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ASTRID'S 12 RECOMMENDATIONS

 FOR CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER

Fantasy

Recommendations

What are my top Fantasy picks for 2021?

Romance Recommendations

What are my top Romance picks for 2021?

Children's Book Recommendations

What are my top Children's Books picks for 2021?

Other Recommendations

What other books made my top picks for 2021?

 

Top Fairytale retelling: Ash: Crooked Fates by Sky Sommers

This is a brilliant conclusion to the Cinders-Embers-Ash trilogy

If you haven’t read any of Sky Sommer’s books yet, start with Cinders: Necessary Evil. There is so much packed into Ash I think it would be confusing to skip the other books in this series.

As an avid reader of Sommer’s books, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this addition to the canon. Ash: Crooked Fates, (or should I say, That Crook, Fate) is a brilliant Wizard of Oz retelling with fabulous references to both the classic musical and the original novel by Frank Baum. It was a wonderful adventure down the crooked paths of Sommer’s mind and I loved finally getting Mellie’s adventure combined with new characters and a slow burn romance for Ellie. 

And I loved finally getting another dual ending for optimists and pessimists! Being a non-conformist, I read and loved both.

It is simply wonderful. I highly recommend it! Best Wizard of Oz retelling!

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What was the spark that started Ash: Crooked Fates?

In my childhood, I loved the Russian version of the Wizard of Oz and only later in life found out
about the American (original one). The story always had holes for me, especially after seeing Wicked, the musical, in London. What if the witch wasn't bad at all? What if she didn't die? What if there weren't 4 witches but...fewer? Plus anyone who knows my Mellie from Cinders knows
she's a villain who needs a good(ish) ending. My alternative for her would be the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland and maybe some day I'll write that, in fact I think I will. Ummm... there went another spark, I guess. :)

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Ash: Crooked Fates
integrating many POVs (of many characters).

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has
influenced you?

I like writing snappy, whimsical dialogue,  a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour and am particularly partial to animating the inanimate, but my editors and betas have to egg me on to add
descriptions (so not a lot of that in my books, leaving quite a few things to the reader's imagination). I'm also more of an action-driven writer than character-driven, I guess, although most of my stories have coming-of-age or character development in them. As for influencers -
Douglas Adams' and Jenny Crusie's books embody all that I strive for - whimsical, humorous, snappy dialogue, lively character interactions, twisty, absurd and fun.

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Ash: Crooked Fates?

In the original Baum version, the good witches and bad witches never had names (at least not in the versions that I got my paws on). Only in Volkov's version and in Wicked the witches had names, imagine that!

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is. 

Ash is multigenerational fiction, so there is a YA romance line (which has a long haul romance part) and the adult romance bit (which has pre-history, so that's more like second chances romance). In the adult pair, Mellie is one of the main characters and she is annoying, selfish, unkind, inconsiderate, creative, get-going and she totally drives you up the wall, but she is also very very human.

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into Ash: Crooked Fates?

Dementia and syndromes similar to it (like Korsakoff's) - it's one of the social issues I've raised on how to spot them, not just label people crazy or drunk, but you tell me if I succeeded.

What’s next for you and your writing?

To Thaw A Heart, my Snow Queen retelling short story comes out on Dec 20th (sign-up for ARCs Is open on my Insta bio page, if anyone is keen to read it & review it before the story comes out), so I'm going back to fairytales for a sec before delving into Kill-Bill style short story for Once Upon A Name and a romantic fantasy full-length book for Realm of Darkness where not one,
but several of my characters from Ash make a comeback.

What book(s) changed your life?

Bulgakov's Master & Margarita, Douglas Adams' Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy and Jenny
Crusie's Bet Me. The first allowed to see the useful side of evil, the second made me laugh and realise 'Hey, absurd humour books are fun!' and the latter made me discover you can write romantic books with humour, relatable real characters AND killer dialogue.

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

Understanding humanity - how to remain human, how we get to Mars and other planets, how we
survive, how we empathise, why we occasionally seem not so human anymore.

What would be your perfect Christmas gift? Time. And no, I am not dying, just super busy. :)

Fantasy with a twist: Tribe of Midnight by Iris Knox

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Romeo and Juliet meets fantasy in this incredible tale.

Two clans... Sworn enemies destined to fight each other in ritual battle every summer solstice... Day... and Night...

The set up is brilliant. The world building incredible. The plot fantastic. The characters so real. And I saw part of the twist coming, but not quite like that! Iris Knox holds onto her secrets, allowing the reader to glean enough to thoroughly enjoy the story, while also keeping you guessing right to the end. And now I find myself wanting nothing more than to know what happens next!

I’m a fan and will be expectantly waiting to see what more this amazing author has up her sleeve!

Interview with Iris Knox

Interview with Sky Sommers

What was the spark that started Tribe of Midnight

 

I love Adrienne Young, so this book was originally crafted in my head after reading some of her books. I wanted to write a book about clashing enemy tribes where the players' hearts start to change because of time spent together, but I wanted to add a flair of magic and fantasy to the TOM universe to make it a little different. I also decided to incorporate elements of the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood because I love fairytales. I wanted the reader to finish the book and be able to ask themselves, "Who was the real wolf of this story?"

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Tribe of Midnight

 

I'm proud of the worldbuilding in TOM. There were a few nights I didn't sleep during the time I was writing it because I was sorting out the different values and belief systems of the tribes. I am religious, so I decided to put elements of faith--but a little bit twisted--into the belief systems to enrich the experience. 

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

 

Well, obviously Adrienne Young was a major influence, but also Sarah J. Maas because she introduced me to the concept of High Courts and gave me the idea of making a menacing group that ruled each tribe that the reader is meant to fear.

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Tribe of Midnight?

 

Honestly I probably did the most research on what kinds of cuts/blows/stabs would kill a person, and which ones someone can survive from. Ha!

