Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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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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!!!

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

August 5 question – Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

I’ve tried other genres each time a teacher has called me upon to write something new for writing courses, however, somehow I always end up penning fantasy for children by default. It has always come the most naturally to me, ever since I started writing this genre of fiction as a seventeen-year-old.

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I think that’s because fantasy is what I loved to read as a child. And reading books is one of the most vividly remembered aspects of my young life. When I was at my most voracious reading stage, at twelve, I had to take a stack of twenty books with me whenever we went on holiday. I couldn’t bear to be without a book to read. I was still young enough to believe in the unbelievable and to look at things out of the corner of my eye, still naïve enough to believe in the possibility of fairies and witches and magic. The stories I read were actual worlds to me, and I escaped into their dappled places with abandon. That was where my imagination lit up.

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When I wrote stories as a bored seventeen-year-old stay-at-home-mum, my imagination immediately took off into the never-never I had relished as a child, and I was writing fantasy adventure for 6-8-year-olds in my first story out of the gate. That’s the way it’s been ever since.

In my early twenties, I read in the newspaper about the New Zealand author, Jill Mitchell, creator of the Zip and Mack books (which they later made into an animated TV series). Jill was writing and illustrating and publishing her own picture books, under the imprint Wild Daisies Publications, an Indie long before it was fashionable. I contacted Jill, and she invited me out to her home to meet.

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Jill Mitchell was the ultimate artist. She had a delightfully wacky country house, in which she had painted vivid nature scenes on every wall, and she had a wild garden filled with every kind of plant and flower. How I envied her the studio she had built out of her garden shed. It was open to the air, and as she sat at the high bench and wrote or painted, her many pets could wander through and say hello, including her donkey.

Jill showed me all her wonderful brightly coloured books, and I showed her some of my picture book stories. At that stage in my writing career, I had heard the words “fantasy doesn’t sell” so many times from so many publishers I was desperate to write something a child would read. So I had penned five “normal” adventure stories and illustrated them. I showed them to Jill. She thought they showed promise. And I can remember she praised my style as “wholesome.”

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I said, yeah, they’re okay, but what I love to write is fantasy, especially about anthropomorphic critters (think, the Redwall series or Finn Family Moomintroll). Jill said, if that’s what you want to write, then you must follow your heart. It was one of those key moments in my life. Later, in 2005, when my two youngest boys were still babies, I attended two weekend writing courses with award-winning Kiwi writer and tutor, Kate De Goldi. Kate looked at my fantasy manuscripts and said she didn’t know why I had a predilection for writing about insects, but if I did, then I should follow that because there had to be a reason for it. Fortified once again, I continued to write the stories that gave me joy and made my heart sing, and you guessed it, I’m still writing anthropomorphic fantasy for children. Huzzah! Did I “choose” the genre, no, it definitely chose me.

What about you, are you doing what gives you the most joy, what makes your heart sing? I highly recommend it.

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt

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I’ve finished reading my eighth novel for 2020, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by American author, Amy Tan. I had so enjoyed reading Joy Luck Club many years ago, that I’ve always picked up anything by Amy Tan when I’ve trawled through thrift shops and book fairs. Tan’s tendency to explore mother-daughter relationships draws me in, as the subject endlessly enthralls. I am a daughter of a mother and knowing how emotionally fraught and complex our relationship was I am inclined to read of other women’s experiences and share in that universality of the mother/daughter push/pull friction.

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HarperCollins published The Bonesetter’s Daughter in 2003 to critical acclaim. They made the book into an opera that premiered September 13, 2008. Amy Tan herself penned the libretto. While we westerners love Amy Tan and the vivid depiction of culture, there has also been widespread criticism by the Asian communities for inaccuracies and perpetuating cultural stereotypes. However, whether you love her or hate her, I think we can all agree Amy Tan knows how to write an interesting story. Born in 1952, Tan has published other books, including The Kitchen God’s WifeThe Hundred Secret SensesSaving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of AmazementPBS turned her children’s book, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, into an animated series in 1994.

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The Bonesetter’s Daughter is like two books in one. Book I takes us into the usual Amy Tan narrative involving the dynamics of the relationship between an American-born Chinese woman and her immigrant mother. Ruth is a Chinese-American, living in San Francisco, whose eccentric over-bearing mother Lu Ling says strange enigmatic things about her mysterious past and seems to be succumbing to dementia. Lu Ling appears aware she’s becoming forgetful and gives Ruth some of her writings, which tell the story of her upbringing.

