ASTRID'S NOVEMBER NEWSLETTER
Gisela's Passion is in the final stages of production! The book is currently on pre-order at Amazon and will be going live on November 28th. For the pre-order period, the ebook is at 99c, so make the most of the opportunity!
Otherwise, if you can't wait until release day, you can get an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads by December 1st. If you'd like to get an ARC you can sign up using the button below and you'll get a pdf copy of Gisela's Passion sent to your inbox directly.
Ever since she can remember, 18-year-old Gisela Winry has wanted to dance. Her strict father sees dancing as the path to immorality, licentiousness and debauchery.
Devastated at his wrath after she secretly auditions and wins the title Harvest Queen of Ylvaton, Gisela turns to her best friend, Hilarion, who proposes a path she cannot take.
With their friendship broken, Hilarion retreats to the solace of the forest where he lets his hatred and jealousy fester.
Meanwhile, Gisela meets Vincent, a young nobleman seeking to escape his dead brother’s shadow. Will Gisela be able to uphold her family honour and get to do the one thing she’s always been passionate about? Will Vincent’s chance encounter with the lovely harvest queen from a tiny village become more meaningful than earning his father’s approval? And will Hilarion fight for the love of his life or give in to the darkness within him?
Immerse yourself in the life of the common people of Vendale in this prequel to The Siblings’ Tale. Gisela’s Passion is the retelling of a lesser-known Slavic folk tale, which is better known in its incarnation as a French ballet.
These Hallowed Hills series, now available!
I had the good fortune to stumble on S.L. Mason's fabulous trilogy while she was still working on it. The experience this series offered as a beta reader was already awesome. If you love urban fantasy and tales of the faerie realm, then this new twist on the fae is just the thing for you. I also loved how Mason develops magic in the land of the fae. Don't miss the quick-release of this trilogy. Trick of Fae, the first book is set to release on Halloween.
This series was amazing! I really enjoyed the premise and could not put the books down. James explores his basic question as to what would happen if an organisation like the Modest Proposal Institute were to exist in a world faced with economic collapse and civilisational decline. Taking things as far as he can, James shows how human nature will always thwart utopian ideals and bring ruin, because there is no such thing as a perfect world. Navigating right and wrong and the varying shades of grey in between is a daunting thing and James does it to perfection. I highly recommend this whole series.
The Modest Proposal Institute series is about a man who theorises about the situation our current world is facing with overpopulation, rampant capitalism powered by unsustainable sources of fuel and where boys are failing at school and young men are not coping with life. The theory, according to Dean Swift, mastermind behind the Modest Proposal Institute, is sound, but like all utopian dreams, even the Institute will risk collapse. You'll have to read the series to find out whether it's the dangers within or the dangers without that are more perilous.
Because of my busy schedule, I decided it would be excellent motivation to join NaNoWriMo for the first time in my life, this year. For those uninitiated among my readers, that's National November Writing Month and the aim is to write a novel. My project is The Apprentice Storyteller, Book 1 of the Wishmaster series, which catalogues Viola Alerion (whom you met in the prologues to Aspiring and Becoming) on her journey of achieving a lifelong dream.
In the backwaters of the Haldrian Empire, Viola, the famous storyteller, meets a boy who insists she become his teacher. He refuses to take no for an answer and after convincing her this is their destiny, she comes to realise it's not just about him learning from her. Strangely enough, and most peculiar for Viola who's always done everything on her own, this teenager actually has something to teach her. Join Viola on her journey of discovery and the realisation that dreams can come true, if you only have the right tools at your command.
I'm very excited about this project and hope to publish the full Wishmaster series during the course of 2020.
Violet has a disability and because of it, her father keeps her hidden away. Although she is intelligent, kind and immensely strong, bearing pain without complaint, she is kept on the sidelines until her father's rebellion against the king sends her life into turmoil. Violet ends up being taken as a hostage prisoner by the king. Traveling through the kingdom she basks in her newfound freedom and learns all there is no know about the wide world she lives in.
