Book Review – Shadow of the Shapeshifter by David Stone – 5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

I loved every word in this quirky fantasy mystery. A missing viscount, private investigators, vampires, thieves, and a cat. I got a Terry Pratchett’s Discworld vibe from the sense of humour and the oddness of the characters. 

A perfect quick read that’s also exciting and transports me to a whole other world. I also recommend it as a short palette cleanser between longer books or series.

Book Review – Broken Fae – Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac book 4 – By Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti – 5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Elise is adjusting to her new situation with her kings, and I love how Leon is always the one trying to keep the peace and encourage them all to get along. 

What I liked…

Spice – There’s so much of it and it keeps getting better. You may think too much spice is bad, and sometimes it. But…

The kings – This whole story revolves around Elise thinking the kings of Aurora academy were responsible for her brother’s death, and instead, she ends up falling for all 4 of them, and finding the real killer depends on them all working together.

I still just love Leon for being so supportive of what makes Elise happy and I love his tantrums since nobody can handle everything that easily. 

Ryder and Gabriel’s growing friendship warms my heart. They have more in common compared to Dante and Leon. 

I love how Ryder and Dante keep trying to put their differences aside for Elise. And this book sees some big changes in that sense.

More Orion – Love him. 

Elise’s mother – I love how Elise has mixed feelings for her mother after what she discovered but also that she appreciates the difficult situation her mother was in as a single parent with a broken heart which leads me too…

Elise’s father – Who is he? I still think he might be Caleb’s dad, but something at the end of this book (no spoiler) gave me another thought. 

What I didn’t like…

As usual, nothing worth pointing out.

Final thoughts…

Holy frick. I don’t know how much more of these books I can take. I need a break from this drama but in a good way because I need to breathe after another emotional rollercoaster.

Writing Ranting – Magic Makes a Story

Magic systems are more than just world building in fantasy fiction. As a writer, you make the rules and can use your magic system as part of the plot.

Here are things to consider for your magic system when planning your story…

  • Create a challenge for your characters like newly discovered magic, opening a magical room, translating a magic book.
  • Represent something emotional for your MC. Maybe trauma locked away their powers. Maybe an estranged parent has answers.
  • Establish a social hierarchy. More power could mean more respected or feared. Certain abilities might be good or bad in society.
  • Tools to complete a bigger task. Maybe a specific power will achieve the final goal. Maybe a certain combination of abilities is the only way to solve a problem.
  • Secret magic. Perhaps magic is banned, so any magic users have to hide it. Someone could dabble in dark magic and they have to keep it a secret.
  • A race. There could be something special that multiple people are trying to find.
  • Base your magic system on something real. Manipulating natural energy or elements can make it easy to set limits and exceptions.
  • Magical conduits like devices, runes, spells, etc. can have specific magical effects on things or people around them. 

There are probably more, but these are some of the main things that I have in various WIPS. 

My favourite is connecting emotion to magic. I have a character who fears her magic because her mother couldn’t maintain control, and my MC is worried she’ll end up the same. Another WIP has merging magic that is only possible with a strong emotional connection like family, friends and extra fun when it’s between lovers.

In one WIP, I imagine the magic as a way to combine magic, science, and religion in that one all powerful being (a sort of star) released a massive amount of energy that created the universe. This being then created worlds and more masses of energy that are like stars from a science perspective but are also similar to angels. Each ability has a scientific explanation or theory behind it, such as creating wormholes like portals, breaking down and reforming physical matter for shifting, bending light, etc. Sure, much of it is pushing it in relation to exact science, but it helps me as the writer decide what is and isn’t possible. 

One WIP has stones that hold the power of the elements, and only specific people can use them through special devices. The stones are also used for everyday things like light, heat, showers, helping plants grow, and powering airships.

Book Review – Viscous Fae – Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac book 3 – By Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti – 5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh, wow. I didn’t think this series could get steamier. I was wrong. Also, Elise makes strides in getting closer to Gareth’s killer. Big changes for Elise and her kings in this book which are both fun and surprising. 

I keep flipping back to ZA to work out who Elise is mated to or married to. A few of the spouses aren’t given names, so I’m trying to figure it out.

