—is some combination of fast, slow and excruciating. ~ Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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I’ve finished reading my sixth novel for 2021, Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. Sad news obviously prompted my choice: the exceptional children’s author, Beverly Cleary, died last week at 104. She still had the look of youth about her. Beverly famously said that whereas other children’s authors sometimes struggled to write from the child’s point of view, she somehow found it easy to recall exactly how it was to be a child. Of her style and genre, Beverly said that as a child growing up she’d wanted to read about other kids like her, ordinary kids and their everyday lives. And because she understood her audience so completely, her stories–about kids like you and me–were incredibly popular with children.

It was the Ramona Quimby books that were the most popular, however I didn’t read Beverly’s stories as a child. I discovered the author because my older sisters, whom I admired and adored, had a small book among the other bigger tomes in their bookcase called Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary. Even as a kid, I thought, how cool to read about a person your age when you are that exact age. So I decided I would save stealing it from the bookshelf until I turned fifteen. And that’s what I did. When I finally turned that magical lovely age, I snuck the slim volume from their shelf. I remember relishing every page. Beverly’s free ability to capture that youthful viewpoint was a gift. She gave me a sweet moment in my youth I’ll always remember.

The book itself especially to me now as an adult reader seems like fast food. You can swallow it in one bite, yet it is so wonderfully delicious. Fifteen is a peek-a-boo window into the 1950s. Published in 1958, it was the era when my parents were young, when girls wore dresses and full skirts to formals or dances, walked to school, and sat in malt shops to drink soda. It’s like entering a time machine to read it now, and something tells me this innocent tale of young love would be a total yawn fest to the modern fifteen-year-old, although possibly still easily consumed by the 9–10-year-old crowds.

The coming-of-age story is about fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy, an average girl with a babysitting job and how she meets the dreamy Stan Crandell, who has a tan, green eyes, brown hair with a dip in it, and a genuine smile. Stan might deliver horsemeat, but he rescues our damsel in distress at the outset and proves himself to be just as nice throughout the story. Jane has never had a boyfriend before. She is the picture of flustered youth. Her awkwardness reaches into the heart of any girl and Beverly renders the angst truthfully and winningly.

While some aspects of Fifteen seem dated now, the themes persist today, underlying this story of a crush, is the story of a young person trying to fit in. Jane looks up to the most popular girl in school and tells a few fibs as she tries to be like her before Jane figures out that Stan likes who she is and wants her to be herself. Aw!

I love that there is this wonderful sense of place in this story. I can clearly remember my fifteen-year-old self feeling as if I were in the Purdy’s comfortable family home or in the quiet house with Jane when she was babysitting and her charge was finally asleep.

An admirable talent, Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. Her books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. They have published her books in twenty-nine languages and her characters, including Henry Huggins, and Ralph S. Mouse, Ribsy, Socks, as well as Beezus and Ramona Quimby, have delighted generations of children.

They celebrated Beverly Cleary’s one hundredth birthday in 2016, by reissuing three of her books with forewords by Judy Blume, Amy Poehler, and Kate DiCamillo. In 2017, they reissued the Henry Huggins books with forewords by Tony DiTerlizzi, Marla Frazee, Tom Angleberger, Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Cece Bell.

I love Beverly Cleary’s writing. I think it is because she was a luminary in relating what my writing teacher would call ‘the minutiae’ of family life and social life. She was relatable, her stories truthful, pure. What a legacy she has left the world. Beverly Cleary, you will be missed.

My rating: Five stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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

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

March 3 question – Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre (s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

I read within my genre mostly, middle grade fantasy, both because I love to read fantasy and also because it’s part of the business of being a writer. Some teacher of mine back in the day, name forgotten to the mists of time said, always read widely within your genre, to keep current with what other writers are producing and what kids are reading. So that’s what I’ve always tried to do.

Seriously, though, I don’t need any encouragement. I’ve been interested in fantasy fiction since I was a child of seven, picking up my first Moomintroll books from the school library.

When I’m at a bookstore, there are certain brilliant authors I aspire to be when I grow up, and I’ll buy anything by them, in order to study their craft, like Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. You can learn from studying the greats. I always pick up classic children’s books, ones I’ve read and ones I have yet to read. It’s become habit to keep an eye out for modern fantasy stuff too. I have two new Spirit Animals books, which I’m excited to read, Hunted and Fire and Ice. In my TBR to-be-read pile at the moment, there are also books like The Grimm Conclusion, by Adam Gidwitz, The Dragon Defenders, by James Russell, and The Dragon Prince, Book One: Moon, by Aaron and Melanie Ehasz among many others.

These sit alongside older books waiting to be read, like Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren and The Secret Forest, by Enid Blyton. It’s fun to re-read the classics, so I always buy one or two to add to my collection, where they wait for me to linger. Next classic on my TBR pile is Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. I can’t wait to spend time again in Avonlea with the irrepressible red-haired Anne.

Sometimes, I’ll buy a book in another genre because a cover compels me, as with the sumptuous cover on the adult urban fantasy, Fire & Shadow, by T.G. Ayer. Sometimes, as happened with a novel I bought on Waiheke Island last year, I’ll purchase it because the title made me so curious I simply had to read to find out what it’s about, Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins by Carlos Fuentes.

