Archive for the ‘traditional publishing’ Category

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
*


‘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


*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line

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
*


Write something that’s worth fighting over. Because that’s how you change things. That’s how you create art. ~ Jeff Goins


*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line

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
*

“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


*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
*


“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

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

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

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

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

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
*

Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler


*

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

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
Without question, success is holding the book in my hand. I guess that is because I wrote stories for half my life before I published a book. Although I started writing fiction at age 17 and had a story and an article published in other people’s books, I didn’t produce a book until I was 50. I think the moment I laid eyes on that first novel is engraved forever in my memory. I was so excited, taking numerous photos and bombarding social media. It was unbelievable, overwhelming and the satisfaction was complete.

To me, it felt like the ultimate vindication and success because the road to publication had not been a straight one. An idealist, I had expected the publishing side of being a writer would be as much fun as doing the writing. Find an agent, grab a great deal with a publishing house, and make lots of money. Easy. In the 80’s I found myself an agent, and I carried on writing children’s stories, thinking the agent would take care of finding homes for my books. Four years later, he still had not sold a single manuscript. I fired the agent and started sending the manuscripts out myself. After many nibbles, I had one story, a re-telling of the folk tale, The Ice Queen, accepted by a traditional publishing house. I waited a year, then they returned the manuscript, saying they had been unable to fit me into their schedule. No way.
Another year I had one of my picture book manuscripts, Free Wally, accepted by a publisher in Wellington. But they wanted to change the names of all the characters. I couldn’t handle that! Give me money, do all the work of publishing, fine, but change the details of my creative progeny? No deal.

I carried on writing (and illustrating) and sending out stories, finally gaining another acceptance for a picture book, The Unsightly Wet Nightie. Whoopee! I thought. Then I read the fine print. They were only offering me a 5% royalty fee, which at the time for authors was usually 10%. I said, No dice.
A year later, I entered my story, The Or’in of Tane into an international writing competition. The prize was the publication of the book. I waited, revisiting the website day and night, waiting for news of who had made the shortlist. The publishers released a statement, saying if you had not heard back from them, you had made the shortlist. Happy dance! I had not heard back and was euphoric. A month later, the shortlist then the winner and runner-up were announced. My name did not appear. When I followed up on my story, they told me that due to the time difference between here and there, my competition entry had arrived a day later than their deadline, and they had disqualified me.

Meltdown. Tears for days. Gloom and doom.
Was I beaten?
Well, initially, yes.
Then I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided to take my fate into my own hands. For the first time, I seriously considered going Indie. I began to venture online and learn about self-publishing. And the rest, as they say, is history. I did the spadework and self-published my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, in 2020. Talk about a moment of triumph. The books were well received, gaining a 9.8 out of 10 ratings by one popular book reviewer.

Every time I see those books on the shelf, I get a thrill.

Holding my book in my hand, that spells success to me. Because I know what it took to get here and all the years of solitary blood, sweat, and tears that went into this. Self-publishing is hard work. However, that’s the buzz, isn’t it? Hard work makes you feel good.
It has been fulfilling to produce something my kids and grandkids can hold in their hands. Now, I leave physical books sitting in libraries and on bookshelves and lodged within the hallowed halls of the National Library of New Zealand. To create is the best, and then to share that creation is ‘reason I am here’ material.
When you take things into your own hands with your career, the world is your oyster! How do you define success as a writer?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
*

Regardless of your genre, your task is to get your book in front of readers. ~ Jaq D Hawkins


*

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

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

*

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

*

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

I’ve finished reading my eleventh novel for 2021, Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp, by Odo Hirsch. Whenever I pass a thrift store or a charity shop, I’m compelled to go inside and check out the books. As a writer, I need to read within my genre, which is middle grade fiction. Therefore, I always peruse the children’s section and fantasy sections for new-to-me gems. Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp was a recent thrift-store acquisition with an intriguing cover.

I had never heard of the author before. But how can you resist a title like that? Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp knocks it out of the ballpark because the reader immediately asks, ‘what is the peacock lamp? Why is it important? What does it do?’ The goal for every author is to get the reader to ask questions and not fully answer them till the end of the story. The all-important title must get them asking questions at the front cover. Mission accomplished on both scores with this book.

An excellent title is everything.

What is the peacock lamp? It’s a rare bronze lamp which hangs outside the bedroom door of Amelia Dee, where she lives in the greenhouse on Marburg Street. Burdened with rather hopeless parents, an eccentric artist mother and father inventor, Amelia’s friend, Mr. Vishwanath provides the stability and the sanity in her young life. Mr. Vishwanath practises yoga downstairs and teaches the formidable Princess Parvin Kha-Douri and… spoiler alert, that’s pretty much it.

I was not sure what to make of this story because while it’s wonderfully written and a nice ride; it had a lot of promise that went under utilized. It’s like taking a ride at a theme park only to travel at walking pace and never leave the ground. The lamp has such allure and promise, the ancient yoga teacher, his equally ancient pupil are fascinating, and you keep reading, keep keeping the faith expecting things to go somewhere. I think this is one of those stories about which they say, it is “not plot-driven.”

Cough. Cough. Not a lot happened.

And being the big kid I am, although I had reached ‘the end’ I was still waiting for something to happen.

Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp is not bad though. It’s a quiet story, reminiscent of Antonio S. and Hazel Green, also by the author.

