Book Review: Harriet and the Secret Rings
Author: Debra Williams (Clewer)
Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
As all great stories, this one begins and ends in a library and involves two children who discover something fantastical in one of the books. When Harriet and Will are set a project by their teacher to research an ancient civilisation, they get more than they bargained for when they discover three magic rings in one of the reference books that have power to transport them back in time. What child doesn’t like the idea of finding a magic ring?
The first ring—studded with green garnets—spirits Harriet (or Harry as she is sometimes referred to) away into an ancient Roman family where a slave girl piques her compassion. Together with Will, they find a marvellous way to release the slave girl who can then be reunited with her family. The next ring, made with amethysts, transports the two friends back to the Biblical days of Saint Paul and Silas who are arrested for being ‘trouble-makers’. Harriet and Will also find themselves arrested and sent to gaol where an earthquake shakes things up and they manage to escape. The last ring, made of gold and sapphires, conveys them to Sherwood Forest, where they meet Robin Hood and his merry men. Aspects of the ‘normal’ world collide with the fantastic in this section with the arrival of a red dragon and talking toadstools.
Here, the story is likened to A Christmas Carolwhen the children join with Maid Marion and the poor people to show the Sheriff all the evils that his heavy taxes have forced them to endure. Through clever trickery, they reveal how everyone is suffering because of his greed and, like Scrooge, he sets about making changes for the betterment of society.
Young children will enjoy this interesting and enjoyable book, which lends itself to many more rings, adventures and glimpses into past lives of historical legends. There are loads of ideas in library resource books for author, Debra Williams, where I’m sure she’ll catch the vague sound of whispering voices among those dusty, unopened pages.
Book Review: How to Write Format Publish Promote Your Book Without Any MoneyRead Now
Book Review: How to Write Format Publish Promote
Your Book Without Spending any Money
Author: Derek Murphy
Cover Design: Derek Murphy
Publisher: Derek Murphy
Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
Murphy has provided a wonderful resource for writers, especially for those just starting out. The Internet and social media have allowed publishing a book, growing your reader audience and becoming a successful author to not just be a distant dream, but a reality. This book is literally packed with information like a crown studded with gems of every variety. Murphy wants to help writers in their craft, made obvious with all the free resources he provides, this book being one of them.
It’s a practical guide for writers so they can traverse specific publishing related barriers with targeted solutions. If writers have a limited budget, Murphy shows in easy steps how they can produce a cool product without paying through the teeth. He doesn’t beat around the bush or pad the pages with empty fluff either. He does, however, provide loads of free tools to assist in DIY publishing.
I really liked the way he interspersed the book with quotes by other notable people and the advice at the conclusion from literary notables to encourage writers. He tells you the advantages of tools such as Scrivener, as well as giving handy hints on how to self-edit your own writing, what sort of cover to choose, and then he wades through the complex (and challenging) sections of formatting your own book. My own brain isn’t wired to understand it all, but he goes into simplified steps on designing and formatting with loads of graphics.
Publishing, although can be free, has its own complexities involving keywords, categories, blurbs and so on, with which Murphy provides assistance to writers. Promoting has its own section of wonderful advice and free tools as well, making this book one of the best on every point for new as well as established writers. Derek Murphy is generous to a fault and offers loads of tips and great ideas. This book is among the best out there and I highly recommend it to anyone just starting out on the journey of publishing their first, or twentieth, book.
And it’s free!
Book Review: A Lifetime to Love
Author: Cathy Walker
Cover Design: www.darkmoongraphics.com
Publisher: Cathy Walker
Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
A Lifetime to Loveis a short story, but it packs a lot of punch with its rich tapestry of believable characters and an ageless plot still so riveting to lovers of Arthurian mythology today. The tale is from Lancelot’s point of view as consciousness returns to him and he slowly becomes aware of the terrible place he finds himself in. With his mortal wound being treated by one of the ‘residents’ from Avalon named Isolde, realisation floods his soul of the great love he has for Guinevere but who has become lost to him.
Lancelot’s fractured memories of their fleeting time together are tainted with guilt and shame as they ebb and flow during his recovery, like dreams within dreams that can never truly exist without repercussions. Yet the story contains a clever, lovely twist at the end to give it that happy ending readers yearn after.
I have attempted to read several Arthurian stories, but none have quite captured a piece of its legendary history as this author does. Walker is a masterful storyteller who weaves her own peculiar magic through a rich brocade of research and imagination to create believable reality from the misty past of Avalon.
Book Review: The Verindon Alliance
Author: Lynne Stringer
Cover Design: Carmen Dougherty
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Rhiza Press
Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
This book makes an appealing gift for those who enjoy a sci fi escape. Intrigue, sabotage, loss, death and war are all rolled into the mix of this powerful story about two warring races: the Vendel and Verindal. I was thankful to receive a copy of The Verindon Alliancefrom the author, who gilds her tale in a masterful mystery with the initial discovery of slaughtered soldiers in the Andramadiss Mountains, which drew me into her world, seeking answers just as much as the characters did.
