Book Review – Baptism of Fire

Next up for review is Baptism of Fire, the 5th book (publication order) in The Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Peter Kenny.

You can find my reviews for the other books in this series here:

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Here is the blurb:

The Wizards Guild has been shattered by a coup and, in the uproar, Geralt was seriously injured. The Witcher is supposed to be a guardian of the innocent, a protector of those in need, a defender against powerful and dangerous monsters that prey on men in dark times.

But now that dark times have fallen upon the world, Geralt is helpless until he has recovered from his injuries.

While war rages across all of the lands, the future of magic is under threat and those sorcerers who survive are determined to protect it. It’s an impossible situation in which to find one girl – Ciri, the heiress to the throne of Cintra, has vanished – until a rumor places her in the Nilfgaard court, preparing to marry the Emperor.

Injured or not, Geralt has a rescue mission on his hands.


Geralt begins this book recovering from his injuries, yet he is desperate to discover the fate of Ciri and Yennefer after the events at the conclusion of the previous volume. Finally he sets out from his refuge and follows rumor in an attempt to track down Ciri in Nilfgaard.

This book isn’t about reaching Ciri, but rather about the relationships that form on the journey, and how a war that spreads over a continent affects the everyday people trying to live there. Geralt slowly changes as a character and even though he is a Witcher, he is propelled more by his drive to see Ciri safe than his former mercenary lifestyle of monster-slaying.

Several characters are introduced in this book who will feature through the end of the series: Milva the archer, Cahir the outcast Nilfgaardian knight, and Regis – an aloof hermit with valuable medical skills. Geralt has always tried to handle danger alone, but through this story we can see how he starts to accept help from others, a theme that continues through the finale of the books.

Ciri and Yennefer take more minor roles in this book, so it came as a surprise that Sapkowski brings in issues of reproductive rights and pregnancy loss in this story. This topic becomes relevant in later books in a more indirect sense, so I can see why he has a direct conversation between the characters in this one.

Despite being an epic fantasy tale, this series uses stories to also make fun of fantasy in a very self-aware sense. Is Geralt of Rivia from Rivia? This book will finally explain his title.

While most of this book moves slowly in terms of plot, the characters are the high point here. Yet, action lovers can be satisfied with a fantastic scene near the end of the book in The Battle for the Bridge. I enjoyed this book and thought it was a solid installment in the series as it continues to add complexity and higher stakes.

Have you read any books in The Witcher Saga? What did you think? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Time of Contempt

I finished the last book in the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski a few days ago and I wanted to get back to writing out my thoughts and reviewing the rest of this series. The next up is The Time of Contempt, the 4th book in publication order, coming after the two short story collections (The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny) and the first novel (Blood of Elves). I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Peter Kenny.

You can find my reviews for the other books in this series here:

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The blurb for this book was not very useful, so I pieced together a couple of them to come up with something better:

Geralt is a Witcher: guardian of the innocent; protector of those in need; a defender in dark times against some of the most frightening creatures of myth and legend.

His task now is to protect Ciri. A child of prophecy, she will have the power to change the world for good or for ill—but only if she lives to use it.

To protect his ward Ciri, Geralt of Rivia sends her to train with the sorceress Yennefer. But all is not well across the lands as a coup threatens the Wizard’s Guild, war breaks out across the lands, and a serious injury leaves Geralt fighting for his life. And Ciri – in whose hands the world’s fate rests – has vanished…


This book starts off with Ciri finally being able to show off some Witcher skills as she ventures out from the Temple School and is more on her own. However, her escapades are eventually interrupted as the sorceresses want to have her train at their magic school in Aretuza.

One huge theme in this entire series is that everyone is trying to control Ciri, presumably to help her fulfill a prophecy or whatever her destiny entails. But in the course of this, no one ever asks Ciri what she wants. Is she a pawn of her destiny or should she have a say in her own fate? Could it change anything if she does?

The events that occur in Thanedd were confusing to me as a reader, but I think that accurately reflected how things happened for those involved. From that point onward, I feel like these novels took a darker and more pessimistic turn, but one that sort of allows Ciri some new freedoms. This book sets the stage for the later events in the series in ways that are not immediately obvious.

The politics of this world becomes more important and the worldbuilding broader and more impactful as Ciri and Geralt’s fates unfold. I enjoyed reading this book, but it was one of those where I have to wonder what might stand out to me on a second read-through of the series, now that I know how it ends. Overall, this was a solid installment and moves the story along in an unforeseen way.

The narrator is wonderful and I was able to tell which characters were speaking without being told: Geralt is suitably gruff, while Dandelion is a frivolous dandy. This only adds to the superb characterization in this series, and I appreciate when the same narrator voices an entire series (as in this case).