Book II reveals the translated writings, and they transport us back to a bygone era in a remote mountain village in China. We hear Lu Ling’s evocative voice retelling her extraordinarily eventful life, raised by the mute Precious Auntie, and the terrible way their well-to-do family comes under a curse which tears the family down to dire poverty. The fascinating descriptions of the village, the joys and the tragedies of an incredible life unfold seamlessly. Tan apparently based the story on her relationship with her own mother, including aspects of her mother’s and grandmother’s life stories. The photo used in the first edition of the novel is Tan’s grandmother, Gu Jingmei, taken in about 1905.

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Say what you will about Amy Tan’s so-called “pandering to the popular imagination,” the worlds she writes about are visceral, redolent, and the complex dynamics of the characters are a pleasure to follow, even in their unexpected moments of brutality. I admire her story writing ability. The heart wringing accounts of mother/daughter relationships may lure us in to the story, but it’s the well-told unfolding tapestry of events that keeps us there until the end. In Tan’s earlier hit, Joy Luck Club, she tells the stories of four Chinese-American families who start a club playing mahjong for money. Tan divides the book into four chapters of four sections, referring to the structure of the game mahjong, and thus cleverly tells the intertwining tales that way. She is a master of symbolism and imaginative retelling of the ordinary family minutiae that fascinates us all. They made Joy Luck Club into a dramatic film in 1993.

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There was one of those seven-day challenges going round Facebook recently, in which you had to post a daily photo for a week, seven covers of the key, most-loved books from your life. A friend posted a cover of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. I did the challenge too, but I didn’t include this novel in my seven most loved books. I read The Bonesetter’s Daughter quickly, inhaling it in half a dozen sittings. I took pleasure in the compelling story. I liked it a lot, but I wouldn’t go that far. It had a few flaws in my eyes. The first part of the book was a tad over written and Ruth was nowhere near as interesting as Lu Ling, whose book/story followed. I almost wished we could have just heard Lu Ling’s voice from the beginning. Also, Ruth’s lackluster response to reading her mother’s mind-boggling life story was a let-down at the end. I still like Amy Tan as a writer and would probably read another of her works, however, this wasn’t the best book I’ve read in my lifetime or this year.

My rating: Three stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m not afraid of ghosts. Are you still mad at me? Don’t you recognize me? I’m Lu Ling, your daughter.” ~ The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

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I’ve finished reading my sixth novel for 2020, Once Upon a River, by the award-winning British author, Diane Setterfield. My sister gave it to me as a Christmas present. My sister has a reputation as the book giver in the family and she has excellent taste. I started reading it immediately but you can’t rush a book like this. I had to savour it in stages and read other lighter books in between. So rich, so complex, so steeped in magic and myth is Once Upon a River, that I didn’t want it to end.

By reading slowly and in stages, I made it last six months! And it has been a beautiful ride.

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They say that opening lines, or opening pages, are vital to get right to draw most of us into buying or reading a book. From the first moment, ‘The Story Begins… There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a long day’s walk from the source’ we know that this tale is something special. It’s a subtle choice of opener with the promise of glorious things to come. Once Upon a River opens by introducing us to the Thames river along with the ancient, brooding inn called The Swan where the regulars gather every night to hear and tell stories. Then we get hit between the eyes by the central question that kicks off the novel, a man arrives late at night, his face split apart, carrying a girl who has drowned in the river…until she comes back to life again.

So the mystery of the dead girl who came to life unwinds and draw us in.

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This richly told haunting historic novel takes us back to the dawn of Darwinism and has the delicious darkness of British Gothic Literature. It is as if Setterfield transports us to that era. I enjoyed the interplay of mythology and symbolism alongside the visceral rendering of a bygone time in history.

We follow the fall-out of this strange event at The Swan, as the ripples continue outward from the central mystery of the mute girl’s identity and what has happened to her. Setterfield answers nothing quickly. We hear the lyricism and enjoy the tale as we become involved in the characters, described so vividly we can see them every time we close our eyes.