This bold and realistic story of the terrible events that befall both races is somewhat like a sci fi Romeo and Julietwith its budding romance element developing between the ostracised Vendelian princess Vashta and the heir to Verindal, Brandonin. The concept of an alliance is frightening and alien to both characters and yet it greatly appeals to their desire to see their people survive. To shrug off peace without giving it proper thought would only invite future ruin, something they both realise they don’t want early on.
The devastation and disaster wrought by swift and deadly creatures unwittingly bring these two feuding factions together for mutual survival. But in the beginning, both blame the other race of sending the creatures and both races want answers. Whilst reading through the histories, Vashta discovers that their people had once worked together long ago which, she realises, could occur again if both races put aside their differences and formed an alliance.
I found, for the most part, The Verindon Alliancea gripping and enjoyable read. It was fast-paced with a wonderful blend of character, plot and world building, exposing cultural, societal relationships which the elite of both factions had to adhere to. It eked out the ugly in royal sibling rivalry, grainy as sour wine, coarse as sandpaper. I appreciated the interaction of the two families with their ideologies that spanned long ages. Interestingly, the book was also a lesson in diplomacy, the intrigues of subterfuge and violence, deceit and truth establishing to secure solutions. Stringer writes well, uses sci fi tropes to create her world, tearing the meat from the bones to give readers just the bare, gritty story.
Book review: Smiley’s Secret World The Mares of Merryland Chase
Author: Flora May
Genre: Short Chapter Book
Cover Illustration: FrinaArt
Although Smiley is barely 9 years-old, she has the confidence and intelligence of someone much older, who can see through the sinister Regents that rule her fantastical land, Mirrandia. The story has the feel of Coraline by Neil Gaiman with the sinister ‘parents’ Coraline meets when she goes beyond the closed door. The Regents felt that creepy, but they work well in the place of antagonists.
Smiley uses clever psychology on them as well as on the narky Mares of Merryland Chase and it seems to work. The Mares finally accept her and allow her to feed, groom and walk them, while the Regents realise the Most High Hilaria has, indeed, returned and therefore, heralds future changes—for them as rulers.
The story has scope for several more books, since Smiley has to set in order six tasks to prove herself as the Most High Hilaria of Mirrandia and only one task was solved at this book’s end. Children aged 8 and over who love stories about magic horses in an extraordinary world will certainly enjoy this story.
Book Review: Thadities and the Clan The Wildwoods of First
Author: Carolyn Wyrsch
Publisher: Balboa Press
Book Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
Take some fairy tale ingredients such as magic books, elementals, talking dragons, giants, moving trees and a host of other creatures, put them in a blender and you get an epic tale of mystery. It begins when a squire named Oak wakes up after a celebration and discovers everyone in the castle has vanished. And what does he do? He goes in search for clues to discover what happened and stumbles upon the biggest adventure of his life.
It’s a tale of self-discovery as Oak learns things about himself, about who his parents were as well as finding his sister. Once he meets the dragons, they discover how peculiar the wildwoods are, where vines and trees move around and even slap Oak. Tree roots move and even the ground shifts. Some good concepts there which I would have loved to have seen developed more, as well as the dialogue and character emotions. The protagonists felt static and could have been better refined for readers to feel empathy with them on their quest.
The navigators didn’t feel sinister enough for me. They didn’t make my teeth rattle and my blood go cold with terror. I would have liked to have seen some villainous characters described and given names to make my knees knock together, as well as a good up and close personal battle with Oak, and him having to make some terrible sacrifice for his sister’s life.
Book Review: Maxidents HappenRead Now
CBook Review: Maxidents Happen
Author: Michel Deverall
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publisher: Little Rascal Books
Book Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
Maxidents Happenreally takes off after one forgetful incident leads to the biggest mess-ups ever for likable Max Nuttell in this humorous junior fiction tale. In fact, the story begins with him accidently forgetting to turn off the tap one morning, which leads to increasingly worse, but hilarious situations that reminds me of Dennis the Menace. Everything Max does turns into escalating disaster.
I found myself both giggling and cringing at the comical crises Max found himself in. I fully recommend this book to children aged 8 and upward who could relate to and enjoy the funny, silly adventures.lick here to edit.
Book ReviewRead Now
Book Review: Fossil Frenzy-The Adamson Adventures 3
Author: Sandra Bennett
Cover Design: Nicole Matthews
Publisher: Rosella Ridge Books
Reviewer: Elizabeth Klein
This Jurassic Park-sounding story unwraps itself like a multi-layered gift. The first layer grounds the reader in a drought-stricken homestead in Central Queensland where the parched earth of disaster looms across the ruined property that three children want to desperately save. Language is unique as the author draws from Australian fauna, flora and constellations, as well as the Dreamtime aspect to include its first people.
The second layer unravels in an unexpected storm that somehow opens a portal into the distant past when a rainforest existed there on the property instead of open plains, as well as dinosaurs. The children explore the extraordinary world and everything is huge, dangerous and increasingly scary.
As dangers and hardships beset the children, more layers unfold to reveal an emotional level where admiration for Claire and concern for Luke’s health bring out the hero in all three as they race to get back to their own time. But it’s Luke’s resourcefulness that, in the end, saves the homestead from ruin.
