Review: It’s a Bears Life: That’s No Picnic by Astrid V. J.

Where are my urban fantasy, shifter story fans? I’ve got a treat for you today. Fancy getting stuck into a brand new series about animal shifters set in inner-city Sweden? This is a prequel novella introducing us to some of the characters that will feature in the full length series that, if you ask me, can’t come soon enough!

Title: It’s a Bear’s Life: That’s No Picnic (The Last Vasa #0.5)

Author: Astrid V. J.

Rating: 5 stars



There’s nothing much more life-changing than a bullet to the neck…

While he contemplates death and the consequences his will bring for his family, Bashir is offered a chance at a new life by the Swedish police officer who finds him in a dark alley of Gothenburg’s infamous north-eastern suburb. Bashir’s new life comes with the surprise that nothing is as he previously believed: magical creatures exist, and preying on the weak are forces far more sinister than the drug dealers he’d contended with before.

But if becoming a part of Sweden’s hidden underworld of shifters weren’t enough, Bashir’s discoveries are upended when he meets Milena: the last Vasa.


This was a great introduction to an exciting new urban fantasy world, one set in Sweden and based in reality, but with a secret community of shifters and magic. Being a prequel novella and therefore quite short, the book doesn’t delve too deep into the lore or details of the shifter abilities or magic system, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more when the first book in the main series is released.

Astrid did manage to weave together elements of history, folklore, politics, religion and culture into this story, hinting at so much more to come.

Bashir’s experiences as an immigrant were so well portrayed and gave the story an added layer of tension and credibility, it was heartbreaking to see his physical reaction to authority figures like the police and the train ticket collector due to his past, negative experiences.

When the mysterious figure of Milena was introduced I desperately wanted to find out who and what she was, but I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get my hands on the first book in the main series, as the trilogy will focus on Milena’s life, with Bashir as a secondary character.

I’m so intrigued by the world of these bear shifters and the part the Last Vasa has to play in the forthcoming series. I can’t wait to read book one now!

You can grab a copy of It’s a Bear’s Life now for just 99c!



Sneak Peek: Stunning Illustrations for Enchanted Forests

Hi friends! There’s just two weeks until my next charity anthology, Enchanted Forests, is released, and today I want to give you a sneak peek at the absolutely beautiful artwork Elena Shelest has created for our stories. Plus, a little summary of each tale to give you a flavour of the anthology.

Ready to take a look?

Gems of Fae and Foolery by Alice Ivinya

In this fresh take on the Frog Prince fairytale, two female dwarves on the run from an indentured labour camp at the mines become entangled with an arrogant fae lord.

The Lucky Tortoise by Ben Lang

A fugitive child and his tortoise friend seek refuge in the mangroves.

A prince’s duty is to bring his people luck. Pity this one is more occupied by his giant tortoise.

Feather Green by Jennifer Kropf

When Estheryn overhears the royal family’s secrets, it’s her father who pays the price, resulting in a careless murder that propels her to do the unthinkable: disobey the direct order of the Prince of Persianna and enter the forest.

Apple and the Dead Forest by Xander Cross

In a desolate post-apocalyptic world riven by famine, three children make a journey for seeds defended by a dragon.

To Snare a Prince by Sky Sommers

What do you do when a six-headed dragon complains of indigestion after it’s just gobbled up a dark elf? Easy, you tell him to wait in line and go consult your Granny’s magical books.

Blood of the Unicorn by N.D.T. Casale

A wicked queen’s desire for blood from the hearts of unicorns, sends a princess through a divided forest into the shadows of death.

Dimension of the Sasquatch by Donna White

A lot has happened to the curator of a supernatural treasure trove since she discovered that she can walk through different dimensions, now she’s traveling with Bigfoot.

The Fern Flower by Elena Shelest

On the night when the legendary fern flower appears in the forest, will Miray and Savko find their true path?

Willow Daughter by Astrid V.J.

In this retelling of Erutan’s Celtic song, The Willow Maid, a woodcutter follows a song into the forbidden depths of the forest and finds himself tangled in a deadly conflict between the Willow Daughter and the Forest Father.

One Fair Eve by Lyndsey Hall (that’s me!)

Pip’s desire to escape his impoverished mining town and play piano in the world’s most prestigious concert halls leads to a bargain that could spell his doom. Are three years of fame and fortune worth the price he’ll pay – an eternity as the Goblin King?

And there you have it! If those brief blurbs and the stunning artwork haven’t sold you on Enchanted Forests, then nothing will! Except, maybe, the fact that we’re donating all profits to the Rainforest Foundation to support their work preventing deforestation and working with indigenous communities who rely on the forests for income and resources.

We’ve smashed our preorder goal (and honestly any expectation we ever had is on the floor in tatters, and we couldn’t be prouder!) but we’d still love to raise even more money for this incredible organisation. So if you can spare $2.99 and you love folklore and fairytale inspired fantasy stories, then you can still preorder Enchanted Forests here:

Or, you can wait until release day, 1 July, and buy the beautiful paperback!

And get ready for an exciting announcement next week about our next project…



Interview: Diverse fairy tale retelling author Astrid V. J.

Happy June friends and foes! Can you believe the year is halfway through already? It’s absolutely flown for me – Enchanted Waters comes out in one month! It’s been almost a year since I joined this charity anthology and started plotting my story, Daughter of the Selkie King, and in a few short weeks I’ll be able to hold this collection in my hands and see the stunning illustrations, and share these gorgeous fantasy stories with you all!

June is Pride month, so over on Instagram I’m celebrating by sharing some of the queer characters from my stories all month. Head over there to meet Captain Conroy Rainer and Lieutenant Coulter Egan from The Fair Queen!

This week, I had the absolute privilege of chatting with USA Today bestselling and award-winning fantasy author, Astrid V.J. Keep reading to find out what we talked about…

Hi, Astrid, I’m so glad you could join me today! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?

I grew up in South Africa and have lived in Mexico, France and Sweden in the past fifteen years. My parents are both veterinarians, so my two sisters and I grew up in a menagerie. My mom’s a horse nut and so is my baby sister, who is fifteen years younger than me. Both of my parents are avid readers and from an early age they encouraged my love of books.

I met my husband during a GAP-year in France where I was au-pairing. We met one month before I was due to return home to study, and he joined me in South Africa a little over a year later. He’s Mexican-Swedish and the reason why I’ve had the privilege of living in these two different and equally beautiful countries. We have two children, a boy and a girl, and one day, we would very much like to expand our family and get a cat.

I have a Masters degree in social anthropology and am a certified transformational life coach. I consider myself a Jack-of-all-trades and love putting on different hats in different situations. 

In my spare time, when I’m not writing, I love to cross-stitch my favourite anime characters, play the violin or read anything I can get my hands on.

Growing up with vets for parents sounds amazing! I’d love to learn to ride horses, I’ve been on a couple of pony treks when I was younger and loved it. When did you first discover your love of writing and what inspired you?

I was twelve years old when I finally gave into the urge to read Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock. The cover called to me in a way other books never had. Granted, it was very advanced for my age and I only made it halfway before my mind couldn’t take in any more. I re-read that book when I was sixteen and finished it. One thing Hancock’s book did for me was spark an idea. Based on his premise that Atlantis is, in fact, Antarctica, I developed my first series.

The other element for that very first story idea was my dissatisfaction with my favourite genre. I loved fantasy books and adored all the amazing worlds authors took me to. My family is huge on LotR. Just to put this into perspective… waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before the movies came out, we had cats called Frodo and Elessar, and dogs called Gimli, Merry and Pippin. I read The Silmarillion when I was fifteen because I wanted to experience Tolkien’s world again but didn’t want to re-read his other books again. However, even though I loved the fantasy genre, especially books by Tolkien, J.V. Jones, Michael Ende and Phillip Pullman, I still felt there was something important missing. I was growing up in multicultural South Africa in the transition from Apartheid to democracy, and I wanted to read fantasy books that acknowledged my lived experience of people and cultures being diverse.

As such, The Atlantis Series is urban fantasy and is also an African occult fantasy. I loved geography, and the mixture of landscapes in Uganda fascinated me, so that’s where I started my story, even though I have never been to Uganda. This trilogy follows the journey of Nyesha as she discovers her magic, attends school (and here I wanted to focus on African magic in response to Harry Potter), and finds out about Atlantis, and goes out to discover the lost island. 

After studying Anthropology, I realised I actually need to go to Uganda to do a little research for the very beginning of my book to make the contemporary part more realistic, so this project has been shelved until I can make that happen. However, it is a story that is fully formed in my mind and won’t take me long to write, once I get that missing component in.

Diversity is so important in stories, especially YA and MG, to show young readers that anyone can be the hero or heroine of their own story. It’s something fantasy should have been doing for centuries, what with different races and species being a really common aspect of the story, but I’m glad that diverse characters and settings are finally becoming more common in fiction. What are some of your favourite books?

I have read so much and love so many very different genres it can be difficult to choose. I think I’ll talk more about “most influential” authors who’ve inspired me over the years.

My dad is German and I grew up with a mix of classic English and German books. Two authors who’ve definitely influenced me from the very beginning are Michael Ende (most famous for The Neverending Story) and Ottfried Preussler. Their approach to fantasy and turning the most simple things into something magical always kept me interested.

Although I loved the Harry Potter series, I think I was too old by the time I discovered it, so it didn’t impact me as much as it did my younger sister’s generation (that’s my middle sister who’s five years younger than me). Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials definitely made an incredible impact, as did J.V. Jones’ The Baker’s Boy. In my late teens, I came across Game of Thrones and became a total George R.R. Martin fan.

Other than fantasy, I also read a lot of other books. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters have a very special place in my heart, and at university I read Middlemarch as one of my setworks, which totally immersed me in the Regency period. I love those books! I’m also a big fan of Ian McEwan.

More recently, I’ve fallen in love with Guy Gavriel Kay’s works, along with Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman. Each in their own way, they’ve helped me mature my writing and contribute to my unique style.

I love how eclectic your reading taste is! I think it’s so important to read widely, both inside and outside your usual genre, you never know where you might find a spark of inspiration or learn some new aspect of craft that improves your writing style. Tell us about your first published book and what inspired you to write it.

My first published book is Aspiring, Part 1 of the Siblings’ Tale. This book was sparked into existence when I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson-Levine when I was fifteen. I LOVED that book but at the same time I was dissatisfied with it. Why were there so many retellings of Cinderella? Don’t get me wrong, I love Cinderella, but there are so many other fairy tales out there!

Having grown up with the German heritage as well, I was familiar with a ton of Grimm fairy tales that are not commonly known in English. As I ranted on about Ella Enchanted, I had an idea. What if I wrote a retelling of my favourite German fairy tale, keeping all the things I love about Carson-Levine’s book but also adding the things I felt were missing from the retellings genre.

I was in high school and didn’t have time to write the book right away, but the idea stuck with me. During my GAP-year, I had a few weeks free during the summer and I wrote the book by hand. I wrote the first part as a memoir by the main character keeping the feel I’d gotten from Ella Enchanted, and the second part as the retelling of the Grimm fairy tale. This also meant I had to invent a storyteller who could reconcile the two parts because of their disparate writing styles. Essentially, The Siblings’ Tale duology has become a lynch pin for everything else, connecting all my story ideas into a coherent universe.

Aspiring, Part 1 of the Siblings’ Tale also won two Literary Classics Awards in 2019. It received silver in the Young Adult Fantasy category and gold in the Fairytales category.

Wow, that’s an incredible achievement, congratulations on winning two awards with your first published novel! I love that your stories are all tied together and set within the same universe, I’m planning to do something similar and set more stories in the Fair Realm going forward. I think it gives readers a really comforting experience, returning to a world they’re familiar with, while also getting to read a brand new, exciting (hopefully) story. Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings? 

EVERYWHERE! But let’s just look at The Apprentice Storyteller for this one. Viola Alerion, the storyteller and first main character is very much inspired by my German grandmother. She was a kind and loving woman who hid these characteristics under a hard shell of unapproachability. When I was a child, she often scared me and I know now that must have hurt her a lot.

As an adult, before she passed away, I had the opportunity to spend some time with her and I came to understand the immense impact growing up during the Second World War had on her. She was nine when the war ended, and everything that followed with East and West Germany made her into a very hard woman, not to mention that she got divorced when my dad was sixteen, and how that, in a small town where “such things weren’t done” affected her. Viola Alerion is my homage to my Oma, and is my exploration of how the harshness of life often makes us try to protect ourselves with thoughts and actions that, in the long run, do us and those around us harm.

The Apprentice Storyteller is also an expression of my homesickness after having lived outside of South Africa for the past decade. All the landscapes in that book are drawn from places in South Africa.

Your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman, and a huge inspiration. I set my novel in a fictionalised small town based on where I was living at the time, on the edge of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. I think it gives the setting a more credible feel when authors base it on somewhere they know and love. Would you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser? 

A little of both, actually. I usually plot a general outline. For example, with my fairy tale retellings, I do an approximate division by chapter for the different parts of the tale. For my other books, I’ll mark out specific scenes that I know where they should be and roughly which chapter they should be to keep a good structure. With that outline, I’ll sit down and start writing, and then it’s a matter of seeing where the characters take me. So far, they’ve never lost their way entirely. We do sometimes take the scenic route, though.

The scenic route, I love that. My writing process is pretty similar, a good balance of plotting and seeing where the story takes me. So, what are you working on right now?

I have three projects I’m currently working on. The first is The Wordmage’s Tales series, a collection of stand-alone novellas that presents the tales the apprentice learns in The Apprentice Storyteller.

I had originally planned to nest each of the stories in the actual novel, but I realised there was more to each of the short stories that couldn’t be taken up in the framework of a short story, which is why I decided to only mention the tales in The Apprentice Storyteller and give each one the attention it deserves through The Wordmage’s Tales series.

There are ten books in this series. The Sewing Princess is exclusive to my newsletter and street team members. The Artist and His Muse just published recently and The Last Warrior is on pre-order. I’m currently finishing up The Companion’s Tale which will publish in the summer sometime and is planned as my permafree book. I’ll be working on the remaining tales in the series during the autumn and will hopefully be able to publish them in 2022.

The second project is Enchanted Waters, which is a collection of short stories about magical water creatures. I’m working together with some incredible authors on this anthology which we would like to keep as a permanent charity anthology. We will be donating all proceeds of this fully illustrated book to Oceana, an ocean protection organization that fosters marine biodiversity and encourages sustainable fishing to protect smaller fishing communities.

The third is Ytherynia: The Gifted Blood Academy. This is quite a unique academy fantasy series that I’m working on together with a group of other authors. There will be four volumes, one for each year of high school and each author writes a short story or novella about a character of a different species. There is a coherent plot that ties all the stories together, but there’s also the difference of how the different species view the school and each other, not to mention the events taking place at the school. We’ve been working on this for over a year and I’ve learned so much from it! We’re taking steps to make this set of anthologies even more engaging and will probably re-publish the first book just before we release the second book, which is shaping up to be amazing!

There are a few other things in the pipeline, but these are the most tangible at this stage.

Your readers have got a lot to look forward to over the next couple of years! I’m so excited for Enchanted Waters, and all of your Wordmage Tales – collections of fairy tales set in a fantasy world are my favourite extra content by authors. Like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Tales from the Hinterland and The Language of Thorns. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors? 

Write from the heart! I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it. Readers want something authentic and as a writer, you can only achieve that if you write what’s important to you. I know there are those who believe you should write for the market, but I’ve read books like that and they feel flat. I’ve never enjoyed reading those books. Far more enjoyable are the books where authors bare their heart and soul!

I feel exactly the same, creativity comes from the heart and soul, readers can see straight through a story that the author didn’t truly believe.

It’s been incredible getting to speak to you today, Astrid! Thank you for sharing your writing process and upcoming releases with us, I can’t wait for more in your fairytale retelling universe! Before you go, how can we find out more about you and your books? 

On social media, I am most active on Instagram. That’s where I talk about what I’m writing, share more about myself and my life, and share my reading adventures. If you’re most interested in knowing what I’m reading, you can follow me on Goodreads. I’m meticulous about tracking my reading there.

I also have a Wattpad account and upload my works in progress on there. So if you’d like a taster of what I write, that’s a good place to start. I also have two parts of The Sewing Princess, one of the Wordmage’s Tales for free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. You are not obliged to remain subscribed if my newsletters aren’t interesting to you, but my newsletter is a good way to stay connected and get the inside information on my book releases, sales and other opportunities.

I have a YouTube channel where you can find out more about The Siblings’ Tale duology and the social commentary I worked into it. Drawing Back the Veil: an analysis of the Siblings’ Tale gives more insight into me, what makes me tick and the social issues most important to me.

If you like fairy tales and want to know more about retellings, you’re welcome to join my Facebook group, Elisabeth and Edvard’s World. We have a book club and read a retelling by one of the authors in the group every few weeks and have a meeting to discuss the book and anything else bookish we feel like. I also feature other retellings authors and we have some bookish fun with parties every now and then.

The Artist and His Muse, one of the Wordmage’s Tales, just released. It’s available on Amazon and is FREE on Kindle Unlimited.

I hope you enjoyed finding out more about Astrid’s inspirations and creative process as I did. She’s such a huge inspiration to me, and I can’t wait to read more of her stories.

Astrid’s story, The Naiad’s Curse, will be featured in Enchanted Waters alongside my story, Daughter of the Selkie King. It’s available to preorder now and releases on 16 July, but you could get an early copy FREE when you join our street team!

Click here to get an ARC of Enchanted Waters in exchange for an honest review and supporting us on social media!