Eight of My Very Favourite Mainstream Fantasy Reads

When you read a good book, you want the whole world to know about it and read it too. The books on this list are all relatively well-known already, but I loved them so much that I’m here to tell you the hype is all true and that you should definitely bump them up higher on your TBR pile.

The Final Empire (Mistborn Series) – Brandon Sanderson

An intriguing concept and a compelling magic system. This is the series that introduced Sanderson to me and I’ve never looked back.

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

This saga dares to ask a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails?

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle) – Patrick Rothfuss

One day Rothfuss will write the third book in this series and I’ll be able to die contentedly, but for now, I reread the first two books sporadically to keep them fresh in my mind so that I’m ready when that promised day comes.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe.
You may have heard of me.”

So begins the tale of Kvothe – currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeeper – from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin.

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) – Leigh Bardugo

For everyone jumping on the Netflix bandwagon, I read this series long before it was cool (I can also say that about Game of Thrones, by the way). It’s a coming-into-power story with a distinct Slavic flavour and I loved it.

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite – and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles) – Marissa Meyer

I’m not really one for fairytale retellings, but Meyer can do no wrong in my eyes. The entire series is deftly written (and should technically be considered a sci-fi, but to me it’s less about the science and more about the fantasy, so it made the list) and a whole lot of fun.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Renegades (Renegades Trilogy) – Marissa Meyer

Superhero stories count as fantasy, don’t they? If you like the X-Men, then you’ll love this trilogy. It absolutely wowed me with creative powers, intriguing yet relatable characters and an interesting premise.

Secret Identities.
Extraordinary Powers.
She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both.

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer Duology) – Laini Taylor

One day when I grow up, I want to be able to write as beautifully as Taylor does. This story is magical, mesmerizing and utterly unputdownable. Read it!

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?

In this sweeping and breathtaking novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

The answers await in Weep.

Circe – Madeline Miller

I love all things Greek myth and Miller wove a tail so evocative that it rekindled my obsession for the classics. It was high time these tales were told from a feminine point of view.

Woman. Witch. Myth. Mortal. Outcast. Lover. Destroyer. Survivor. CIRCE.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child – not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long – and among her island’s guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything.

So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss – the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man’s world.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I first read Novik’s Temeraire series long ago (which I enjoyed immensely), so I knew I was in for a treat, but this was so much more than I’d expected! A wonderfully immersive story that will appeal to all high fantasy lovers. (Her other standalone novel, Spinning Silver, was also a fantastic read.)

Agnieszka loves her village, set deep in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. One young village woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all they value behind.

Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she’s everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it’s not Kasia he takes.

(PS: This post contains affiliate links. They don’t cost you any extra, but if you buy something with them I will get a small fee to fuel my reading addiction. Thanks!)

Have you read any of these books yet? Did you love them as much as I do? What would you have added to this list?

Keeping Focus (or How Not to get Everything Done)

I don’t believe in multitasking.

To me, multitasking means doing many things at once, but only with half the effort and ability I should have invested in them. I prefer to take tasks on one at a time, do that one to the best of my abilities, and then move on to something else. It’s how I get things done very effectively in the day job and it’s how I’ve been keeping anxiety at bay for the 14 years I’ve spent working in a high-stress IT environment.

Not a picture of me, although an accurate representation most days…

There’s no getting past the fact that I have to juggle a full-time job with family life (including being a mother to a 5-year old boy) and everything else I need to do to keep my existential crisis from overwhelming me. This is probably the reason I get so enormously frustrated on days that I have to work overtime, even if for only an hour or so, because it makes the parts of my carefully segmented life bleed into each other.

I can’t control when that happens, but I can control some of the extra things I take on in my free time, most notably my writing habit. (I call it a habit, because it’s not a career (not yet, at least) and it’s not really a hobby – it’s just something I have to do that helps keep me sane.)

But I’ve increasingly noticed a tendency towards trying to multitask writing-related tasks, and then wondering why the hell I’ve been so stressed out lately, to the point where I procrastinate for months on doing edits (that really bring me much joy when I can force myself to sit down long enough to work on more than two sentences at a time) and why I disappear off social media for weeks at a time.

