Reviewed: January 3rd, 2022 Released: December 21st, 2020 Genre: Contemporary MM Fantasy
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. Read My thoughts…
Reviewed: May 7th, 2021 Released: May 7th, 2021 Genre YA FAntasy
Celebrating Mental Health Awareness month, check out this debut novel by indie author Kristen Braddock. A novel bursting with diverse characters challenged by and overcoming their own personal demons.
This novel was straight in with the action. Cara is dragged from the human world into the fae realm and pitched into an impossible situation from the beginning. She has no idea that she has magic let alone what her magic actually is, nor does she really find out much more except that death hounds her every step, which is daunting for anyone. Read More…
I am joined today by author Kristen Braddock who releases her novel Whisper of Darkness today! I have been fortunate enough to read an eARC, an advanced copy, and I can tell you, you are in for a treat! Welcome Kristen. Congratulations on the release of your book, the first in the Banshee’s Curse series. I am really excited to talk about your books, because you introduce a lot of diverse characters, all of which have emotional baggage that you just want to unravel, and you address some difficult topics through your character’s experiences. Please tell us a little about your novel.
Kristen:Whisper of Darkness is the first book in my new Banshee’s Curse series where a young woman believes she is cursed due to how death seems to follow her through her life, only to discover she’s actually a banshee- a predictor of death. After being saved by another fae, she’s forced to join a competition to fulfill her life debt to him. The first book focuses on the discovery of this other realm, and surviving the deadly trials she is now a part of. Personally, what I think is unique about my books are the representation I include. I feel the fantasy genre can be greatly expanded with its diversity, and I’m not simply talking about race. The main character, Cara, struggles with her mental health. Her sister is a lesbian. The love interest, Killian, has burn scars that marr the left side of his body. A friend Cara makes in the fae realm is autistic. These are a few examples of the diversity I include. I want my books to not focus on coming out stories or focus on these traits, but for them to be a natural part of who they are, just like in our world. A person is more than their depression, their physical ailments, their sexuality or neurodiversity. I want a cast of characters that are as diverse and complex as the world we do live in.
Not only this, but I want to put my money where my mouth is. So, for each book/series I will donate 10% of my profits to nonprofit organizations. For example, for Whisper of Darkness (potentially the whole series), I will donate to the Foundations of Divergent Minds which is run by autistic people, instead of parents of autistic people, and has a high employee rate of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ persons.
Helen: That is amazing. I hope everyone is rushing off to buy your novel right this minute. (Links at bottom of post.) With so much diversity in your novel, how did you come up with the title?
Kristen: Again, Cara battles depression, and her powers are generally dark. Whisper of Darkness is the whispering of her dark thoughts from her mental health, but also represents the dark powers she’s learning about.
Helen: Sounds just right, fits the book and the cover is gorgeous! How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
Kristen: My covers have key elements from the book. Every single feature is chosen for a reason, even down to why the main character has her back turned away. However, I don’t want to explain it too much because I could reveal elements that I’m interested to see if readers pick up on instead of what I explain. Also, some things will be represented across all the covers, almost as if the covers tell their own story. For example, I plan to have the main character slowly turning around with each consecutive cover because with each book she learns and accepts more about herself. So, the unveiling of her on the covers, represents the acceptance she has for who she is too.
Helen: Very clever. Your book sound very intriguing, and definitely delivers. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Kristen: It started with a “what’s a supernatural creature that isn’t common in stories?” I came across a banshee in my research, and thought that would be cool. Upon further investigation, I learned banshees come from Irish/Celtic Folklore, which the rest of the series is highly inspired by. From there, I wanted to write a fantasy novel that contained characters you did not often come across in the genre. A diverse cast with the kinds of representations I would love to see in books.
Helen: I must admit I write what I like to read as well. What made you choose fantasy?
Kristen: I write fantasy, a variety of subgenres, because the sky’s the limit. I love to see where my imagination takes me, how the characters become alive. It’s my favorite genre to read, and I love when I become so immersed in my writing it feels like I’m reading a book as I type instead of writing it myself.
Helen: I think that is what is magical about reading fantasy, a lot is left to your imagination to build that world how you want to see it and how the characters live in it. What inspired you first start writing?
Kristen I’ve always loved to create stories. My first was a two page short story at 6 years old about a cat who ate too much. I even studied Creative Writing in college before swapping my major to Biology. I have slowly accomplished my childhood goals, and one of them was being a published author. Thankfully, with what indie publishing has become, the only thing stopping me from realizing that dream was myself.
Helen: With such a diverse cast of characters, who was your favourite character to write?
Kristen: I would definitely have to say Cadan, her autistic fae friend. Actually, I was initially going to have him die, an emotional burden Cara would carry, but by the time I reached that point in my story I couldn’t do it. First off, I totally loved him by that point, and the friendship that formed between him and Cara. Also, I felt it was almost stereotypical for diverse characters to be killed off. Time and time again, writers for movies, books, tv shows, etc are criticized about the LGBTQ+ or BIPOC characters coming to a demise or not finding a happily ever after. I didn’t want the same fate for Cadan. I want Cadan to find his happily ever after by the end of the series.