What I liked…

LANCE ORION – If you haven’t read Zodiac Academy yet, then he won’t mean anything. But OMFG I loved him in this. There were a few things that made me laugh about him like the fact that he refuses alcohol. Also, I’m impressed that Elise held her own against him since ZA readers will know how powerful he is.

The Heirs from ZA – This was really funny to read. They’re not so different from in ZA but it was fun to see Darius meet Dante for the first time. As for Celeb… purely a thought, but I wonder if he’s Elise’s half brother. Elise mentions in book 1 that her father was important and left her mother. I know Caleb’s mother is the councilor, but his father might have grown up in similar circles so… 

Eugine Dipper – Poor guy. I feel so bad for him and his constant bad luck. I hope Elise helps boost his confidence a bit.

Elise and her kings – They just get steamier with each book. And this has a very unexpected scene.

I love how we’re moving closer to finding Gareth’s killer. I have my suspicions over who it is, but I don’t want to risk spoiling it.

What I didn’t like…

Nothing stuck out in this book.

Final thoughts…

Things are moving along nicely, and by the end of this book, things go off the rails in so many senses. Love it. 

Book Review – Savage Fae – Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac book 2 – By Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti – 5 stars

Warning: Contains very minor and vague spoilers and for Zodiac Academy, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The twisted sisters were probably due a 4 star from me just so it doesn’t look like I’m completely obsessed. But I’m still obsessed with the Zodiac books. 

I didn’t get as lost in this book and book 1, but I still really enjoyed it. 

What I liked…

Elise – I like how she doesn’t get away with everything in this book, and somebody actually finds out some of her secrets. 

Gabriel – He’s a lot more interesting in this book, and I keep jumping to Zodiac Academy to work out if his wife is Elise or not. I wondered why they never actually said her name, and it would spoil this series if we knew for a fact if she married Gabriel. 🤷 I still don’t know but I have my suspicions.

Dante and Leon – Woah. Just… Spice is too mild a word for what these boys do for pleasure. 

Ryder – I like his softer side around Elise. 

Leon – I love his Mindys. I wonder if it’s a play on minions since that’s basically what they are. 

Gareth – I completely forgot this in my previous review but I love the flashbacks. They hi t at things that Elise is about to find or clarify something she already suspected without spoiling things. 

Profesor King – Interesting. I’m sure she had something to do with Gareth’s death, and that’s my suspicion based in this book so not a spoiler.

What I didn’t like…

Elise doesn’t make much progress in finding her brother’s killer in this book. She’s a little easily distracted for my liking sometimes, and it weakens her a bit as a character.

Final thoughts…

If you love curious characters, mysteries, fun magic, and top tier spice, and reverse harems then this is definitely a good read. 

Book Review – Dark Fae – Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac book 1 – By Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti – 4.5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I loved this book and the characters. It’s set in a mirror world to our own, but Fae live there in place of humans. They have the power of the elements plus a magical creature form. Dragons, vampires, basilisks, and harpies are just a few of the amazingly fun creatures along with lion shifters and werewolves. The list goes on…

Elise starts off with a mission to find her brother’s killer and fakes her way into Aurora Academy. Her grief and need for vengeance drive her on her solo mission until she realises she might just need a friend or two to get her through it all. Or she’ll end up on the wrong side of a gang fight. 

What I liked…

Elise – I love female characters who don’t take shit from people around them. At the same time, she needs friends after losing her brother, and is open to it with the right people.

Dante – Love the name. Love dragon shifters. Live storm dragons. So he was an instant 😍 for me. Also, a fun balance of friendly and “not to be messed with”

Leon the lion 🤣 – He’s very much the tame one compared to the other guys, but he’s also what Elise needs to lighten her mood. We get to see hints of his beast so he’s not always the oversized purring kitty cat. 

Ryder – Interesting character with a seriously underappreciated creature for his shifter form. His past trauma that explains his current behaviour though he lets others believe differently. He has feelings that he can’t bear others seeing. And he has awesome hypnosis powers.

