Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Carissa Broadbent

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This week my blog is focusing on romantic fantasy. I’ve had several wonderful authors kindly share their time with me, to talk about their writing and about romantic fantasy as a subgenre. Today, Carissa Broadbent, author of The War of Lost Hearts series, talks a little bit about the stigma surrounding romantic fantasy.

The strange, wonderful, ever-evolving world of romantic fantasy – or, stuff to think about before smack-talking romance books

Here’s the interesting dichotomy about fantasy: it pulls us into a world utterly foreign from our own, full of quite literally limitless possibility, and yet, the things that we connect most to in those stories are almost always the most mundane, human elements. The things that are larger than life marvel us, but it’s the things that reflect the qualities we see in ourselves that make us feel stuff. And hey, that’s what I’m in this business for: feelings. Lots and lots and lots of feelings.

My name is Carissa Broadbent and I’m an author. I’m best known for The War of Lost Hearts trilogy, which, at time of publishing, should have just concluded with the release of its third book, Mother of Death and Dawn! I am delighted to spend my days in the wonderful world of romantic fantasy – or, as I often put it, magic-and-kissing books.

But what does “romantic fantasy” mean, exactly?

What exactly qualifies? I’m going to start with the big caveat that no one has carved these definitions into some sacred tablets somewhere – undoubtedly, some people out there have very different definitions of what constitutes romantic fantasy than I do, and I’m in no position to tell them they’re wrong! But here’s how I define it:

Romantic fantasy books focus on a fantasy story and arc, and have a romantic element that is inextricable from that story – meaning, if you were to remove the love interest and romance, the story would no longer exist. That said, fantasy is still the primary genre, so the characters may go on epic multi-book arcs. A great example of romantic fantasy is Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Closely linked to romantic fantasy but ever-so-slightly different is fantasy romance – in which romance is the primary genre, and the romantic relationship is the story. These books follow romance novel conventions and requirements in a fantasy world, meaning that each individual book gives each couple a HEA (happily-ever-after). A great example of fantasy romance is JD Evans’ SPFBO7 finalist Reign & Ruin, which you should read if you haven’t because it’s fabulous.

Most casual readers use these terms interchangeably, and anecdotally I’ve noticed the lines blurring between them significantly as the subgenres enter the mainstream.

Being an author active in the world of romantic fantasy in this era has, to put it lightly, been an interesting ride. It’s such a unique subgenre that straddles two very different worlds, at least one of which has a history of being, frankly, a bit hostile to its existence.

I know! Those are some strong words. Let me explain what I mean.

For a long time, romantic fantasy didn’t quite exist as a defined genre. SFF – particularly adult SFF — was seen primarily as a man’s genre, while romance is predominantly read by women. In the aughts and 2010s, young adult fantasy exploded, and it was here that many women found the female-led SFF stories that they were unable to find in SFF shelves. Readership of YA SFF blew up, not only in teenagers, but with adult women who simply connected more with these stories.

There are, of course, a plethora of reasons why people read YA SFF during this time, and the breadth and variety of stories coming out of this genre go far beyond romantic fantasy. But, in general, a number of women turned to this subgenre during this time because it was simply where female-led or romantic fantasy existed.And that, my friends, created a vicious self-fulfilling cycle in traditional publishing, which went something like this:

  1. Lots of romantic fantasy titles were published as YA.

2. Lots of adult women started reading these books because it was, largely, the only place that romantic fantasy existed.

3. As many of these readers grew into their 20s and wanted, to put it bluntly, sex in their romance novels, there was a brief push by publishers to create the subgenre of “NA”, or “New Adult”, fantasy – but it never took off, largely because bookstores were not creating entirely new shelves for this subgenre, and this seemed to reinforce the belief that there was “no market” for adult romantic fantasy.

4. But, there very much was a market! Publishers simply kept relegating it to YA.  YA fantasy becomes the place where “girl fantasy” goes, while adult SFF shelves were left to more traditionally-male-oriented fantasy books. And because now, even adult readers of romantic fantasy had been trained to look in YA shelves for the sorts of stories they liked, it became even more difficult for adult-oriented romantic fantasy to break out.

5. More and more romantic fantasy titles are published in YA that are clearly aimed at a much older audience, often with spicier sexual content than one might expect in a YA novel. A Court of Thorns and Roses, which has since been rebranded and re-shelved in adult, is a great example. But the downside is that now, so much of the money in YA publishing was in fact going towards elevating and marketing stories really intended for adults, while actual teenagers in the 13-16 range were increasingly neglected as the audience for young adult books.