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

 

Lillian Utopiv takes a real beating, and not just physically. I wanted to create a female character who could be put through the worst of life--mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually--and still get back up and find the fight within her afterward. Unfortunately these kinds of abuses aren't only in fairytales, they're also in real life for some people. That's why I dedicated the book: To every girl who ever took a hit and got back up. 

 

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into Tribe of Midnight?

 

I made Wyran a painter to give him some more dimension--as someone who's been a visual artist for most of my life, I thought it would be a nice touch to the story.

 

What’s next for you and your writing?

 

I'm currently working on Book 2 of the series, Tribe of Dawn. In TOD, we get to see what happens to Wyran, now that Lillian is the one with the upper hand. Will she choose revenge, or forgiveness? Or maybe a little of both?

 

What book(s) changed your life?

 

Oh that's easy! "Caraval" by Stephanie Garber, "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn, "Sky in the Deep" by Adrienne Young, and "Throne of Glass" by Sarah J. Maas

 

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

 

Of course, there are plenty. I think my favourite one is Eden Ministries which is based out of Australia. They organize rescues for women and girls who have been kidnapped and forced into sex slavery (yes, this still happens even in our current world.) Eden hides the women in safehouses, gives them trauma counselling, and provides them with jobs (if they want them) of hand making jewelry. Eden sells these jewelry pieces online to people all over the world while keeping the women's identities safe, and the women are able to provide for themselves and get back on their feet through their own work. It's a great cause and I've purchased several of their jewelry items in the past to support them.

 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

Books! Every year I wrap up a bookstack with a ribbon, and write my own name on the gift tag! It's a lovely tradition. 

Best Dystopian Future: The Dragon Game by Xander Cross

I adored The Origin of the White Wind, and in this second instalment of The Atlas Dystopia Apocalyptica series, Cross does not disappoint. Hayate is a wonderful anti-hero and I'm rooting for him all the way! The author's style flows brilliantly and I love how Cross manages to evoke the crisp action and fluid motion of anime in his writing. The battle scenes are EPIC!

I also loved the plot twist. I totally didn't see that coming! So, if you love anime, enjoy Japanese mythology or novels set in a dystopian future with paranormal, then this is oh so totally the series for you! I cannot wait to read the next book!!!

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What was the spark that started The Dragon Game? 

The Dragon Game  is the second installment of The Atlas Dystopia Apocalyptica, and has always been the natural progression of the main character’s Descent Arc. In many respects, it is a bridge as well as its own adventure, but these events have wide implications for Books 3 and 4, and a lot of groundwork is embedded for all that follows. Easter eggs there are aplenty. 

Interview with Xander Cross

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with The Dragon Game?

I adore the big boss fight at the end with the gashadokuro (big skeleton monster), and Hayate’s punchline as he delivers the fatal blow. I feel so satisfied in how I plotted and resolved the storyline. It’s solid and give me warm gut vibes. 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

Learning Classical Latin has had the biggest influence on how I write. There are still grammatical constructions, like the passive periphrastic and the ablative absolute, you can find tucked into my use of English. And after listening to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice & Fire on repeat in the summer of 2006, there might be a hint of that in how I skew toward gritty realism in my fantasy, and keeping it aesthetic.

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for The Dragon Game?

There are so many, honestly. From the real history of the Taira clan, to how Japanese witches self-initiate, to the variety of yōkai required to fill the menageries of the Dragons. I get a lot more references in anime these days that I could never appreciate before.

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Hayate’s resilience in the face of adversity. Even when he’s lost everything, he finds the strength to carry on, and there is always a new adventure around the corner. 

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into The Dragon Game?

I like to pull out the real life emotions and frustrations we can all relate to. In The Dragon Game, Hayate faces a growing struggle with reaching new levels of maturity, while at the same time he finds himself jaded to everything he thought he stood for. He must continue crossing blurred lines in order to obey a master who truly does not have his best interests at heart, but gaslights him at every turn. By the end of The Dragon Game, Hayate has become aware of his predicament, the tension of which will grow and explode in Books 3 and 4. 

What’s next for you and your writing?

Starting the first week of December, I will be writing my submission for the Enchanted Forests anthology, which I’m super stoked for. This vignette will be an artifact of the TADA-verse that a reader can only find in this anthology, and while the particulars won’t make sense until TADA Book 19, it’s actually a very important story. I am also working on Book 4 of TADA while I’m waiting for beta readers to return their comments on Book 3, which I hope to publish early next year. 

What book(s) changed your life?

I would have to credit the books I read as research for Hayate’s character on how to write power games and political struggles for immortals. Many of them, like anything written by Robert Greene, actually worked almost as accidental self-help guides. So in no particular order: “The 48 Laws of Power,” “The Art of Seduction,” and “The 33 Strategies of War,” by Robert Greene; “The Art of Hunting Humans,” by Sydney Mazzi (strange title, but a great read, and it’s not what you think!); and “The Art of Communication,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

Any practical environmental cause is very important to me, especially those aimed at wetlands, rivers, the oceans, and forests. The amount of damage we humans are doing in a short amount of time for the profit of an elite few absolutely horrifies and disgusts me. This world is the only one we’ve got and I believe in protecting it. 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

To wake up and physically be Hayate, which is what started this character on December 25th in 2016. Since I could not be this creature, I did the next best thing that I always do: invented a world inside my head where I can be whatever I want and have adventures. Barring that unrealistic whim, I would love a new home in another location. I’m feeling restless and desire a new view.

Best Portal Fantasy: Enchanted Melody by Alice Ivinya

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Wow! I'm blown away! I loved Silent Melody, the story that Enchanted Melody is the sequel to, and I have to say, Ivinya has outdone herself with this novel. Can the Pied Piper find redemption after everything he's done? You're gonna have to read this book to find out!

