The best quirky books combining upliftment and adventure in thought-provoking and unlooked-for ways

Astrid V.J. Author Of The Apprentice Storyteller
By Astrid V.J.

Who am I?

I am an award-winning and USA Today bestselling South African author, social anthropologist, and transformational life coach. Human transformation and the question of human social nature are key themes in all of my writing, which explores the experiences of people on the margins or with a background of overlapping cultures. I am a book dragon who loves reading adventures in almost every genre and that broad scope of my reading explorations has wormed its way into my writing style which, though broadly defined as fantasy, encompasses elements from other styles in a rich and ‘aromatic’ blend.

I wrote...

The Apprentice Storyteller

By Astrid V.J.,

Book cover of The Apprentice Storyteller

What is my book about?

The Alchemist meets fantasy with a splash of space opera in this 2021 Author Elite Awards finalist by award-winning and bestselling South African author, Astrid V.J. This gem of transformation fiction explores our human capacity for achieving success in the face of adversity in a magical setting.

Viola Alerion, a renowned storyteller in the Haldrian Empire, wants to be left in peace. For years, she’s been hounded by her past, never to find a moment’s rest. Then she meets a boy who wants to become her apprentice. He refuses to take no for an answer, and she reluctantly yields, even though she knows taking him with her could endanger his life. As their journey progresses, Viola begins to understand she’s not the only teacher in the equation…

The books I picked & why

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The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho,

Book cover of The Alchemist

Why this book?

The Alchemist was gifted to me at a really important crossroads in my life, and it was just what I needed to read: an uplifting, insightful read about the meaning of life set in Southern Spain and North Africa with a touch of magical realism. The philosophical insights made me stop and think and take stock of my own life, and that reflection helped me propel myself into harmony with myself by beginning the shift I needed to make in my thoughts and perceptions. The historical implications of the setting also inspired me to examine our history and the psychology of conflicts, exploring our human nature in greater depths.

The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Richard Howard (translator),

Book cover of The Little Prince

Why this book?

The Little Prince has been a constant companion for as long as I can remember. Although I have no memory of the first time my mother read the story to me, the iconic cover with the little prince standing on his little planet always looked down at me from the bookshelf. Once consciously aware, I actually read The Little Prince in the French original, and it is the first book I ever read in French, another reason it is close to my heart. The blend of child-like wonder with philosophical musing and the exploration of human nature always gets me. It’s one of those books I believe everyone should read multiple times because the voice of that little boy is the voice of our inner child, and we should take the time to listen.

William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace

By Ian Doescher,

Book cover of William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace

Why this book?

I absolutely adore the concept of taking the epic Star Wars franchise and transforming it into a Shakespearean play. It is humorous and so totally unexpected, which is the best thing about reading adventures—I love surprises! Blending ideas or combining very different styles resonates very deeply with me because of my own blended background as a German-Italian-South African. I absolutely love it when the unexpected melding of two different things bring forth something entirely new, like fusion cooking.


By Guy Gavriel Kay,

Book cover of Tigana

Why this book?

I adore all of Kay’s books, but my love for this one is very personal because of the underlying exploration of identity that is the cornerstone of this book. Who are we? What makes us so? And how does group identity work? What does loss of identity do to a person, or a people? Kay takes a long, hard look at all of that through the lens of this epic fantasy novel. Another reason I love this book is the circles within circles: that exploration of how life is cyclical and how everything repeats itself unless we consciously make an effort to break the cycle. And the writing style! Who said fantasy couldn’t be literary? Kay has a way with words that is magical in its own right, conjuring the most incredible pictures in my imagination.

His Dark Materials

By Philip Pullman,

Book cover of His Dark Materials

Why this book?

This is another one of those books that changed my life, influencing how I view the world. It made me learn to question the things I take for granted and examine what is said, and what is done. It taught me to look deeper at the undercurrents of politics and religious doctrine, and to think for myself. The magical setting both enchanted me and taught me so much about scientific breakthroughs I most certainly wasn’t learning about in science class.

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