6. Meanwhile, indie publishing really starts to take off, and romantic fantasy finds its footing as a genre that thrives in an indie environment not bound by the challenges of traditional publishing shelving.

It’s only very recently – as in, within the last two years – that I’ve seen this cycle start to break, with books like Sarah J Maas’s ACOTAR and Jennifer L Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash series now (rightfully) shelved in adult SFF.

But why did we face this problem at all? Why did publishers feel the need to create “New Adult” as a new subgenre, instead of moving these series to regular old SFF shelves? I can’t see into anyone’s mind here, so I’m theorizing, but… well, sexism probably had something to do with it!

The perception was that adult SFF is where the boys hang out, with their big chonky dragon books and grimdark stabby things and throne games. And those books are just so different from this girly stuff over here, with, you know, kissing and whatnot.  No, those things aren’t for real grown ups.

Look, I don’t think anyone was sitting around twirling a mustache while scheming over these things! But I really do believe that many people felt that those two things were incompatible. And can anyone blame them? Historically, SFF circles have been a bit hostile to romance. Describing something as “like a romance novel” or “basically a Harlequin romance in disguise” was considered a blatant insult. I would frequently see SFF authors try to describe their romance plots as “not like other romance,” attempting to elevate their own work by diminishing the craft of romance novels. Many SFF readers and even authors made it very clear that they had little respect for the artistry or craft of romance books.

Of course, I will never ever fault anyone for personal taste – we all like different stuff, and life would be really boring if we didn’t! And so many of us – long ago, even myself included – have been trained by society to see traditional romance novels as “lesser than.” It’s such an ingrained perspective that I guarantee that most of the people who say things like the examples above don’t at all consider it sexist.

I’m thrilled to say that I have been seeing these attitudes shifting so much in a very short period of time. I was a bit nervous to enter my book Daughter of No Worlds into the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off, because I feared that I was putting my book in front of an audience that was simply not interested in what it had to offer, which is always a little scary as an author. 

But not only did Daughter of No Worlds perform quite well, gaining a semi-finalist title, this was also a banner year for romantic fantasy in general in the competition! I was delighted that Reign & Ruin took a well-deserved finalist slot, and I have also heard the Legacy of the Brightwash, another highly-lauded SPFBO finalist, has a strong romantic subplot (coming up on my TBR!).

Even just the fact that so many SFF blogs – like this one! – are doing features on romantic fantasy says a lot to me about shifting attitudes towards romantic fantasy in the broader SFF community.

There is so much beauty in romances. I love the genre – in fantasy, and in every other subgenre – because it’s all about people connecting. And if you’ve never read a romance or romantic fantasy book, maybe it’s time to give it a shot!

A well-done romance novel is a masterclass in character writing. And those lessons are core themes that carry over into every other type of book – whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, historical, literary fiction… pick your poison. 

After all, is there any more universal human experience than to fall in love?

About the author:

Carissa Broadbent has been concerning teachers and parents with mercilessly grim tales since she was roughly nine years old. Since then, her stories have gotten (slightly) less depressing and (hopefully a lot?) more readable. Today, she writes fantasy novels with a heaping dose of badass ladies and a big pinch of romance. She lives with her husband, one very well-behaved rabbit, one very poorly behaved rabbit, and one perpetually skeptical cat in Rhode Island.

To purchase books: Amazon



Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

Each month this year, I’ll have a week where I focus on a different subgenre of fantasy. Last month’s Fantasy Focus was comedic fantasy. This month I’m shining a spotlight on romantic fantasy, a subgenre that I don’t know much about. Thankfully, Dan Fitzgerald, author of the Weirdwater Confluence, is here to help!

Effing the Ineffable: Intimate Discourse in Romantic Fiction

Every so often, the discourse surrounding sex scenes in books gets my blood boiling. I’m not talking about folks who say they don’t like to read them, or that they skim them or skip them. That’s absolutely fine and wonderful. There are many excellent reasons why readers may prefer not to read explicit material, and no one needs to explain why it’s not their jam. People can like what they like.

I’m talking about something else: the idea that sex scenes are “empty titillation.” That they add no value to a book. That they “must advance the plot or characterization” or they should be cut. I would agree that sex scenes must show us something about the characters, but there’s this assumption that they generally don’t, which grates my cheese to the point that I’m writing this mini essay. In fantasy particularly, where readers often embrace all manner of horrific violence, why do scenes of intimate sharing cause such strong negative reactions? We seldom question the narrative value of graphic fight scenes or pulse-pounding chases, but sex scenes are somehow seen as extraneous?