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Setterfield’s genius way of blending astute observation of human characters and the brilliant rendering of setting and scene has its own music just as does the river that flows through the story. I cannot downplay how moved I was by the sheer mastery of the storytelling. There is horror, romance, mystery, drama, suspense, and I love that there is an emotional underpinning, too, in this story. That this lost girl brings up the issues of parenthood, losing children, and wanting children in the surrounding people, sentiments which are feelings familiar to most of us. We’re engaged on the emotional level, which is important.

It’s both hard to review a book as brilliant as this and even harder to come up with criticism. The only niggle for me was the number of different plot-lines and the multitude of characters were hard to keep up with, but even that couldn’t stop me reading with sheer joy. Setterfield brings each person’s story to life in such a genuine way I was happy to juggle them in my head while I waited for the overall story to make sense. A superb writer will make you read, anyway, right?

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Diane Setterfield (born 22 August 1964)  is the writer I want to be when I grow up. Her first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, released in 2006 became a New York Times No.1 bestseller and won her the 2007 Quill Award, Debut author of the year. The BBC adapted it for television in 2013, starring Vanessa RedgraveOlivia Colman, and Sophie Turner.

Critics have hailed Setterfield’s latest offering, Once Upon a River, as ‘Magical’ and ‘Dazzling.’ Released in 2019, there is now a television series being made by Kudos, the same people who created Broadchurch, Spooks and Grantchester. Some reviewers have compared Diane Setterfield with other great writers from the past. Some have placed Once Upon a River somewhere ‘between fairytale and a science story.’ I think Setterfield is creating a new breed of fiction, borrowing from the old, drawing from the new, and creating an evocative, spellbinding, fresh form of historic literature in a class all her own. More power to her!

My rating: Four and three-quarter stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Afterwards there was a pause. It wasn’t done to jump in too quickly with a new story before the last one was properly digested.’ ~ Once Upon a River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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

I’ve finished reading my fourth novel for 2020, The Haunting by one of New Zealand’s best  loved authors, the iconic Margaret Mahy. The Haunting follows the story of our young protagonist, Barney Palmer, an ordinary boy as extraordinary things happen to him. Barney and his sister, Tabitha suspect he is being haunted by his Great-Uncle Cole. The story introduces us to relatives of the Palmers, the Scholar family who are weird and wonderful, and there is talk of magicians. The cast is eclectic as one would expect from a Mahy novel and the story holds you gripped, as poor Barney becomes threatened by the ghostly presence with a family connection. Veering into possession it is a scary ghost story for children. Kids love a scare as long as they can trust the author to deliver it with a light touch of humour. And it has a good unexpected twist at the end. On this score too, Mahy delivers.

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Margaret Mahy (21 March 1936 – 23 July 2012) was an award-winning Kiwi author of children’s and young adults books and short stories. She received international recognition towards the end of her life with the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her “lasting contribution to children’s literature.”

I was lucky enough to meet Margaret once, when she was appearing and I was volunteering at one of the Storylines Children’s Literature festivals. She looked just like she did in all the photos wearing a rainbow wig and a hundred badges. She walked past me with a trail of enthralled little children in her wake reminding me of the Pied Piper. I sat at the back of the room when she read one of her books, The Lion in the Meadow to a room full of three-five-year-olds and she held them in her palm. She was a magical storyteller. Full stop.

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Mahy wrote eloquently of relationships, people, and growing up. These themes underpin The Haunting. Published in New Zealand in 1982, it won the Carnegie Medal, an award given by the Library Association celebrating the year’s best children’s book by a British subject. A lot of Mahy’s considerable body of work, including The Haunting, is low fantasy otherwise known as “intrusion fantasy,” when the fantastical plays out in a realistic setting. Intrusion fantasy can mete out shock and awe in the hands of a master storyteller when the supernatural intrudes on an otherwise ordinary everyday world.

I remember when I started out writing, one of my tutors called my sentences “kaleidoscopic” so I shortened them. Some of Margaret Mahy’s sentences are delightfully kaleidoscopic and she uses a lot of head-hopping and so on, but there is no time to care about the issues when you’re hurrying to read the next page! You know it’s a marvellous story when you’re so immersed, you finish the book and think, I forgot to take any notes.

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Every time I read a book for review I’m always looking for the errors or flaws to give a balanced view. But all the rules go out the window when you’re in the hands of a master. It reminds me of when J. K. Rowling published the first book in the Harry Potter series, and it scandalized published authors around the world. They laughed at the old-fashioned style of writing. Here was Rowling flaunting the rules everyone else in the modern literary community tried to live by. Yet the Harry Potter series became the most widely sold books in the world, second only to the bible. Why? Because Rowling is a gifted storyteller. With the gifted, the rules don’t matter.