I don't want to give any more of the plot away. All I will say is that this is high fantasy at its best.. Ivinya's world comes to life beautifully. I love the small, almost insignificant details that make this book vivid and feel so real. I honestly journeyed with Violet through the marvels she encountered. Another outstanding detail is the magic in this world. Ivinya has constructed a fabulous magical system that is intriguing and fascinating. I lapped up every little tit-bit the author deigned to strew out. It was truly amazing.
I am also very impressed with the message of strength Ivinya sends to all those who are different and who are told that they cannot do something or be something because of an accident of their birth. It is an uplifting and inspiring message, truly worthy of our age and beautifully wrapped in a magical fantasy packaging that lets us escape the monotony of our mundane lives and live, even for a little bit, in a realm where dreams come true. A part of me is most satisfied with this stand-alone novel, while another would love to have the opportunity to immerse myself in that world over and over again. I'm sure I'll be reading this book again sometime. It really is that good.
The Flawed Princess by Alice Ivinya
An Old Path to a New Future is the first installment of The Modest Proposal Institute Series. This Sci-fi series is immensely intriguing and James does not shy away from taking on very difficult questions regarding our current society. The author is also willing to extrapolate his suggestion for improvement to a very big problem our current generation faces and doesn't hesitate to look at the good, the bad and the ugly in his treatise on the subject.
Research shows that our current education system is rigged against boys, meaning that they, on average, are failing at school and are unable to integrate into our modern work environment. Anyone noticing the trend in men living with their parents well into adulthood, the increase in young men "traveling the world" to "find themselves" will recognise the basic concern Paul James addresses in this series. I am impressed by how much consideration the author has given this subject matter and how clearly he presents his very believable, possible future. It is quite sobering to see how close to the edge we could be. The collapse James describes is eminently possible and I appreciate the detail he goes into in order to illustrate what his particular premise could lead to in the near future. It is interesting and a worthy consideration. I take my hat off to this author for having the guts to take on such a difficult and contested subject.
An Old Path to a New Future by Paul James
Grace is in the pit of despair. She's always wanted to practice law, but her circumstances have held her back and she doesn't believe she is worthy of much because she never went to college. She doesn't take care of herself because she is too busy taking care of her ailing mother. One week before her twenty-first birthday, her rather odd and distant aunt sends her an early birthday gift: an heirloom with a fascinating, magical past. Over the next seven days, Grace is swept into a whirlwind adventure where she learns more about herself and the universe than she thought possible.
This book is uplifting and inspiring. It is more than mere Up-lit because it actually encodes key principles of transformation. I like to call this type of book "transformation fiction" and it is just that. Grace's life transforms before our eyes and it is wonderful to watch, and learn with her. Shelest has a wonderful, fresh style that brings the magic to life, while still acknowledging everything awful and cringe-worthy about life.
Top Picks from last month's reading. I couldn't choose because all of these are amazing!
The Seven Lives of Grace by Elena Shelest
Becoming, Part 2 of the Siblings' Tale is now available on amazon and on promotion for the first week in September. If you've read one/both parts of Elisabeth and Edvard - The Siblings' Tale, please leave a review. If you aren't eligible to review on amazon, there are sites like Goodreads and Bookbub where you can leave your review. I love receiving the feedback, and iyour review helps spread the word about the series. Amazon supports books with more reviews.
Top Pick from last month's reading
The Sayville Tales by Lawrence Jay Switzer
The Sayville Tales by Lawrence Jay Switzer is a collection of short stories that forms a complete whole. It is an experience to savour. This piece is a modern compilation worthy of Chaucer with satire reminiscent of Swift. I thoroughly enjoyed this densely packed smorgasbord of tales, think-pieces, and random explorations. To use Switzer’s own words, this is “Literature with a capital L and a top hat.” I’ll even add, Literature (not just dressed up, but) at its best.