The wise mentor figure portrayed by Mr. Vishwanath provides our protagonist, Amelia Dee, (good name) with considered wisdom, calmness and inner questioning. I think it’s admirable to make such values as expressing yourself, letting go, the fair treatment of others and finding your voice the core of a book. Some people have made the comparison to Jonathan Livingston Seagull for children. Some people have said it’s what the parents who read literary fiction give their kids.

You could ask, are kids really up for reading a very adult kind of story? Do kids read this sort of philosophical fiction? Obviously, the answer is yes. Odo Hirsch was doing something right as he released Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp in 2007 and won HONOUR BOOK: CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, in 2008. This is a dear book and I’m glad kids are reading this sort of wholesome fiction.

When I “Googled” the author, as you do these days, I discovered that Odo Hirsch is a popular kids’ author. He was born and grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where he studied medicine and worked as a doctor. Now based in London, Odo continues to write children’s books and they have translated his works into several languages, for the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, and Italy. For more information, please see http://www.answers.com/topic/odo-hirsch 

How refreshing there is a market for such low-key fiction. Reading Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp is like taking a holiday in the country to recharge the batteries after the rush and bustle of life in the big city. It’s fiction about those quieter moments that occur between the active times, when there is time to slow down and ponder the deeper things in life.

“When you know you are right, that is the time you can be sure you are wrong,” said Mr. Vishwanath.

Would my boys want to read it? No, but, spoiled by modern technology, what would they know? This book is an experience of softening, like a meditation.

My rating: Two and a half stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

*

“It is what it is,” said Mr. Vishwanath. “Everything in life is like this.”

*

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

I’ve finished reading my tenth novel for 2021, Code Name Bananas, by David Walliams. This book is one of the most recent offerings from the English comedian turned children’s writer. Published in 2020, and given to my son as a present, we started reading Code Name Bananas in lockdown this year and it provided us with some welcome comic relief. The book is full of action, laughter and secret plots, enough to keep us entertained.

This was my first time reading one of Walliams’ books. His fame precedes him. I knew he was the biggest selling children’s author to have started since the year 2000; he has books in over fifty-five languages and has sold over forty million copies worldwide.

To say I was curious would be an understatement. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

In Code Name Bananas it is 1940, Britain is at war with Germany. As bombs rain down on the city, orphaned eleven-year-old Eric forms an extraordinary friendship with a remarkable gorilla: Gertrude. Eric spends his days at the place that makes him most happy: London Zoo. But during the blitz, the zoo is no longer safe, and Eric must go on an adventure to rescue Gertrude. Together with his Uncle Sid, a keeper at the zoo, the three go on the run. After a harrowing series of near captures and hair-raising escapes, the trio end up hiding out at the seaside, where they uncover a dastardly plot… fall into the clutches of the bad guys… and have to foil the ultimate villains.

The sumptuous packaging of this book reeks of money spent. With a satiny cover and gilt lettering that catches the eye, it’s a beautiful piece of literary art. Tony Ross is fantastic! The combination of Tony Ross’ fabulous illustrations and David Walliams’ wonderful story work well together. On the front cover there is a gold badge in one corner, marketing the story as a “WHIZZ-BANG EPIC ADVENTURE.” What is a “whizz-bang epic adventure,” you may ask? Apparently it’s a story so crazy and unbelievable nothing is off limits. I was a bit startled how far Walliams will go. But is that not a sign of greatness? It was Neil Gaiman who said, ‘The fundamental rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like.’

With those parameters, Walliams may take over the world with insane outings like Code Name Bananas. RatburgerDemon Dentist and Awful Auntie have all won the National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year. The Ice Monster won ‘Children’s Fiction Book of the Year for 2018’ at the British Book Awards and some of his stories, like Grandpa’s Great EscapeMr StinkGangsta Granny and The Boy in the Dress are all available on DVD.

Yup, world domination is definitely on the cards.

Born in Wimbledon England in 1971, David Edward Williams OBE, known professionally as David Walliams, is a comedian, writer, actor and television personality. He is best known for his double act with Matt Lucas on the comedy sketch series, Rock Profile, Little Britain, and Come Fly With Me. Walliams has been a judge on the television talent show competition Britain’s Got Talent on ITV, since 2012. Now he has added best-selling author to his list of accomplishments.

You often hear Walliams being compared to Roald Dahl and I can see why. Walliams has the same blithe irreverence but with a slightly darker edge, and they’re both risk-takers. Walliams is a fun writer, however, the critics of Code Name Bananas have called it “phoned in” and “rushed out.” I enjoyed some parts of the story. Mostly it was too farcical for my taste. I got annoyed at the constant sound effects. They were unnecessary. Though novel at first, it quickly became overdone. If someone is eating, we don’t need to be told ‘MUNCH!’ I almost wondered if the sound effects were padding as they took up a lot of real estate.

On the plus side, I commend the historical aspect, especially for young readers. Code Name Bananas contains useful information about the Second World War, Adolf Hitler, German U boats, the Blitz, the Dunkirk evacuation, the London zoo, Winston Churchill and Buckingham Palace. I’m a big fan of historical fiction. Is it not the ultimate way to grasp information, to hear it in a story? That said Code Name Bananas will not make my list for favourite books of the year.

My rating: Three stars, just.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

*

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”–Jack Kerouac.

*

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

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

*

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

*

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