Ivinya leads you along the twisty paths of the Singing Woods and other magical places in Avia. Her worldbuilding is impeccable as ever, but the characters truly pop off the page in this story. As ever, Ivinya has a strong focus on disability even I this book, although this one delves seven deeper into the piper's psyche. Can the man who spent decades stealing children from their families ever forgive himself for what he did when Queen Oda had him under her control. And more than himself, can he forgive the queen herself for what she did to him?

A wonderful, empowering and uplifting read, and definitely the best book I've read this year! If you want an incredible fantasy read, you can't go wrong with The Songs of the Piper series. Heartless Melody (in the Enchanted Waters charity anthology), Silent Melody and Enchanted Melody are brilliant.

What was the spark that started Enchanted Melody

I wanted to give Peter, the Pied Piper, a proper ending after finishing Silent Melody. I have a bit of a soft spot for him. I also really wanted to write a story about the importance of letting go and moving forward after making past mistakes.

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Enchanted Melody

It's my highest rated book! 100% of the reviews are 5 or 4 star on Goodreads and amazon! Unlike any of my others!

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

So many books have influenced my writing, mostly a mixture of the classic epic fantasies such as Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, with current young adult fantasy romances like Amy Harmon, Elise Kova and Holly Black. Even though it's a very different book, A Court of Silver Flames helped me with Enchanted Melody as SJM is the queen of character arcs!

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Enchanted Melody?

Did you know that tea didn't come to Germany and England until 1650? That's over 300 years after the Pied Piper was recorded to have stolen the children from Hamelin.

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Something I love about Peter and Adelaide is that despite the fact that their pasts and abilities would make most people discount them as broken or weak, they show themselves to be strong enough to overcome everything. I think that is so important as so often we let other people define what we are capable of and so limit ourselves rather than seeing how our weaknesses can make us strong.

 

What’s next for you and your writing?

At the moment I'm writing Kingdom of Feathers, the finale in

my most popular series, Kingdom of Birds and Beasts. 

 

What book(s) changed your life?

Robert Jordan's 'The Wheel of Time', Brandon Sanderson's

'Mistborn' trilogy and The Bible. :D

 

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

There are many causes close to my heart, especially those

involving children. I believe every child deserves a safe, loving,

nurturing family and access to health care.

 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

Book sales :D

You heard the lady! Her books are all brilliant and suitable for teenagers aged 15+. The Flawed Princess and Queen Avan have made my top picks in previous years and this year I also wanted to add Feathers of Snow, but I did feel I needed to give some other authors a chance. You cannot go wrong with Alice's books.

Interview with Alice Ivinya

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I’ve loved M.L. Broome’s book since I first came across A Series of Moments two years ago, and I’ve been waiting for this new release with bated breath. Broome never disappoints.

The characters, Lexi and Sam, leapt off the pages and completely consumed me. Their tale of friendship that grows into something more, replete with the terror of giving into those feelings and possibly ruining a brilliant friendship is exquisite and immensely fulfilling. Harry from When Harry Met Sally sure got it right: men and women can’t be friends without the sex part getting in the way, but Broome adds “who ever said it was in the way” sex is part of it and when it’s right, it’s beautiful. I love the emphasis on knowing the other person and loving them for who they are before the sexual aspect develops. Both are so incredibly important for a meaningful and stable and long lasting relationship.

Additionally, I admire Broome’s strength in honoring women who have suffered abuse. She does so with candor and overwhelming respect, and that moved me. Yes, this book made me cry. But in a good way. They were tears of relief and joy that Lexi could finally learn to love herself thanks to having Sam in her life.

If you want a roller-coaster ride with all the feels and honestly some of the best steamy scenes I’ve ever read, what are you waiting for? All Broome’s books are amazing.

Romance Recommendations:

Best Standalone: And Then Came You by M.L. Broome

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Interview with M.L. Broome

What was the spark that started And Then Came You?

I love unlikely romances, born between people who, on the surface, appear to be polar opposites. I was scrolling through social media and saw some couples who matched—heavily tattooed, similar fashion sense—and I wondered about those couples who don't look like they meld at all, but where it counts they are kismet. Then, Lexi and Sam were born. 

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with And Then Came You

I brought to light two important issues in And Then Came You. Important to me, anyway. The first is how men can, and are, objectified in this society. We tend to think in terms of men viewing women as objects, but it works both ways. Sam was treated with a high regard for his exterior appearance, while little thought was given to his feelings. The second issue is that of physical abuse within a relationship, and how women (and men) can fall prey to the same type of predator time and again. Often, the victims become so adept at hiding the abuse, that no one suspects a thing, and the cycle continues, until someone halts it dead in its tracks. 

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

My writing style is such a hodge podge. I'm not a detail person, so you won't get long descriptions of the staircase or the house's interior. I focus on dialogue and banter to build depth between the characters. Some of my favorite authors are Charlotte Bronte, Toni Morrison and Jean Rhys, although Jack London will always hold a place in my heart (thanks, Dad).

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for And Then Came You?

Good question. After speaking with a myriad of men, by all standards extremely good-looking, one fact was clear. They hate that people assume they're stupid or heartless because of their looks. Often, they are standoffish because they're so tired of being pigeon-holed. 

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Lexi is based on my own life. No, I'm not married to a model (although he could be one), but I endured a number of toxic and dangerous relationships in the name of love. It took meeting a real man to realize that one should never be afraid of your significant other. Sad that I ever considered that a normalcy in life. Sadder still, how many people still do.

What’s next for you and your writing?

I have a five book series coming out next year, titled Rockin' Rodeo Ranch. It's about a brothel, set in a small fictional town and I can honestly say that the hero in the first book, Love Me Wild, is my favorite book boyfriend ever. It's a departure in that I'm writing a forbidden, insta-love, but as always, it's very emotional and character driven. Trust me, you'll adore Griffin. 

 

What book(s) changed your life?