As Diane Setterfield wrote, in The Thirteenth Tale, ‘There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.’

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I thought The Haunting was an engrossing tale told with aplomb. It was an interesting take on a ghost story and not one I’d read before. I think that’s the other thing I love about Mahy is the element of the unexpected. The only problem I have with The Haunting if I had to pick one, and it’s minor but still knocked off half a star, is that it was too short. Just as I wanted to get my teeth into the story and stay there, it was over. It was an all-too fleeting jaunt into Mahy’s imagination that whets the appetite and leaves one hoping for more. That’s class.

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

N.B. They made the Haunting into a movie, The Haunting of Barney Palmer, released in 1987.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Along the borders of this world there lie others,

There are places you can cross,

This is one such place. ~ Diane Setterfield

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I’ve finished reading my third novel for 2020, Child Power. I like a story set in ancient history and Book two of The Amazon Series by Kiwi writer, Raewyn Dawson, takes place in c.300 BC.  Raewyn set her debut novel, Slave Power, in the area around the Black Sea, introducing Melo, a fifteen-year-old rider of the Amazonian Wild Horse Tribe, pitched against slave traders who tyrannise The Plains.

A story of slaves triumphing over oppression is a rousing theme.

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Book two, Child Power, picks up with a sixteen-year-old Melo, who is now a leader in the combined tribes of the Wild Eagle Horse Tribe. There is friction for the newly formed tribes people. To assist her people with all the changes, Melo helps the unruly children of the tribe by letting them take on leadership roles. Melo’s friend, the young Atalanta is abducted and taken to work as a slave with many other mistreated child slaves at a pig farm. Atty becomes a leader among the slaves and teaches them the methods of inner resilience of those who follow “the Peace Way,” which translates as shedding as little blood as in resolving conflict. The children learn how to work together as a team and look out for one another, in the process gaining the strength they need to fight for freedom.

It’s a story of child empowerment which is a cool idea. Nice one, Raewyn. *High five.

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Christchurch based author, Raewyn Dawson, teaches Classics and plays piano. Born in Wellington, she lives with her three daughters and her husband. Of her novel, Child Power, Dawson said, ‘The second book was about how young people too can work together with real success despite hardship.’

As a poet, I think Dawson writes fiction with a poet’s touch, with rhythm and rich descriptions, and she definitely is a great storyteller. I look forward to the release of the third book. There’s a lot to like about Child Power. I like the fresh ideas. The novel and pleasing notion of “the Peace Way” is such a soothing balm in these fretful times. I also appreciated reading the female protagonists. It’s nice to hear from the girls.

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There were only two little niggles for me with this book. First, was the style used of inserting pieces of narration by a “voice of God” type character, His feeling was mistaken, which come across as a little old-fashioned. I sometimes found the narration intrusive. Personally, I’d rather not have a warning, preferring to read the action as it unfolds.

Also, one antagonist, Mithrida, who had been a total bad-ass character through both volumes, and had prepared for revenge (like Linda Hamilton’s character training in The Terminator sequel to be a warrior) throughout Child Power, gets a mosquito bite towards the end which slows her down just as she would have her revenge. While it’s not responsible for a resolution of the story, it puts a dent in bad guy’s stride, and for me, the device grazed the area of Deus Ex Machina. It seemed a little too convenient.

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The head hopping I’ve already mentioned in my review of book one, Slave Power. Yet, given that she head hops, Raewyn has done an exceptional job in Child Power and Slave Power, of juggling such a large cast of characters. With this second book I felt like I was getting to know all these different characters and they became more real for me. So that’s proof that the author had developed the cast well and there was growth and development whether good or bad for most of them.

