Book Review – Fated Throne – 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.

Still hopelessly addicted to this series and the characters. It’s so emotionally charged that I can’t put it down. Long review this time since a lot has happened the past couple of books, and it’s all playing out now. Honestly, these books keep getting better and better.All of Solaria is feeling the effects. We begin with Tory under the spell of the shadows, Darcy and Darius still heartbroken, and Orion is still in fae prison.

Something has to go right for the Vegas at this point, right?

What I liked…

Brewing friends to lovers. No spoilers on who. I looooove enemies to lovers, but there are plenty in this series at this point. A cute friends to lovers is a nice change of pace.

I should have mentioned this sooner, but the various group analogies have me in stitches. A.S.S and H.O.R.E and the moment I heard the words on Audible “King’s United Nebular Taskforce,” I was in fits of giggles before they even mentioned the analogy. 

More chaos just when we thought there was already enough. 

I love the bond between the Vegas and the heirs, which had a good setup in book 5 and the end of book 4. 

I love dark Tory for added conflict. Obviously I didn’t want her to stay that way, but she made a good complication with the shadows and the guardian bond from the end of the last book as well as being star crossed with Darius. 

Star crossed. I don’t care what anyone says, Tory had every right to say no at the time. Yes, it broke my heart, but she barely knew Darius, and what little she did know of him was mostly him hurting her. There weren’t enough nice moments between them to make up for it back then. Now… I just want to cry for them, but I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Geraldine. We get her POV, which I really liked. I’ve always liked her even though she’s a little OTT at times, but I try not to take some of the characters too seriously in these novels. She’s a welcome comic relief to break up all the heartache going around these days. 

Spice. No spoilers, but holy hot fae, these characters get some good sex scenes.

Order segregation. More complications for the characters.

Secrets. No spoilers, but more secrets get revealed that throw the characters into a tailspin. Love them.

Max, Xavier, and Seth’s POVs. I didn’t like them so much in previous books. But they’re quite enjoyable in this one. I think it’s because I haven’t read a book with so many POVs recently, and it took me a while to get used to it. 

What I didn’t like…

Darcy and Orion. I wasn’t thrilled with them in this book. I think it was too much emotional drama now, and they already had the problem of him being power shamed and losing his job. I think things could have been dialed back between them. 

Final thoughts…

99 problems, but a bond ain’t one… Phew. Something went right, but still plenty gone wrong to be typical of the Zodiac Academy books. That’s why I love them so much.

Writing Ranting – How Realistic Are Your Characters? Part 2

Warning: Spoilers of Zodiac Academy, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and The Dark Artifices ahead.

Disclaimer: I don’t read a lot of LGBTQ+ books purely because I don’t come across that many recommendations from the sources I find new books from. That being said, quite a few books in my preferred genre include LGBTQ+ content either through 1 of many POVs or a character close to the MC. 

We’re in Pride Month, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite LGBTQ+ romances. 

  • Mark and Kieran from The Dark Artifices. This is established pretty early on in thestory so not much of a spoiler. I just adore these two and how they found comfort in one another. The mentions of them cozying up to each other after hunting the skies just warms my heart. 
  • Seth and Caleb from Zodiac Academy. In a series with a lot of enemies to lovers, this friends to lovers is refreshing. It’s also so freaking hot how they tease one another since Caleb is supposedly straight until we start seeing hints of his feelings for Seth. Also, his reasons for holding back don’t come across as “Wait? I’m gay?” it’s more like “He’s my best friend and I’m scared of ruining that.” I just love how it plays out.  
  • Mor and Emerie from ACOTAR. I had very mixed feelings towards Mor in the original ACOTAR trilogy and the way she treated Cass and Az. But now I’m over it, and have read A Court of Silver Flames, I want to see things happen in the next book. 

As a writer, I believe it’s important to be inclusive without forcing characters for the sake of it. However, I have a few characters whose sexual orientation works for their character and the story, not that working for the story is more important. It just comes across as more relevant and realistic based on similar relationships I’ve read in other books. Yes, below is including minor spoilers from various WIPs, but nothing significant story-wise.

  • Cleopatra ends up being torn between the boy she’s grown to love and the girl who holds answers to her past.
  • Marina has a tragic love story when she crosses worlds to be with the girl she loves only to find her gone.
  • Drystan is open to anything in bed but will ultimately choose a woman for a relationship.
  • Esme is occasionally physically attracted to men, but only loves one woman.
  • Killian and Nolan are more than happy to be intimate with each other if a woman is involved. 

Like many aspects of my characters, things with their personalities and preferences evolved with the story and just felt right. 

Book Review – Cursed Fates – Zodiac Academy Book 5 – 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.