Jane Eyre, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Four Agreements, The Prophet and Gisela's Passion. I'm still not over that story. My heart may never recover from the exquisite, heartbreaking beauty of it.

 

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

I'm an animal rights activist and have been rescuing dogs and cats for years. In my area, there are a plethora of people who view them as disposable, so I step in and give them the life they deserve. To quote A.D. Williams, "When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul."

 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

One more day with my father and my cat, Zen. That's it.

That right there would be the ultimate Christmas gift.

We don't realize how each little memory will mean the

world until there's no more chance to make them. 

Best Romance Series: Closer than Blood by Jayne Lockwood

Fucking insane---in a good way

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I rarely swear and never in a review, but this book really calls for it. I've been following Jayne Lockwood on Facebook for a while, simply enjoying her vibrant character, but not having had the time to pick up any of her books. Then an opportunity arose when she was offering advance review copies of the Closer than Blood series, so I thought, "why not?"

I went in blind. I didn't even read the blurb, and I was totally blindsided by the brilliant insanity of this book. It's as if Quentin Tarantino did a Mafia movie in a Film Noire style. Sheer genius.

I was only going to "test the waters" to see if the first few chapters were of any interest. Well, I got sucked in good and solid and even when I saw the twist coming, I thought, "no, no one can be that twisted" but in phenomenal Tarantino-style, Lockwood actually went ahead and did it! There's no cheese in this. Only pure grit.

A wonderfully dark, twisted, gritty and unconventional read. If you're tired of all the "same old, same old" contemporary romance out there, then you HAVE to read this book!

I blazed through the whole series in a weekend and the whole thing is amazing!

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What was the spark that started Closer than Blood?

It was childbirth and my epilepsy diagnosis, which was given in the same year. Both real life-changing events. I was isolated in a small village, unable to drive for the best part of a year, and had a lot of time on my own with my daughter. There had been a story kicking around in my head for a while, more day dreams than anything else, but one day I just decided to write it down. I never thought anyone else would read it.

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Closer than Blood.

That it stirs emotions in people, years after I first started writing it. The book was first conceived in 1996 and now it’s a series. That’s insane. I love that people are falling in love with the characters. It means a huge amount.

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I’ve had a lot of influences, from Quentin Tarantino for dialogue, to Jackie Collins, Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon for writing racy scenes and corporate intrigue. I definitely began with that kind of dirty, sexy, corporate vibe. And I guess I’m a bit of a rebel. It isn’t in me to write sweet love stories. My dark side comes out and screws with the characters. I love breaking rules and pushing boundaries.

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Closer than Blood?

Ooh, I’ve had to research some interesting things!; from how to clean a handgun to how to throw a blade, to safe sexual practices, the effects of Class A drugs, how to kill someone instantaneously with heroin and the best kind of lube (water-based) and there’s just so much! And BDSM rules. That was one of the most fascinating. It’s involved, it’s disciplined, and the community is dead serious about safety and consent.

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

I always knew Richard was pansexual. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I realised later he was attracted to people, rather than the mechanics. Once I learned there was an actual name for that aspect of his character, I wanted to ensure being pansexual was represented properly. I wasn’t going to just guess. I know there are misconceptions about what it means. Bi and pan people can feel erased and told they’re just “confused.” I wanted his identity to be in no doubt whatsoever.

 

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into Closer Than Blood?

Living in New Jersey for two years gave me a love and some understanding of how different people are from the Eastern Seaboard to the mid-West. I loved living in a small town, observing different characters, how people celebrated various holidays. It was a wonderful, enriching, inspiring time.

I’ve also put strong female role models in the series, in the form of Richard’s mother, as well as Pagan and Nonna, Tino’s grandmother. I put in people I would have liked to have had but didn’t, rather than dwelling on bad shit from my own past.

 

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m sketching out the last book the series, which I really hope I can put out next year. And I’m doing a novella of Pagan and Marcus’s relationship, Book 3.5 which slots between Closer 3 (Obsession) and Closer 4 (Going Down)

 

What book(s) changed your life?

I’ll answer that a different way. My Dad (long gone now) constantly presented me with books from when I was very young. Poetry, stories, compendiums, a Roget’s Thesaurus which I absolutely treasure. He fed my love of reading and talked about books with me every day. I was a precocious reader at school and had read all the Agatha Christie books by the time I was twelve, together with Charles Dickens and books by Daphne due Maurier. Rebecca was my favourite and still is. It’s the ultimate dark romance.

 

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

There are a few, but supporting the LGBTQIA community is right up there. Being a good ally if I can. If I’m writing about gay characters, I better damned well respect and not misrepresent a real community who struggles every day against bigotry and misunderstanding.

 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

All the wealthy countries in the world to get together and deal with climate change so we can begin to fix some of the damage that’s been done by all of us. That would be good.

 

Failing that, a bestselling book would be great! Then I can show people in real life I’m a serious author, not just a hobby writer.

Help make her dream come true! Buy her books, I promise you you won't regret it. They are unique!

Most powerful message: Nascent Nikki by A.J. Andersen

This is a most satisfying ending to this duet and rounds off the quintet nicely too. I loved how Nikki finds her feet after the disaster of the last book and how she was able to put herself back together again with Gray's support and the buffer of her newfound family.

Andersen's story is a beautiful tribute to our capacity to transform horror and trauma into something stronger and way more beautiful. Of the four female leads in this series, Nikki is definitely my favourite. She really shows that awful things don't have to break us, and that we can go kick-ass awesome and vulnerable at the same time, that it's okay to not be okay, and that we can take everything we've experienced and redefine ourselves as we want to.

Additionally, the message about the importance of a support network, whether that is through a biological family or a chosen one, is brilliantly portrayed. This is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it.

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Interview with A.J. Andersen

What was the spark that started Nascent Nikki?