Books tell stories and reveal character in a variety of ways, using different forms of discourse. We have narration, where we see descriptions of the world, often filtered through one or more character’s perceptions. What the writer decides to show and how they choose to show it communicates something important. Dialogue between characters shows us something entirely different, pure verbal communication, but often with little peeks at what’s behind their words, shown directly through revealing their thoughts, or indirectly through their gestures and actions as they speak. Gestures and actions can do a lot of narrative work even in the absence of dialogue; body language is just as expressive as spoken language. And body language in a public setting can be very different from what happens when two (or more) characters come together in an intimate setting, which is what has brought me to the keyboard today.

No one disputes that interior monologue or narrative voice play an important role in building character and story. The narrative value of dialogue speaks for itself, pun intended. And who doesn’t love the way the smallest gesture shows us a world of nuance that a thousand words of interior monologue could not capture? These forms of discourse are relatively easy to grasp, though they may be challenging to write effectively. But intimate physical discourse is seldom seen as such. We have this idea that what happens in the bedroom, or the couch, or on a pile of straw in an abandoned dragon’s lair, is somehow less of a means of communication than the others. Or perhaps we see it as communication but have been trained not to study it too closely, for fear of feeling voyeuristic or vulgar.

The way characters act and communicate in public can be very different from what they do in intimate spaces, or it can be quite similar. In either case, it shows us something important that hints at larger truths about them. Do they make the first move? Do they show confidence? Hesitation? Do they struggle with their inhibitions, or do they cut loose once free of prying eyes? Do they seek their own pleasure first, or that of their partners? Do they tease, dominate, submit, withhold, give in? Every moment of a good intimate scene reveals something about a character and their relation to others.

It is true that many of the things described above can be shown to some extent in non-intimate scenes, but there is something unique about what happens when two (or more) people exist in a space that is uniquely theirs. How fast and how fully can they strip away the expectations and roles society casts them into? Do they find freedom in this private universe to be someone they can’t be in the confines of the world at large? The way they move together, the way they express, with their bodies, the conflicting tensions and desires swirling inside them, all of it is discourse. It is communication beyond words of things that cannot be expressed verbally.

Sex scenes are a way of effing the ineffable.

It’s fine if you don’t like to read or write them. It’s fine if you hate them. Just don’t say they add no value to a story.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

Links Buy my books in any format: Dan Fitzgerald — Shadow Spark Publishing
Twitter: Dan Fitzgerald (@DanFitzWrites) / Twitter (writing and bookish stuff—this is my home)
Instagram: Dan Fitzgerald (@danfitzwrites) • Instagram photos and videos (nature photography and bookish posts—this is my playground)
Website: Dan Fitzgerald (danfitzwrites.com) (Find out more about my books, plus there’s a blog)

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Emmaline Strange

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This month’s Fantasy Focus is on the romantic fantasy, a subgenre that seamlessly combines magic, wonder, and romance. Today I’m happy to have Emmaline Strange, author of Crown of Aster, talk about her journey into writing romantic fantasy.

My journey toward fantasy romance was a weird one. It began, like many weird journeys have of late, in the dark days of 2020. Without going into the whole thing, because we all know how that year went, let’s just say it was rough. 

I was home, out of work, scared in that vague “is the world going to end or am I just going to get used to it” sort of way, and scared in the much more acute way that came from several family members being hospitalized, and me suddenly in charge of everyone’s finances. Trust, anyone with me in charge of their finances—also terrified. 

With not a lot to fill my days except a crushing sense of dread, a friend in a similar position suggested we make a writing challenge for ourselves. Both of us had advanced degrees in creative writing, and had spent a while doing precisely bupkiss with them. So we came up with a list of prompts, and pushed each other to write at least one thousand words per day, and fill one of the prompts.
When I first began to write Crown of Aster—then known as The Aster Queen’s Court—I’d envisioned a set of loosely interconnected erotic shorts, each with a dreamy, faerie-tale like quality, with different couplings (or throuplings or…group…lings) in each segment. However, the first short I began with a guileless young human man stumbling upon the drunken bacchanal that passed for the fae court, I became hopelessly, irretrievably, ensnared.

Just like my character Nathaniel when he set eyes his faun prince. These two characters came together and gripped me in a way that I truthfully had never felt. The words flew, and soon the focus shifted from the Aster Queen to her son, Adair, and his love for a sweet and innocent human he encountered in his forest. Exploring their love story let writing become again a place of joy for me, one of the only ones in a very dreary time.