Lately, some of the things I’ve been working on, or trying to work on, or thinking of working on, include:

  • Finishing off edits for Myth Hunter Book 2 Part 2
  • Posting engaging content on my Facebook page
  • Finding something interesting and pretty to post on my Instagram page
  • Writing two flash fiction stories per month
  • Coming up with ideas for blog posts on my writing website
  • Feeling guilty for not blogging on my travel blog
  • Working on two different novellas
  • Learning new software for my super-secret PIP project
  • Creating products for my super-secret PIP project
  • Attempting to do the design and layout for the paperback copy of Myth Hunter
  • Practicing paperback design and layout on A Spark of Reverie first
  • Recording audio for A Spark of Reverie for either YouTube or an audio book
  • Recording audio for Spirit Caller for an audio book
  • Recording a video welcoming sequence for new email subscribers
  • Revitalising my writer’s retreat side business
  • Creating presentations and signup freebies for my writer’s retreat business

When you consider that all of this need to happen in the in-between minutes I have that are not taken up by the day job or my family, it’s no wonder that I often feel so overwhelmed that I hardly get anything done. (Anything but reading, that is – it’s infinitely easier to snuggle up with a book than to try and write your own and market it to the world.)

For me, it’s also remarkably easy to start something, run full steam with it for a while, and then sort of peter out, never actually finishing the thing. It’s probably the reason why I’m so good at writing flash fiction and why my novel is written as a series of novelettes / novellas instead of one long story.

So here’s the deal. Of all of those things on the list, finishing Myth Hunter Book 2 is the most important, and Book 3 after that. None of the other things mean much unless I complete the series and show myself and the world that I can do this. I like to think that I have a few loyal readers who want to know how Ambrose’s adventures turn out, but mostly I want to do it for me – because it makes me happy and it gives me purpose.

I want things to look less like this:

And more like this:

Getting the book written is my main priority. Writing monthly flash fiction pieces is my second priority. Everything else will have to wait for when time and energy become available. If this means only sporadically posting on Facebook, Instagram and the blog, then you’ll know why. The PIP project and the writer’s retreat are important to me too, but not as important at this time.

It’s all about focus.

Not everything will get done. But the most important things will, and they’ll have all of my energy behind them, and they will be so much better for it.

How do you get things done? Are you a thriving multitasking machine or do you, like me, prefer to take things on one at a time? What are your main priorities right now?

Eight Classic Fantasy Novels That Shaped My Reading Tastes

Some books you read and a week from now the details are gone, but others not only stay with you for many years, they also shape the future of your entire reading landscape. Before I discovered the books on this list, reading was a fun activity to keep an only child busy, but life was never the same after I read the first book on this list. A lifelong obsession with fantasy was born, one that has spilled over into the movies I watch and the books I write myself today.

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

I will forever be grateful to my uncle who gave me his well-loved copy of this classic novel as a gift when I was about 9 years old. Up until then I’d been tearing through Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but this book changed everything. Suddenly the world was a place filled with hobbits! And wizards! And dwarves! And elves! And dragons!! My imagination was unleashed and has been running rampant ever since.

The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

Of course, after that I had to have more, and Tolkien did not disappoint. Epic fate-of-the-world-depends-on-it quest, star-crossed lovers, heart-wrenching deaths – I lapped it all up. And I think Aragorn might have been my first fictional crush…

I adore this book so much, I reread every few years and if asked what my favourite book of all time is, this is always my answer. Yes, it’s a little dated by now, but it was genre-defining at the time and the story it tells is timeless. I just love it.

The Silmarillion – JRR Tolkien

I wanted more, more, more! And Tolkien still did not disappoint. I know the Silmarillion isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy myths and legends, like I do, and you love Middle-Earth, like I do, then these tales will delight and enthrall you, like they did me.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) – CS Lewis

Actually, the entire Narnia series, which I first read in the suggested order, starting with The Magician’s Nephew. I was too little at the time to understand all the allegory tucked into the stories – to me it was just a magical gateway to a land of talking animals and ice queens, and the conclusion in The Last Battle blew me away. To this day, I will always open any old wardrobe I come across to see if there’s a door to Narnia for me hidden in there.

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle) – Ursula K Le Guin

I think Ged might have been my second book crush. The Archipelago and the magic system in this book, not to mention the fact that the protagonist’s skin is a little darker than I was used to, was so unusual to my early-teen self that this series immediately rocketed onto my all-time favourites list. I reread the entire series (plus the shorter stories that I didn’t even know existed until recently) a year or so ago and it was even more amazing as an adult reader. This is a series that makes you think deeply while you’re off on an astounding adventure.

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad) – David Eddings

Enter Eddings with the Belgariad, Malloreon, Elenium and Tamuli series – all books I discovered at my local library that now have pride of place on my own shelves. It was Garion and company who first awakened in me the urge to become a writer. I loved traversing the world with them so much, learning how to use the Will and the Word, sneaking around with Silk (book crush number three!), that I never wanted the stories to end. I thought if I could bring someone else just a bit of the joy these books had brought me, then I would have done something worth doing.