Nikki and Gray’s story just grew out of the previous K&S Securities books and is the second half of the Nikki and Grayson Duet. (Book one is Guarded by Grayson). Nikki came first, this quiet voice whispering to me while I was working on Ellie and Blake's story (Embracing Ellie). I couldn't ignore her. She was insistent and had suffered so much that I wanted to give her the happy ending that would give back her power as well as her HEA.

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Nascent Nikki?

I ended the first part of Nikki's story with some facts and resources about human trafficking.  I hope, if nothing else, those resources educated someone who was unaware or gave someone a place to look for help if they needed it.

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I'm a total pantser! I have the barest outline of a plot in my head when I start working on any project. I usually find out what happens next as I'm writing it! There have been times I have to stop and text one of my gal pals just to say 'whoa! I can't believe what I just wrote! I didn't see that coming!'

 

As to influences... No one specifically.  I've been an avid reader since a very young age and I like to think that everything I read or experience teaches me something that I can use in my writing.

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Nascent Nikki? 

The actual statistics on human trafficking. Before I dug into those numbers to write my afterward (for Guarded by Grayson) I knew it was bad - I just wasn't aware of how bad.

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Nikki’s strength at her weakest moment reminds me that in difficult times it's necessary to rely on myself first. It's great to have a support system,  but at the end of the day it's important to be capable of standing alone in the face of adversity. 

 

Gray reminds me of the importance of kindness and a generous heart.

 

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into Nascent Nikki? 

 

Nikki’s love of gardening is 100% me! 

 

What’s next for you and your writing?

I've been in a slump for sure the past few months, but have several novellas started under my alter-ego Josephine Andersen and Belonging to Becca (K&S book just needs edited. I have ideas for at least a couple more books in the K&S Securities Series world started and as I said some novellas in the works. I'm hoping I can get past this slump and get them finished!

 

What book(s) changed your life?

 

Wow! This is a hard question. 

 

My Bible. 100%

 

Annie Lash by Dorothy Garlock is the first

adult romance I can remember reading. I was

14 or 15. I was hooked on romance from that moment.

 

The Beneath Series by Meghan March is what brought

me back to romance after several dark years where I

didn't read much. It was also her writing that inspired

me to give my own writing a chance. 

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The Samurai's Gift by Kristi Shimada

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What was the spark that started The Samurai’s Gift

I wanted to write a book with a little boy as the

main character. Both my husband and I have

ancestors that are samurai. I also wanted a

healing element in the book that may assist children

to heal their own inner spirit.

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with The Samurai’s Gift.

Publishing the book to reach children all over the world. If the book helps one child or person to smile and bring joy, that would make me happy.

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?  

I wrote and illustrated a book when I was eight years old. The librarian asked to keep in the library so she could share it with other children. My mother is a author and she inspired me to write.

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for The Samurai’s Gift?

I did not know the Samurai had a creed, a Bushido Code, which there are fifteen codes or rules.

Share something about your main character that is super important to you and why that is. 

Yoshi is a young boy struggling with a physical ailment that was triggered by an emotion, anger. It was important to show the strength of the body, mind, and spirit working together to help heal him.

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into The Samurai’s Gift?

I always felt that if the body, mind, and spirit are in harmony and balance, one can heal, if it is meant to be.

What’s next for you and your writing?

I am retiring from my job of twenty-one years at the end of this year. I will continue writing children’s books, hopefully they will bring joy to children.

What book(s) changed your life?

My favorite children’s books are Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. I love them because they taught me unconditional love, compassion, respect, and a happy ending. 😊 All books change me in one way or another. I can always find a message in books I read to help me grow as a person.

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Children's Books Recommendations:

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

Helping children in any way I can. Every book I have published, my illustrator and I donate to a children’s hospital, school, or cause. Here are a few: St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital, Seattle Childrens Hospital, Alex Lemonade Stand, My Stuffed Bags, Orphanage in Indonesia, individuals, etc.

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

Besides World Peace? To see my books in a local bookstore, and sign books for children.

I loved this story. For my son, the best part was when the dragon representing pain transformed and became Yoshi’s friend. This is a beautiful allegorical tale, perfect for young children, about the power of the mind and our ability to heal ourselves.

Shimada has once again produced a brilliant book with a strong spiritual message. I love how she teaches children these key principles that will stand them in good stead for life. The power of our thoughts, and especially strong emotions, to influence our lives and affect our outcomes is beautifully shown in this book.

As always, the incredible illustrations add so much to this already wonderful tale. They are simply mesmerizing.

Interview with Kristi Shimada

Best allegorical story

The Boy Who Couldn't by R. Coverdale

 

Short story Collection:

The Weight of Rain by T.C. Emerys

What was the spark that started The Weight of Rain

I started the titular short story, The Weight of

Rain, before anything else. I lost a friend and

mentor a few years ago and I really wanted to

write about grief and also intergenerational

friendships. That also sparked the companion

piece, Henna, and I started to think that maybe

I should write a collection. Other stories quickly

followed and I decided to challenge myself in the

summer of 2020 to finish it and publish it.

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with The Weight of Rain

I think I'm most proud of having finished it. I knew nothing about self-publishing in summer 2020 but I made it my mission to learn from others and read everything I could about the process. I treated The Weight of Rain as somewhat of an experiment, so any commercial or critical success is a complete bonus. It paved the way for future work and without it I never would have entered the world of self-publishing, or at least I would have convinced myself I couldn't do it for many more years to come.

 

I am also extremely proud of the first story in the collection, Sunflower. Not just the story, but the response I got in speaking to other people who suffer from chronic pain. I wanted Sunflower to be about chronic pain, which I suffer from myself, but I wanted to make sure the character wasn't a self-insert. I wanted Eira to have her own world. I hope that I've achieved that, and I certainly feel most proud of that particular story when I look back on the collection.