As the story began to take shape, and Adair and Nathaniel’s love story at its heart, I began to wonder what this final piece would really look like. So, I tried to guide these two boys into something resembling a plot. I Saved the Cat! , I Romanced the Beat, and found myself stuck. 

I had about seventy thousand words of love, of sex, and yes, of magic. Seventy thousand words of two people coming from vastly different worlds and finding each other—and now that they had each other they wouldn’t let go. Based on my knowledge of the romance genre (very limited, at that time), I knew I had to give them some kind of Dark Night of the Soul ™, but Adair and Nathaniel really and truly would not budge from each other’s side. 

I tried dozens of ways to break them up, and every attempt, every argument, every scene, every misunderstanding fell horribly flat. None of it felt believable—not for them. A few times I tried to make them discuss the challenges facing their relationship and they ended up taking each other’s clothes off and doing other things instead. 

I truly don’t know how that kept happening!

So, I went back to the proverbial drawing board. What else could go wrong? What could test their love, put their relationship under serious, gut-wrenching strain and allow their Happy Ever After to feel earned, in the end.

I also went back to my roots. Like many of us, I cut my teeth on fanfiction. A lot of queer love stories took shape in the fan fiction world with some truly gorgeous prose (don’t hate). I don’t want to speak for others of course, but in my own exploration, I’ve found a lot of fantastic stories told that way because those beloved characters weren’t allowed that HEA in canon (See TV tropes “bury your gays,” for examples). They were killed off, broken up, vilified, or the actors baited us with their natural chemistry and the creators fanned the flames without actually committing to getting them together, only to slam dunk one of the lovers right into super hell right after his big confession in the show’s final season (Yes, Supernatural, I’m looking at you).

So a lot of heartsick fans took to online communities to write and read the stories these characters never got, for one reason or another. The stories had a lot of the “Plot” action of the original canon, but opened windows we did not originally get a chance to peer into. That really resonated with me, and when I started branching out and reading more original romance by queer authors, I found that they didn’t always follow the genre rules. In fact, more often than not, they didn’t follow the rules at all. 

That’s when things really began to click with me. There was a whole scary world in that fae forest full of tragedies that would test them, full of other characters with their own agendas, magic and danger and grief and loss. A whole entire fantasy plot sprung up around this simple tale of two lovers from different walks of life, and how they bridged that gap to save their shared world.

If my characters didn’t want to follow the rules, why should I force them to? I didn’t want to follow the rules either! I’d sought some advice from more experienced authors, who said I needed to pick romance, or pick fantasy. Crown of Aster had too much romance for fantasy fans, and too much fantasy for romance fans. 

Honestly before becoming so stuck like that, I’d literally never heard of the genre Fantasy Romance (or romantic fantasy) before.

There’s a lot of reasons I could go into for why self-publishing made sense for me, but I think that’s one of the biggest ones.

Like Adair when he found a sweet, neurotic human wandering through his forest and thought “Huh. That’s a whole-ass husband!” I simply did not want to let go, to surrender, I didn’t want to go with the bland expectations of the genre (or, what I understood at the time to be expectations of the genre. I have learned a lot since then. And by that I mean, found some amazing authors telling some truly beautiful and unique love stories). 

In the end, I was truly just as stubborn as the characters I had been cursing for months. I kept all the sex, all the mushy gushy stuff, and the sweet kisses on forest hilltops. But I kept the sorceress nursing a four-hundred-year grudge, the undead shade, and the grizzly injuries too. Trying to wrangle characters can sometimes feel like herding cats, and I think sometimes, it takes a stubborn cat to get that job done.

Stumbling into this strange little niche genre was how I found my way back to writing. It’s how I found my way into the indie author community, how I re discovered my love of reading—I devoured over one hundred books in 2021, compared with less than five in each recent year leading up to it. 

Where I hadn’t created work in years, I suddenly found myself with more ideas than I knew what to do with.

So, Adair, Nathaniel and I got there in the end, finding our own way through fantasy, through romance, to an HEA that worked for all of us.


Check out Crown of Aster, available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08W8MH38Y

About the author:

Emmaline Strange is the author of Crown of Aster, A Walrus & A Gentleman, and the upcoming Mighty Quill. She loves to write and read about smooching. She lives in Boston with her husband, dog, and cat, all of whom she loves to smooch. When not smooching, she can usually be found doting on her plants, baking, or watching far too much television. Ms. Strange is a lover of all things nerdy, from Dungeons & Dragons to Lord of the Rings, to the MCU. She enjoys iced coffee, long walks on the beach, complaining about her feet after long walks on the beach, and long sits on the couch to recover from long walks on the beach. For updates on upcoming projects, come say hello on Twitter (@EmmalineStrange) where she’s always talking about writin’, readin’, and… well, not so much ‘rithmetic.

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring D.H. Willison

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, that subgenre that reminds a person that not everything in life is horrible. D.H. Willison, author of several comedic fantasy novels, discusses humor in fantasy.

Hello! I’m D.H. Willison, and I love writing (and reading) humorous fantasy. Why? In contrast to real life, you never have to be funny on cue. Which I rarely am. Also you can edit. A lot.

Something many people may not realize about humorous fantasy is that there are different styles. In the before times, were you ever in a movie theater, broke out laughing, and realized you were the only one? I had a horribly embarrassing situation when I was on a long flight while sitting next to a rather elegant and proper individual. Who was very nice–we had a great conversation. Then as I was watching a film, I broke out laughing. And it was… well… not a particularly sophisticated scene I was laughing at. The individual in question was mortified. But I couldn’t stop laughing. Welcome to my life.

The point is, not everyone finds the same things funny, so as you learn about the various authors who feature comedic/humorous fantasy during this event, keep in mind that even within this admittedly very niche genre, there may be some that work for you, while others do not.

So what’s my style? Extreme and often outlandish situations, coupled with a diverse cast of characters. My world of Arvia is populated by giant mythical monsters, while my human characters are frequently marginally competent at best. Some of the mythic monsters are POV characters with vastly different perspectives and cultures than human norms. So you’ll find a lot of “throwing wildly different characters into a strange scene, and letting the sparks fly.”

Here’s an example. In this scene, Rinloh, a 35’ tall harpy, tries so very hard to make small talk with a pair of human villagers after mistaking their donkey for a light snack.


I see that I managed to surprise the two humans that were with this creature. A female human with long black hair in a single braid down her back, and an off-white cotton dress, has her back against the nearby willow tree, while the male, with light-brown hair and a maroon tunic, is on his back staring up at me. Oops. I might have accidentally knocked him over. But fortunately it looks like I didn’t hurt him.

“Please don’t kill our donkey,” the young male squeaks.

“A donkey? Is that what these things are called? Hmm… OK, but it looks far too large for you to eat. And why do you have it tied to the box? To keep it from getting away?”

“I… no… you see…”

The young male doesn’t seem very coherent, so maybe I’ll talk to the female human. Hmm. This “donkey” shouldn’t be able to get very far tied to the box, as long as I break off these pesky wheels to prevent it from rolling. I put it down, and can chase it again later if need be. I hop closer to the female, to see if she is able to talk any better than that male. Hey! This is the perfect time for me to practice speaking “human.” Darin told me all about the funny human greetings and customs and such. If I do it right, maybe she will be friendly and want to play with me! Let’s see if I can remember. He said it was considered rude to speak to someone if you are too far away. And when introducing yourself, it was best to tell them your name, and something about yourself.

I hop over to the willow tree that the female human has her back against, lean over so that my face is about at her level, and say in my friendliest voice, “Hi, I’m Rinloh, and I’m looking for something to eat.”

She just stares back at me with a strange look of terror in her eyes. Hmm. Maybe I didn’t remember the introduction correctly. Or perhaps I’m not close enough and I’m being rude. I need to think like a human. I had my face at the correct distance if we were both big, so let me lean in farther so that my face is about one of her arm’s lengths away. There, that’s the right distance for a human—she should feel more comfortable now!

She’s still just sitting there shaking and won’t respond. What am I doing wrong? Wait! She’s female. Darin said that human females like it if you compliment them. Maybe she’ll want to be friends with me if I compliment her.

“You look good!” I say, with a wide, friendly grin.

She starts crying. Now I feel bad. It’s hard to believe that Darin would be wrong about human greetings. Maybe they do it differently in this village.


That was just a misunderstanding, but one of the joys for me is if I’m able to blend a subtle social commentary, or get readers to look at things from a different perspective. The thing about fantasy humor is that it’s often not just about the humor. It’s about something else too. And it’s the incorporation of that something else that’s both rewarding and challenging. I often touch on themes of empathy, how people treat others, especially people (or creatures) they consider “lesser beings.”

A lot of things on my world are specifically designed to subvert some of the common fantasy tropes. Arvia is a dangerous world full of strange creatures, gnomes, elves, cat people, talking rodents, and all sorts of mythical creatures that are almost exclusively larger than humans. But many are not mindless beasts–they belong to whole societies of monsters, have their own issues and insecurities. So diplomacy and understanding tend to go a lot further than swords and fireballs. And there the fun begins.

Which brings me to one of the big challenges: striking the right balance between humor, and all of the other things that go into one of my stories. Have I made a scene too outlandish? Diminished the impact of a dramatic moment? But most importantly, are the characters still being themselves: conveying genuine emotions is my highest goal–I need them to feel like living, breathing people (or harpies, or mermen) with unique desires, fears, insecurities. And any humor should enhance this.

So, if I’m not able to be funny on cue, how do I go about it? Sometimes I have an idea for a scene or chapter that’s hilarious on the first draft, but a lot of my ideas trickle in after I let a work stew for a while. I tend to have a long edit cycle, and frequently come up with a new (and amusing) way to look at a particular situation. And finally, I love Easter eggs, references to characters in other media and other fun little details that perhaps not every reader would get at a first glance. Look closely, and you’ll find references to everything from classic mythology, to modern SFF, manga, and games both video and table top. Such as the LOTR quip in the map below (from Hazelhearth Hires Heroes).

Will my humorous fantasies tickle your funny bone? All of my books are heavily character-driven, with witty banter, and quite a bit of adventuring.

Hazelhearth Hires Heroes (hardcover here) is more of a classic tale of adventure with themes of trust, loyalty and found family. What, and for whom would you risk your life? Would they do the same for you? Does it matter?

The Tales of Arvia series (hardcovers here) is more relationship driven, or as one reviewer put it, “a quirky, strange, yet beautiful friendship and the exploration of the way we can be different, and yet still understand and love one another.” There are two books in the series, with a third being drafted.

And if you’re on the fence, why not take a free test drive. The first three chapters (no cliffhangers, promise!) of Love, Death, or Mermaid? are available here. This novella is a shorter adventure, featuring the search for lost pirate treasure, a not-so-little mermaid, and a cute, sweet romance.

Wishing everybody a brighter 2022!

About the author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.

He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.

Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Kyle Lockhaven

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy. Today, I’m privileged to be able to feature Kyle Lockhaven, author of The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse.

Comedic fantasy is kind of niche, and we kind of like it that way. Of course we comedic fantasy authors wouldn’t exactly scoff at the idea of writing best-sellers or buying luxurious beach houses with the money from our book sales, but I think most of us are resigned to the idea that such things are not to be seen in the crystal balls of this world. And now I’ve invoked the idea of the world having balls, and it’s only the first paragraph. Oops.

My path to writing humorous fantasy is a strange one. Not many people know this, but I started out my writing “career” many years ago. My first book was a serious story that fell somewhere in between Middle Grade and Young Adult. My second was an historical fiction, and my third was a crime drama type thing. I kept trying to find “my thing,” and although I loved each of my books, they all lacked…something.

My editor, and the few beta readers I had (my mom, brother, and one friend) all told me the same things. The best parts of my books were the moments of levity and humor. Also, I wrote a fantasy element into the crime story, and they said that part was really good. I had loved fantasy growing up, but, for some stupid reason, I was reluctant to write in the genre.

When not writing, I work as a firefighter at a nuclear site, and I always wanted to satirize the ridiculous governmental bureaucracy there, but I could never find the right angle. Then one day, I thought, “What if this site was here to conjure a dragon from another world?” The silliness of it really took me, and the ideas began to flow. I dropped the idiotic pretense and embraced the silliness of it all, and all of the fun fantasy elements, too.

I had been trying way too hard to be cool, when the best thing I could do was to just be the goofball that I was.

The thing is, I always loved comedic fantasy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was and is the funniest thing ever, in my opinion. I love the silly social commentary, as well as the complete nonsense. And when I discovered Terry Pratchett, I realized that sort of thing could be consumed in book form, too. But the Discworld books were imbued with deeper meaning, and even more biting social commentary.

All (or at least the vast majority) of us comedic fantasy authors look up to Sir Terry Pratchett, the godfather of the genre. But we have branched off from him in so many different ways. I was heavily inspired by The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which manifested its humor through the snark of the titular (huh, huh) character. Most of the humor in my books comes from the interaction between characters who are being a bit snarky to each other. Other authors, like Sean Gibson, are kings of puns and clever wordplay, while others, like Bjørn Larssen, are able to somehow bind deep, philosophical topics together with the silliness, and others, like Quenby Olson, use subtle snark, societal observations, and fourth wall breaking to hilarious effect.

I am in the middle of posting a series of interviews about humor in books on my little blog. One of the questions I have asked everyone is, “On a scale from 1 to 10, what level of humor do you usually like to read?” The answers have varied, but I would say the average is right around a 4. That has made me wonder, what level does a book have to be at to be considered Comedic Fantasy?

Many people site Joe Abercrombie when talking about humor in fantasy. His books are the definition of Grimdark, but they’re infused with a lot of humor. I’ve heard people say the humor level is a 3 or 4.

If I had to be honest, I would rank my last book (The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex) at a 7 or 8. And I fully realize that it is WAY too much for a lot of people. That’s one thing I’ve come to learn about writing humorous fantasy; it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay, because it makes me feel a strong bond with the readers who do like my humor.

It’s tough to “break out” as an author of comedic fantasy. One of the biggest success stories was Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, which won SPFBO in 2018. Another was Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames, which currently has 3,697 reviews on Amazon. But those kinds of books are few and far between.

Personally, I’m happy to have any kind of following, and I hope to thoroughly entertain the readers I have found and have yet to find. I want to make them laugh, and think, and even feel while turning the pages of my books. I might not ever grab the world by the crystal balls, but I’ll have a lot of fun reaching for them. Er, let me try that again. I may never reach Mr. Eames’ level of success, but I will have a lot of fun reaching for it!

About the author:

KRR (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven writes fun, humorous fantasy with ever-increasing infusions of heart. His first book, The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse, can be found here https://www.amazon.com/Conjuring-Zoth-Avarex-Self-Proclaimed-Greatest-Multiverse/dp/1098351509/  He recently signed a three-book deal with Shadow Spark Publishing, and his page can be found here: https://shadowsparkpub.com/krr-lockhaven

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy

This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find (I have a post about fantasy subgenres which can be found here). I think when people hear “fantasy”, their mind immediately goes to serious epics with swords, magic, and dragons. While I happen to love all of those things, there are many ways to tell a story. For the first of my Fantasy Focus series, I want to take a look at comedic fantasy.

 Irreverent and witty, fantasy comedy often takes a humorous look at the fantasy genre, either creating new and entertaining fantasy worlds that focus on humor, parodying common fantasy tropes, or even poking lighthearted fun at specific works of fantasy.

Here is a list of some of side-splitting authors and some of the books they’ve written, in case you’re looking for suggestions on where to start! This is by no means anywhere close to a complete list of fantastic comedic fantasy authors that can be found, so please chip in with suggestions!

In case you missed them, I’ve posted links to this week’s interviews and guest articles as well. Enjoy!

Guest Authors:

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Kyle Lockhaven

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Bjørn Larssen 

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring D.H. Willison

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Claire Buss

Book Suggestions:

Douglas Adams– Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

D.B. Bray & Wahida Clark- Loners: A Humorous Dwarven Adventure Fantasy

Adam Jacob Burgess- The Actum Tempus Saga

Claire Buss– The Roshaven series

Andi Ewington– Campaigns and Companions: the Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets (with Rhianna Pratchett); The Hero Interviews

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett– Good Omens

Sean Gibson– The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True; Dragons of a Different Tale (one of a collection of short stories)

William Goldman– The Princess Bride

Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson– The Tales of Pell series

Diane Wynne Jones– Chrestomanci series

Bjørn Larssen– Why Odin Drinks; Creation

K.R.R. Lockhaven- The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse; Zoth-Avarex’s Escape Plan: A Pick-Your-Own-Path Experience

Christopher Moore– Fool; Shakespeare for Squirrels

M.J. Northwood– Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon

Terry Pratchett– the Discworld series

Robert Rankin– The Brentford series

Echo Shea– A Tinfoil Hat of My Own: A Tale of Friendship, Bikers, and Werewolves

Keith Tokash– Iliad: the Reboot; Odyssey: the Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale

D.H. Willison– Tales of Aravia series; Hazelhearth Hires Heroes

Operation 2021: Success! (or Favorite Books from this Year)

This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.

*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)

“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. 

“The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.”

Review

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”

Review

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

 “This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
 
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
 
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
 
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
 
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”

Review

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is no idiot, despite what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”

Review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

“…insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

Review

Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt

Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.

Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi

What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)

“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “

Review

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

” The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.”

Review

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)

” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”

Review

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2021: Extra Ideas

My long list of gift ideas continues! The items on this list don’t necessarily fall into any of the other categories I’ve already talked about (picture books, middle-grade books, and adult fiction) but are all great ideas, if I do say so myself. And I do!

Campaigns and Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt


What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

… unless you have pets like these. (taken from Amazon)

This book made me laugh out loud. With hilarious dead-on jokes and fantastic artwork, Campaigns and Companions would be a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys TTRPGs (whether they have pets or not). Review here.

Frostbeard Studios has the best bookish candles! I have tried most of them at this point and I haven’t found a scent that I didn’t like. My favorite is Sherlock’s Study…or Winter’s Keep…or Les Cirque de Revés…or…the list keeps going. I highly recommend these candles.

Frostbeard Studio

Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins

I loved this beautiful graphic novel! The story was so wonderful and the illustrations are amazing. You can read my (slightly) more eloquent rave here.

Smugglers Coffee

You can find the most delightfully nerdy coffee on this site! From D&D-themed, to coffees featuring homages to great movies or books, you can find it all here. Check out Smugglers Coffee!

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

I have seen a lot of people asking how to dive into Dungeons and Dragons. While I personally prefer playing in worlds or stories created by the DM (the “Dungeon Master” is the person who runs the game), this is a good jumping off point for anyone who is a little trepidatious about diving into the deep end. It has everything you need for a campaign, including dice. Of course, you’ll end up hooked and rushing out to buy your own dice, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but you can always start here.

Amazon

Art Photography by Rich

I have this photograph on a canvas near my favorite reading spot. It’s so pretty and peaceful! I think some of his stock is on sale right now. You can find it on etsy at Art Photography by Rich.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Adult Fiction Edition

2021 has been an amazing year for fiction. I have read so many excellent books, any of which would make a wonderful gift. For this year’s list, I picked books that are either the first in their series (as opposed to a continuation of a series) or standalones. You can find last year’s adult recommendations here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

This is the most surprising, delightful, and heartwarming book! It is a hug in print and I loved every single moment of it. You can read more of my gushing about it here.

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.


The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.


As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.


Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

Paladin Unbound would be an excellent gift for fans of the fantasy genre, readers who are new to fantasy, or people who play tabletop roleplaying games. Basically, it would make a great gift for 99% of the people I know (I’m still trying to convince a few friends to give fantasy a go). You can read my review here.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.
William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?
Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia, and one ultimate, inescapable truth…. (taken from Amazon)

Loosely based on a real person and real events, this book sucked me in and kept me feverishly turning pages. It is so well written, and would be a great gift for readers who like mind-twisting, psychological reads. You can find my review here.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! The Resurrectionist of Caligo would be perfect for readers who like a healthy dose of mystery in their fantasy. You can find my review here.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

Complex and beautifully written, The Jasmine Throne will keep readers engrossed. This would be a great gift for fans of books that have great worldbuilding, political machinations, and twists aplenty. You can read my review here.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Middle Grade Edition

Today I’ve got some middle-grade books that would make great books! Some of them are books I’ve enjoyed this year, but the majority of them are books that my middle-grade reader loved, which means they’ve passed the “target audience” test. You can find list of middle-grade gift ideas from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-Grade Edition.

The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards

Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero? (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! There was action, adventure, a little bit of a mystery, and a great cast of characters. Plus, there’s the whole superhero college thing. You can read my review here. I think this would be a winner for most kids.

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

My oldest really enjoys Riordan’s writing. Although Riordan’s Egyptian-inspired series is his favorite, my oldest has loved reading the Heroes of Olympus books this year.

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost. Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?The fate of the world rests in his hands. (taken from Amazon)

This is the sort of book I loved when I was young. It has the magical feeling that readers get seeing Narnia for the first time, the sense of bravery and adventure found in Arthurian tales, and such wonderful characters. You can read my review here.

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

The beginning of a thrilling new dragon saga– now in paperback!
Clay and his friends have grown up under a mountain, secretly raised by the Talons of Peace to fulfill a mysterious prophecy. The five young dragons are destined to end the war that’s been raging between the tribes of Pyrrhia — but how they’ll do this, none of them knows.But not every dragonet wants a destiny. When one of their own is threatened, Clay and his friends decide to escape. Maybe they can break free and end the war at the same time — or maybe they’ll risk everything … (taken from Amazon)

My oldest fell in love with this series. It became a much-discussed topic in our house, and he even had a dragon-themed birthday cake based solely on his love of these books. Based on that, I feel pretty confident in recommending them despite not having read them myself.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.
So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.
Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.(taken from Amazon)

My oldest and I both really enjoyed this one. It is so creative! The world building is great and the main character is a delight. The sequel comes out in April and my oldest and I will be racing to see who gets to read it first. You can find my review here.

What are some middle grade books you’d recommend? Have you read any of these?