If you haven’t read book 4, then this review contains major spoilers.

I want to cry for these girls all the time. They never get a break for more than 5 minutes before it all goes wrong again. And if I hear one more person blame Tory for being star-crossed, then I’m going to lay the smack down on them.

What I liked…

I wanted Tory to say yes at the end of the previous book, but totally support her decision to say no in that moment. And now I love her constant questioning her decision and if she should have chosen differently.

I love more of the girls getting their own back on people who hurt them. 

In between the bad stuff, there are some cute and funny moments. I just love the fluff. 

I hate (but secretly love) more hardships for both girls. No spoilers on that, but it’s obvious at this point that things never go right for long.

More sibling tension between Darcy and Tory, which makes their relationship more realistic. 

Darcy. Honestly, I don’t feel overly strongly about Darcy most of the time compared to the others. I like her, but she’s not my favourite. But I feel so bad for her in this book. 

Tory. One of my all-time favourite characters now. Perfect balance of sass and sarcasm. Sometimes she gets a little too self-loathing for my liking, but that’s just her character. 

Caleb. No spoilers, but he does a few very nice things in this book for various people, and I think he’s becoming a good friend to Tory. Sure, he gets something out of it when he gives her an amazing surprise (probably my favourite scene in the whole book, maybe the whole series), but he’d probably do it for her anyway. And what’s brewing with him and a certain other person? I’m hoping that plays out in their favour. 

Darius. He knows he fucked up, and I like reading him stew in what he did to Tory and why she said no. I still hope they fix it, but he needed an emotional slap in the face to spur him into action.

Orion. Not impressed dude. You fudged up royally. Still love you. 

Spice. Woah. Spice is twice as nice when there’s 3 😏. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the dynamics when I realised what was about to happen, but it totally worked. 

I just love how the Vegas and the Heirs are finally on the same side with more playful rivalry mostly (emphasis on mostly). I think it started with the snowball fight at the end of book 4. I loved that scene. 

What I didn’t like…

I still don’t like Max, Seth and Xavier’s POVs. They’re fun characters but their POVs are… meh. But that’s mostly because I’m more invested in the other POVs, even Caleb. 

Final thoughts…

At this point, I can’t fault anything to the point I would take stars away. I’m invested in the story and the twins, Orion, and Darius, and even a few of the other characters as things blossom between them. Each book is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, and I freaking love it. 

Writing Ranting – How Realistic Are Your Characters? Part 1

I recently saw a few TikTok posts from the same account about portraying body size and characters of colour in books and related character art. I genuinely appreciated her pointing this out since I have mixed race characters and some who are plus sized. I’ve included a couple of her videos at the bottom.

My reasons for these characters vary from loosely representing people I know, including myself when it comes to weight, and being from various backgrounds that are part of the inspiration for my world.

For example, I have a character who is mixed Egyptian and Persian. Her skin colour seemed obvious once I’d decided her heritage, and any art I commission will reflect this. I’m reluctant to share my inspirational art right now because I don’t own it, but I imagine Jasmine from Aladdin with hints of Cleopatra as the best visual representation of my character.

As for her body size… that’s definitely inspired by my own weight problems. She’s depressed and under pressure and puts on weight when she’s due to emotional stress. Then she’s under a different kind of stress that causes her to lose a lot of weight. Both these instances represent my personal struggles with size, so if anyone has anything to say about her suddenly being slim, then I have a long list of reasons why this is very real. But by the end, her slightly larger size is when she’s more healthy mentally and emotionally.

I’m grateful for social media because I learn what readers really want as well as what I want to portray in my books. I would be mortified if something I’d written was offensive in this way, and while I know I can’t please everyone, I can take realistic representations seriously.

I also plan to use a sensitivity reader, especially in relation to race, to be absolutely sure I don’t use the wrong language when describing my character. I want my characters’ visuals to be clear but also using appropriate wording.

Writing Ranting – Stuck for Something to Write?

It’s perfectly normal to get stuck writing slumps or writer’s block. And it’s okay to take a break from writing or certain projects to focus on other things in life. I can’t imagine going too long without writing or doing something writing related, even if it’s just jotting down ideas for future reference or finding inspirational images or music. This way, I have a list ready to go when I get back into the groove.

During these “breaks” I still find the need to be in front of a document and actually writing something.Here are some ways I like to keep writing during these times.

  • Flipping to another WIP for a few days or even a week or so to keep my sense of writing going 
  • Writing short stories, either related to my WIP as potential bonus chapters or something completely different to cleanse my creative palate.
  • Writing a month’s worth of blog posts and book reviews. This helps since I like to keep my blog active and I love sharing reviews.
  • Write about a random experience like a short story or article. I recently shared about my trip to Porto. Yes, it was short and sweet, but it was something a little different.
  • Outlining or making notes on future projects. 
  • Flesh out some random scenes. Maybe a backstory for your current WIP or something for a future project that might help you plan your characters or world-building. I have a few documents with random act 2 or 3 scenes, and I haven’t even planned the whole story. Just a rough synopsis.

There’s always something to write about if your fingers are itching to type, but don’t force it if you’re not feeling it. That’s a sign you need a break.

Book Review – Shadow Princess – Zodiac Academy 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.

Holy fudge this book broke me, like shattered me into a million pieces. 😭😭😭

Things are completely out of control for the Vega twins, and secrets are spilling out all over the place. Lots of highly inappropriate acts and bullying going on here, but remember, these people aren’t humans. They’re fae and shifters with animalistic instincts.

What I liked…

One of the hottest and feistiest sex scenes I’ve ever read. Love it. 

I loved that we finally get some tension between the sisters. I think they were due a bit of fight.

I love how just when I think things are going okay for the Vega twins, shit gets thrown at them worse than before. This truly is an emotional rollercoaster, but I ain’t getting off it.

What I didn’t like…

I’m still not a fan of Seth and Max’s POVs, and now we get Xavier’s. I just don’t think they offer anything that the other POVs can’t. And they’re not as interesting as the other POV characters. 

I haven’t mentioned this in my previous reviews but the male voice in the audiobook is sometimes a bit overdone for my liking, especially in Darius’ POV. Sure, he’s usually mad about something, but it just feels too much. And Orion’s tone in the male voice it a lot gentler, almost calm, but it comes across as grittier in the female voice. 

Final thoughts…

I’m broken. Utterly broken by the ending of this book and how so many things were going right then suddenly… Not. But don’t panic, there are plenty of survivors and good things so they can go wrong in the next book, probably.

Book Review – The Bear’s Heart by Fil Reid

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review Disclaimer: I received a prerelease copy of the book. This review honestly expresses my thoughts after having read it.
This is Fil’s second book in the Guinevere series which follows a librarian who gets sucked through a magical portal to the time of Arthur and Merlin.

Now Guinevere has to face the decision she made to stay with Arthur and what that life means.

What I liked…

The historical elements are interesting from both a world-building and educational perspective.
I love how Guin uses her knowledge of the future and basic sanitation to help herself and others in this time.
It plays on both history and legends to create an amazing setting and fantastic characters.

What I didn’t like…

Guin discovered something toward the beginning of the book and jumped to a particular thought about it that seemed unfounded at first. I don’t know how to explain it without spoiling it, but I think she jumped to a harsh conclusion too quickly for my liking with little emotion behind it. I would have liked more thought before she fell on that idea.

Final thoughts…

This is a great book for those who love historical romances, since those are the main genres. The fantasy element is very limited which I don’t mind in this sense.

Monthly TBR Update – May 2022

I’ve always loved shifters, and my recent reads prove it. See my Reading Ranting page for the reviews of May’s books. Also, most of these are audiobooks, so I tend to get through those really quickly. 

In May I read…

  • Zodiac Academy book 1, Awakening by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti, 5 stars.
  • Zodiac Academy book 2, Ruthless Fae, 5 stars.
  • Zodiac Academy book 3, The Reckoning, 5 stars.
  • Mystic Bayou book 3, Selkies are a Girl’s Best Friend by Molly Harper, 5 stars.
  • Mystic Bayou book 4, Always Be My Banshee, 5 stars
  • Mystic Bayou book 4.5, One Fine Fae, 4 stars. (review pending)
  • Mystic Bayou book 5, Shifters in the Night, 5 stars
  • Mystic Bayou book 6, A Farewell to Charms, 5 stars. (review pending)
  • Sands of Arawiya book 2, We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal, 3 stars.
  • Halven Rising book 2, Fates Entwined by Jules Barnard, 4.5 stars.
  • Guinevere, The Bear’s Heart by Fil Reid, 4.5 stars.

See below for links to the reviews.

Mystic Bayou is an adult urban fantasy and romance set in a realistic town that just happens to have some unrealistic shenanigans. The locals are a mix of humans and shifters or other various magical folk, including fae and banshees. It also has dragons. 😍 It has 2 joint protagonists, different in each book and a bigger plot we follow throughout the series. I love the idea of different protagonists in a series to give the reader a different perspective or focus.. 

Zodiac Academy (NA) follows 2 twins from the human world who discover they’re fae and get sent to a magical college. Imagine Harry Potter on crack. 🤣 More fae and shifters, including vampires, werewolves, sirens, and dragons. OMG more dragon shifters. This is full-on smut and an insane amount of jerkfaces. Just when you think things are going well, the twins face a ton of shit that mess everything up again. 

We Free The Stars is part 2 of Sands of Arawiya duology after We Hunt the Flame. This Arabian inspired YA adventure follows a huntress and prince who are brought together to free magic in the land. I loved book 1, but wasn’t as thrilled with book 2. The romance is annoying and it was too slow in places, but I still enjoyed it.

Halven Rising is another series about fae where college students discover they are part fae (halven) and have magic. They travel to the fae realm where kings and queens battle to rule. I’ve read books 1 and 2, and book 3 is on my tbr. Each book has different protagonists, which makes it more interesting in my opinion. 

In June I plan to read…

  • 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
  • Zodiac Academy book 1.5, Awakening, as Told by the Boys
  • The Never King by Nikki St. Crowe
  • Ruin & Roses by Deanna Ortega
  • Halven Rising book 3, Fates Fulfilled

I’m so excited to get read more of Zodiac Academy. I’m currently at the end of book 4 so that review might be up later or next Saturday. As for The Never King and Ruin & Roses, they have good reviews and lots of support on bookish social media so I decided to check out the blurb and though they looked good. And I want to finish the Halven rising series.

Check back in at the end of June to see how I went with my June TBR.

Writing Ranting – Pushing Boundaries Part 2

TRIGGER WARNING: This post mentions traumatic situations.

Last week I talked about pushing personal boundaries in how far you were willing to go in your writing. Today, I’m going to talk about how that content will impact other readers. 

  • Spicy scenes
  • Graphic violence 
  • Killing off characters
  • Dark themes that might be triggering for you or readers
  • Unusual worlds that may take more effort to get across
  • Emotional journeys that mean tapping into your own past

Firstly, let’s clear up content warnings vs trigger warnings required when you include certain scenes or topics. Content warnings are like a age rating for things unsuitable for younger readers like sex scenes or violence (fighting as opposed to abuse or assault). Trigger warnings are for more traumatic situations such as torture, assault, abuse, suicide, etc. The warnings are there for those who have suffered in this way and would be triggered by descriptive content in a book. PLEASE consider both of these warnings when publishing your book.

Back to why you would want to include these themes in your book… As I said at the end of my last post, you shouldn’t put these themes in for the sake of it or to create shock value. That just makes your story seem weak and that you need this to ramp up reader reactions. 

You don’t need triggering content to get a reaction. Some of the most emotional scenes have been typical of their genre, albeit violent. One of the most emotions scenes I’ve ever read was in a YA fantasy fiction where a group of warriors sacrificed themselves to destroy a dangerous weapon. Yes, this is technically suicide, but it’s in the middle of a war, so it’s more of a sacrifice for the greater good that is in so many similar books of this genre. 

However, if you feel characters need to suffer in certain ways to make them who they are, then by all means, throw it in there and let your critique partners or beta readers help you decide if it works or not. I had a particularly difficult scene to write in my book when a character was struggling with her emotional state. I got some great feedback on the scene and how to make it more effective with the lead-up. It was hard to take since I believed it already did the trick, but in the end I had to tweak some things and sacrifice some personal things to make it meaningful to me and readers.

I recently followed some tiktokers who were outraged by an author who’d thrown in a lot of triggering content for the shock value. The author did apologise after having realised they’d gone too far, but it was too late. Apparently someone had pointed out the various issues before publication, but the author ignored it and is now paying the price. This was a lesson to all authors to head warnings from critique partners and beta readers over these things.

A sensitivity reader could also do this for you. It’s their job to help authors avoid offending people or just avoid backlash on triggering issues. 

Book Review – Ruthless Fae, Zodiac Academy Book 2 – 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.

Firstly, disconnect your mind from acceptable reality and you’ll be fine. This is NOT some sweet college story of making friends and overcoming social stigmas. This is about Tory and Darcy fighting against four jerk heirs for their family’s wealth after growing up in foster homes in the mortal world.

Yes, there were a lot of questionable decisions in this book, but the twins aren’t taking shit anymore, unless they want something out of it. 

What I liked…

I still love the dragon shifters.

Amping up of magical abilities.

Girls playing tricks on the guys. The pegasus… He deserved worse.

The girls fighting back.

The boys’ POVs. I think it makes what the girls do far more effective. It also gives us more insight into the boys, which doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but it explains it in a way.

Spicy scenes. Love them.

Batshit crazy shennanegans. 

What I didn’t like…

The plot with the nymphs is very vague and random. I would have liked more on that during this book.

Final thoughts…

I’m obsessed with this series and the characters and what’s really going on with the heirs. I also love predicting things in books, and there’s a lot hinted at but also a lot of possibilities to leave me guessing..