I thoroughly enjoyed Switzer's satire. Nothing is safe, not even the bagel. The satirical humour is also beautifully done because it really gets the reader to think about things we tend to take for granted. Switzer achieves a change of perspective worthy of an anthropologist. One of the accomplishments anthropologists strive for is to make the unknown known and the known unknown. Switzer pulls it off with a stroke of genius, making the complexity of the Sayville Tales funny and simultaneously thought-provoking. There is a subtle art to satire, and Switzer has mastered it. He is eminently worthy of comparison to Jonathan Swift.
This modern-day revision of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a roller-coaster ride, or should I say—train ride—where nothing is sacred—especially not the devil (I’ll get back to him in a moment). Nothing, and I mean nothing, is sacred. Switzer even-handedly razes and reconstructs life in the twentieth century in all its sordid glory. The parallel to Chaucer’s tales runs even deeper. I might even say this is a modern-day retelling of those medieval tales. It is the update we need for our technologically infested era. Although, just having the parallels wasn’t enough for Switzer. In the nun’s dream, he overtly refers to the caravan travelling to Canterbury with Chaucer at its head. I’ll say it again: genius!
Now, back to the devil. To use a common Swedish expression, the devil is the “red thread” of this compilation. I am not much familiar with medieval literature on the devil in the English-speaking sphere, however, I have come across it in Spanish literature and The Sayville Tales fits into this body of work very beautifully. Again, it updates things for the twenty-first century but maintains the important elements that characterise this literary genre from the middle ages. Most of the tales and other short think-pieces are humorous to a point, but then things get eminently serious, just like Satan is a fun tool to scare children with until he’s a real part of your devilish existence...
One of the switches in tone is Mrs. Lincoln’s film review, which is honestly one of the deepest critical pieces I have ever read. It was poignant and just sooooooooooooooo deep.
Epic and unapologetic. Switzer drives home truths with a well-fletched arrow and there is no escaping the targets he aims at. The Sayville Tales is funny, yet deep and meaningful. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the classics in the canon of English literature.
This series is incredible. I've read the first book and started the second. I cannot wait to get to the new release!
A broken heart still beats... and Jacob's beats for only one woman. Lilly. The woman he loves but had to let go.
They say time heals all wounds, but is there any way to heal the chasm across despair?
Finding Hope is on my TBR.
A single mother. An injured Navy SEAL on the edge of disaster. Will she be able to pull him from the brink, or will his demons push him over?
Devyn Hartley has little time for anything in her life other than her daughter and running her successful restaurant. But after witnessing an old friend, Jackson Hale, struggle under the grip of PTSD, she is determined to help him find the strength he needs to come back from the devastating loss that ended his military career.
But will he let her?
Finding Hope is a story about finding love, strength, and purpose in the face of tragedy.
Will Jackson find his place in the world again?
If you like reading romances, then these two new releases are for you.
If you haven't heard about my start-up, then now is the time to enlighten you. A series of intriguing incidents led me to the decision that I should actually go ahead and turn my imprint into an actual publishing house. Here is what is most important:
We believe in people and our planet
At New Wings Press we believe in books that showcase the diversity of human experience and empower people. We know that all people love stories and imagining what things might be like in different circumstances, but we also see that the mainstream industry dismisses people. I'm sure you've heard someone say "X don't read" (for x you can insert the group of your choice, e.g. African Americans, Latinos, the youth of today, working class people etc.) But what if it isn't that they don't read, but rather what is on offer to read doesn't resonate with their life experiences?
This is why at New Wings Press we are looking to provide reading material of interest to the disempowered, marginalised and ostracised. Our authors focus on engaging with the difficult social questions most of us are encouraged to ignore.
Are you someone who "doesn't read"? Please, tell us, what would you LOVE to read?
We also believe in our planet and that books should be sustainable. We work to ensure that the production of our books are environmentally friendly and that the production process is sustainable.