What I didn’t like…

Gabriel – Honestly, I don’t feel much of anything for him. Sure, he’s one of the good ones… mostly, but he’s not particularly interesting as a character considering his role in this story. He’s also kinda annoying with Elise even though we kinda get his reasoning. Not cool to play hot and cold then blame her for it.

Final thoughts…

Definitely a good read if you like questionable characters, badass magical powers, countless mythological creatures, and murder mysteries. Also, if you’ve read Zodiac Academy then you’ll love this. It’s less chaotic in all the crazy things that happen, but still exciting to read. And if you haven’t read ZA, then I suggest you do after this. Some characters overlap, which is always fun with series set in the same world.

Monthly TBR Update – June 2022

Oops. Sorry it’s late. I meant to post this last weekend but… tired.

I read some looooong books this month, so didn’t get through that many. But I did finish book 7 of Zodiac Academy. I don’t think I’ll survive until the next one in December, so I’ll probably read the novellas some point over the summer.

Books I read this month…
  • Zodiac Academy book 4, Shadow Princess by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti 
  • Zodiac Academy book 5, Cursed Fates
  • Zodiac Academy book 6, Fated Throne
  • Zodiac Academy book 7, Heartless Sky
Mini non-spoiler reviews…

Wild. Just freaking wild. So many things go wrong and only half go right. All the books are hilarious, heart-wrenching, steamy, and outrageously addictive. It is very immature at times, so I wouldn’t recommend it for people who like “serious” characters. But they have serious moments that just draw on so many emotions that I’m left flailing after. See my reading ranting page for full reviews.

Books I’m going to read next month… 

It’s going to be a demanding month at work with the summer camp, so I’m sticking purely to audiobooks. 

  • Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac book 1 – Dark Fae by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti 
  • RBotZ book 2
  • Book 4
  • Book 5

Books I’m putting on hold until August…

  • The Never King by Nikki St. Crowe
  • Ruin & Roses by Deanna Ortega
  • Halven Rising book 3, Fates Fulfilled

Book Review – Heartless Sky – Zodiac Academy Book 6 – By Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti – 5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Twisted Sisters never fail to make me laugh and cry throughout every one of these books. Just… 😭😭😭

So things seemed a bit too random for a while until it all clicked, so bear that in mind when going into this book. But if you liked the spice in previous books, prepared to have your mind blown in this one. War can make people realise how precious things are, so everyone is humping like rabbits as if the world is ending. I freaking love it when it’s meaningful. 

What I liked…

Darius – Oh, Darius. You break my heart every time you break Tory’s. But in this one, he’s mostly behaving himself when it comes to not being an alphahole. I’d love him anyway because it’s only fiction, but seeing him be nice and truly escape his father’s hold over him is really satisfying. 

Tory – I like how she lets Darius get away with some of his shit because he lets her get away with hers, but she makes the point that he’s pushing it. She’s always fun and badass and stubborn. 

Darcy and Orion dial back the personal drama, even though Seth adds a little awkwardness. 

Xavier – He’s finally able to explore what he wants. Also, his timing is hilarious when he… no spoilers… He’s just really funny in this.  

Seth and Caleb – No spoilers, but seriously, these two are adorable and steamy with the flirting and build up to the “when will they finally admit their feelings?” that started a couple of books ago. I’m like… grrrr, just do it already. 

Curses and fates – Again, no spoilers, but there’s just so much for the Vegas and Heirs to overcome when it comes to this. I love the idea of invisible or distant enemies that aren’t so easy to fight. 

What I didn’t like…

Lionel POV – As Tory would say “no thanks.” But I kinda get why the twisted sisters put in in there.

Random POVS – Again, just… not feeling Geraldine, Max, or Gabriel in this one. Plus we get a random Catalina POV that didn’t feel right to me. 

Final thoughts…

I don’t know what to do with my life until the next book is out. I saw somewhere it was in December. Thank f**k for the novellas and retelling of book 1 from the Heirs’ POVs to help me get through the next 6 months until the final book comes out. I hope it gets published sooner.

Writing Update- The Fourth Wall Series.

