Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Zodiac Academy: Ruthless Fae (Supernatural Beasts and Bullies #2): by Caroline Packham and Susanne Valenti

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: August 30th, 2019
Number of Pages: 517 Pages
Publisher: N/A
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, New Adult Romance

***Warning! This review contains spoilers from this book and the previous in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Zodiac Academy: The Awakening – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

They tried to break us.
They almost did.
But we’re not going anywhere.

The Celestial Heirs think the stars are on their side. But they don’t know what’s coming. Fighting them one on one isn’t an option so we have to be stealthy. Remaining under the radar won’t be easy, but if we pull it off, they’ll never suspect our involvement when their lives start falling apart.

Besides, they’ve already taken us to the brink of hell, what more can they really do?

**THIS IS NOT REVERSE HAREM**

This is a paranormal academy bully romance and forbidden teacher romance. Suitable for Upper YA/NA readers who are fans of Shunned, Cruel Magic and Supernatural Academy.

~~~

Here I am again to gush about how addicted to this series I am! I have seriously been losing sleep over how much I’ve been reading this last week and a half because if I’m not working or sleeping or bathing, my eyes are glued to my kindle devouring this story. It’s really been a great way to get out of a self-diagnosed reading slump I’ve been in for a few months.

I’ve even been slacking on drawing for my new artist Instagram account (@njg.artistry if anyone’s interested, go give it a follow! There’s my shameless self promotion to slip into my review), but seriously, that’s how addicted I am to these books! the bookworm inside my soul has been given life once again after what has been a dry and hot as hell summer as I type this.

This is the second book in the series, and it starts up immediately after what happened at the end of the previous book, and Darcy and Tori have a tough choice to make: do they stay down and return to the mortal realm with their tails between their legs, or do they let what the Heirs did to each of them and let it light a fire under their butts? Darcy remembers her unplanned meeting with Professor Orion and questions if she wants to be defeated and maybe it’s more worth it to stay and fight.

The worldbuilding was more or less the same with the mentioning of the Nymphs, those monsters from the shadow realm and enemy to the Fae; they’re still lingering in the dark corners and getting stronger so we know they’ll come into play later on in the story, they’re not going anywhere! One new thing we did learn is about the different star bonds that can happen between two fae who are destined to be together in different ways: Nebula Allies, Elysian Mates, or Astral Adversaries. They’re pretty self explanatory by the names alone, but read the book for yourself, they’ll go into it more of course.

Of course the major highlight again for me was all the different relationships and dynamics between all the characters. Tory and Darcy of course showing the importance of sisterhood and friendship, and the twins vs. the Heirs and the rivalry there that is FAR from over! They don’t take what the four guys did to them lying down and get some major revenge on them which was actually so satisfying to see happen. I would’ve rolled my eyes if they didn’t go through with all they did because they take the high road and “don’t stoop to their level”….nah fuck that, some people like bullies deserve to have what they’ve done happen to them too, an eye for an eye and all that. I also loved how strategic they get with all of it too since they know that for now they can’t match them with brute strength, but they really quickly learn to hit the guys where it hurts, so way to go ladies!

Darcy and Professor Orion have a VERY interesting relationship after he saved her from Seth and his pack. He’s still a total asshole to just about everyone who talks to him, but it’s so cute to see him secretly have a soft spot for Darcy. He sneakily does little things with his magic to help her, It gets even juicier when it seems like there might be some unrequited and forbidden feelings flowing between them too, but he’s her professor and she’s the student and there are strict rules and repercussions against it, but that only makes it that much hotter! But besides Tory, he may be the funniest character in the whole book because he too has a sharp tongue and can quickly verbally lay out anyone who dares speak up against him. I had my doubts about him in the first book, but the things he does and says in this book really made him grow on me and he seems legit to me now.