New Wings Press
This was a fabulous fantasy read! I love that the creatures are not human. There don't seem to be any humans in Clarke's fantastic world and it really works. Yes, there were a few inconsistencies which are mainly a result of the limitations of a human language to describe something so alien, but Clarke really did a fabulous job of the descriptions and characterisation. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
One of the things that stood out with The Moon Rogue is the constant social critique Clarke weaves into her tale. A passing mention or a knowing wink will bring us face to face with situations that are contentious in our society, but completely resolved in one or other of the cultures Clarke has created. I also love the depth of Clarke's culture-building. This is an aspect many authors of fantasy worlds fail with and it is truly pleasurable to experience a fantasy world with several, different cultures, where things are plausible, well-thought-out and cleverly constructed.
Another really important factor that makes this particular book stand out from the crowd is the fact we get the perspective from opposing sides. Although it is clear that one of the parties is in the wrong and is working for the powers of evil, Clarke succeeds in presenting that character's case in a convincing and thought-provoking way, which allows us to truly immerse ourselves in the opportunity of seeing the events described from all points of view. That is rare, and I really appreciate it.
The Moon Rogue by L.M.R Clarke
This month The Enchanted Quill Press brings you "The End of Summer Book Fair" and giveaway. Check out the lovely selection of bargain-priced ebooks and enter the giveaway to stand a chance of winning a kindle.
If you're hanging on the edge of your seat, waiting for Becoming, Part 2 of the Siblings' Tale, then know, your wait is almost over! The book will be going on pre-sale on Friday 9th of August. The cover is also ready, so take a look at my new beauty! If you would like to join my launch team and get an advance review copy before the launch, feel free to sign up below. The only requirement is that you commit to posting a review within the first 48 hours of Becoming going live, the release date is TBA shortly.
Leaving behind all they know, Elisabeth and her brother, Edvard, flee beyond the mountains.
Elisabeth must break the mind-link her stepmother, Olivia, has forged or else the kingdom of Vendale will fall into ruin while the love of her life becomes a puppet to the witches’ coven. In an attempt to force Elisabeth and Edvard to return, Olivia sends her magic after them, pursuing them with all the force of her power and transforming Edvard into a creature of the forest. Elisabeth succumbs to despair and Edvard sets out to find help. He meets an unexpected deliverer, with whose help the siblings embark on a journey of discovery, learning about the forest and a world they hardly knew existed.
Can Elisabeth break the mind-link? Can Edvard overcome his prejudices? For the sake of Vendale and the home they fled, brother and sister must face their demons, rise to the occasion, and discover how to defeat the witches.
Here are my top picks from my reading stack in July:
Sleeping Together by Kitty Cook
Nothing about this book is ordinary. It is an exceptional story and without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in ages. Let’s start with a quick summary - no spoilers, I promise!
Vanessa (Ness) works for a pharmaceutical company that develops drugs, one drug in particular is in the trial phase: Morpheum, the magic sleeping pill which gets you to sleep 8-hours solid and have the best dreams you’ve ever imagined. Ness could use this miracle pill. Ever since her husband, Pete, shook up her marital bliss by wanting to start a family, Ness has been plagued by nightmares fuelled by the trauma of an awful experience in her past which Ness has not come to grips with. Instead of confiding in her husband, Ness ends up spilling the beans about her nightmares and the reason for them to her slightly irritating, but still cute co-worker, Altan, who has been struggling in the aftermath of his divorce. Altan has a secret, too. He has a secret stash of Morpheum tablets and offers Ness some to help her get some sleep. When Ness takes the pill she discovers an unexpected side-effect of the drug: people who know each other can experience the same dream when they both take Morpheum. While sharing the dream world, Ness and Altan get to know each other... Meanwhile, in the waking world, Pete is swamped with work and is rarely at home, while Ness faces continuous harassment from her immediate superior, Malcom, and escapes further and further into the world of her dreams where the truth comes more easily and Altan makes for a supportive companion.