Oops. I meant to give this one last check yesterday before posting it, since I post my writing ranting on Wednesdays. This week has been a bit weird with final prep for summer camp at work and family health stuff getting to me. Actually, this is perfect way to introduce todays post because it’s something I work on when I don’t have much.

The Fourth Wall is a new mini series I’ve started based on a TikTok video I made about my MC accidentally hearing me as the writer. I thought it would make a few short and fun pieces to have for various characters where they overhear me or tumble into my world if it suits the story’s magic system, which in some cases, it does.

It’s also a way to get an interest in my novels as prequel chapters since they’re set not long before the mains story and don’t spoil anything. I have some other short stories planned for various WIPs as non-spoiler backstories, and some bonus chapters from other POVs. But they’re something to share after I’ve published to keep people interested in between each book in the series.

Mostly, these started when I got into writing slumps or in the middle of planning. They helped with world-building and fleshing out my characters or detailing past events that don’t need whole scenes or chapters in the main book. 

I have my debut novel about to go through the publication process once I’ve chosen my editor and made some decisions on art, etc. My Fourth Wall story with Clair will be available before publication as a glimpse into her life. Also, it’s something fun to write during a busy few days where I need to write but can’t focus on the main novel.

Reading Ranting – Pushing Boundaries Part 3

Trigger warning: This mentions of dark content in books and films such as abuse and toxic relationships.

Ranting warning: It’s a long one because I have too many thoughts on this. Skip to the bullet points for the main gist of what I mean.

This is an extension of Pushing Boundaries part 1 and part 2 where I talked about digging deep to make your writing more meaningful or venturing into graphic content while avoiding offending or triggering readers. If you’ve done this right, then readers will love your books.

Before I start, the idea of “it’s only fiction” works when the reader understands this. This is usually through a character who scolds inappropriate behaviour or a character who feels guilty for it. That being said, there are so many inappropriate things in books that many readers love. However, many get slated for it and it annoys me, especially when it’s my favourite fantasies that aren’t meant to be real anyway.

These are mostly in relation to fantasy romance, and I’m sick of people picking apart these books just because they don’t like them. By all means, give an honest and polite review on Amazon or Goodreads, then shut up about it. Stop ruining the fun!

Tropes I’m talking about…

  • Touch her and die.
  • I hurt her to spare her or it was the lesser of two evils.
  • Morally grey characters because of some past trauma..
  • Redeemable bullies, again because of past trauma.
  • Alphahole dominant males because it’s “their way”
  • Random violence being totally acceptable, ot sexy.
  • Being a prisoner because it’s what someone else thinks is best.

I love all the books or TV/movie adaptations listed below and I’m simply pointing out the issues that go too far by real-world standards. But before I get to the fantasy books that prompted this post, let’s look at some other popular stories with the tropes mentioned. 

Retellings of popular stories. And these are for kids… 

  • Beauty and the Beast – This is basically a Hades and Persephone retelling with emotional abuse that borders on bully romance where Belle is a prisoner for no obvious reason other than the beast is a jerk.
  • Tangled – Parental abuse with the “mother” brainwashing her stolen daughter and keeping her as a prisoner because “mother knows best”. Then sends shady characters after her.  
  • Maleficent – Maleficent is tricked by the king, then made to look like the villain. And he gets away with it for years. Ugh. 

Now let’s look some classics…

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray – Suicide, abuse, morally grey characters. 
  • Pride and Prejudice – The original bully romance if you ask me. Mr Darcy is grade A asshole until he realises he needs to change his ways.
  • Dracula (Bram Stoker’s) – Is he a true villain if he’s fighting for love? Or is he morally grey and blinded by the belief his love has returned?

And now for some real-world stories…

  • Fifty Shades of Gray – Dominant male in position of power, borderlines on abuse at times (matter of opinion) and toxic relationship.
  • Bridgeton – Daphne and the Duke… Toxic, much? Yes, this is a historical novel, but it’s written for modern readers who still lap up the Mr. Darcy character.
  • After series – Every book, Hardin is an asshole and makes Tessa feel like it’s her fault even though he’s supposedly doing what’s best for her and “protecting” her.

Lots of book all over the scope push boundaries in their tropes. So why do people focus so much on my favourites?

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses – Morally grey characters, abuse, touch her and die, lesser of two evils. The love interest does some questionable things to keep his people and Feyre safe against far worse fates.
  • Zodiac Academy – The Heirs use the Vega twins’ deepest fears against them using violence and emotional attacks. And the vampire among them bites Tory whenever he wants. .
  • The Cruel Prince – Cardan is a bully to Jude for no obvious reason, but when she stands up to him, it just makes it worse. 
  • The Bargainer – Des abandons Callie for… reasons (no spoilers) and it really hurt her. Now he’s back and expects her to fall into his arms again. Also, they’re both a little morally grey.
  • The Plated Prisoner series – It’s in the title ffs. Auren was saved by her “captor” but wasn’t an instant prisoner, so the realisation snuck up on her. Also, she’s the only one of her kind and he helps her keep that secret. 
  • To Kill and Kingdom – This amazing retelling of The Little Mermaid but the MC is “Ursula’s” daughter and just as cruel. That is until she’s exposed to the human world and begins to question her mother’s ways. 

Now for some fantasy books that I didn’t love but I still think get too much hate…

  • Game of Thrones – All the dark abusive and triggering content. But it comes with that warning so I think it gets slated too much considering it’s a dark fantasy.
  • From Blood and Ash .- The MC’s love interest gets off on her being violent. Sure, it’s overdone for my liking, but whatever. He’s a warrior who thrives on violence, so it’s part of his normal life. 

All the books mentioned have reasons for these outrageous things that don’t fly in the real world. So why do so many readers love these tropes? 

I can only answer for myself.

They often have a character who is human or grew up like a human for whatever reason. They recognise the assholes with unfair and unreasonably extreme behaviour. Acknowledging these differences establishes the separation from what’s acceptable and what isn’t for us as humans, while justifying the other species and their rules and instincts.

The “touch her and die” trope is possibly a little overdone sometimes, but in a general threatening sense, I quite like it. In one book, the FMC’s ex leaves her to die in a car in a lake. Later, the MMC forces the ex to apologise on video while using magic to inflict terror into the ex. He’s physically unharmed after, but it was super funny and satisfying.

There’s also the “lesser of two evils” trope where a character makes others suffer in order to protect them from a worse fate, usually things the other character is unaware of. The fantasy worlds I read have cruel leaders or warriors who grow up with one thing on their minds. Power. Then someone comes along to threaten that power and all hell breaks loose. So one secretly good-ish character plays both sides while doing all they can to protect as many people as they can but have to sacrifice their soul to do so.

The bully romances I read usually involve some abuse towards the bully from a parent or person in authority. That doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it explains it and gives their current victim some sense of sympathy towards them. This makes way for understanding, which leads to a truce, friendship, and often lovers because the MC saved the bully from their own abuse or trauma from it. 

Then there’s random violence against others. Biting people is okay if you’re a vampire. Growling is perfectly normal for animal shifters. And setting people on fire is accepted if there’s healing magic to fix it. Also, these people are NOT meant to represent realistic humans. They’re fantasy and mythical creatures who have animal instincts and very different ideas of everyday decency and morals. Also, it’s a different world where political power has a whole different meaning when kings and lords can obliterate people with a single thought, so beating up a few people is considered low-level violence.  

The prisoners I read tend to accept their situation as the lesser of two evils by protecting someone or something. Belle is protecting her father. Feyre (from ACOTAR) is protecting her family. Auren is protecting her secret of who she really is. 

For me (emphasis on me) fantasy can get away with so much more because it disconnects many readers from reality even when it covers real issues. Somehow, they become more acceptable in a world where the rules and people are different. But at the same time, representing these issues in real-world stories appeals to a lot of readers. They might be relatable or inspiring that people can overcome traumatic situations and that everyone is redeemable in the right circumstances. . 

And just as I was working on this post, I saw these from fantasy writers and readers on TikTok. 

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMNFmDURV/?k=1

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMNFms1AT/?k=1

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMNFmcTq5/?k=1