At one of the recent book fairs of authors selling their wares, there was one table I couldn’t walk past. The cover and the title both snagged me. Infinite Threads, by Mariko B. Ryan, is hardcover and has a dust jacket. It’s a quality production which presents excerpts from old Maori manuscripts. The author’s blurb on the back of the book says Ryan is of the line of “tohunga” or sage. She is a “kaitiaki” or guardian of the hidden writings, all of which sounded fascinating to me. I look forward to imbibing some much-needed indigenous wisdom.

Given the chance to roam a bookstore (*heehee! *runs around with glee) I’ll delve into any book that takes my fancy. In terms of adult fiction, I have a fondness for mysteries; I have at least half a dozen Agatha Christie stories on the TBR pile. Christie is one of the most widely read authors ever, and it’s cool to step back to a bygone era through the adventures of either Poirot or Marple. 

I also have a weakness for large old books with lots of photos on subjects like ancient history and mythology. Sitting poring over one of these books with a coffee at breakfast time was a beloved ritual for many years. There are so many books, so little time!

What motivates your reading choice?

Keep Reading!

Yvette Carol

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“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” ― Robertson Davies

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I’ve finished reading my fourth novel for 2021, Charlie Bone, and the Hidden King by Jenny Nimmo. Having grabbed this book in one of my visits to a recent book fair, the slight glimmer on the cover drew me in. I was curious too, as I’ve noticed other titles in the series in second-hand bookstores in the past and wondered what the books were about. I always need to read as much material as I can in my genre of middle grade, so won by the shimmery cover, I picked up Charlie Bone and the Hidden King. It’s hard to resist a little bling.

This was the fifth instalment in Jenny Nimmo’s Children of the Red King fantasy series, which follows the adventures of Charlie Bone. As a child of the Red King, he is one of ‘the endowed,’ Charlie Bone can travel into pictures and photographs, and he uses a magic wand. In The Hidden King, the story starts with a nasty snowstorm and all the animals in town disappearing. Charlie’s friend, Benjamin Brown, desperately wants his dog, Runner Bean, back, and he enlists Charlie’s help. Although Benjamin’s parents are working as spies at Bloor’s Academy, the special school for the endowed, Charlie agrees to help Benjamin, anyway. But our beleaguered hero also has other problems. They have frozen his grandmother Maisie, and he and his Uncle Paton can’t break the spell. The three beautiful Flame Cats deliver a warning, ‘something ancient has awoken.’ Charlie discovers that the shadow escaped from the Red King’s portrait, and that it will do anything to keep him from finding his father.

Though he already has plenty to worry about, the Flame Cats tells Charlie that his mother is also in danger. Sadly, Amy Bone falls under the spell of the strange Hart Noble. Charlie realizes Amy loves Hart Nobel, and that she is forgetting his father ever existed. If Charlie is to find his father, he will need to do so before his mother forgets him totally. Charlie must team up with his friends again, including his new friend, Naren Bloor, to uncover the truth and finally find his father so he can make things right again.

This novel obviously has a decent premise for a fantasy sci-fi tale for young readers. Nimmo seems a capable enough storyteller. She answers all the questions raised. Bone himself is likeable enough for a protagonist. It’s a reasonable light read for a child. Why was I underwhelmed?

Jenny writing

There were several ways in which this book fell short of the mark for me. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, without depth or any form of development as the story progresses. Charlie Bone seems like a substantial lead, but it’s disappointing because we’re never allowed to get to know him. The head-hopping grates maybe expressly because it keeps us at arm’s length from the cast. To jump from point of view to point of view is giddy-making. Also, the style of writing is old-fashioned, as is fitting I guess. However, as a book reviewer and critique group member, I wanted to say ‘show, don’t tell.’ The old-fashioned technique where the author tells chunks of the story with exposition has fallen out of favour these days.

It’s not all bad. It’s cool the way Charlie Bone’s wand has become a moth in this story, and I loved Naren Bloor’s ability to send ‘shadow writing.’ I also liked the twist at the end. In conclusion, I found Charlie Bone, and the Hidden King good, but not great.

Jenny reading

A prodigious author, Jenny Nimmo was born in 1944, in Berkshire, England and educated at boarding schools in Kent and Surrey. She left school to become a drama student/assistant stage manager with Theater South East. Her subsequent work with the BBC led her through a colourful career as a photographic researcher, then floor manager, working mainly on the news, and finally director/editor on the children’s program Jackanory. Jenny left the BBC in 1975 to marry a Welsh artist David Wynn Millward and went to live in Wales in her husband’s family home. When her first child was born, Jenny published her debut novel The Bronze Trumpeter at the same time. Now an author of many books, Jenny is best known for The Snow Spider trilogy and the Charlie Bone stories. Despite dividing fans at first with the series, the Children of the Red King books became very popular and still continue to sell well.

My rating: Two stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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It was a golden autumn and leaves fell about them like bright coins. ~ Charlie Bone and the Hidden King

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