‘Stop looking at me like that,’ he snarled.

‘Like what?

‘You know what,’ he snapped. ‘I’m your teacher.

‘I know,’ I balked, horrified at what he was suggesting.

‘Do you?’ he steed forward. I nodded firmly, though I wasn’t sure my body was getting the message because I had the urge to wrap myself around him and kiss him goodbye. ‘Then stop looking at me like that.

‘Then stop looking back, Lance.

– Caroline Peckham & Susanne Valenti, “Zodiac Academy: Ruthless Fae”

Tory has her own romantic situation that’s quickly getting pretty steamy too! She’s kind of possibly got two Heirs interested in her with a possible little love triangle forming with vampire Caleb and dragon-shifter Darius. Things are still pretty tense between her and Darius, like really tense with a few sexually-heated moments, but Caleb is being much more friendly and open to seeing what might happen. There’s definitely a mutual attraction there with Tory and Caleb, and if a hot as hell vampire with blond, wild curls and abs starts hitting on you, what would you do? Her relationship with both males definitely heats up, and there’s also definitely going to be a lot of dramatic moments and angst that goes along with it that is actually so much fun to read!

Speaking of the Heirs, this book you actually get into their heads and they actually have chapters from their perspectives which is a big change from just the twins in the first book. It certainly helps you see into their minds and (maybe) feel a little more for them as characters. Caleb at least seems to be the easiest to like amongst them as he actually is revealed to have remorse over their pranks that went too far, but you see what a shitshow of a family and house that Darius comes from too…It’s not surprising he turned out the way he did if THAT’s how his father is like!

Lots of things are moving forward, tensions and sexual appetites are rising like flames, danger is lurking behind the curtain waiting to strike at the opportune moment, and the books are getting longer! It’s all very exciting and bingeable and more is yet to come!

What I Liked:

  1. The Vega Twins Enact Their Revenge! I LOVE that the twins don’t take the high road and do all that they can to get even with the four Heirs and what they did to them! Tory was a freakin’ badass at the beginning with what she did to Darius to get back at him, and I love that even the goody-two shoes twin Darcy is showing some fire in her spirit as well!
  2. There’s Way More Romance! Oh man does the romance heat up in this second book! There might still not be as much smut as some of you readers are looking for, but rest assured, all in due time! Let the story progress and trust me, it’ll get plenty spicier. Part of the thrill is the slowburn too! I like both circumstances with each twin starting to form, but I’m not gonna lie, I was totally going in thinking this was going to be a reverse harem situation. Then I was like thinking the twins are just gonna share them all? It’d be hot, but I was curious as to how we’d get to that part and have it actually make sense. Part of me was disappointed that’s not the case in these books, but it’s not like there isn’t other hot RH material out there to read instead if that’s just what I’m after!
  3. We See From The Heir’s POV! I liked getting into the heads of the Heirs and even Professor Orion. It adds so much more depth to the story and the complex web of relationships that for advancing in different degrees in this story. Plus, it also makes it easier to distinguish between them more and makes them just feel like more fleshed out characters. I like Caleb and Orion because of this, I’m torn on Darius but literally nothing about that boy is easy, and I’m definitely not that fond of Seth and Max. Max still is the character we’ve gotten the least amount of time with, But Seth can be a real prick sometimes! For someone who’s so extraverted and outgoing and like a human dog, he can be especially cruel out of the four guys…
  4. That Exciting Ending! We learn more about Pitball, which to be honest I still don’t have the biggest understanding of it, but pretty much treat it like this world’s version of Quidditch. BUT, the ending is actually pretty high octane and incredibly exciting and badass, so I was impressed with how much happened all at the stadium!
  5. Geraldine Grus! She was kind of the weird stage five clinger to the twins in the first book, but after she was attacked by a Nymph, the girls felt bad and decided to be friends with her, and she is a hoot! She has all these crazy and expressive sayings and quotes that don’t even make sense half the time, but are still funny nonetheless. They’re like an exaggerated version of Sandy Cheeks in Spongebob when she says something like “that’s crazier than a jackrabbit stuck in a corn barrell” or something weird like that!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How The Heirs Switch Up Behaviors…I don’t like how they’re somewhat nice to the twins when it’s one-on-one, but once it’s all four of them and they’re in front of the student body is when they return to their douchebag ways, and it’s probably what I like least about them, even Caleb and Darius. Like how two faced and scummy to put on a show like that to show off to their classmates….seemed like way too many guys I actually went to high school with….
  2. Lionel Acrux…What a scumbag…if the authors’ goals was to make us instantly detest a guy, they definitely succeeded there! Poor Darius with having a maniacal father like that, but you also meet Xavier and learn that Darius isn’t all bad actually, which is a huge relief at least!

Conclusion:

Overall, I continue to obsess over this series! It’s not as heavy or grand as some of the other fantasy romance titles I’ve read, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it any less too. I just love the characters a whole lot; their dynamics amongst each other and all their morally grey personalities make it a fun and fast read with you aching to see what happens next and who might end up together.

The plot can feel a little slow, what with the slow burn romance and the twins still figuring out their abilities, but with the forbidden romance and the threat of danger about to pop up anywhere, there’s certainly a higher charge to get those faster paced scenes much more often as the story develops. Either way, I can say I’ve still devoured these books and am already halfway through book 5 as I type this review, so let that speak to how much I am enjoying these books!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Zodiac Academy: The Awakening (Supernatural Beasts And Bullies #1): by Caroline Peckham And Susanne Valenti

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: July 13th, 2019
Number of Pages: 498 Pages
Publisher: N/A
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Tears never did anyone any favours, but sometimes they just needed to fall.

– Caroline Peckham & Susan Valenti, “Zodiac Academy: The Awakening”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

You have been selected to attend Zodiac Academy, where your star sign defines your destiny.

If you’re one of the Fae, elemental magic is in your blood. And apparently it’s in ours. As twins born in the month of Gemini, we’re a rare breed even in this academy of supernatural a-holes.

Changelings were outlawed hundreds of years ago but I guess our birth parents didn’t get the memo. Which means we’re totally unprepared for the ruthless world of Fae.

Air. Fire. Water. Earth.

No one has ever harnessed all four of them, until we arrived. And it hasn’t made us any friends so far.

As the rarest Elementals ever known, we’re already a threat to the four celestial heirs; the popular, vindictive bullies who happen to be some of the hottest guys we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that they’re the most dangerous beasts in the Academy. And probably on earth too.

Our fates are intertwined, but they want us gone. They’ve only got until the lunar eclipse to force us out and they’ll stop at nothing to succeed.

We never knew we had a birthright to live up to but now that we do, we intend to claim our throne.

We can’t expect any help from the faculty when it comes to defending ourselves. So if the dragon shifters want some target practice, the werewolves want someone to hunt or the vampires fancy a snack then we have to be ready. But we’ve been looking after each other for a long time and fighting back is in our blood.

Today’s horoscope: totally screwed.

~~~

This is a full-length medium burn novel that is the first in a university-age academy series. Expect forbidden love and bully romance with mature content suitable for upper YA readers and onwards. 

~~~

Okay, but wow….this series is one of those times where I tell myself: “Why didn’t I start these sooner?!” I mean, before I knew it, I’ve blasted through the first three books of this series because it is seriously ADDICTING! These books have been tossed around as highly recommended within the facebook groups I’m a part of for Sarah J. Maas and the From Blood and Ash series by Jennifer Armentrout, and I can say that oh yeah… they’re an utter delight!

I will say maybe it’s not the best writing in terms of craft, but man oh man, that doesn’t matter because the story has just drawn me in, and I’m forcing myself to back up away from them for a second to organize my thoughts and be sure to get it all down on here and in the form of reviews so I can still keep what all happens in each books organized too.

If I had to compare this to other popular fandoms, I’d say this series is reminding me of Harry Potter + Avatar the Last Airbender + Vampire Diaries + Zodiac Signs & Astrology + The Covenant. That I hardly expect a whole lot of people to know, is a movie from 2006 starring Steven Strait and is about a group of four warlocks who’re the last living descendents of the lines of witches from the times of Salem Witch Trials. It’s not the greatest movie, but is decent enough, and let me tell ya….there is plenty of male eye candy in Steven Strait, Taylor Kitsch, Chace Crawford, and even a baby Sebastian Stan! Give it a whirl and see what you think!

This story revolves around twin sisters, Tory and Darcy Vega. Tori is the brash, outspoken chick with a sharp tongue behind her bright red-lipsticked mouth. Darcy is the quieter and more demure of the two, but they’re orphans who share a crummy studio apartment just trying to get by. They’re thieves and have to do whatever it takes to survive, but one night a beautiful stranger pays them a visit and reveals to them that not only are they actually Fae, but they are also the long lost heirs of the former King and Queen of their world! Not wanting to rule when they had no idea this land even existed a day prior, the twins only agree to go with the guy because he says they can claim their birthright and inheritance so long as they graduate from the school and master their magical abilities. Greed wins out, and they’re off!

When they arrive to the school, they’re instantly met with a very torn reaction from their classmates and faculty. They quickly learn how harsh and ruthless the Fae can be, and learn that while they’d been away and their parents no longer alive and/or sitting on the throne, four royal families have stepped up and taken over, and their four heirs are there to also eventually rule. Things of course don’t go well as the four heirs instantly detest the twins at popping in so unexpectedly and taking away what they’ve been told is their birthright to rule one day, and so they all clash and see who’ll be left standing at the end of it all. Tensions rise, pranks go too far, and heinous words and actions are performed all in order to break down their enemies and do whatever it takes to come out victorious.

What really makes things interesting though is the sexual attraction that also builds like a strong current as things escalate! Both sisters deal with their own forbidden romances to really spice things up and pique your interest, but that’s not all! There’s also the threat of bigger and darker things to come as you learn about an enemy race of beings named Nymphs that come from a shadow realm adjacent to their world, and that they are getting stronger and attacks are happening more and more consistently.

Certainly a lot is going on in this series….

I will say the main draw for me is definitely the characters and their dynamics: the sisters, the four heirs, and even the relationships and their undertones the sisters have with the heirs as a group and even individually. Like the blurb says, there’s some forbidden lust that really tugs you along, and it’s even better when it’s paired with animosity and even hatred alongside it. It’s fun!

I suppose I should also give a little introduction to the four heirs too:

Darius Acrux: Dark shorter hair and dark eyes, totally sexy asshole vibes, intense gaze, fire abilities, and the unspoken leader of the four heirs

Seth Capella: Long hair, easily the most extraverted of the four, air abilities, smiles and likes to have physical contact with a lot of people always

Caleb Altair: Wavy blonde hair, cocky, dark blue eyes like an ocean during a storm, abs, dimpled smirk, great kisser, earth abilities, biggest flirt of the four

Max Rigel: Dark Skinned, big muscles, short mohawk, the most charming of the four, water abilities, and has a loud booming voice that commands attention

I have a fancast posted of them too, I definitely say go check it (and them) out!

All four are the biggest and hottest guys on the campus, and things get all nice and twisted as Darcy and Tori deal with everything the guys throw at them, and while I was disappointed there wasn’t as much romance as I’d hoped, at least for this first book, there’s definitely the promise of more to come! I can say that while you know there is more to come, the interactions of bullying mixed with forbidden and sexual tension makes you ask yourself: Okay, but HOW are we going to get to that point?! Yes, unfortunately this first book is pretty tame in terms of smut, BUT again….good things come to those who wait, or stick it out until the later books!

I also want to point out the hot teacher in the book, Orion. Definitely keep your eyes on him, he’s a very interesting character in all this too!

~~~

Why are the hot ones always jerks?

– Caroline Peckham & Susan Valenti, “Zodiac Academy: The Awakening”

What I Liked:

  1. All The Morally Grey Characters! Honestly, part of why I’m really drawn to the characters is that no one is completely likeable. There’s maybe an exception of Sofia, a girl whom the twins befriend at the school, but the fact that a lot of these characters have their a**hole moments makes it all the more fun. The Fae are harsh, backstabbing creatures who crave power and influence, and while the four heirs are enemies to Darcy and Tori, I can say they have moments where they’re somewhat likeable too, but don’t stick to that feeling for too long. WIth the guys, you’ll find yourself going back and forth A LOT on whether you like them or not, and some are already more likeable than others….
  2. The Banter! Tori by far has the best lines in the book, I love her sass and brash demeanor to say things that I wish I had the courage to say out loud to someone who’s being rude to me or is straight up pissing me off. The Banter is also not even about the sexual undertones, but I especially love it between Darius and Tory: so much fire!
  3. All The Mythical Creatures! The magic system is pretty basic where the Fae can have special abilities to the four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Some stronger fae can have abilities to two of them, but no one really goes further than that except for—of course—the twins. It’s not a huge spoiler to be honest, but of course they somehow have abilities with all four. BUT, what I’m also getting at is that there is a hierarchy of mythical creatures that the Fae can transform into like a smashing Hulk. Dragons and Vampires are of course the highest, but then there’s also Gryphons, Sphinx’s, Medusa’s (it really should just be Gorgons), Sirens, Werewolves, Unicorns, and pretty much ALL the major mythical creatures you can think of make appearances, and one mystery is what will the twins be when they’re other form finally manifests itself!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Lack of Romance…Like I said, there’s not a whole lot of romance and smut, so if you’re looking for that here, I can say it’ll happen, but it needs time to develop and build. It’s a bully/forbidden romance, so for the sake of the quality of the story, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense or be nearly as effective. It’s a 6 book (Soon to be 7) series, and you gotta let the anticipation build and so it’s that much more satisfying when it does finally happen! Who doesn’t like a good slow burn?
  2. There Are A Lot of Characters to Learn…So besides the twins and the heirs, there are a lot of side characters introduced and it’s a little jarring to try and memorize all of them. I’m the type of reader who likes to put a face to the name ASAP, and there’s just a whole lot of characters who I don’t know how important they are or what they even look like and my mind goes into overdrive over it!
  3. How Cryptic All The Males Are…Okay to be clear, I love it and hate it at the same time! The males in this book are all so vague in their answers and are all keeping secrets to different degrees and it’s exciting and frustrating all at once! WHo’s the bad guy? Who’s trustworthy? Who’s secretly an allie? Who’s a potential love interest? What are their intentions? I had a similar situation in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning and it really drives the story forward and keeps you reading, but you want to smack these supernatural males upside the head and tell them to give it to you straight already!

Conclusion:

The start of a new series, and I can honestly say I am HOOKED! There’s so much promise of more to come, the anticipation of how we’re going to get to those points and what else could possibly happen is the main driving force of how you’ll maybe fly through this series like I currently am!

I’m actually torn on keeping on task and writing out my next review, but lately all I want to do in my free time is keep reading because I have to find out what happens next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Risk (Briar-U #2): by Elle Kennedy

Publication Date: February 18th, 2019
Number of Pages: 432 Pages
Publisher: Elle Kennedy, Inc.
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning! This review may contain spoilers from the previous book in the series, so continue at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – The Chase – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

A kiss, at its very core, is an emotional experience. Or at least it is for me. Anyone can give me an orgasm, but not everyone can touch my soul. One kiss can make me fall in love with someone.”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Risk”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

A sexy standalone novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy. THE RISK takes you back to the world of hot hockey players, feisty heroines, bro banter, and steamy scenes…

Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.

And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.

I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.

For every fake date…he wants a real one.

Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.