(It pains me to say that after a recent reread, the Belgariad at least doesn’t really hold up anymore, but if you’ve never read them before and you’re only starting out on your fantasy journey, then they are definitely worth diving into.)

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time) – Robert Jordan

If you haven’t read WoT yet, then can you really call yourself a fantasy fan? Yes, it’s a 13-book series and yes, it does sag a bit in the middle, but trust me, you won’t regret dedicating a few months of your life to following Rand and the gang around. Finally, I got the heroic female cast I hadn’t known I’d been waiting for – Moiraine, Egwene, Nynaeve and the rest of the ladies play just as an important part in the events of the story as the boys do, and it was about time too. I still remember exactly where I was when I read the Final Battle, and almost a decade later I still have a book hangover after the series ended.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter) – JK Rowling

No list would be complete without the Boy Who Lived on it. I was already in my twenties when I decided to see what all the fuss was about and I was hooked from the very first page. Even after multiple rereads, this series doesn’t disappoint and I still class myself and others I get to know into their respective Houses (I’m Ravenclaw, my hubby is Hufflepuff). I can’t believe there is anyone left who hasn’t read this yet, but I’m jealous of anyone who gets to discover it for the first time. Rowling made fantasy mainstream and no matter what you may think of her personally, she did us all a favour by writing this magical series.

If there are some books on this list you haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet, then what are you waiting for? They all come highly recommended!

(PS: This post contains affiliate links. They don’t cost you any extra, but if you buy something with them I will get a small fee to fuel my reading addiction. Thanks!)

Which fantasy books shaped your reading preferences? Is here anything that you would have added to this list?

Release Day: A Spark of Reverie

I’ve been writing a monthly flash fiction piece, first for this website and then later exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, since December 2017. Writing these really short short stories have been incredibly fulfilling, since they give me a format in which to practice writing scenes and characters that don’t fit into my current WIP, but they also spark ideas for longer stories to come. It’s a way for me to entertain my readers on a regular basis between novels, and also a good way to see what kind of stories people enjoy. I always thought it would be nice if more people could read them.

And now they can!

A Spark of Reverie is a collection containing twenty-five micro stories sparked by a love of fantasy, both the sword and sorcery kind and the small acts of magic that can turn a mundane situation into something a little more unusual. Ranging from around 500 to 1000 words each, these very short stories briefly transport you into realms of the imagination in the time it takes to finish a cup of tea or reach the front of the queue at the grocery store. They’re short, but satisfying, and will sweep you away for just a moment at a time.

  • In Penthesilea’s Demise, follow in the footsteps of a warrior in the front lines of the Trojan war.
  • See what happens when a young hotheaded prince is pushed too far in Asterion’s Anger.
  • Ever been stuck working late on a problematic piece of code? In Line 156 a programmer learns when it’s time to take a holiday.
  • Quirky habits can sometimes lead to surprising options, as a beleaguered mother discovers in Lisa’s Choice.
  • In a world where water has become the most important commodity, Keisha shows what she’s willing to do to protect something that is Precious.
  • In The Lost City, a reclusive goddess has to face the facts and make a bold decision.

Set a spark to your daydreams and buy this fantasy flash fiction collection NOW! Available from all your favourite e-book retailers.

Looking Ahead to 2021

What a year. The less said about 2020, the better, am I right? As always, I’m naively optimistic about the year ahead, to the point where everything that was crappy about 2020 will immediately become a thing of the past on 1 January and the future is bright with rainbows and sunshine and all the things that make me happy. Likely? Probably not. But we can always hope, right?

Janus, Roman god of doorways | Adolphe Giraldon, Wikimedia Commons

And so, with hope in my heart and an attitude of kindness towards myself and everyone else who dropped all the goals they had set for 2020 and just focussed on getting through the year physically, emotionally and mentally intact, let’s have a look at how I did with the writerly goals I had planned for myself before the shit hit the fan.

Complete and publish Series 1 of the Mythical Menagerie Series

Done! Myth Hunter was published in early June 2020, a few weeks before my birthday so I can pat myself on the back and say I published a novel in my 40th year, heheheh. It hasn’t been a runaway success, which is never what I expected in any event, especially since I made the choice not to make use of paid advertising until at least Book 2 is available. I’m okay with that. I’m in this for the long haul and I know I won’t be quitting the day job anytime soon.