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I mostly read fantasy because I love rich world-building and complicated lore, but I think in terms of actual writing style I turn to classical literature and poetry - Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Dickinson, not that I claim to be able to emulate any of them haha! I love Thomas Hardy's pastoral descriptions, the vivid natural world, food, the countryside - that all features heavily in my work too. 

 

But I'd actually say the writer who influenced the collection most was Matt Haig. I love the relatability of Haig's characters and his turn of phrase. I can feel his influence most when I look back on the collection.

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What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for The Weight of Rain?

I don't know about a specific fact, but I did read a lot about Irish LGBTQIA+ culture for The Beach at Rinmore Point because it was important to me that I knew the background of the experience that the community has in Londonderry and the towns close to the border between ROI and Northern Ireland, especially when writing about the struggles the two characters faced in getting married years earlier. 

 

I read about unofficial same sex weddings, gatherings to witness love and union without having the legalities behind it. I read about when the law changed and the people who still to this day want same sex marriages banned. It was sad and very eye-opening to read about.


Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Henna's (from The Weight of Rain and Henna) struggle with imposter syndrome came straight from my heart. I still struggle to allow myself to feel like I belong in the writing community.


Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into The Weight of Rain?

Eira's health journey is not the same as my own real life experience, but I borrowed bits and pieces from my real life to talk about the stigma of having a long-term illness.


What’s next for you and your writing?

I work full time as a ghostwriter, which I really enjoy, and so I'm working on building my business and working with new clients.

 

I also have several personal projects on the go (I can never just choose one thing, can I?!) I'm currently working on a poetry collection with my co-hosts of our writing podcast, The Midnight Quill Podcast. The collection should be out in Spring 2022. I'm also writing a trilogy of fantasy books, the first of which will be out in the second half of 2022. 

 

I have plans for my fledgling indie publishing company, April Showers Publishing, but I can't reveal any more about that yet!


What book(s) changed your life?

The Merlin trilogy by Mary Stewart, my first fantasy loves.

They set me on the path to pursuing Arthurian studies in my

academic life, eventually leading to postgraduate degrees in

Medieval Arthurian Literature. Although that part of my life

is in the past, it has had a huge influence on me as a person

and as a writer.


Is there a cause that’s important to you?

I am a proud feminist among other things!

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

I have everything I could ever need, but... I won't say no to books! We have just gotten rescue baby bunnies so I intend to spoil them this Christmas.

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Wow! What an incredible book! A must-read for adults and children alike. Coverdale has produced a masterful adventure, weaving together important information for all of us about bullying, the true difficulty of growing up in an abusive family situation, and the need to take conservation and wild-life protection seriously. I learned so much about badgers through this book and want to thank Coverdale for her attention to detail!

Additionally, the powerful and empowering message that doing the right thing may be hard, it may even feel like it will collapse our lives, but, in the end, doing the right thing is the only way forward and it comes with silver linings beyond the chaos. A worthy message for all of us.

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Best message for young readers

What was the spark that started The Boy Who Couldn't?

My son came back from the park one day, distressed because he’d had to fight a boy. He tried to avoid the fight, but the lad was absolutely determined and hit him three times before my son finally fought back. As he was a karate black belt first dan, he gave the lad quite a pasting. I was proud of my son and had an instant hatred for the “horrible boy” without thinking for a moment why the boy would have stormed into a park and tried to fight a stranger for no apparent reason. It wasn’t until several months later that a mutual friend told me that the date coincided with the boy’s abusive father returning from prison. I was mortified that I had judged him and worried about what on earth had happened to that poor child to cause him to lose control so badly he needed to hit out at anyone. I wanted to spread the message that children are not born bad and we should always strive to understand and be kind.

 

Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with The Boy Who Couldn't.

I am utterly proud that I produced the book at all. It takes a lot of self-doubt, self-belief and perseverance to reach the end of a story and therefore I am very proud. I am also proud that several schools have bought the book to use for teaching, spreading the messages far and wide. I realise that is two things, but maths has never been my strong point.

 

Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I struggle to be able to name just one author who has influenced me. I read a lot of books for tweens and teens and I feel it is a combination of all of those who have influenced me. The author who I would most like to be able to emulate is Neil Gaiman. I wish I could read “The Graveyard Book” for the first time again.

 

What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for The Boy Who Couldn't?

I discovered that badgers mark their territory by making a fence of poo, called latrines around their area. Just little poo dots in a large circle. Who knew!

 

Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

Greg has anger issues stemming from an abusive father and alcoholic mother. He has basically written himself off and has no aspirations. It is the kindness of an unrelated family that helps him to find himself and his inner strength. It is super important to me that people are kind and forgiving to others – not just their own family. Every child deserves a chance.

 

Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into The Boy Who Couldn't?

Several times I recognised myself in things that the characters did. James’ dad is a terrible cook – I’m afraid that’s me. Worse, when Greg’s younger brother falls off a horse and lands open mouthed in horse-muck, I was able to describe that from first-hand experience.

 

What’s next for you and your writing?

I have finally completed the sequel to “The Boy Who Couldn’t”. It is called “The Boy Who Dared” and focuses more evenly on all three characters. I can’t tell you too much, but if you love dogs, you need to read this book! It will be published sometime in 2021.

 

What book(s) changed your life?

Oh my goodness, I still develop a little with each book I read. During my teens and that awkward discovery of sexuality, “The Clan of the Cave Bears” was enlightening. On a very practical level, “The Chimp Paradox” by Prof Steve Peters helped me to understand many of my idiosyncrasies and how to control them, or at least live with them.

 

Is there a cause that’s important to you?

I can’t bear animal cruelty. In “The Boy Who Couldn’t” it was important to me that I helped readers understand that badgers are wonderful creatures that deserve respect and the protection that the law gives them and should not be callously culled. In “The Boy Who Dared”, readers will see that I am passionate about protecting dogs from cruelty.