Ness is the classic character stuck in limbo. She has a job she hates. She is comfortable in her marriage, but doesn’t get any memorable experiences out of it. Although she loves Pete very much, her past and her own thoughts about herself hold her back continuously, stopping her from moving forward and growing together with the man she loves. Ness also has a passion. She loves photography and has always dreamed of travelling, but she lacks the courage to do what she loves and instead sticks with the job she hates in an environment where she is regularly harassed, on many counts, because she believes this is how things are and she cannot do anything about it.
Pete is the picture perfect husband, a steady guy who wants to spend his life with the woman he loves and their children, providing for his family. He is the epitome of safety. His only problem is the taxing nature of his job as a divorce attorney with big-shot clients who make his firm work really hard, forcing him to sometimes to stay at work for days on end.
Altan has suffered a blow to his ego and his heart from the divorce with his wife. He covers up his sensitivity with a hard shell of insolence and brittle humour. He is essentially a kind and considerate individual who wants to help those around him, but ends up getting in too deep. The way things look, he’s headed straight for getting another burn out of his efforts.
Let’s continue with what I love about this book—and there’s so much to love! Kitty Cook’s style is awesome. It is light-hearted and easy to read, making the at times tough subject matter fun to get through. It is an experience to remember, just like a Morpheum dream... The whole book has a great flow, it drags you right into the maelstrom. I, for one, got sucked right in, deeper and deeper, and the whirlpool spat me out with a gurgle at the end. And yes, it is also funny! Brownie points for the funny.
From a social perspective it is high time we have something like this novel. In the wake of the #metoo movement, this book explores really powerful ideas of what sexual harassment does to people and the problem of people who don’t (or can’t) experience it not knowing what it’s like and trivialising the experience. This book provides an excellent opportunity for men and women to take a step back from where the discussion on sexual harassment brought on by the me too movement has been heading, and instead shift things into a different direction which is more understanding. I really love this!
Furthermore, there is a very good message of empowerment. We cannot help the things that are done to us, but we can help how we let them affect us. We can push back in terms of how we look at a scenario and the thoughts about ourselves we allow it to incite about ourselves. We can overcome our trauma and grow as people, and we can go out and make our dreams come true, because we are worthy and we don’t need to spend time and energy pulling ourselves down all the time. Ness’s story of empowerment goes even further, because it shows that we can get out of situations that are not acceptable, we don’t have to live with harassment in the work place, for example. Although, Kitty Cook does point out that the men doing the harassing don’t get much more than a rap on the knuckles for their transgressions, women can stand up for themselves and find another workplace where they are appreciated instead. Knowledge is power, and knowing you are not bound to stay in a place where you are disrespected, abused, harassed etc, is so empowering because it underpins a change in the way we think about ourselves and our own worth and what we are willing to put up with. Power comes with speaking out, telling the truth, and being able to take control of one’s own life. So, thank you to Kitty Cook for putting such an empowering message into her novel.
From a psychological perspective, the message surrounding psychological trauma is also very beautifully put. I love the way Kitty Cook describes Ness’s journey of development coming to terms with what happened to her and healing her trauma. She most certainly doesn’t end the novel a picture of health and beauty, but she does confront her trauma and begin the process of healing her soul. I liked this focus because it is rare that a novel will take such heavy psychological material and engage with it. I found the message of how one can overcome the scars left behind from traumatic experiences quite uplifting.
Unfortunately not everything about this novel is perfect... Perfection is so hard to achieve. I have one pet peeve about Sleeping Together and that is the cultural references. They are excellent, but it is implausible that people who will be in their thirties 25 years from now will reference cultural artefacts from the 80s and 90s. Honestly, does Kitty Cook believe no culture will flourish in the decades to come? Furthermore, she changes nothing about the culture. Everyone is as we are. Considering the huge changes in lifestyle which have occurred in the past twenty years, I sincerely doubt our lives are going to go static. If Kitty Cook didn’t want to project a possible future for 2045, it would have been better and more believable to set the book into a closer future, say 5 years from today. The whole thing would have fitted so much better if it had been set in our own age and been about people in their early thirties right now, not our children who will be in their thirties in the era she picked. Well, it is a small detail, but still, a pet peeve.