Write and edit 3 installments of Series 2 of the Mythical Menagerie Series

Almost. I’ve written two installments, and edited most of the first installment and have a good idea of what should happen in at least the 3rd and 4th installments as well. Most importantly, I figured out how my writing process works and have fallen in love with writing again. I’m confident that I can quickly draft the rest of the second series and then focus on whipping it into shape, the part I love the most.

Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece for my email subscribers

Done! Okay, I missed one month when I really just wasn’t up to it, but 11/12 counts as a win in my book.

Compile a flash fiction collection novel

Done! A Spark of Reverie was sent out earlier this month as a gift to my newsletter subscribers, and it’s currently on pre-order to be unleashed upon the world on 6 January 2021. I’m quite pleased with it and although, again, I don’t expect to get rich from it, I hope those people who do read it will enjoy my very short short stories.

Write bi-monthly blog posts for my author blog

Nope. I started of well at the beginning of the year, and then slacked a bit as I focussed on getting Myth Hunter completed and ready for publishing, and then Covid-19 happened. Although being locked down in my house seemed like a wonderful thing at the start, it soon started playing havoc with my mental health and I just ran out of things I wanted to blog about. I don’t really feel bad about it. I enjoy blogging, and I’ll get back into it when the time is right.

Write bi-monthly blog posts for my travel blog

Nope. As above, I did well for a while writing a few posts about our trip to Slovenia and Croatia in 2019 (a trip I still need to finish documenting!), but we were supposed to visit Ireland in 2020 and when the entire travel industry took a nosedive, even living vicariously through fond memories just seemed like a bummer. Hopefully things will return to some semblance of normal in the new year.

Read 1 non-fiction book per month

Done! The rationale behind this goal was that I get much of my inspiration from intriguing bits of real-world mythology or history. I also feel that reading non-fiction is good for the brain. Fiction is great for escapism, but non-fiction is how I learn (which is one of my core values). Although very little of what I read this year sparked ideas, this is a goal I can see myself sticking to for years to come.

All in all, I think I did pretty well with my primary goals for the year. But when it comes to my secondary goals… not so much…

Complete the first draft of a fantasy novel

Hahaha, that was ambitious, wasn’t it? So no, that didn’t happen, but I have at least plotted and attempted to write two standalone novellas, so there’s that at least.

Engage more and grow my following on Facebook

Meh. My 77 followers have grown to 100, so… progress? I’ll keep trying.

Engage more and grow my following on Instagram

Meh. Instagram followers are fickle. At one point I crossed the 200-followers milestone, but now it hovers around 198, give or gain one or two people a day. It’s a slight improvement on last year’s 165 followers though. I’ll get there eventually.

Create some content for my YouTube channel

Nope, nope, nope. I mean most days I’m not even looking respectable enough to turn the camera on for a Zoom meeting, let alone for a YouTube video. But in all seriousness, I doubt anything will happen here unless I can figure out a way to provide value to readers, and I’m not about to try and compete with the million and one booktubers or authortubers out there already, so that’s unlikely to happen.

What else did I accomplish this year?

  • I completed a Udemy course on Writing Mastery.
  • I completed a Udemy course on Tiny Little Videos.
  • I created a book trailer for Myth Hunter.
  • I created a high-level plot for the entire Mythical Menagerie Series 2.
  • I attempted NaNoWriMo again – and didn’t win, but made good progress.
  • I read 68 books.

So all in all, not the most productive year, but also not too bad. I published a novel!!! I think I should give myself some credit for that at least. A lifelong dream has been fulfilled, and it’s only just the beginning of my creative journey!

Here are my primary writerly plans for 2021:

  • Complete and edit the rest of the Mythical Menagerie Series 2
  • Write and publish at least 1 standalone short story / novella
  • Create at least 1 product for my (super-secret) PIP project
  • Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece
  • Read 12 non-fiction books

And if time and energy allows, here are my secondary goals:

  • Grow my email (380), Facebook (100) and Instagram (198) following
  • Continue blogging on my author website
  • Continue blogging on my travel website (as long as I have something to write about)

My goals for 2021 are fewer than normal, but I’m writing this at the end of a global pandemic year and I’m tired and desperately in need of some quality R&R time. I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver. If there’s one thing 2020 has taught me is to celebrate the small wins, so that’s my motto for the new year: celebrate what you can, and make up for the rest when you’re able to.

May 2021 be a better year for us all.

What are your plans for the upcoming year? Did you achieve any of your 2020 goals?

My 2020 in Books

If there’s one thing I managed to do during this pandemic year, was stay inside and read. To date, I’ve read 68 books in 2020 and I might just squeeze another one in before the we ring in the New Year. I know some people found it very hard to concentrate on doing anything, including reading, this year, but I found it a great way to escape my thoughts and the confines of my house.

Let’s have a look at what I filled my head with this year.

(Please note, I’ve added affiliate links to some of these books – they won’t cost you anything extra, but if you decide to buy from the link I’ll get a small commission to help feed my reading habit.)

Books That I Read for Review Purposes

When Covid struck, the company I do freelance book reviews for saw a huge dip in the amount of people willing to pay for reviews. As a result, I only had three books on my plate. One of them was quite good, the other two were mediocre (I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones). Frankly, I’m relieved that I don’t have to read books that I didn’t pick for myself anymore. The money was nice, but the frustration levels were just too high.

Books by Author Friends

I’m fortunate to know some very talented writers via my Facebook writer’s group and this year they’ve amazed me with some of my favourite books! I especially loved the two short story collections, The Space Between Dreams and Chaos and Sticky Fingers, chasing after serial killers with Garnet in The First Time I Hunted, and Keyflame was an absolute triumph and you should definitely read it if you enjoy young adult / new adult paranormal romance.

Books on Writing and Marketing

I’m always trying to get better at this writing and marketing gig. I’m extremely glad I stumbled upon Save the Cat! Writes a Novel – it’s been an eye-opener and I’m sure it’s going to be very useful for future story planning.

Other Non-Fiction Books

Last year I was appalled at the small number of non-fiction books I had read, so I made a resolution to read at least 12 non-fiction books in 2020. I’m happy to report that I did it! And I learned so much by doing so. Some of these books were horrendous (I’m looking at you, Byron in Love), but others were simply fantastic. My standout favourites were Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, Spying on Whales, and The Secret Life of the Mind. I will definitely continue with this resolution next year.

Books that were Okay

This section is reserved for books that just didn’t do much for me. I was completely and utterly disappointed in Children of Virtue and Vengeance and really should have added that to a Books that I Actively Disliked category. The rest of these books all had some redeeming features, but were just mildly entertaining in general.

Books that I Liked

Unsurprisingly, this category has the most entries and they are all books that I would recommend one way or another. The Magebreaker series is fantastic and I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. The Night Circus was whimsical and fantastical, and The Saviour’s Champion surprised me with a romance that I actually enjoyed.

Books that I Loved

I can’t recommend any of these books enough. They are the ones that make me feel like I will never be a good enough writer and that I should just give up now and forever read books by these authors only. Add them to your TBR pile right now if you haven’t read them already. The Renegades series is a brilliant superhero extravaganza with fantastic characters, while the Six of Crows heist duology leaves you breathless as you try to keep up with the intricacies of the plot and the scheming characters.

My absolute favourite book of the year is Uprooted by Naomi Novik, although Circe comes in at a close second.

What was your favourite book this year? Recommend something I have to read in 2021 in the comments below.

My Thoughts on Blood of Zeus

I recently finished watching Blood of Zeus on Netflix and I’m feeling a little conflicted about it. It had such great potential (a story about an underdog with divine parentage set in mythical Greece – what could go wrong?) and I kept watching episode after episode waiting for the really awesome bits to finally happen, but in the end… meh. It just didn’t deliver. Let’s take a moment to discuss why.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t finished watching the first season yet, then now’s a good time to do so.

Heron, the Main Character

Or so you’d think based on the synopsis and his positioning in the story, but for a protagonist he’s really a very bland character. Yes, tragic origin story. Yes, great genetic potential. And that’s about as far as it goes. Nothing he does is crucial to the story and he has very little effect on the actual outcome at the end. His character arc is non-existent and his training montage was dull and frustrating. Really, the entire story would be better without him in it.

Alexia, the Amazonian General

I loved the grit and general badassery of this female soldier. She’s no swooning damsel in distress and, even better yet, not automatically assumed to be the main character’s love interest. There are hints of interesting backstory (she was trained by Chiron, the great centaur) and that she might have been responsible for her mother’s death (although how this fits into the lore of the Amazons remains to be seen). She’s determined and capable and should really have been the main character, in my opinion.

Seraphim, the Demon Lord

Seraphim’s entire backstory had me in tears. It was so incredibly sad to see the chubby, smiling baby turned wild, carefree little boy twisted into a monster. I completely understand and empathise with his actions (without actually approving of them, of course). Why the writers decided to name him after Jewish angels I don’t understand (unless they wanted to point to his “fallen” status, or the “burning” of someone considered to be a demon), it’s really not appropriate to the setting of this series.

Zeus and Hera, the Bickering Couple

Oh, the drama! Hera has always been portrayed as the jealous wife and Zeus as the straying husband, so there’s nothing new here. What I absolutely hate is that the show makes it look like the roving man was not at all at fault, and that the betrayed wife is an out-of-control femme fatale (and skimpily dressed, I might add, as if all her power lies in her control of the male gaze). She’s a shrieking harpy, calling Heron’s mother a whore every chance she gets and going to great lengths to try to get her and her offspring killed. Only later does she set her aims on the person who’s really responsible for the entire mess, Zeus, but when he winks at her right before his demise, it almost looks like all is forgiven again for a moment.

And Zeus! He basically rapes Heron’s mother by having his way with her in the guise of her husband and only revealing his true self when she threatens him with a knife. When their affair is discovered, he sweeps her and her son away and dumps them in a town where the people treat them as despised outcasts. They have to scrounge for a living, while he uses Hera as an excuse to shirk his responsibilities towards them. His attempts at becoming the father figure Heron needs are just a little too late, and the way he treats his wife, his mistress, and his other children just sparks of toxic masculinity.

Electra, the Hero’s Mother

All my sympathy goes towards this woman, who was forced into an arranged marriage with a cruel man, then duped into thinking he loved her one day and hated her the next, only to find out that she had unwittingly betrayed him with a lustful shapeshifting god. Her one son is ripped away from her at birth, killed to the best of her knowledge, while she and her remaining blue-eyed boy are forced to live from hand to mouth while trying to evade Hera’s wrathful gaze. She does the best she can under the circumstances, with very little help from the one who forced himself on her and ripped her from a privileged and comfortable, although unhappy, life. And then her own lost son kills her. A tragic character, if ever there was one.

Evios and Kofi, the Token Friends

Other than having someone to act as comic relief (Evios) and the token black guy (Kofi), I really don’t know what the purpose of these two characters is. They could be interesting (their past seems colourful), but they become Heron’s allies much too easily, are willing to risk their lives for him for no apparent reason, and in the end just don’t contribute much to the story.

General Thoughts

The score was amazing! As a rule, I don’t even notice the music in films, but in this case it was by far the best part of this entire series and I’d recommend you watch it just so you can listen to the music.

I don’t watch anime, so I really can’t comment on the stylistic choices of the animators and the director. I think the grim tones of the animation suit the theme, and the gore and violence might have been a little gratuitous, although it also sets the tone very well. I liked some of the slow-motion sequences and the focus on character emotions, but at around the last two episodes it all felt a little rough. There was one scene where Seraphim and Heron were talking but their mouths weren’t moving and I seriously thought for a few minutes they had discovered some kind of twin telepathy before I realised it was just bad animation.

Demons might be a staple from Japanese tales, but they don’t really fit into Greek myth and I think the writers could have done better in developing their bad guys. At the start, the demons are nigh undefeatable, but by the end the band of heroes just have to crack a whip at them for them to explode into guts and goo (and it wasn’t like the heroes had markedly upped their game by then).

Also, what’s up with the amazing sword Zeus forges for Heron, only to have him toss it aside so that his enemy can pick it up and use it against him? Feels like a bad bit of storytelling there, like something the writers thought was a great idea at first and then decided it would make their underdog hero too powerful.

I liked the idea of the giants, although I thought they were dead after the first war and their resurrection at the end didn’t make much sense to me (perhaps I missed something?). Turning into a demon after eating a giant’s flesh doesn’t work for me, like the writers desperately wanted to include this bit of legend but didn’t know how to do it, and this is another element of the story I would have changed.

I’m also a little disappointed by the portrayal of the Olympian pantheon. Hera was the only female character of note – what happened to Athena and Artemis, Ceres and Aphrodite (to name just a few)? A handful of disapproving goddesses were shown abandoning Zeus to follow Hera’s cause, with no indication of their motivation or reasoning other than sisters standing together on principle. The boys were represented by Apollo, Hermes, Ares, Hepheastus, Poseidon, Hades (oddly being portrayed as the real big bad at the very end), and Zeus. Surely the ladies could have gotten some screen time too? And by the way, this series does not pass the Bechdel test.

All in all, I think there are some great characters and some great storytelling potential, but it just wasn’t pulled off. Eight episodes of roughly 40 minutes each are clearly not enough to handle a tale with such an epic scope. The ending hinted at a possible second season, but I doubt I’d bother with it, to be honest.

What did you think of this series? Did you love or hate it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

I Sorted the Characters from Myth Hunter into Hogwarts Houses!