 

What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

This is probably the hardest question. I can talk books all day long. I love giving gifts but I’m not that keen on receiving them. For me experiences trump any material gifts, so I think my perfect Christmas gift would be a lovely long walk in the countryside with my family and my rather ridiculous dog. I do love the snow, so if the gift walk could include big fat snowflakes floating down, that would be perfect!

Interview with R. Coverdale

This is a very thought-provoking collection if short stories. I'm not a big fan of short story anthologies, but this one has definitely made me reconsider. Emerys has a way with words and impeccably conveys the muddied waters of relationships. Each story takes into consideration a different type of relationship and the difficulties we humans face with them. Some stories are whimsical, others filled with suspense. Each one is crafted to perfection.

Interview with T.C. Emerys

Best Literary Fiction:

The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel

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No matter the choices we make, life will always throw us under the

bus of hardships. We can never fully protect ourselves from the

darkness. Heartache, grief, loss and all the rest of it are simply a

part of life. It is no one’s fault these things happen. The important

thing is how we respond to being overwhelmed by hardship.

As if that message weren’t enough, Meriel weaves layer upon layer

of meaning into The Woman Behind the Waterfall, digging deeper

into human psychology than any other literary work I’ve read.

Meriel uses both first and third person narrative in this book and at

first it threw me off, but as I continued reading, the purpose

becomes clear. This technique lends the narrative a dreamlike

quality, which blends and flows in a brilliant, surreal unfolding of

events.

This book is a beautiful and heartfelt acknowledgment of the toll

depression takes on a person. It is the examination of what can

become of every one of us because we all have the capacity to

sink into the quicksand of our minds and get stuck there. 

But that is not all. It is also a gentle reminder to us that we are not

responsible for our parents. We are not too blame and we can let

go the guilt we might feel for things that have been insinuated and

we have picked up on the path of life from a time before we can

consciously remember.

Then there is the inter generational healing, which is depicted so incredibly beautifully. To the same extent that we can saddle ourselves with the burdens of our parents and pass those on along with our own to our children, this book reminds us that through choosing to transform ourselves, we are able to cut that rope and rework it into something uplifting, rather than continuing to pass on the noose created by generations past.

I cried several times while reading. I wept for the characters, for myself, my mother and grandmothers, for my children... and there was something deeply cathartic in that, for which I wish to thank the author. It is rare indeed to find such a deeply moving piece of literature.

Finally, I hope the author will consider writing a second book about Volodiya. He is a character who made a pivotal and extremely difficult decision that was crucial to the narrative of this story, but in its own right, that decision was his first step on his journey to heal the damage of his traumatic childhood. As such, I would love to know what happened to him. 

If you haven’t read The Woman Behind the Waterfall or Unity Game yet, I suggest you do. They are both incredible books and are definitely two of the best, most moving novels I’ve read in recent years. I will undoubtedly be revisiting both in future!

1. What was the spark that started The Woman Behind the Waterfall?

I was at a crossroads in my life when I started writing the book, and I was unsure if I’d done everything wrong in my life, or everything right – or where to go from there. This was the spark that got me exploring how women’s choices are so complex – and how they are connected to the choices of their own mothers and grandmothers, and how in turn they will affect any children they have. Women are so connected to their mothers and daughters – as life givers – and the connection is often working more powerfully than we see. This led to me writing a novel about a woman’s choices – and her personal search for happiness.

 

2. Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with The Woman Behind the Waterfall.

Lots of women who have read the book, and reviewers who write about it on Goodreads and other sites, say how it has made them see their relationships with their mothers and grandmothers differently, and made them feel joyful and thoughtful about these important people in their lives and the connection they have with them. I’m really proud of writing something that helps readers find deeper meaning in these relationships – and causes them to look more deeply within themselves.

 

3. Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I’m always drawn to writers who you get the sense have put every bit of themselves – heart, soul, sweat – into their work, and have personally been transformed by it. You can kind of feel the transformation of the writer themselves as you read the book, and that energy comes across as electrifying. This is the way I try to write – to enter a state where, by giving everything to the writing, both I and the reader will be changed by the story and the words. Books that have moved me in this way have been, Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko,” Octavia Butler’s “Lilith’s Brood” and Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem.”

 

4. What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for The Woman Behind the Waterfall?

I learned how to make home-brewed vodka! It’s very common for people who live in villages in Ukraine to make their own moonshine – called samohon - and flavor it with honey, herbs, horseradish or other interesting tastes. As part of my research I was given a master class in making it – and then drinking it. It was delicious!

 

5. Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

My main character is a mother who thinks she has done everything wrong in her life. That’s important to me because I think in life we can make big “mistakes” and go in the wrong direction, but in fact, they are not mistakes at all. They are ways that we are growing and becoming a new person. There are all sorts of set paths and expected routes for people in this world, especially women, and going off track is an important part of living.

 

6. Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into The Woman Behind the Waterfall?

I lived in Ukraine, where the novel is set, for ten years, and when I located the novel there I really wanted to write about how beautiful and culturally-rich the country is. The descriptions of Ukraine come directly from my own sense of wonder and amazement at the beauty of this very special land.

 

7. What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m still deeply inspired by issues of women and their choices, and my upcoming novel is about a woman who has experienced trauma, and who goes on a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Thailand. It explores what it’s like to be an ambitious, modern woman, and the price that we often pay for demanding a full and fulfilled life. “And Breathe” will be released on May 1st 2022.

 

 

8. What book(s) changed your life?

The first book that transformed me was the gothic wonder of “Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake, and his “Gormenghast” trilogy.

 

The second was “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – the range and depth just blew me away.

 

The third was Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” – celebrating the wonder of a single day with extraordinary writing.

 

The fourth was “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was such a beautifully written classic.

 

And finally, a recent read – Octavia Butler’s “Lilith’s Brood” – astoundingly imaginative and firmly rooted in the experience of women – just transformative.