Helen: I hope he manages to find one, and he truly is a wonderful friend for Cara! So who do you prefer to write? Villains or heroes?
Kristen: I love both as long as they are complicated. I love to understand what makes a character tick. I want a hero who isn’t naturally perfect, and I want a villain who isn’t “evil because they’re evil” but because they have a reason. No one sees themselves as a villain, everyone would view themself as the hero in their own story. So, diving into the grey area of all my characters is amazing.
Helen:Your novel is full of complex characters. All of which have interesting back stories which you slowly reveal, and tempt us with. You must have had such fun writing them, as they all tug at the heart strings. As you wrote this book, which part of the writing process did you prefer? Writing or editing?
Kristen: Writing all the way! It can be difficult when creative blocks hit, but editing is where I spend hours upon hours criticizing my work and questioning everything. If there was a way I would never have to edit my own work, I’d take it. Helping others with editing I don’t mind at all, but I loathe the process for myself. However, when the initial spark of a book occurs, and you begin writing and watch it develop is **chef’s kiss**.
Helen: Love it. Btw my daughter had to explain ‘chef’s kiss’ to me, but I get it now! Tell us a little about how you write. Do you plan everything in advance and follow it religiously or allow it to develop as your write?
Kristen: I’m a planster. I usually outline each chapter with a few words. For example, “Chapter 17: fae ball.” It helps ensure I don’t get stuck, the book is progressing, and there’s a reason for each chapter. I usually know the general idea of where I want the chapter to end up or key things I want to occur, but otherwise I let the scene develop on its own as I write.
Helen: Tell us about your writing environment. Do you write in silence, or do you like to listen to music?
Kristen: Sometimes, and if I do it’s classical, often film scores. I created my own playlist with pieces from Pride and Prejudice, How To Train Your Dragon, Maleficent, Chronicles of Narnia, and a few others. I, also, have a Dark Academia Classical playlist I found on Spotify.
Helen: This is the first book in the Banshee’s Curse series, how do you get the ideas to write a whole series?
Kristen: Everywhere. I get them while sitting in a Marine Science class, letting my mind wander while traveling, sitting at the end of a boat dock looking over the ocean, what I dream about at night, or word vomiting what I love to read. Inspiration is everywhere and I have endless notes and Google docs filled with ideas.
Helen: Thank goodness we are surrounded in inspiration! Tell us a little about your work in progress. Book two of the series I hope?
Kristen: Currently, I am working on Book 2 and 3 of my Banshee’s Curse series. Also, I’m in the editing stage for a YA mermaid series. With my marine science background, I thought “what realistic ocean phenomena could be used for a mer-society?” and it went from there. I actually wrote this novel before Whisper of Darkness, and plan to release it soon.
Helen: It sounds like you are juggling multiple books as well as daily life. But selfishly I want the next books in the banshee series! How do you fit it all in?
Kristen: Not well **awkward laughter**. I have yet to reach a point where being an author is lucrative enough to be my main job, so I am a full time High School science teacher. Anyone who knows a teacher understands it is a very demanding job, and I have yet to learn to balance the two well. I often go to work an hour and a half early to try to write before school starts, and finish it up that night when I get home. This means I have very long days between my two jobs. For a while, I used weekends to catch up on my writing too. This meant I never took a day off. I’m still bad at taking days off completely due to marketing, but I try to have one weekend day where I don’t do anything with writing or teaching, and step away from all professions. Thankfully, I have a very supportive and amazing husband. I think I’m pushing myself harder now because we don’t have kids yet, but I know we hope to soon and once kids come into the mix, I will not be able to invest as much time in my professions. So, I’m trying to accomplish as much as I can now.
Helen: Great plan! Hopefully you will get your series completed before further distractions divert you. Tell us, if you didn’t write fantasy what genre would tempt you?
Kristen: If I didn’t write fantasy, I would consider writing a memoir. I considered writing one in regards to generational trauma starting with my grandmother, but I think it’d be too raw and I can’t bring myself to write about my family in that way. The other one I would consider is when I lived abroad after college. I didn’t know what I wanted for my future, so I sold everything I owned and left the U.S. I even have a working title of “Behind The Lens” because during the time of living in England, Bali, and Belize, what I posted on social media was so picturesque, as it usually is, but what I went through was not as ideal as it seemed to everyone. Through this journey, I found myself and what I wanted to do with my life, and my future no longer seemed like a black hole. There are still plenty of raw moments, but I’m okay with painting myself/my life in a less than ideal way rather than my family members.
Helen: I am glad that travelling helped you find your calling in life. It is really adventurous, and can be life changing. My daughter is currently experiencing the travel bug. She studied in the US, and is now living in Canada. It is an amazing experience if you get the chance. I imagine that gave you the chance to read a lot. What are you currently reading?