I stumbled upon some great writing advice last night. Instead of filling in long profile questionnaires (which I hate) to get to know your characters, just sort everyone into Hogwarts Houses! We all know exactly what it means when you say someone is a Gryffindor or a Slytherin, so why not skip all the unnecessary details and go right to the heart of it?

What a fun idea!

So yes, I sorted all the main characters from Myth Hunter, the first novel in my Mythical Menagerie urban fantasy short story serial, into their respective Houses. I know, I’m a total geek. And to make it even geekier, I’m using the profile photos I made for each of them in the Sims 4 here.

Ambrose Davids

My main protagonist, Ambrose, is a Gryffindor. He’s a normal guy who inadvertently stumbled into a world that’s he not completely prepared to deal with. Without any special skills to cope with the shenanigans he finds himself in, he has to fall back on his wit, bravery and nerve to get out of some close scrapes intact. He’s also the guy who will jump fences and take on more than he can handle to help someone in need.

Amari Kerubo

Amari, occasionally also a protagonist, is a Gryffindor too. At first glance, she might look like a Hufflepuff, because she’s committed to the cause of the Keeper, a hard worker who has the best interests of the mythical creatures in the Repository at heart. But woe betide anyone who tries to hurt anyone in her care!

Daniel Brady

Ambrose’s best friend, Daniel, is a total Hufflepuff. He’s loyal and fair and always there when you need him. He values hard work and friendship and is generally a fun guy to have by your side.

Sarah Miller

As a police detective, Sarah is all about intelligence, curiosity and knowledge, which she uses to find criminals and bring them to justice. She’s a formidable enemy, but also a fierce ally. When not on duty, her creative side comes to the fore as a lover of art and a student of art history. Sarah is Ravenclaw.

Cassie Davids

It looks like bravery runs in the Davids family, at least where the younger members are concerned. Ambrose’s sister, Cassie, is a Gryffindor too. She’s fiercely protective of her brother and would do anything for him. She’s a courageous young woman with a strong independent streak.

Monique Tesserier

Monique is the quintessential Slytherin. She’s all about cunning, resourcefulness and self-preservation. She’ll do what it takes to get what she wants. Don’t get in her way, because she’ll run right over you.

Sorting my characters into their Houses has actually been a very valuable exercise for me. Almost all of them ended up in a different House than I had expected and I’m sure keeping this in mind will make writing them in future books much more interesting and accurate.

I’ve known for a while in which House I belong (Ravenclaw). Where would you sort yourself? If you’re a writer, do you sort your characters into Hogwarts Houses? Where does your main character fit?

Falling in Love with Writing Again

Where writing is concerned, I’ve been living under a number of false truths the last few years.

I recently started working on Series 2 of my Mythical Menagerie short story urban fantasy serial, after the release of Myth Hunter, the compilation of Series 1, in June 2020. In the last two weeks, everything I believed about myself as a writer has been turned on its head.

False Truth #1: I am a Planner

I always considered myself to be a plantser – a weird hybrid between a plotter and a pantser, but someone who most definitely needed to plan before attempting any kind of writing. For each installment in Series 1 (except for the very first one, the one that flowed from my fingers like blood through my veins), I wrote a detailed 1-2 page synopsis of everything that needed to happen in that story. By the time it came to writing the first draft, it felt like I was pulling teeth! I hate first drafts, I told myself. I love going back and editing them, but putting those first words down? Only the promise of lots of chocolate (in either milkshake or brownie format) could entice me to do that. It took me months to get a first draft of around 10k – 20k words out.

The funny thing was, when it came to writing a monthly flash fiction piece for my newsletter, all I needed was the first sentence and a general idea to get cracking, and I’d have it done within two or three hours, usually in such a clean state that it needed little to no editing.

So why was I struggling so much with my longer stories?

I told myself that it was because I didn’t know what was needed for the entire series when I was writing each separate installment. So for Series 2, I sat down and plotted a high-level outline that encompasses the whole storyline for the next book. That done, I set about to go into the finer detail for Part 1.

And got stuck. Seriously stuck. I DID NOT want to write anything down that was already vaguely mulling around in my head.

So I didn’t. I thought about how much I enjoy writing flash fiction without a plan, and I just started writing. And it’s been glorious! I haven’t had this much fun writing a first draft since I wrote Beginner’s Luck back in 2017.

False Truth #2: I Can’t Write Every Day

Because, you know, I’m busy, and resistance, and I’d rather scroll endlessly down my Facebook feed until I’m bored to tears.

Nonsense.