Have you read any books in this series? Which was your favorite? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Fairy Tale

I started to read Stephen King’s books at least 15 years ago when I picked up The Dark Tower series. I guess that after delving into many more of his works, I now consider myself a fan, although I still don’t read everything that he writes. When I saw that he had a book titled Fairy Tale, though, I knew that this was one I’d need to read.

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Here is the blurb:

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets Howard Bowditch, a recluse with a big dog in a big house at the top of a big hill. In the backyard is a locked shed from which strange sounds emerge, as if some creature is trying to escape. When Mr. Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie the house, a massive amount of gold, a cassette tape telling a story that is impossible to believe, and a responsibility far too massive for a boy to shoulder.

Because within the shed is a portal to another world—one whose denizens are in peril and whose monstrous leaders may destroy their own world, and ours. In this parallel universe, where two moons race across the sky, and the grand towers of a sprawling palace pierce the clouds, there are exiled princesses and princes who suffer horrific punishments; there are dungeons; there are games in which men and women must fight each other to the death for the amusement of the “Fair One.” And there is a magic sundial that can turn back time.

A story as old as myth, and as startling and iconic as the rest of King’s work, Fairy Tale is about an ordinary guy forced into the hero’s role by circumstance, and it is both spectacularly suspenseful and satisfying.


I truly enjoyed this book! The opening is very relatable and takes place in our world. There’s a mysterious old man with secrets, a sympathetic protagonist in Charlie, and a wonderful dog. You KNOW that this story is going to go somewhere fantastical though from the title.

The first half provides a lot of character background and is essentially about saving a dog. The focus then shifts to an unpredictable story about heroes, quests, and doing the right thing. King references traditional fairy tales that you know, but in a way that isn’t obvious at first. But he also brings in more modern stories that have developed their own cultural following: everything from Cthulhu and Disney characters, to his own lines from The Dark Tower series. He even trolls George R. R. Martin with his own take on “the prince who was promised.”

Like the original versions of classic fairy tales, this story has its dark aspects. However, it is much more of a fantasy story than something from the horror genre. The ending was satisfying and I might even have shed a tear on the final page. I expect that Fairy Tale will end up being one of my top books of 2023 and I’m finding it hard to even offer any criticism of it right now, so go read it!

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – In a Garden Burning Gold

When this book was released, I was immediately attracted to it by the gorgeous cover, but I wasn’t familiar with the author, Rory Power, at all. This isn’t her first novel, but she is a relatively new author, so I thought I’d take a chance and pick up In a Garden Burning Gold.

This is the first book of The Wind-Up Garden series, which appears to be a duology. I read this book in 2022 and this is one of my back log of books to review. I also want to thank Net Galley for providing this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Here is the blurb:

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.


The world found in this novel contained some fascinating magic, where certain rulers have magically enhanced lifespans and gain powers in a very specific sphere that help to run their world. Rhea’s power is that she helps to bring on the change of seasons by choosing a consort for a short time, then eventually murdering them. While it is supposedly an honor to be chosen as her consort, politics also plays a huge role in this system.

I enjoyed seeing how this story unfolded, and the plot took some surprising twists. However, I felt like these long-lived nobles (especially Rhea) acted far more naive than I would have expected for people with so much worldly experience. I probably won’t read the next book.

Have you read this book or any of the author’s other works? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Books to Read in 2023

I like to start my reading year by updating my Goodreads lists with all the books I want to read for the year ahead. Usually this means taking the list from the previous year and pushing it over into the next one since I never get everything read that I had wanted to.

This is how I started my plan for 2023, but there were just too many books! I solved this problem by creating lists for 2024 and 2025, and then rolling some books onto those. For the rest of my 2023 choices, I am continuing a past theme of trying to finish some series. Of course, I tend to start a lot of new series, so this keeps the list continuously growing.

In the end, here is a graphic of all the books I’m hoping to read in 2023:

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Looking at overall numbers, last year I read 39 books from my Goodreads goal of 89. That was 44% of my goal. For this year, I’m not backing down! I set my goal for 100 books for 2023. My current 2023 list stands at around 90, so I can even add a few more.

To break that goal down, I’ll need to read 8.3 books per month, or roughly 2 per week to meet that goal. I’ve already picked out the first month of books I’m planning to read and these are my January choices:

I’m already a third of the way in to The Lady of the Lake, the final book in The Witcher series, and I’ve been listening to these as audiobooks. I also have Season of Storms queued up next for audio – this is a prequel in The Witcher universe.

I’d like to read more graphic novels this year, so I’ve put Demon in the Wood on here as a stand alone from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and then the next volume of The Sandman (vol. 2) since I just finished volume 1. Noor is for a book club discussion in about 2.5 weeks so I started to read that yesterday. I need to get back to my read-through of The Wheel of Time, so I stuck the next book (#4 – The Shadow Rising) on here for January.

For the rest of these, I’ve been staring at Stephen King’s recent release – Fairy tale – since I picked it up at NY Comic-Con a few months ago. It is a longer book, but likely a fast read. Since I also just finished a re-read of The Silmarillion last year, I’d like to continue working my way through the less well-known Tolkien stories, so Unfinished Tales is up next.

The last one on here (Never Say You Can’t Survive) is a series of essays by Charlie Jane Anders about how to write when the world is seemingly falling apart. I grabbed a copy at an earlier NY Comic-Con (2021?). I started this book yesterday and I think it may provide a helpful perspective to get my fiction writing back on track for 2023.

Forging further ahead from January, I’m excited to get back to the Dune series, NK Jemisin’s The World We Make, the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal, and the second two books in the Scholomance by Naomi Novik.

Lastly, I just received my first backer reward from Brandon Sanderson’s secret projects where he confessed to writing a ridiculous number of extra books during his pandemic confinement. The first one is Tress of the Emerald Sea and seems to have an interesting premise.

What are your reading plans for 2023? Have you read any of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments (above).

Soundtrack Review – The Rings of Power (season 1)

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth begins with music in the Ainulindalë, and songs and poems fill his entire mythos. It is fitting that the first substantial release of material from the new Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the soundtrack. Scored by Bear McCreary (with the main title theme by Howard Shore), this is a spectacular and substantial album, featuring 37 songs and running 2 hours, 29 minutes. Read below for my full review. ***MINOR SPECULATIVE SPOILERS***

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Since I don’t usually review music on my blog, let me start with a little background on how I’m approaching this. I love soundtracks and I listen to a large number of fantasy-themed ones. I also love Tolkien. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember. I have read The Silmarillion multiple times, as well as Unfinished Tales, parts of The History of Middle Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth, and more, and my copy of The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is in danger of falling apart.

This isn’t all of them. Note the four copies of The Lord of the Rings (two for reading, my red leather-bound precious, and one (gray) special edition signed by one of the Tolkien family. Gandalf guards them all.

I saw the Peter Jackson movies in the theater oh… dozens of times. They have their problems, but it was also amazing to see something of that scope on a screen for the first time. I can’t begin to guess at how many times I’ve listened to the Howard Shore scores. I’ve been listening to those even this week as I re-read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings and start again on The Silmarillion.

I’m also a classically trained flutist (albeit rather out of practice) and almost added a major in music to my college days. I’ve played solo, with band, with orchestra, and with small ensembles. I’ve even played a concert of soundtrack music. However, I know zero music theory so I’m not going to talk about any of that technical stuff.


Now on to the review….

I’ve listened to the entire thing twice now and I’ll repeat what I already mentioned in the intro: this is a spectacular soundtrack. If the rest of the show lives up to the music, I’ll be extremely happy. Bear McCreary captures exactly the right tone and atmosphere for what I imagine the story of The Rings of Power will entail.

My only criticism of the score is that I was a little underwhelmed by Howard Shore’s contribution of the main theme. It didn’t stand out, but perhaps this is because the other themes on the individual tracks are so strong.

The instrumentation is similar to what Howard Shore used – orchestra with vocal accompaniment. Some tracks feature heavier percussion and in one place (end of the Sauron track) the rhythm is the same one that I associate with Shore’s Uruk-hai music.

Other familiar themes are hinted at in a few select places. Chords and chanting reminiscent of a certain balrog feature near the end of In the Mines, while the final track, Where the Shadow Lie, evokes the sinister tones of Gollum’s Song from The Two Towers.

Bagpipes feature in a few places but are not intrusive (I like bagpipes anyway). And you’ll hear of singing in many of Tolkien’s languages.

You can find the full list of tracks here. I’m going to comment my favorites (slight spoilers):

Absolute favorites:

  • Númenor – the theme fits the gorgeous visuals of the island kingdom that I’ve already seen in the trailers. This is one of the best hooks on the soundtrack.
  • In the Beginning – this track starts calmly but is one of the longest ones, running 7:49. Just before the halfway point, it builds to a dramatic orchestral and choral crescendo, followed by the soaring strains of the Galadriel theme and a war march that accelerates and then finishes on sad notes. There are rumors that this accompanies a prologue depicting the corruption of Morgoth and the destruction of the two trees. There might even be something about Finrod’s demise in there.
  • This Wandering Day – this is a vocal track, presumably sung by Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and is wonderful. I had a hard time picking out my favorite lines, but I chose some below. This also references the well-known “not all those who wander are lost” quote.

“Of drink I have little, and food I have less,

My strength tells me no, but the path demands yes,

My legs are so short and the way is so long,

I’ve no rest nor comfort, no comfort but song.”

Other favorites:

  • Galadriel – I almost put this one in my absolute favorites, but I think her theme is stronger when it appears on other tracks (like Cavalry below).
  • Khazad-dûm – perfect for what I imagine Moria looked like in its prime.
  • Harfoot Life – I imagine this is one of the themes for the not-quite-hobbit Harfoots.
  • White Leaves – perhaps this will accompany a Numenor scene and a certain white tree? This is a very pretty piece that finishes with a dazzling fanfare.
  • A Plea to the Rocks – when the vocals start, this just screams tragedy to me. Haunting and gorgeous. This was reminiscent of the music from The Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship is regrouping after escaping Moria and seeing Gandalf fall to the Balrog.
  • Scherzo for Violin and Swords – how fun is this title?
  • Sailing into the Dawn – I don’t know what’s happening here, but this starts with the Numenor theme and is 4 minutes of something epic.
  • Cavalry – this is another action-filled track, presumably with… cavalry in it. The strings drive it forward relentlessly and Galadriel’s theme swirls over the top.

Amazon is also offering two bonus tracks (Find the Light; The Promised King) through Prime music which I also have heard. I didn’t think these added anything special beyond the main tracks.

I hope this gets you as excited to see The Rings of Power as I am. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be seeing the first two episodes in New York in a few days.

Have you listened to the soundtrack yet? What are your favorite tracks? Let me know in the comments (above).

Book Review – The Witch’s Heart

I picked this book up last year on a whim and I had meant to read it around Halloween because witches, but as always, I have too many books and not enough time. So it had to wait. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec is the first book by this author and delves into Norse mythology and the life of the witch Angrboda.

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Here is the blurb:

When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


I have to preface my review by saying that I am not very familiar with Norse mythology. Of course I know the names of some of the gods and figures in their stories, but I’ve never read these myths in the same way that I did for Greek mythology.

This was an enjoyable book and, although it does get a bit strange, I have to imagine that some of that comes from the original myths. Angrboda is a sympathetic character and even though she doesn’t physically do much in the beginning of the story, her relationships with Loki and Skadi that are integral to the later events are gradually built up.

This novel is also full of secrets with Angrboda keeping secrets from the gods and her friends, but at the same time being unable to understand her own mysterious background. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion that is both tragic and hopeful.

While the myths are different, this book reminded me of Circe by Madeleine Miller, which I was one of my favorite books I read in 2020 (which I never wrote a review on – sorry).

Have you read The Witch’s Heart or Circe? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Dragon Reborn

I’ve been a bit slower to complete my reading over the past few weeks, but maybe choosing books that are over 600 pages long is part of the reason why. The Dragon Reborn is the third book (of 14) in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I read this as an e-book.

For my reviews of earlier books in the series, look here:

  • Book 1 – The Eye of the World (oh, I skipped reviewing this one, might do it later)
  • Book 2 – The Great Hunt
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Here is the blurb:

The Dragon Reborn—the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him—is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how—for no man has done it in three thousand years—Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

Winter has stopped the war—almost—yet men are dying, calling out for the Dragon. But where is he?

Perrin Aybara is in pursuit with Moiraine Sedai, her Warder Lan, and Loial the Ogier. Bedeviled by dreams, Perrin is grappling with another deadly problem—how is he to escape the loss of his own humanity?

Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are approaching Tar Valon, where Mat will be healed—if he lives until they arrive. But who will tell the Amyrlin their news—that the Black Ajah, long thought only a hideous rumor, is all too real? They cannot know that in Tar Valon far worse awaits…

Ahead, for all of them, in the Heart of the Stone, lies the next great test of the Dragon reborn….

Even though this book’s title implies that it will be about Rand, it follows a lot more of the other characters’ stories. With the storyline split through several point-of-view characters, it makes the overall action move more slowly as well.

So while I enjoyed this book, it felt more simple than I remember. We do get to see some new important characters introduced and seeing ancient powers (like balefire) return and an expansion of Egwene’s dreamer powers add to the mythic character of this story.

I’ll probably take a week or two off from The Wheel of Time before I jump into book 4, The Shadow Rising, next month.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth is the second book in The Locked Tomb series by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir. Like my read of the first book (Gideon the Ninth – review here), I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Moira Quirk.

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Here is the blurb:

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

I really wanted to like this book, but it was hard to follow and I found myself confused for much of it. The story is told in the present day, written in second person, and also has flashbacks that appear to be an alternate version of the events of Gideon the Ninth. The characters are superbly drawn and their interactions are fascinating, even if I didn’t understand the relevance of much of it.

The unique portrayal of necromancy continues in this volume with wonderfully creative descriptions of bone and blood magic. The narrator provides each character with a slightly different manner of speech and subtle differences in accent which helps to follow more complicated conversations.

I just wish more was cleared up by the end of this book. The confusion was the worst at the very beginning and then in the end. Don’t expect any resolution or explanations in this series yet. It looks like two more books are planned, with the next one (Nona the Ninth) releasing later this year.

Have you read anything by Tamsyn Muir? What did you think? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

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