Kristen: Anything by Audrey Grey or Annette Marie. They are both indie fantasy authors that I found through the Kindle Unlimited program. Annette Marie is the reason I dived into the world of indie authors. Her world building is absolutely unbelievable, and a reason I fell in love with Urban Fantasy. Audrey Grey has one of my all time favorite character arcs. All I’ll say is you watch a beloved character become the ‘villain’ instead of starting as the ‘villain’ and it’s so brilliantly done. Her characters in general jump off the page, even minor characters, and they are so morally grey and beautifully written.
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today, I’ve loved chatting with you, and I thoroughly enjoyed your book. (look out for the review!) Congratulations again on the release of Whispers of Darkness, and I wish you all the best with the next in the series. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Kristen: You can’t edit a blank page” has gotten me through countless days where the words didn’t come as easily and I had writer’s block. I stopped viewing the first draft as needing to be perfect, and a way to simply get the initial story out, to help it exist outside of my own mind. This quote has helped three novels come to fruition.
About the Author:
Characters and their worlds have inundated Kristen’s mind since she was a kid. Traveling to far off places and having words on a piece of paper transform into entire scenes pulling at her emotions is an obsession.
Joining me today is the author, Jaimie Schock, author of the science fiction novel Visions of Iotan which will be published today, March 20th, 2021.
Welcome Jaimie, to start us off please tell us about your brand new book Visions of Iotan.
Jaimie: Visions of Iotan is a stand-alone science-fiction novel featuring a gay protagonist, a talking capybara, an evil priest, and bison-sized benevolent aliens. The story follows Cillian, a nurse whose daughter accidentally kills an alien child. From prison, he is given a chance to take his family on a trip to another planet, and he agrees. This decision sends them on a journey rife with danger, from which they might never return.
Helen: First of all congratulations on the launch of your novel, it is such a special day when your book goes live. Visions of Iotan, can you give us a little background on how you came up with the name.
Jaimie: “Iotan” is the name of the planet they visit (in the Iota Horologii system), and “Visions” refers to hallucinations that Cillian ends up experiencing.
Helen: This is a science fiction novel, but you don’t just write sci-fi do you?
Jaimie: I write adult fantasy and science-fiction, always with LGBTQ+ and disabled characters. Though I am currently working on a high fantasy, I am open to writing other genres such as horror and YA.
Helen: It’s great to see inclusive novels being being written. There is definitely demand for them. Do you have a favourite character in the book?
Jaimie: My favorite character from Visions of Iotan is an alien nicknamed Rapunzel. It starts off as just a worker on the ship, but soon enough it performs a valuable role in the story. It helps Cillian and his family substantially. I also really like the name. My second favorite character is a trans woman named Zoe, who is the resident doctor on the ship. She becomes a friend and colleague to Cillian, as well as a voice of reason when things start to go bad.
Helen: I know you are just launching your book, but are you working on anything else? Do you have another work in progress?
Jaimie: My current untitled work-in-progress features a lesbian bard who plays the flute. She is assigned to a mountainous country named Centralla. When a child is murdered, the country descends into a civil war that gets worse and worse as time goes on. The Bard must balance a burgeoning relationship with a witch while helping to diffuse the conflict.
Helen: Sounds very interesting. I love stories with bards for some reason, more I think because they travel and tell stories, spread the word and entertain just like we do! I look forward to it being available! How does writing fit into your daily life. I am sure you have demands pulling you in all directions.
Jaime: I’m disabled and haven’t worked in an office setting since 2013. The moment I stopped traditional work, I began writing novels. I have written eight books and begun a ninth in that time. I write during weekdays predominately in the afternoon. I like to save the evenings and weekends for spending time with my husband, friends, and family.
Helen: Congratulations on being so prolific, most authors are lucky to finish one book! It’s easy starting, it’s the finishing that’s challenging! Tell us a little about your writing progress. Do you plan out your books or do you pantser, and write as you go?
Jaimie: I’m a pantser. I write chronologically without chapters (and put them in after a few revisions). I rarely know what’s going to happen when I begin. I wrote my entire series this way, along with Visions of Iotan and my new project.
Helen: It has been lovely chatting with you, Jaimie. Thank you so much for spending time with me and I wish you every success with your new book. Just one last question. What advice would you give other Indie authors?
Anna: Just write. Whether you plan your whole story ahead of time or start with just a basic idea, the most important thing is to write your heart out. If and when you start querying your piece, don’t lose hope if you get a lot of rejections. For my first story, a fantasy series called The Talisman War, I queried more than 100 agents and more than 20 publishers and got rejected by every single one before getting a publishing deal directly.
About the Author
Jaimie is an author, editor, and journalist with more than a decade of professional experience. I have been published in newspapers and magazines as a journalist, and my novels have been published via a small press. I am married and living in Northern Virginia. Though I have an extensive career, I am disabled with PTSD and chronic illness. I try to incorporate my life experiences into the fictional pieces I write while delivering complex and diverse characters. My pronouns are she/her, and I am proudly a member of the LGBTQ+ community.