Unless there’s a major crisis at the day job that sees me working until late into the night, there is always some time to write a few words. They don’t have to be the world’s best words, just words that get the story moving forward again. They don’t have to be many words either – getting to 100 words is really not that hard if you don’t count them while you write.

Since I’ve started this new first draft, I’ve written every single weekday. I give myself weekends off, because I try to stay as far away from my laptop as possible when I don’t absolutely have to sit in front of it.

False Truth #3: I Need to Schedule Time for Binge Writing

That is my preferred method of writing. I like my twice-weekly writing trip to the coffee shop and it’s probably the thing I miss the most during these crazy lockdown times. I fully plan to reinstate that particular habit as soon as it’s safe.

But for now… yeah, I don’t need it. I can get by with grabbing some time somewhere during the day when things are slow, and writing between interruptions. I set myself a daily target of 500 words and I have exceeded every day, sometimes doubling or even tripling it.

False Truth #4: My Creativity is Fuelled by Chocolate

Seriously, just look at these writing posts from my Instagram feed!

Chocolate definitely helps as a motivation to get me writing, but it’s not necessary.

False Truth #5: I’ll Get the Words Done When I Need To

I’m pressure-driven and normally putting myself under pressure to get something done is good enough. But when a self-imposed writing deadline approaches, I tell myself no-one really cares anyway and why should I push myself? I’ll get it done in due time.

That, my friends, is why it took me three years to get my first novel out.

No more.

I’ve decided to try a bit of social accountability and committed to posting my total word count progress every Friday on my Instagram feed. So far, it’s working. I mean, I’ll feel like a complete idiot if I have to post the same number two weeks in a row, right?

This also comes with the added bonus of friends and followers cheering me on, which, I have to admit, is really nice and very motivating.

False Truth #6: I’m not a Real Writer

It’s hard to be a real writer when you don’t actually write, or when you mostly hate it when you do. But now that I’m writing frequently and I’m truly loving it again, I can safely say I finally feel like a REAL WRITER.

What false truths are preventing you from reaching your goals?

What I’m Currently Working On: Plotting Mythical Menagerie Series 2

These last few months have both dragged on interminably and flew past faster than you can say “lockdown blues.” Can you believe we’re in July already?

The last time I posted an update I was all excited about a new novella I’d been plotting. I scraped together the courage and flew through the first 3500 words faster than anything I’ve ever done, and then stopped. I hit a difficult part of the story and took a break to think about it, and never went back. I think the Covid-19 lethargy had finally caught up to me by then and I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t think I could do the story justice, and I still don’t, so I’m letting it simmer again for another time.

Also, Myth Hunter, the complete Series 1 of my Mythical Menagerie short story series, was published on Amazon! You can still read it for free on Kindle Unlimited here. I was in a spin getting the book trailer ready and scrounging for pre-release reviews and watching the sales page when the book was finally available. That initial excitement has worn off now, but it reminded me how much I enjoyed writing Ambrose’s story.

Which leads me to where I am now: I’ve started plotting Series 2!

I’m doing it a little differently this time. For Series 1 I had a vague idea where I wanted the story to go, but I plotted each installment separately in some weird plotter-pantser-plantser hybrid manner that meant that I wrote each story before I knew what was going to happen next. Each subsequent installment was nerve-wracking, because I didn’t know if I was just floundering forward or actually writing something worth reading. Some of you might remember that I had to scrap my idea for the final installment and start over again just to make sure that the novel felt like a complete story on its own. I was pretty lucky that it all worked out in the end, to be honest.

So this time I’m sitting down and thinking about the whole thing before I start writing. I know I want to do roughly six stories again. I know (more or less) where I want it to go. I’m still figuring out how I’m going to get there. The first three stories are pretty solid in my mind and I’m showing herculean restraint by not diving in with the writing just yet. From story four onwards, things are still a little blurry at the moment. I’m resisting the temptation to go ahead anyway until I know what needs to happen in those middle installments to get me to the end of book two.

While I’m mulling all this over, I’m doing some more research into mythology and folklore to make sure that my stories stay unusual and interesting. Ambrose will still romp around Europe, but he’s also going to venture a little further away into the Far East, and my knowledge of Asian mythology is sketchy at best. It doesn’t help that I haven’t been to either China or Japan (two of the likely settings in the series), which is probably another reason why those last few stories are still foggy. I need a research trip!

If you have any comments, requests or constructive criticism after reading Myth Hunter, please let me know either in the comments below or via email or on my Facebook page. Some readers want more Daniel, others want less Sarah, some would like to see a specific city featured. If you think there’s anything I can do to improve on Myth Hunter, shout at me – I can take it. I’d love to make the next book even better!