It’s an able piece of storytelling. I liked Child Power and the chance to go back in time to a fascinating era. I thought it was lovely, Raewyn letting the youngest character, Atty, be the one who took the lead role in this book, gaining more prominence over Melo. So this series has an excellent setting and a new voice to offer to the Young Adult genre, and it’s done well. Good job, Raewyn Dawson.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Cadence is the difference between a piece that simply ‘works’ and one that doesn’t. The professional and the novice. So treat your piece like its poetry. Read it out loud. Do you stumble? Does something seem off? Clunky? That’s the cadence right there. The rhythm of a piece, the beat. The play on syllables, the alliteration. ~ Shreya Vikram

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I’ve finished reading my second novel for 2020, Slave Power. The setting for the Amazon Series is in ancient history and the books are stories about the mysterious Amazon tribes, which makes them an ambitious undertaking for Kiwi writer, Raewyn Dawson. Her debut novel, Slave Power takes place in c.300 BC. I have to say, as a fan of historical fiction, I thought Raewyn brought the past to life convincingly. That’s what I treasure about historical fiction is that you vicariously go back in time and you learn about the past. The series is for young adults, so there is some R-rated content that makes it unsuitable for younger readers.

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Book One in the Amazon Series, Slave Power, takes place in the exotic setting of the Black Sea, The Plains, and the Caucasus Mountains. The story follows Melo, a fifteen-year-old rider in the Wild Horse Tribe, as she and her fellow Amazons come up against the slave traders who tyrannise The Plains making raids on the peaceful tribes. The slave traders capture Melo and most of the tribes, separating some with Melo to train as warriors, selling the others. As the enslaved youngsters cooperate and work on outer and inner strength, they finally overturn the overlords by using peaceful means. Peace is an overriding theme for the book, because the Amazons and people of the plains follow “the Peace Way” which translates as shedding as little blood as possible in resolving conflict.

Raewyn Dawson

Raewyn Dawson is an award-winning speaker, pianist, and teacher of Classics. Born in Wellington, she has three daughters and now lives in Christchurch with her husband. Of her novel, Slave Power, Dawson has said, ‘The first novel was about the power of friendship among women, even if oppressed, to achieve hope.’

As a recognized poet in New Zealand, I think Dawson writes fiction like a poet also, with certain unexpected turns of phrase and rich descriptions. She handled the setting for Slave Power nicely. Whenever I read books set in the past all my instincts go on high alert as I seek to reassure myself within the first few pages that the author can deliver the past believably. I’m pleased to say this was the case with Slave Power. I relaxed as soon as I was sure the author could deliver me into ancient history and take me for a wonderful ride.

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So that’s the good cop. The bad cop has two issues with Slave Power. The first gripe is the “Head hopping.” According to editor Louise Harnby, head hopping is when the writer forces the reader to play a game of ping pong on the page. Instead of reading the story, one is constantly trying to work out who’s telling it. I would read Slave Power thoroughly engrossed and then suddenly we would switch to another character in a different place and then a different person and so on. I longed to get to know Melo better, and it was frustrating to only be with her character occasionally throughout the story. A lot of highly successful authors juggle multiple points of view deftly and weave a magical story this way. I have no problem with that. All I’m saying is that head hopping is not my preference. I like to get to know the protagonist and spend time with them, getting to know all their funny quirks, until they become like dear friends or family members, people you know and care about. It’s hard to care about Melo the way I cared about Harry, for instance, when we don’t hear from our protagonist for three or sometimes five or six chapters.

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Gripe number two about Slave Power was the ending. In fiction, it is vital to answer the questions you’ve raised, to touch on the ending for each of the point of view characters, and to have an ending with resonance. Melo and the other slaves had been training for most of the novel, and the other enslaved youngsters. Yet at the end, when Melo and the other slaves overturn the regime of bad guys in town, it’s almost a non-event. In one page they’ve surrounded the city, and it’s theirs, which I felt was a let-down. It was too abrupt.

That being said, overall I liked Slave Power. Reading about the Amazons and the strong female characters was refreshing. Raewyn Dawson is a skilled storyteller and has a great imagination to share. I also felt interested in starting Book Two in the Amazon Series, Child Power. I think that’s a fairly healthy sign of a tale worth reading.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. ~ Roald Dahl

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Last year, I challenged myself in January to read more. By the end of 2019, I had read twenty-four books, and I left a review for each one on Goodreads. This year, the challenge continues because reading is essential for writers. As the award-winning writer Kate De Goldi said to us once, “Write write write, read read read.”

I started reading in January and realized I no longer had anywhere to post my reviews. I had quit most of my social media accounts in December. Therefore–drum roll, please–I will post my reviews here on my blog instead. Problem solved.

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The first novel for 2020 was a book I had picked up at the flea market recently, Hickory Dickory Dock, by Agatha Christie. There are certain authors I will always buy their books at book fairs and thrift stores and Christie is one of them, also, William Dalrymple, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Diane Setterfield, Anne Enright, and so on, however I mostly invest in paperback versions of the other great writers in my genre of fantasy for children like Maggie Stiefvater, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Katherine Applegate, Brian Jacques and so on.

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Well loved, Dame Agatha Christie (1890 -1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time according to the Guinness Book of Records, and the most published behind Shakespeare and the Bible. I love a good mystery and admire mystery writers. Agatha Christie is the queen of them all. Her style, while old-fashioned is effortless, she is a natural-born storyteller. She has the gift to pull you in and keep you enthralled to the end.

They published hickory Dickory Dock in 1955. The writing style is outdated to the modern reader and a lot of the language is archaic. I found the story got clunky in places; however, you forgive the occasional over-egging and quaint old-fashioned views of the world for what they are, a precious glimpse into a bygone era.

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This book features Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. A somewhat irascible character, he is divisive, some fans love him some loathe him for being pompous. Personally, I indulge his bombastic behaviour because I adore how outrageous he is, and how self confident, and he’s as smart as a whip.

Hickory Dickory Dock is a cracking mystery that takes you on a roller coaster journey as the clues drop. The cast is extensive, and it took me a while to figure out who was who. I enjoyed Christie’s way of drawing you in and igniting the questions in your mind. Yet there were also times when the plot seemed a tad convoluted as if she may have gotten carried away. These days we’d say less is more, but the dialogue is believable and I love the quaint language. It’s a window into another world. Altogether, an entertaining read.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody. ~ Agatha Christie

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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. Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

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!!!

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OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: February 5 question – Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

In a word, no. However, as luck would have it, my friend, author Donatien Moisdon asked a question the other day in an email which I think would make an excellent question of the month.

Donatien: In your latest newsletter, I was very interested to read about your thoughts and those of your friends regarding the question: What makes a good novel?

For me, a writer of popular fiction, a good book entails the perfect marriage of a riveting story line and great characters. I have to feel a connection with the main character; I want to feel drawn to them and want to know what happens to them next.

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So when I’m writing a new story, I strive to know the characters first. I am a fan of the “story bible” or “book journal” which means I write the details of the characters, and setting, background, longhand in a special notebook. By this method, I develop my characters well before I ever start writing the story. The hope is to convey real characters who have depth.

I prefer a small cast. Donatien’s advice is to deal with only a limited number of characters and make sure that readers will recognize them easily.

I agree. I finished reading The Warlock by Michael Scott a few months ago. It boggled me for half the book, trying to remember the vast catalogue of players. For the second half of the book I had a handle on the enormous cast but I still got confused. Even the professional writers get it wrong.

Donatien Moisdon

Donatien recommends keeping things clear in the reader’s mind especially in dialogue. It is very important for readers to know exactly who is saying what. Thus the importance of perfect punctuation.

So for a good book, you need a manageable number of characters. You need to hone good dialogue and pay attention to punctuation.

You also need a rivetting story line. I prefer adventure stories, and I have done since I first discovered the joy of reading as a young girl. And in writing popular or genre fiction for children, the goal is to take readers on a fabulous ride they won’t want to get off. In a story worth its salt the protagonist/s have to win fire (or the elixir) and bring it back to the tribe, but to get there, keep upping the pace, worsening the conflict for the protagonist and deepening the stakes.

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There is an infectious pace that kicks in on a brilliant story. You can’t stop turning the page. Donatien says, Rhythm is very important. Can each sentence be read in a loud voice for the first time by a newcomer without hesitation? If the reader stumbles, chances are the sentence needs work. To bring your writing alive in the reader’s mind, he suggests remembering to use all the senses. Place the reader at the very center of the action, but also at the center of the environment through the use of the five senses. Add a sixth sense: the sense of a dream.

For me, there’s also an X factor that marks a good book, that singular thing of being able to drift away with the words. It’s the fairy circle where you enter and the more you read the more you lose time. I like stories that take me away somewhere. My goal with every story I write is to return the reader to the shaded places of youth where they remember magic can happen, to inspire a sense of wonder. That is the holy grail.

How do you instill wonder? I’m always trying to figure it out! Do you know?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette Carol

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Storytelling is really one of the most wonderful things about human beings. And some of us get to be lucky enough to also be the storytellers. ~ Bryan Cranston