This story has enough tension, conflict and excitement to make it an engaging yarn for middle graders and anyone who enjoys dinosaur tales.
Plotter or PantserRead Now
I’m in a dither, but it’s my own fault.
I can’t seem to get involved in my current story, even though I have a cute guy on the front cover, a cover which, I might add, I won. I’ve re-written my introduction several times but I’m still not happy with it.
The thing is, I know what my problem is and how to fix it.
I recently read an article by Derek Murphy, who says, ‘I had trouble getting through a whole book until I learned story structure and plotting—and after I learned it I’ve found it much easier to produce fiction that sells, much more quickly.’
Many writers do ‘write from the seat of their pants’ and the story unfolds for them as they go. They enjoy letting the characters drive the plot along and may even justify it by saying their characters create the dialogue and therefore the situation. This may work for some genres such as romance, but I write epic fantasy and if there’s one thing readers like are the subplots, the twists and turns, the secondary characters who also have their part to play in the overall plot.
When I wrote the Bethloria series, which has seven books in total, I semi-plotted each one out. I had a vague idea of where each story was heading and who some of the characters were going to be, but it was only a skeleton of an idea and not fleshed out.
It had holes. It had weaknesses.
The thing going for it was that I knew my created world inside out. I’d smelled the untaming rot in the trees, seen how its dying forests appeared, felt its icy weather, experienced the dungeons and dragons and demons that I forced my main characters to experience. Thank goodness I was able to weave all the loose ends together at the conclusion of the series.
But it could have ended up in a great big mess.
On the whole, as a plotter, I tend to write better-crafted stories without gaping plot holes. I generally have loads of page notes which I can incorporate and create a gripping tale. When I’m writing from ‘the seat of my pants’, dialogue takes over and characters hijack my already flimsy plot, more flaws tend to appear in the actual story whose direction I have little idea of and I have loads to correct once the manuscript returns from my editor.
I had a friend once whose junior fiction stories were snapped up by a publisher. They signed her up for a series and my friend suddenly had deadlines, which stressed her out no end. She also worked and had a young family to look after and the only time available to write the series was late at night when everyone went to bed. She decided to write the stories by the seat of her pants, thinking she’d get them over and done with quicker. The publishers detected glaring holes and other problems in her stories. In the end, they rejected them. My friend had made more work for herself because she had to rewrite large sections of the stories.
‘I just don’t know what to write,’ she moaned. ‘Or what’s going to happen next.’
Luckily, she had a light-bulb moment and decided to plot out her remaining books, which was when she began to write faster and with a clearer direction. Plotting essentially gave her a map from beginning to end, enabling her to churn out six books.
One famous plotter is James Patterson, whose extensive outlines read like little stories on their own. Sounds like hard work to me. On the other hand, Stephen King is a pantser and enjoys stressing out his characters to see what transpires. Seems to have worked for him.
So, which are you: plotter, or pantser?
Going Frog HuntingRead Now
I’m guessing not many of you have gone frog hunting and those that have, did it for fun when they were kids. I live in a caravan full-time with my husband, Malcolm, and the covid virus has kept us grounded in one spot for over eleven months. The vegetation here is lush and tropical, the birds and animals are unique and varied. The spot we originally chose to park our van in, too, is pretty sheltered from strong winds and we have been relatively happy here.
A few nights ago, we began hearing shlap shlap shlap noises on our roof. Not thinking anything about it other than a wayward frog had somehow gotten up there—though we had no idea how—we promptly went back to sleep.
The second night it happened as well, except it sounded like the original frog had brought along his mates and were partying up there. My hubby can sleep through anything—and I mean pretty well anything. But the sounds the frogs made kept me awake for a long time. The next night, we took action and went frog hunting. Malcolm got the torch, ladder and the rake and we managed to remove 6 pesky frogs and relocate them. We thought we had solved the problem.
But the next night, they were back!
So, we went outside around dusk, checking for them hopping up the side of our van, but saw nothing. Hopeful, we went back inside and watched TV. But then we heard the ominous shlap shlap shlap noises on our roof and we knew they hadn’t gone at all. So, we armed ourselves for battle. Malcolm got the big ladder out, the strong torch with the high beam and we went frog hunting for the second night in a row. After a concerted effort, we managed to remove another 5 frogs. Unbelievable!
(Poor Malcolm did it with a raging fever, too.)
After we removed every single frog we saw up there, I took him to the Ballina District Hospital as he had a cellulitis flair-up. I drove home, late, thinking I’d be able to have a good night’s sleep, since I had witnessed the removal of every single frog. I climbed into bed and listened with dread. But all was quiet.
About 3:30 am, I heard the dreaded shlap shlap shlap sounds on our roof.
In the end, I stuffed my ears with cotton wool, went back to bed and tried to sleep. But it was hopeless as I lay wondering what we were going to do about them. That’s where this story ends—for now. Hopefully, we’ll find a solution to this annoying problem soon.
Has anyone else had such an annoying experience with wild critters? How can you relate it to writing a book?
Elizabeth Klein is an Australian author specialising in children's, Young Adult fantasy and short stories.