To finish on a positive note, and yes, there is more! From a literary perspective, I loved the way Kitty Cook drew parallels to The Great Gatsby, that paragon of American literature. Of course, in terms of the story, she could have even rubbed it in further by referencing Casablanca, but hey, I suppose Gatsby is enough. I thought that literary thread was very cleverly done. Totally loved it, and the extra twist at the end—which I’m not going to reveal! All I’ll say is this: Sleeping Together updates the issues we might have with The Great Gatsby in this day and age, engages with a similar situation and finds a different outcome. More brownie points!
If there’s one book you should treat yourself to this year, let it be this one! (And no, I am not doing this for any reason other than I actually really enjoyed this book!)
My Other Top Picks Are:
July was a sad month for South Africans. Johnny Clegg, one of our greatest musicians sadly passed away. I would like to pay homage to an amazing life. Johnny Clegg not only created fusion music in South Africa, but together with his bands, Juluka and Savuka, he had a show-down with Apartheid. Few people know that he was also an anthropologist and an honorary Zulu warrior. I would like to introduce you to the most beautiful rendition of one of his most amazing songs, Asimbonanga (which is Zulu and translates to "have you seen him", a song Clegg wrote in tribute of Nelson Mandela, but also of other anti-Apartheid activists. I would like to add the line: Asimbonanga Johnny?
Joan Baez's version of Asimbonanga, the most beautiful rendition I know (click on the image of Joan for the link).
Thank you so much for your support for Aspiring, Part 1 of the Siblings' Tale. I really appreciate everything you have done to help make this book a success. I am overwhelmed by the wonderful reviews I have received, yours included ;)
Aspiring is now reaching new heights. As of July 6th, it will be permanently placed on Reedsy Discovery. This is a truly incredible opportunity and I would like to ask you to support me by upvoting Aspiring on their page.
I have also been working hard (not as hard as I would have liked, but hard enough). An entirely new story with a whole set of lovable and seriously flawed characters is on its way. I'm not going to give too much away, but Gisela's Passion is another retelling and it is a prequel to The Siblings' Tale. It is a stand-alone novel, which builds on the world I created. You'll get loads more time to delve into the Kingdom of Vendale this way. Yay.
Thank you so much for your support for Aspiring, Part 1 of the Siblings' Tale. I really appreciate everything you have done to help make this book a success. I am overwhelmed by the wonderful reviews I have received, yours included ;)
Aspiring is now reaching new heights. As of July 6th, it will be permanently placed on Reedsy Discovery. This is a truly incredible opportunity and I would like to ask you to support me by upvoting Aspiring on their page. You can do so via the following link:
Here are my top picks from my reading stack in June:
The Coddling of the American Mind was a very insightful read. I totally enjoyed it and find the subject matter of insurmountable importance to me as a parent, and to educators and policy makers more broadly as well. If you read one non-fiction this month, let it be this one. totally eye-opening and awesome.
My top pick of the novels I read last month is without a doubt Hashmi Gor's Rules of Fate. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you like contemporary fantasy and enjoy an intricate and twisty plot and action-packed to boot, then you're likely to enjoy this. I absolutely love the fact that the main character, Samantha, loves cars and has a fetish for fast ones. I love authors who ignore gender stereotypes entirely.
And in other news, I have decided to set up my imprint as an alternative publishing house dedicated to publishing books in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. The main focus will be on publishing popular literature targeted to minority populations in Europe and the US. So far, this project is in its infancy, but at least we have a name: New Wings Press, and a logo: