Author Interview: Samantha Shaw

Happy Spooky season, friends! Last week, I shared my review of the delightfully scary short story “Gethen Manor.” This week, I am honored to share an interview with the author Samantha Shaw. Shaw is a resident of eastern Ohio, and has two jobs: one being an author and running a bookstagram and two being an accounts payable manager of a golf course. Shaw hopes to one day become a full time author (and with her gift, I fully believe she will make that a reality!).

Living every day like it is Halloween, Shaw loves October because now everyone is in the same boat. Shaw enjoys reading, writing, playing video games, watching YouTube with her husband, and riding roller coasters – she says she is obsessed with them! She told me, “I’m well-versed in [roller coaster] mechanics, stats, and history in general. If I didn’t want to be a full-time author, I’d pursue a career in the amusement industry.”

Read our full interview below to learn more about Shaw and her writing!

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Q) How long have you been writing?

A) I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been writing short stories, poetry, and song lyrics since I learned how to write full sentences. However, I started taking writing seriously when I signed up for a creative writing class in my sophomore year of high school. I began professionally writing in college.

Q) Why do you write?

A) I feel like I need to. My mind is always full of words and ideas that fascinate me, and I want to get them down on paper to see where they take me. Additionally, if I don’t get them out, they get compacted in my brain, and there are already too many thoughts up there. When I think about my life, I’m often reminded of the Paramore lyrics “Keep your feet on the ground while your head’s in the clouds.” I’m always drifting off into my own little world, and writing is the best way for me to stay grounded.

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) I’ll read anything that interests me, but my favorite to write and read is horror, thriller, supernatural, etc.

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) So, I have two. I can’t pick one over the other because I love them for very different reasons.

One is ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky. Not only do I love Charlie’s story, but I fully believe I am the person I am today because of this book. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in a very vulnerable time in my life. It helped me understand and grapple with my anxiety disorders as I grew up. Perks is SO important to me.

The other is ‘The Elementals’ by Michael McDowell. I could gush about this book for hours, but to keep things short, I think it’s the best horror novel I’ve ever read. It checks off all my boxes for the perfect haunted house story. If I achieve anything with my bookstagram, I hope I can help build the fan-base Mr. McDowell deserved in life.

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

A) I absolutely cannot pick just one, so I’ll list a few: Edgar Allan Poe, Michael McDowell, Dawn Kurtagich, Stephen Chbosky, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Adam Vine… I’ll cut myself off here.

Q) What is your favorite horror movie?

A) The Shining. I know it’s a far stretch from King’s original work, but Kubrick’s vision is brilliant.

Midsommar has recently become a close second.

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) I’d probably say Edgar Allan Poe. Reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” in 7th grade kicked my love of horror into gear. And made me even more of a weird kid, haha.

Q) What inspired “Gethen Manor? What was your purpose for writing the story?

A) The idea came to me after a bad bout of writer’s block. While I was working on a different piece of fiction, I had a dream about a Gothic mansion and a couple trying desperately to escape its horrors. I won’t include spoilers, but I also dreamt about the twist. I woke up and immediately wrote down everything I could remember. And I built the backstory and setting around the events of my dream.

In terms of media that influenced “Gethen Manor,” I’d say I drew inspiration from the film “Crimson Peak,” “The Elementals,” and just about every supernatural YA romance I’ve ever read.

Q) Can you tell us about your current WIP?

A) My current WIP is a novel I started writing 8 years ago. It’s a mystery thriller I’m hoping to release later this year/early next year.

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Q) Can you tell us about your hope and vision for your writing?

A) I hope that I’ll continue to grow my skills as a writer, impress my readers, and eventually, dedicate even more of my life to writing.

Q) What advice do you have for other authors?

A) You’re going to get stuck at times. It’s inevitable. I had a delusion throughout college that if I could just get published, my writer’s block would just stop. I can assure you this is not the case. But don’t stop writing. Always look for inspiration. Write down any ideas you have, even if it’s only a few words. And please, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get as much done as you wanted in the day/week/month. Even if you stumble or take a break, you’re still headed towards the finish line.

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Get your copy of “Gethen Manor” today here, and be sure to follow Samantha Shaw on social media!

Instagram: https://instagram.com/sshawauthor 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Samantha-Shaw-Author-111599027030989/

Short Story Review: Gethen Manor by Samantha Shaw

Happy Spooky Season, friends! In honor of October, and all things spectacularly scary, I read the short story “Gethen Manor” by Samantha Shaw. “Gethen Manor” is a quick and delightfully horrific tale of a Halloween party gone wrong. I highly recommend this story to fans of horror, demons, and writing that keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat.

The story opens with a group of college students in an SUV. Aiden gets angry upon learning that his brother Ezra, the driver, is taking everyone to their home, Gethen Manor. Anna, who has a crush on Aiden, is unsure why Aiden is so upset. Despite Aiden’s protests, the group goes to the manor anyway. Upon arriving, the young adults begin playing Halloween music and drinking – celebrating and partying. However, a game of hide and seek will show that things are not what they seem. Who will die and who will survive?

Eek! Shaw’s descriptions allowed me to perfectly visualize what was happening. The story has great tension, and I love the background on Gethen Manor. At one point, I thought the story was going to be about vampires, but was pleasantly surprised with the demonic twist Shaw spins. However, there are questions left unanswered at the end of the story – I wish there had been a bit more.

Overall, I give this short story 4.5/5 stars. I think it is a great story for adults who want to get spooked, this season or any time of the year!

Order “Gethen Manor” on Amazon here.

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Author Interview: S. D. Simper

Last week, I wrote a 5 star review of the fantasy sapphic romance The Fate of Stars (Book one of the Sea and Stars Trilogy). This week, I had the privilege of interviewing the author S.D. Simper. Simper is a full time author residing in Arizona. In addition to writing, music is a big talent of hers. She can sing and play the piano. Fun fact: though Simper enjoys horrifying things and reading horror books she rarely watches horror movies — she says they spook her! To learn more about Simper and her writing, read our full interview below!

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 Q) How long have you been writing?

A) I started writing My First Fantasy Novel (TM) at about 12, because all my friends at school were writing books so I wanted to, also. But my mom always encouraged me when I was really little — like 3 or 4 — to tell her stories, and she would write down what I said.

Q) Why do you write?

A) Writing is both an obsession and therapeutic. I wrote Fallen Gods during one of the absolute worst years of my life because it was something for my mind to cling to that wasn’t reality.

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) I’ve always been a huge high fantasy reader, but I’ve also read a lot of classics (and consequentially have a lot of opinions on which classics are great and which are just terrible). As a kid, I’d read novelizations of video games — most notably Warcraft. I would say I enjoy writing high fantasy the most, but I absolutely live for the romantic bits.

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) My favorite book is Hannibal by Thomas Harris, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. The movie adaptation is terrible (which is sad because the movie adaptation of Silence of the Lambs is flawless), so if you’ve seen that, the book is infinitely better (also they straight up change the ending, which completely destroys the themes). Aside from my innate love of horror books, Hannibal was the first book I’d ever read that offered an ending that was uncomfortable, abhorrent, yet unquestionably, disconcertingly perfect. I loved it, even though I didn’t know if I was allowed to/supposed to love it. It change my entire worldview on storytelling. Years later, it influenced my approach to The Sting of Victory in all the best and worst ways.

Q) Which of your books is your favorite and why?

A) I think my favorite book is Among Gods and Monsters, which is the second book in the Fallen Gods series. I love the feeling of it. I love the themes. I love the final result after what was honestly a trash heap of a rough draft. The Sting of Victory ends in such a way that Among Gods and Monsters is a different style of book than its predecessor, and I was worried that people wouldn’t like it. Consequentially, I put my entire heart and soul into making certain it was an interesting, fun, and a worthy successor. People liked it BETTER, which I’m so relieved by. I stress about every book, but I think that one kept me up at night more than any other.

I’d like to juxtapose this with my least pleasant writing experience, which was Blood of the Moon. I’m actually incredibly happy with it. The issue was with me. The book is depressing, and I was depressed. It had set in after the Among Gods and Monsters high, and it was a struggle and a war to get anything done. You’ll note, a year passed before I published anything else (which isn’t normal for me and my writing speed) because I was so sick during and after. In many ways, Sea and Stars was a comeback. Now that I’ve had that boost, I can finish Fallen Gods 4 (which, while darker than any of its predecessors, isn’t as heavy. It’s nearly cute.).

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

A) It’s difficult to say who my favorite author is. I will say the author who has been the most impactful is Sarah Diemer — when I read her probably most famous work, The Dark Wife, I told myself if I could ever write like her, I will have made it.

Q) What inspired The Sea and Stars Trilogy? What was your purpose for writing the series?

A) The framework of Sea and Stars came about from my wife and I story-ing at each other (we do that) about mermaids in the greater Fallen Gods-verse (since they take place in the same world, just 1000 years apart). That, combined with the purposeful subversion of the classic ‘mermaid saves royal from drowning’ trope (you’ll note how well that goes…), became The Fate of Stars. I started writing it back in the winter of 2018. It was only going to be a standalone novel, but I couldn’t for the life of me decide how to end it. I stewed on it for weeks before it occurred to me that I couldn’t end it because it wasn’t supposed to end yet. Thus, books 2 and 3 were born.

I often pull from real life legends and mythology to inspire my worlds, and while Solviran culture was already established because of Fallen Gods, I had the chance to delve more into the kingdom of Moratham, which had been a somewhat shadowy entity and hadn’t played a big part in Fallen Gods. It was an exercise in restraint in many ways — anyone who’s read The Fate of Stars knows that Morathan culture holds parallels to fundamentalist religions in our world, which I have a personal bone to pick with, but it’s my job as the author to give them depth and grace, nevertheless. But building on that, the repressive religion of my own youth became the backdrop for creating a god and a culture that would stand at odds to our protagonists.

I don’t know if I set out with a purpose, but many of the experiences reflected in the narrative are reminiscent of my own. All my stories have a personal meaning to me, but none so much as The Fate of Stars.

Q) What is your favorite story of mythology?

A) Literally every story in the Edda is filled with absolute edgelords. The gods don’t want to pay some dude building a wall around Asgard? Clearly the answer is to have Loki turn himself into a lady horse and lure the guy’s own giant horse away. Odin wants wisdom? He’s just gonna gouge out his eye and nail himself to the world tree. My favorite, though, is probably the time Thor loses his hammer to a giant, who will only return it in exchange for the Goddess Freya’s hand in marriage. The solution, of course, is for Loki to dress Thor as Freya (using a veil to cover his scruffy beard), have him marry the giant, and once his hammer is returned, kill everyone in the wedding party.

Q) Can you tell us about the Fallen Gods series?

A) The Fallen Gods series is my (very very) dark fantasy story about a witch named Flowridia who falls in love with a very evil woman named Ayla. The series holds several parallels to the classic Orpheus and Eurydice, aka journeying to hell to save the one you love, the trials therein, etc. The issue is that hell is metaphorical in this case — this is a villainous descent story. There’s a greater framework around it in the way high fantasy usually has (dragons and gods and monsters and kingdoms and necromancers, and and and …), but at its core it’s a dark and twisted love story.

As I mentioned before, it takes place in the same universe as Sea and Stars, but 1000 years has passed and the world is different, most notably the roles of the Goddesses of Solvira. There are some reoccurring characters, however — most notably General Khastra of Solvira. There’s also another daughter of Staella running around, who plays a significant part in the story.

Q) Can you tell us about your current WIP?

A) My next/current project is Fallen Gods 4, Tear the World Apart! I’m aiming to have it released in fall of this year. Anyone who’s read books 1-3 know that a couple pretty earth-shattering things occurred at the end of Blood of the Moon, and trust me when I say navigating the new world is a whole lot of horror-filled fun. I shouldn’t say much, but let me reassure anyone who’s been waiting for the return of a certain someone that you will not be disappointed.

Q) Can you tell us about your hope and vision for your writing?

A) I’m honestly amazed every day that people….care? My vision is to continue growing my fanbase and have a small community to escape the real world with.

Q) What advice do you have for other authors?

A) Keep practicing! Keep moving forward! Virtually no one is born with a talent for spinning words together, but pretty much anyone can develop it. Learn how to accept criticism. Befriend other writers of your skill level and do beta reading swaps. If you find an effective beta reader, love and cherish them. They’re hard to come by.

Also! Literally no matter what you do, what you write, how much of your heart and soul you put into it, someone will hate it. This is unavoidable. I would recommend digesting this well in advance. Someone will hate your story. Stories are art, and art is subjective. The key to mitigating this kind of psychological/emotional damage is marketing. Know who your audience actually is. Learn how to speak to them. If your book is good, it will find readers. But you can avoid a lot of needless bad reviews by being upfront with the content and metaphorically yelling in the right directions. This is a vital skill to develop, if only for the reason listed above, and I cringe any time I see people whining about it.

Q) What advice do you have for readers struggling with their sexual identity?

A) Be safe, be smart, and accept that figuring out who you are is instant for some and takes time for others. Art and literature is a great way to explore who you are in a safe environment, whether by creating or consuming. Being gay isn’t a sin, but being an asshole is. Focus on being a good and authentic person.

Q) What advice do you have for readers who have accepted their sexual identity but are struggling with sharing that part of themselves with their friends and family?

A) This may be unconventional wisdom, but hear me out: be willing to play the long game in regards to coming out. This advice is more for people (especially underaged people) who come from families who may not accept them, like I did. Are your parents/family/community going to completely ostracize you if you come out? Then wait until you’re not living at home. Wait until you’re financially stable. This isn’t an option for everyone, but if you know in your heart that you’ll be on the streets if your mom or dad finds out about your secret girlfriend — I’m giving you permission to not tell them. The person with the most power in any kind of relationship is the one most willing to walk away, so set yourself up so you don’t need them. Being out and proud is the goal, but don’t get swept up in the idea that you need to be out now if it will ruin your life. My now-wife waited until we’d been dating for three years and lived in Alaska before coming out to her family, and it forced any of the bigoted members of her family to still treat her with respect because they had NO power over her. I wish I’d waited longer to be out, because I told a small circle but ended up outed to the rest well before I was emotionally ready to handle it. It had serious consequences, many of which I’m still grappling with. I’ve had to set some pretty hard boundaries against some of my extended family members in order to protect myself, my wife, and my happiness.

 

Follow S. D. Simper on social media to stay up to date with her and her writing!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sdsimper

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sdsimper/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sdsimper/

 

Order the Sea and Stars Trilogy today!Fate edit color_final_small

The Fate of Stars

Heart of Silver Flame

Death’s Abyss

 

The Sting of Victory_newcover_small versionOrder the Fallen Gods series today!

The Sting of Victory

Among Gods and Monsters

Blood of the Moon

Book Review: Fate of Stars by S. D. Simper

“It was an old adage, that some people were fated to meet, to teach each other a lesson they so desperately needed, perhaps to save their lives.” – S. D. Simper

The Fate of Stars by S. D. Simper (ISBN: 978-1952349089) is a beautiful fantasy sapphic romance, with an intriguing enemies to lovers trope. The writing and world-building is beautiful, and the descriptions allow the reader to visualize the story. I highly recommend this book to adult fiction readers who are fans of fantastical elements, sword-wielding princesses, sassy mermaids, and a well-done love story.

Tallora is a priestess in training who breaks the ocean’s surface during a storm to pray to Goddess Staella. However, Tallora is not alone this stormy night. She watches as a young woman falls from a ship into the sea. Tallora attempts to help the woman, but her kindness gets her stolen from her ocean home.

Princess Dauriel, Tallora’s captor, is cold and mocking, but her mother, Empress Vahla, is even worse. Tallora tries to escape, but her fin proves detrimental to her plan. So, Tallora prays to her beloved Goddess Staella, who sends her something to assist her. Tallora escapes her watery prison, only to remain prisoner of the country of Solvira. But tenuous feelings between Tallora and Dauriel threaten to blossom into something more – something that could endanger Tallora and Dauriel’s kingdom.

Can one truly learn to forgive? And can the other learn to love and accept love in return?

Simper creates dynamic three-dimensional characters, and she does an excellent job in building reader sympathy for characters, even characters you dislike in the beginning. The story almost reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, minus the Stockholm Syndrome. Simper does a wonderful job exploring the power imbalance in the blossoming romance, and she has the characters explore this themselves – something that shows there is no manipulation within the budding relationship.

Simper’s love story reminds me of Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars, and as I loved it in the YA fantasy, I love that Simper shows two people actively falling in love. The entire romance was enthralling, and I desperately want to read more of Tallora and Dauriel – enemies to lovers may just be my new favorite trope. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the next two installments of the Sea and Stars trilogy, Heart of Silver Flame and Death’s Abyss.

Overall, I give this book 5/5 stars. The fantasy world has magical and political intrigue, and the romance is wonderfully written. If you are looking for a wonderful fantasy lesbian romance then The Fate of Stars is for you!

Order The Fate of Stars here!

Order Heart of Silver Flame here!

Order Death’s Abyss here!

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Trigger Warnings: Sex and references to suicide.

Author Interview: Audrey Coulthurst

Last week, I reviewed the wonderful YA fantasy Of Fire and Stars, and this week I am honored to interview the author Audrey Coulthurst. Residing in Oregon, Coulthurst enjoys playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Final Fantasy VII Remake. She also enjoys going for walks in the woods. Coulthurst works for an investment company by day. By night and weekends, she is an author. Fun fact, Coulthurst never intended to become an author. After getting her Master’s in book publishing, she hoped to become a book designer! Read our full interview below to learn more about Coulthurst and her writing!

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©Evrim Icoz Photography

Q)  How long have you been writing?

A) I’ve been writing for a long time but started seriously pursuing publication around 2013.

Q) Why do you write?

A) Ideas come easily to me but I have a brain like a sieve, so part of the reason I write is to make sure I don’t forget things. My young adult books are always stories I wished I’d had when I was younger.

Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

A) Most of the books I’ve been reading lately are adult SF/F, historical fiction, or contemporary f/f romance. In spite of writing a lot of fantasy, I actually really enjoy writing contemporary novels.

Q) What is your favorite book and why?

A) My favorite book is The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys, though I don’t know that it would appeal to people who love my books. The writing is astonishingly beautiful and it’s a total gut-punch of a read. For books that would appeal to fans of my books, I’d recommend The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski or Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, both of which are among my favorite f/f YA fantasy books published in the last few years.

Q) Who is your favorite author and why?

A) This is an impossible question now that I’m friends with so many authors! The people a writer meets on their publication journey will become some of their best friends. I’d be lost without my author friends and they all bring different important things to my life.

Q) Who is someone that inspires you?

A) My readers, especially the teen ones. Today’s teens give me hope that our world will be in better hands someday.

Q) What inspired Of Fire and Stars and the sequel Of Ice and Shadows? What was your purpose for writing each book?

A) Of Fire and Stars was the book I wished had existed when I was a teenager. I wanted to write a fantasy world that felt very classic but wasn’t homophobic and to fill that world with all my favorite things to read about: horses, music, magic, and sapphic romance. In Of Ice and Shadows I wanted to show the next steps of Mare and Denna’s journey–that living happily ever after can be complicated and require work from both people in a romantic relationship.

Q) I really enjoyed Mare’s love of horses and how important horses were in Mynaria. What inspired that?

A) My main hobby from my tween years to adulthood was horseback riding. I rode and trained my own horses for over 20 years. I’ve read a lot of fantasy books in which it quickly becomes clear that the writer doesn’t know anything about horses, so I wanted to write a book in which the horse stuff was done right and horses were a cornerstone of the fantasy world’s culture.

Q) Can you tell us about your other book Inkmistress?

A) Inkmistress came about because my publisher wasn’t ready to commit to a sequel to Of Fire and Stars right away. It gave me a great opportunity to give some backstory about how the rival kingdom in Of Fire and Stars came to be. I also knew I wanted to tell a different kind of bisexual story and to write a heroine who struggled with epic challenges to her belief in fundamental human goodness.

Q) Which of your current books is your favorite and why?

A) That’s like asking an author to choose favorite children! They all have different meanings and importance to me. I’ll just say that the one closest to my heart, myself, and my own experiences is Starworld, the book I co-wrote with Paula Garner.

Q) Can you tell us about your current WIP?

A) Right now I’m working on a book about Irish-American witches that is set in Oregon. I can’t say much more than that yet, though you may see me tweet about it from time to time.

Q) Can you tell us about your hope and vision for your writing?

A) Mostly I hope that with each book I’ll learn something new or improve my craft in some way.

Q) What advice do you have for other authors?

A) Keep writing, keep reading, and remember that other authors are your support system. Celebrate other authors’ successes with your whole heart and they will be there to celebrate yours, too. Also, make sure to zoom out on your career once in a while. You may feel like your writing career is a never-ending uphill journey, but it wasn’t that long ago you were at the bottom of the mountain thinking that where you are now was an impossible dream.

Q) What advice do you have for readers struggling with their sexual identity?

A) Know that it is okay to wonder, and it’s okay to change your mind or be unsure. You don’t have to figure out everything in one day or have a label for every facet of your identity. For some people, labels can be extremely helpful in figuring out who they are. For other people, they can feel too restrictive. There isn’t one right way to be queer, and it doesn’t have to be your defining characteristic.

Q) What advice do you have for readers who have accepted their sexual identity but are struggling with sharing that part of themselves with their friends and family?

A) First and foremost: stay safe. It’s okay not to come out until you know that doing so will not impact your living situation or your personal safety. If you’re in a safe place and still struggling, know that it is hard to come out and it’s okay to acknowledge any fear you have. It might help to find a support network of people who are in a similar place with telling their friends and families. Be kind to yourself. The coming out process can be lifelong (I still end up having to come out to new people I meet when they ask what my husband does!) but the first part is the hardest. You know the people in your life best, so take the time to figure out what will work for you and make sure you have supportive friends to lean on if people have a hard time accepting the news.

Remember to follow Audrey Coulthurst on social media, and order your copy of Of Fire and Stars here and Of Ice and Shadows here!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/audwrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brashbook/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/audreycoulthurst/

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I stumbled upon Of Fire and Stars (ISBN: 978-0062433268) by Audrey Coulthurst while browsing the YA section of the Bookworm in Myrtle Beach, SC while on vacation. The book blurb captivated me, and upon reading the book I am in awe of the powerful love story Coulthurst has created. Of Fire and Stars is the first enemies to lovers as well as first sapphic fantasy romance that I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book about learning to understand and accept one’s own heart is a book I wish I had while growing up.

Dennaleia, princess of Havemont, always knew what her future held. She was betrothed to Prince Thandilimon of Mynaria, and their union would solidify an alliance between the two nations. However, Dennaleia has a secret – she possesses an Affinity, or the gift of magic, which is forbidden in Mynaria. The future queen of Mynaria must do what she can to best serve the kingdom while hiding her true power, which for some reason is magnified in her new home.

As part of her new life in Mynaria, Dennaleia must learn the ways of Mynarians. She begins receiving riding lessons from Princess Amaranthine (Mare), sister of Thandilimon, as horses are such an important part of daily life and she is expected to ride one on her wedding day. Dennaleia is drawn to Mare for her wildly unconventional demeanor and her desire for freedom. Yet, Amaranthine detests Dennaleia for her demur, elegance, and lack of experience with horses. The first lessons are filled with tension and desires to be elsewhere.

However, the two princesses join forces after a member of the royal family is murdered by a magic arrow. As they work together, the animosity between them begins to fade and feelings become less frigid. But Dennaleia and Mare can never be more than friends – Dennaleia is promised to Thandilimon, and the unstable political climate makes the alliance more important than ever. The two princesses must choose between their hearts and their kingdom.

Coulthurst does a wonderful job crafting her characters and creating varying levels of conflict within her fantasy world. There are some predictable parts (I guessed who the true antagonist was early on), and there are times you just want to push Denna and Mare together! But I love how Coutlhurst actively shows what it looks like to fall in love. I also love that the book ends with a sense of closure for the reader. However, there are still lots of questions left swirling in the reader’s mind, so I’m excited to read the sequel!

Overall, I give this book 4.5/5 stars. This is a wonderfully crafted fantasy book with an inspiring LGBTQ+ romance. In addition, I enjoyed the horses in the book. It transported me back to simpler days in which I read horse books all the time in middle school. YA readers who enjoy magic and romance (and horses) will enjoy Of Fire and Stars.

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Order your copy of Of Fire and Stars here!

Order your copy of the sequel, Of Ice and Shadows, here!

Author Interview: Rosalyn Briar

Last week, I shared my 5 star review of the dark fantasy The Crown of Bones. This week I had the privilege to interview the author Rosalyn Briar. In addition to being a gifted writer, Briar is a stay-at-home mom. Living in Illinois, Briar enjoys reading, swimming, and spending time with her family. Fun fact: Briar used to teach Latin and social studies. Read our full interview below to learn more about Briar and her writing!

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Q) How long have you been writing?
A) About 2 1/2 years.
Q) Why do you write?
A) It is a wonderful creative outlet for me.
Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?
A) I love reading dark fantasy, mystery, and thrillers. I prefer to write dark fantasy that borders on horror.
Q) What is your favorite book and why?
A) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It sparked a lifelong love of all things whimsical and creepy.
Q) Who is your favorite author and why?
A) I will read anything by Gillian Flynn. I love thrillers and her twists, and turns are amazing.
Q) What inspired The Crown of Bones? What was your purpose for writing the book?
A) I’ve always been a fan of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and, for a long time, I had been thinking of a way to incorporate them into a dark fantasy horror. Then one day, my husband’s Oma was telling me about how, in her old hometown in Germany, they not only posted obituaries in the paper, but sent out death notices to those who knew the deceased. I thought about how creepy it would be to receive death notices before someone died. That sparked the idea for the Black Letter in the story and it all fell into place from there.
Q) Did anyone or anything influence the romance between Gisela and Brahm?
A) I wanted their romance to be sweet and “friends-to-lovers.” Some of Brahm’s personality was definitely inspired by my husband’s flirtatious nature.
Q) What was your favorite fairy tale to weave into your book and why?
A) I really loved weaving in the story of Iron Heinrich, which is more popularly known as The Frog Prince — but most people completely leave out the main character of that story and focus only on the prince. I wanted to give Heinrich his due and make him a character in my story.
Q) I’m so excited that there is going to be a sequel! Can you tell us about it?
A) The Bone Needle will be a dual-POV novel split between Brahm and Gisela. Brahm, Bergot, and a team of brave helpers must find a way to defeat Hexegot from the outside without harming Gisela. All the while, Gisela’s consciousness weaves between the Otherworld and Hexegot’s own mind — a sick and twisted place. Can she escape the darkness and still be the Gisela we know and love when she wakes?
Q) Can you tell us about your hope and vision for your writing?
A) I hope to find readers who enjoy dark fantasy and all things whimsically creepy. I want to inspire others to become writers as well.
Q) What are some of your writing goals?
A) My near-future goals are to publish the audiobook of The Crown of Bones and to publish my second novel this fall. A Sea of Pearls & Leaves is a gothic retelling of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale “The Three Snake-Leaves” about an eccentric princess who wishes to avoid marriage. I then hope to complete and publish The Bone Needle next spring.
Q) What advice do you have for other authors?
A) Read as much as you can and never give up! For more specific advice, I would say to seek feedback from beta readers for your writing so you can improve.
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Remember to order your copy of The Crown of Bones here, and be sure to follow Rosalyn Briar on social media to stay up to date with her and her writing!

Book Review: The Crown of Bones by Rosalyn Briar

The Crown of Bones by Rosalyn Briar (ISBN: 978-1655164422) is an incredible piece of adult fiction that combines “The Lottery” and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Readers who enjoy dark fantasy, a splash of horror, and an exceptional romance trope, will fall in love with The Crown of Bones.

The main character, Gisela, is a fiery and stubborn young woman. While leaving the market one day, she is accosted by the wealthy Albert, nephew of the High Priest. Albert has been pursuing Gisela for months to be his wife, but Gisela continues to refuse his advances. Things turn ugly in the alley leaving the market, and Gisela’s former love interest, Brahm, intervenes. Albert tells Gisela and Brahm that they will regret their actions, but no one guessed exactly what he would do.

The next day, Gisela receives her Black Letter – a letter identifying her as one of eight chosen to be an Offering to the goddess Bergot. The beautifully heartbreaking scene of Gisela saying goodbye to her family, especially her younger sister Thora, brought tears to my eyes – Briar is talented like that.

Gisela and the other Offerings are released into an ashen forest in which they must find the Crown of Bergot. However, every step they take they are faced with trials and tribulations, that are eerie echoes of the fairy tales Gisela once read. Can the Offerings outrun death? Can Gisela survive in order to return to take care of her family?

Briar does an excellent job creating tension within every page of her writing, and she provides a few twists that I didn’t see coming. The romance trope is tantalizing and keeps you engrossed in every word. The fantasy world is excellently crafted, and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ending. It ends with a cliffhanger, and I’m not a fan of cliffhangers. . . BUT there is a sequel in the works!

Even with feelings of frustration and disappointment with not having closure in the end, I still have to give this book 5 stars. Why? Because the world building is phenomenal, the characters have depth, the romance trope is well-done, and the overall writing is wonderful! This book is delightfully creepy, and I enjoyed the e-version so much I do plan on ordering myself the paperback!

I will say this book is for ADULTS, and contains violence, cursing, and sexual situations. If any of these make you uncomfortable, this book may not be for you. HOWEVER, if these are not triggers for you, and you enjoy dark fantasy, this book is for you!

Link to purchase on Amazon. 

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Book Review: Able Soul: Empowering God’s Spirit Within by Lucy Goncalves

A few weeks ago I was the lucky winner of a giveaway on Instagram where I received a copy of Able Soul: Empowering God’s Spirit Within (ISBN: 978-1-9990326-1-6) by Lucy Goncalves. Goncalves shares her personal testimony of how trusting God has lead to opportunities that otherwise would have been impossible. Living with Cerebal Palsey (CP), Goncalves has struggled not only with a physical disability, but of being pre-judged by others, and often feeling like she had no voice. Yet, through listening to God’s guidance, Goncalves has created an uplifting and encouraging book that will aid readers no matter what season of life they are in. Praise be to God for Goncalves and her testimony – this book has truly been a blessing in my life.

The book contains twenty-one anecdotal stories complete with a spiritual lesson, inspirational Bible verses, and a prayer. “Prayer is the Breath of Life for Our Souls,” spoke to me right at the beginning of me delving into the book. Goncalves writes, “Prayer is essential to our well-being and to the goodness of God that we need to access in order to serve humanity.” In a later story, “Hunger to Serve,” Goncalves explains how serving, loving, and supporting others allows us one to become a vessel of the Holy Spirit. I loved Goncalves lessons, and I took time to reflect on my own acts of service. I want to do more in my daily life to serve and empower others.

Reading through the stories, I was inspired by Goncalves’ positive attitude and her relationship with God. She has overcome so much (aside from her physical disability), and her words encouraged me to reflect on my own personal relationship with God. In addition to wanting to do more acts of service in my daily life, I want to take more time to pray and ensure I watch my weekly church sermons (my congregation is still not meeting face-to-face because of COVID-19). I also want to be more positive, more forgiving, and more open to acknowledging God’s blessings in my life.

Overall, Able Soul encourages one to grow their relationship with God, and teaches the reader that with God all things are possible. I rate this book 5/5 stars, and I recommend everyone, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey with Christ, to pick up this book today!

Order here from Amazon.

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“Go ahead and make all the plans you want, but it’s the Lord who will ultimately direct your steps. . .Before you do anything, put your trust totally in God and not in yourself. Then every plan you make will succeed.” – Proverbs 16:1-3 (TPT)

Book Review: How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still While Painting Their Portraits in Winter by Myriam Gurba

I discovered Myriam Gurba’s collection of short stories (ISBN: 978-1-933149-90-5) by chance. Upon reading the book’s back cover description, I was instantly attracted to the work.

The blurb reads, “In this artfully crafted collection of short stories by award-winning author Myriam Gurba, nothing is as it seems. A Mexican grandmother tells creepy yet fascinating ghost stories to prevent fidgeting (“How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still While Painting Their Portraits in Winter”). A Polish grandfather spends the night in a Mexican graveyard after a Dia de Muertos celebration to discover if ghosts really do consume the food that has been left for them (“Even This Title is a Ghost”). Unforgettable characters inhabit these cross-border tales filled with introspection and longing as modern sensibilities weave and wend through traditional folktales creating a new kind of magical realism that offers insights into where we come from and where we may be going.”

Yet, upon reading the collection I would not describe the work as magical realism, but rather paranormal imagination. The stories focus tremendously on death spanning a narrator who is drawn to the corpse of her murdered cousin and her aunt’s dead dog’s taxedermied body with missing eyes to spirits in a graveyard that are mistaken as pigs to a ghost lacking an identity roaming searching for wisdom. There are many themes explored within the paranormal tales including, but not limited to, family bonds/connections or lack thereof, sexuality and sexual orientation, identity, religion, and mental health.

Gruba’s writing is beautifully descriptive and her words are captivating. I will admit it took me a moment to get used to the profane language, but I was impressed by the writing overall. However, there are several areas within the stories that I failed to understand. I assume it is reader-error, but even after taking time to try to process each story I still don’t understand the stories in their totality. For example, in “Even This Title Is a Ghost” the grandfather sees pigs rather than spirits. Pigs come up again in other stories, but I don’t understand the significance. In the same story, the grandfather notices a man’s cricket is missing in the end – does this imply the cricket was a spirit much like the pigs? Perhaps, I am thinking too much.

I also must point out that the short story collection should have a trigger warning for women who have lost children. La Llorona and the legend’s variations are discussed, but it also depicts a grandmother who cradles the coffin of her dead baby until she collapses from exhaustion. Another element I failed to understand was the discussion of “real Llorona” or real women who murdered their children – and the narrator saying that a woman killing her own children was natural. Was this satire that went over my head? Did I misread or fail to read in between the lines? Whatever the case may be, I do NOT recommend this collection to those who have lost a child.

There was also a disregard for animals/pets painting them as a nuisance or evil and sexual beings until “Tzintzuntzan.” This is probably my favorite short story because of the regard for other living things the narrator demonstrates as she is filled with shame and guilt after destroying the branch of a tree in which a hummingbird nest was  residing. Most of the other stories seem to focus on death as an inevitable end to a miserable existence – In all honesty, I found most of the stories disheartening.

I did enjoy the creepy tidbits and discussion of ghosts – I wish there had been more of this.

This book is definitely outside my normal reading, and I have struggled with how to rate this book. The writing is beautiful, and Gurba incorporates important themes/ideas within her stories. However, I feel like there are some stories lacking clarity (or it is written in a way that simply goes over the reader’s head). Taking into consideration that this is not what I am used to reading and the beautiful writing, I give this book 3/5 stars. I wish there was more creepy paranormal stories as seen in “How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still While Painting Their Portraits in Winter” and “Even This Title Is a Ghost,” and I wish there was less focus on children being killed and parents abandoning their children.

I do NOT recommend this to children, YA, or YT readers. Readers of adult fiction who are interested in philosophy of death and paranormal imagination may enjoy these stories. Gurba’s collection is available on Amazon here and through Manic D Press here. If you read it, I would love to discuss the stories with you and see if I can better wrap my head around the exact messages!

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“Ghosts colonize the imagination. Imaginations are the ultimate haunted houses.”