ASTRID'S 12 RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER
Top Fantasy Standalone: Queen Avan by Alice Ivinya
Ivynia has done it again. What a brilliant book! I loved the Flawed Princess and Queen Avan definitely is equal to that fantastic debut novel.
Avan is a common washerwoman from a small village in a rural setting. Avan struggles in a society marked by magic users, where she is one who hasn't shown any talent. Drought is slowly snuffing out the region and Avan decides to follow a group heading to the capital city in hopes of a better future. On their way, they are ambushed by raiders and Avan is separated from her friends. Together with Prince Cedric, Avan embarks on an adventure where she discovers her magical powers and realises the depth and uniqueness of her abilities.
This book is an excellent introduction to this magical universe and what I love most about Queen Avan is how flawed this character is. She is convincingly naive, makes wrong decisions, muddles her way through and eventually, after dabbling in actions that very realistically could lead to evil, she has to reassess herself and make a decision. Ivynia spins Avan from a coarse, uneducated and simple washerwoman into a pure silver thread. Her journey is amazing and shows the way for the rest of us. Our lives are filled with difficult choices and often we lose track of what the right step is. Queen Avan is a lovely way for teenage readers to engage with our human capacity for evil and how to choose good instead.
This is a brilliant Young Adult Fantasy novel brimful of life lessons and perennial truths, to the point where it becomes immeasurably enjoyable to readers of all ages. There is adventure, heartbreak and loss, along with some wonderful clean romance and deep friendships. Ivynia's tale is beautiful, engaging and one of those books I simply couldn't put down. Her supporting characters are solid, intriguing and totally believable and the plot is filled with really enjoyable, unexpected twists. This book ends on a high note. It is empowering and leaves you with a glimmer of true hope.
If you love Fantasy, you have to read this book. It is totally worth it!
This story is incredible and very different from your average fantasy novel. The plot twists reminded me so much of anime. They were totally unexpected and added to genius storytelling!
Anna is plagued by dreams of a past life, making her experiences as a modern teenager hard to bear, because, more than anything, she wants to go back to the wilderness where she had love and a family. Then, she meets the man who was her husband in that past life...
This book engages with the topic of what makes life meaningful and worth living and emphasises the importance of finding what makes our lives meaningful in this moment. Anna's mother provides a perfect foil to the arc of our main character because she spends all her time focusing on what has been lost, rather than seeing the good she has in her life now.
Anna's mother's story spoke to me very strongly because I know someone who lives in the past like that and I've seen the hurt it causes to those around her. It is nice to read a book that is so sensitive to such an important topic and offers such a deep message.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and particularly the poignant ending. I look forward to the next book in the series.
Fantasy with a twist: Glimpses of Wilderness by Lee Ann Ward
Hayate's story is just amazing! If you love anime, you'll adore this book! If you love fantasy with characters moving between worlds (like the fae), then you'll love this book! If you enjoy dystopian futures with crazy cities and a load of darkness, you won't be able to put this book down.
As an anime fan, I'd say The Origin of the White Wind is the perfect blending of Nurarihyon No Mago and Rurouni Kenshin---it is pure genius! It blew my mind. I'm not kidding.
Hayate is a spirit creature, a divine fox (kitsune) but he's stuck on Earth in a future where all our nightmares have come true. He struggles to maintain his connection to his divine being and is helped by a kind old man who keeps him safe, until the villagers at the bottom of the mountain come searching for what they believe is a demon.
This is a deeply moving story about good, evil and the struggle we experience between the two. It is also a beautiful description of making the most of a bad hand of cards. I've read Xander Cross's other works as well which give greater depth to the character and hint at the possibility of redemption, which makes reading about his fall so much more poignant.
What's more, the second book in this series, The Dragon Game is also out now and the continuation of the story had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It is absolutely brilliant!
Best Fantasy Series: The Atlas Dystopia Apocalyptica
by Xander Cross
Wings Of Deception surprised me. Way to go, Skye Horn!
This second instalment in the Kingdoms of Faerie series is a brilliant exploration of the power of free will. Few authors are willing to show up the truth that far more evil comes about when free will is ignored and shows so beautifully the importance that we exercise our ultimate human freedom, which is the freedom to choose. Horn really delves into this aspect brilliantly and gives us a sobering reminder that, more than anything, it is our duty to acknowledge out own choices because not having a choice is so much worse.
The other important topic Horn continues from the first book in this series, is gaining insight into good and evil and the matter of perspective. So.etimes, something we believe is evil, when looked at from a different perspective, is far from it. I also enjoyed the switch between the goddesses we are offered in this book and I am pleased that the Goddess of Death is moving beyond the cliche.
I read and loved the third book, too. This series is shaping up to be fantastic and memorable. I highly recommend it.
Faerie Realms: The Kingdoms of Faerie Series by Skye Horn
This is a thoroughly enjoyable re-imagining of Aladdin with a female lead and a setup much like The Selection by Keira Cass. Although, this version is spiced up with some other tales from 1001 Arabian Nights and some excellent moments of action and adventure. I loved the contest idea. I find Tempest pulled it off brilliantly while still staying true to the original fairytale.
The characters are intriguing and brilliantly believable. I loved Adelaide and her background and I adore how Tempest weaves in the other characters, giving the reader glimpses of other retellings to come in the continuation of the series. She does this with flare and skill, and getting to know those other characters, protagonists of their own fairytales, just made me want to read all of her books.
The plot of Thief is so compelling, I couldn't stand not knowing what happened and ended up binge-reading the whole three-part series of Tempest's Aladdin retelling. It was totally worth it! The world has me spell-bound and I loved every moment I got to spend in Folkshore. As far as fairytale retellings go, this is one of the best I've ever read, and this is the genre I write in, so that's saying something.
Fairy Tale Retelling: Thief of Cahraman (Aladdin) by Lucy Tempest
Those of you who know me, are aware I'm a huge fan of this amazing author. Every single one of her books has made me fall in love with brilliant characters and hated that the story had to end.
Alchemy Unfolding is a study in how our thoughts inform our actions when it comes to love. Addy’s relationship with Josh is a roller coaster ride, all because of her own thoughts. She doesn’t believe they can be together, even though her heart wants him. Her thoughts and the resulting actions she takes turn her into her own worst enemy.
I love how Broome gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and how we behave in our relationships while reading her beautiful stories. This particular book, I noticed something else. This author poured her heart and soul into it, more so than in her other works, and I could feel it. The apology at the end is so heartfelt, it's almost heartbreaking in its beauty.
Once again, M.L. Broome gives us a phenomenal story about human nature and our worst failings packaged in her exquisite writing. Alchemy Unfolding is a truly beautiful story and a definite must for all lovers of great romance novels.
Best Standalone: Alchemy Unfolding by M.L. Broome
I love this series more than I can express, and that is rare. A Hollywood actress and a Rock God fall in love in the late 80's. They're in the wrong place at the wrong time and choose to let each other go, experiencing the loss of a beautiful relationship while their careers blossom with success after success. Gillespie-Trout explores the depth of a meaningful relationship that can span time and space because it is true and cannot falter.
Another thing that made this story so unique is the reference to 80s and early 90s music, which just took me back to my childhood and my mom's favourite music. Reading this series was like living all of that awesomeness and a beautiful reminder of what the music scene of that time was like.
This is a beautiful love story and I enjoyed every minute of it. I felt sad though because of the characters' beliefs that they can't really be together. Their relationship is so beautiful I really wanted them to have their cake and eat it both professionally and in their relationship. As a life coach, I know this is possible and it saddens me to know how many people are unaware of the true benevolence of the universe. But Alex and Slater's story kept going and it just got better and better, even when it made me feel like this:
Favourite Romance Series: Heart & Soul by Brooke Gillespie-Trout
Amazing. Beautiful. Heartwarming. Heart breaking. Throw-the-book-across-the-room awful. It is rare for a book, let alone a whole series, to elicit so many emotions in me. It is gut-wrenching and visceral, and I highly recommend it!
Mind-melting futuristic romance: Poison Dream by Kitty Cook
If you've been following my recommendations, you'll remember when I couldn't stop talking about Sleeping Together, the mind-melting debut novel by Kitty Cook. Well, if getting Ness hooked on futuristic drugs wasn't enough, things just reached a whole new level of brilliantly messed-up in Cook's crazy futuristic world.
Poison Dream just ratcheted everything up five notches. Cook is master of the unexpected. I'd like to thank her for writing such a deeply moving exploration of the messiness of love and relationships, not to mention the human experience. This book is not only brutally honest, it is viscerally gripping and so incredibly deep! This book is an experience unto itself and I cannot compare it to anything else I've ever read. It's simply genius.
I think I'm still reeling from this incredible experience, even months after reading it, and can't wait for more from this amazing, talented author.
Last but not least... War Games by C.L. Stewart
This is a stand-alone within a series of interconnected stories, and even though I love all of C.L. Stewart's other books, she's really outdone herself with this one. What a beautiful story!
This enemies-to-lovers trope romance took things to a whole new level on the psychological side. I've always adored how much attention to detail Stewart gives when it comes to psychological processes and how our minds work. This book is no different, only she takes on a really difficult topic and masters it, brilliantly. I’ve always admired Stewart’s writing because each one deals with important psychological themes and this one doesn’t disappoint. I’d like to thank the author for raising awareness about PTS syndrome. It is a condition that isn’t taken into account enough and that is poorly understood by the general public. This book is well-researched and beautifully written.
War Games is also a deeply moving book about seeking redemption. Nessa and Joe are both torn by guilt for their failings in the past and together they might just be able to put the pieces back together again, but that doesn't seem possible when they're constantly at each others' throats because they really do hate each other.
Beacon City Confidential by Lawrence Switzer
Wow! I think I've found my next favourite indie author! Lawrence J. Switzer has two books in my top reading recommendations now. I'm blown away by this man's literary genius.
Beacon City Confidential is a masterpiece detailing how events take on a life of their own because they never affect only one person. It is a subtle arc of event, reaction and consequence, just as the lighthouse beam of the city's landmark, The Pharos, revolves around itself illuminating the city and then casting it into darkness at regular intervals.
Add to that each character's reaction and it becomes a whirlwind of cause and effect. The domino effect of responses from all the many citizens of Beacon City sweeps the stage with their decisions and subsequent occurrences where each actor cannot possibly foresee the outcome.
All of this is presented in a collection of short anecdotes, memorabilia and random facts which are woven together with unimaginable skill, to become a holistic piece that is both humorous and thought-provoking. It is the miniature depicting the likeness of "Americana"--in all its sordid glory. As always, Switzer uses his deft way with words and cutting sense of humour to create a work of genius.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best books I've ever read.
Sci-fi: The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
What do a New York banker, an alien from another planetary system and the soul of a recently deceased British lawyer have in common? The Unity Game. Meriel's work is an intriguing exploration of our spirit potential and true creative capacity.
This book blew my mind. I honestly didn't know what to expect from The Unity Game and it didn't disappoint. The intricate twists and turns of the complex plot with its many characters kept me guessing and had me in the dark as to where things were going until Meriel tied everything off with one deft flick of her masterful wrist.
I loved the transformation principles embedded in this story and kept thinking of other non-fiction books I'd read, which provide information underpinning Meriel's premise. The Unity Game is is a complex and deeply satisfying read and an experience I know I'm going to remember.
Several months have passed since I read this book and still it's as fresh as when I first read it. Certain images have burned themselves on my brain! I can remember them so clearly it's as if I was there myself. If you want to treat yourself to something different and totally unforgettable that is also challenging in its complexity, then you're going to love this book.
This collection of tales is incredible! I honestly didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by Nash's amazing style and ability to bring characters to life in just a few deft words. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of settings and the clever twists in this collection.
I can't quite make up my mind if I love Red Ridinghood on a bicycle more than Snow White and Rose Red in Regency England. All the tales were great, but the settings for these two were at another level. I don't want to give too much away, so I'm not going to go into specifics, but if you have a penchant for the darker side of fairytales and enjoy a good twist, then this collection of fairytales will sweep you off your feet, drag you into realms that feel somewhat familiar but turn out to be worse than nightmares with a spot of fun on the side, and where happily ever after takes on a less clear-cut tinge, leaving you begging for more.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales and would like to experience something unique and brilliant.