 

9. Is there a cause that’s important to you?

I’m passionate about women’s empowerment, as I think the more fulfilled women there are around the world, the better and fairer the world will be. I try to support a range of causes in this area from the developed world to developing nations – there are still so many areas where women need to come to full equality.

 

I also feel passionately about helping homeless people / people on the streets. Life is a complicated thing to manage, and a few blows of bad luck or personal weaknesses can find someone losing everything. If people are at the point in their lives where they have nowhere to sleep then we – as a human community – should be reaching out and helping them get back to a positive place where they can cope with modern life.

 

10. What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

My perfect Christmas gift would be having all of my children

together, sharing a day of food and celebration and kindness

and laughter – and knowing that they are all in a happy place

in their lives. I have two teenage children – aged 18 and 17

and life is so complicated now at that age – life has become

so detached from levels of reality due to technology, so I am

really joyful when I am with my children and we are doing

something simple – like sharing a meal – with lots of love and

laughter.

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Interview with Leonora Meriel

Best Historical Fiction:

Necessary Sins by Elizabeth Bell

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1. What was the spark that started Necessary Sins?

Necessary Sins came out of a whole lot of sparks. When I was eight years old, my parents took me to visit Charleston, South Carolina. I fell in love, and I knew I wanted to set a story there. Then my mother introduced me to John Jakes’s North and South, Alex Haley’s Roots, and Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I wanted to write an epic family saga of my own—set in Charleston, of course.

 

2. Name one thing you’re proud of having achieved with Necessary Sins.

Actually finishing it! This saga took me three decades of research and revision to complete. There were many, many times when I despaired of ever finding the shape of the story. Where did it begin? How should it end? And how should my characters journey between those two points? These questions haunted me for years. I'm proud that I persisted until I found the answers.

 

3. Please tell us a little about your writing style. What/who has influenced you?

I think I'm doing something unusual: a family saga that's epic in scale yet also intimate because it takes a psychological deep dive into the characters. Much as I enjoy the sweep of a historical doorstopper like the novels of James Michener or John Jakes, they can tend toward melodrama. Typically, the characters are more props and symbols than fully rounded human beings. Historical novels with psychological complexity that I really admire include Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Douglass’ Women, Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Wench, and Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress. I hope my Lazare Family Saga combines the best of both storytelling styles.


4. What was the most interesting/random fact you discovered while researching for Necessary Sins?

There were so many! I suppose it was my realization of just how young boys were who went off to seminary to become priests in past centuries. They were adolescents. Who is ready to make a lifelong commitment at the age of twelve? That really unlocked Joseph's psychology for me, that it's been arrested. In interviews I read with Catholic priests, I could see how they were finally becoming their own men and having their sexual awakenings in their 30s and 40s because their humanity had been repressed for so long.


5. Share something about your main character(s) that is super important to you and why that is.

That they're flawed human beings. I find such characters much more interesting to write and read about than conventionally heroic types. I suppose I find it easier to identify with flawed characters, and I actually find them inspiring. Here are the ways in which this person has been broken—now can they find a way to heal and to heal other broken people in the process? 


6. Is there something from your own life or experience that has found its way into Necessary Sins.

I grew up Protestant, not Catholic, but my frustrations even with that form of Christianity came through in Necessary Sins. Joseph's father René speaks aloud many of my thoughts, especially when he says "God is not enough—human beings need each other.”


7. What’s next for you and your writing?

Next year, I'll be auditioning narrators and getting The Lazare Family Saga made into audiobooks. I'm very excited about that!


8. What book(s) changed your life?

I've already mentioned them, but I'll circle back to the single most influential book. I dedicated Necessary Sins to the late Colleen McCullough because of The Thorn Birds. Her unforgettable characters and the way she evokes time and place inspired me. Most of all, I love how interconnected each generation of The Thorn Birds is, how Fee's story echoes through her children and grandchildren. I loved the idea that (SPOILER) the earlier generations screw up and miss their chances at happiness, but eventually the youngest generation is able to break the cycle and find fulfillment. It's not reincarnation, but it's like the family is a single being that's failing and slowly learning and finally growing—the story arc isn't just about a single character's journey but all the family members together. That's so emotionally engaging and satisfying to me. I find it cathartic.


9. Is there a cause that’s important to you?

Good historical fiction! By which I mean: an author who knows his or her chosen period inside and out and writes a novel that could plausibly take place there. Not historical fantasy masquerading as historical fiction, in which supposed 19th- or 15th-century characters behave like 21st-century people. I certainly don't mind the occasional historical romp, but it needs to be labelled as such. Authors do their readers a great disservice by misrepresenting what the past was actually like. They're continuing a long game of telephone, and the truth gets more and more distorted. To paraphrase George Santayana, if we cannot remember real history, we'll end up repeating it.


10. What would be your perfect Christmas gift?

Time to write—or now, time for the neverending behind-the-scenes tasks required for an indie author to find new readers. Fortunately, I work in a university library with a two-week Winter Break, so I always receive my perfect gift!

This is Historical Fiction at its best! I rarely enjoy historical fiction anymore because so few authors pay attention to the actual mindset of the times and often end up pasting 21st century sentiments into a historical context where they are very clearly out if place. Bell, on the other hand is a true master! Her execution is absolutely sublime! With her eye for history and context, she is able to highlight exactly how much has changed in the past two centuries and allows the reader the opportunity to see why things have changed. This is, truly, historical fiction at its very best.

Another thing I've thoroughly enjoyed about this book is the brilliant illustration of the thesis "everything is sex". There are different philosophical explanations about the workings of life, and this is the thesis of one stream of thought. Bell shows beautifully how this idea might have come about. Although I personally don't believe that is the essence of human existence, I am aware it does play an important part and am truly in awe of how well Bell has illustrated the postulation through the myriad intertwining of themes through generations of characters in this book.

Necessary Sins really is a masterpiece! Highly recommend.

Interview with Elizabeth Bell

My top reading recommendations of all time