That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.

~~~

Once again my love for fictional college hockey players in books written by Elle Kennedy is lit up like a spark on the Fourth of July because this book was another absolute hit for me!

I tend to switch back and forth between the Romance and Fantasy genres, hopefully both having a little steam to them too, but when I get done with a Fantasy book or series that’s so rich in worldbuilding, an intricately laced together plot, and lots of emotionally driven angst from both the characters and me as I’m reading it, switching from that to a lighter toned, easy read like these books are such a relaxing change of pace for me. they’re the kind of book I can enjoy at the beach now that the summer months are upon us where I’m located as I’m typing this, and they’re easier to put down and come back to several times in a day if needed. They don’t require my full attention in order to fully grasp everything, and that is seriously such a great thing all in it’s own! I certainly appreciate books like that just as much as my thicker and heavier and darker themed Fantasy books too.

Back to this story, this was another Elle Kennedy college romance story that I absolutely devoured, and was a title I enjoyed even more than the previous one! I really enjoyed the pace of it better, I think I related even more to the characters and the issues they faced this time around, and the romance was once again scorching and I couldn’t get enough of it!

This story revolved around Brenna Jensen, who is the daughter of the head coach for the Men’s Hockey Team at the fictional Briar University. She’s got an edge to her with confidence to spare, a mouth that has no qualms about telling someone off when it’s needed, and doesn’t follow orders very well. Hockey has always been in her life and is also one of her big passions that she wants to pursue in her own way.

Next there’s Jake Connelly, whose the captain of the Hockey team at Harvard, who also happens to be one of Briar U’s biggest rivals. He’s a senior who also already has a contract pretty much set up for the NHL once he graduates, so he takes his position very seriously. He plans to have his team go all the way and win the frozen four, and will do whatever it takes to make sure him and none of his teammates get distracted, least of all by girls on the side of the enemy who flirt with his teammates and is possibly gathering intel.

Brenna wants to become a sports broadcaster and has an interview for an internship that is an incredibly opportunity that could also really open some doors for her down the road. Unfortunately, her interviewer and possible future boss is a gigantic sexist pig who already questions her on how a woman has a place in the sports industry, like how much knowledge would a female have about Hockey anyway, right? Brenna does her best to not slap the bejeezus out of him and stay professional, because again this is the opportunity of a lifetime for her, but her hopes and dreams are starting to disappear until the guy admits he’s got his eye on a particular incoming rookie to the NHL, a particular captain of the Harvard hockey team named Jake Connelly. Since they’ve already been talking—well, he’s been warning her to stop distracting his teammates, not that she was really going to listen to him—and hatched a plan to put her even further into that door and lies that Jake and her are a couple and can have them meet! From there, the fake dating and enemies-to-lovers romance tropes commence!

Jake and Brenna quickly became one of my favorite couples that Elle Kennedy created for her books, and I can say I felt the sparks between them even back when they first met back in the previous book. Neither of them wanted to admit it, or maybe weren’t even aware of it at the time, but there was instantly something there! I loved their chemistry, and was a little surprised at how there were some reviews on Goodreads that said the opposite! Not to knock them or their opinion that doesn’t match mine, but you know that strange feeling you get when you feel so strong about something but someone has the complete opposite thought about it than you and you just can’t comprehend it? Well, to be fair, it almost felt like there was the possibility of setting Brenna up with Hollis, one of the Briar-U players who’s also a total comedic relief, but I liked her and Jake much better!

I am honestly starting to question evolution. We went from cavemen, to homo sapiens, to this incredible society of great minds—Alexander Graham Bell inventing telephones, Steve Jobs inventing…everything. And now we’re devolving. We’ve travelled back to cavemen, only nowadays we call them fuckboys.”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Risk”

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Tropes! We’ve got fake dating, we’ve got unlikely allies, we’ve got sleeping with the enemy, forbidden love, and it all just makes this story so much fun to read!
  2. More Smut Than The Previous Book! Yes, The Chase was such a slow-burn with that you don’t get as many sexy scenes as you’d probably like, but this book had a lot more that might make a lot of fans of the author’s books happier in that regards. Brenna and Jake had some really good chemistry in my opinion, and the whole “sleeping with the enemy,” forbidden-ness of them being together certainly added some flair to the mix. These two were smoldering towards each other ever since they ran into each other in the first book, and it was only a matter of time before something erupted between them!
  3. The Comedy and the Banter! I mean, I think I point this factor out with literally every Elle Kennedy book review I’ve done by this point, but it’s seriously such a highlight for me everytime I open one of her books! The back-and-forths her characters have always have me chuckling on the side and also making me believe in the credibility in the romance between them. And Elle Kennedy also always has some running joke that continues throughout each book; this time it’s the….interesting relationship between Hollis and an incredibly extra freshman, Rupi. I didn’t hate their side relationship to the story, and it certainly made me laugh a few times, but it was a lot all at the same time.
  4. The Realistic Issues! The outer issues the characters face in the Briar-U series are so much better done and much more realistic than the ones in the Off-Campus series! Not that I didn’t love some of the drama back then, but I can admit that sometimes it got a little over the top. Once again Elle Kennedy tackles a heavier subject matter that a lot of women of all ages face: misogyny in the workplace. Brenna’s goal is to get an internship for her sports broadcasting dream career, but her boss is such a narrow minded prick when it comes to women and their roles in society, like part of me couldn’t even fathom that women all over actually get treated this way! This book also deals with the guilt one feels after a traumatic past experience that haunts them even years later, AKA survivors guilt. People make bad decisions all the time, and just because you love—or loved—someone at the time when they were making those bad life choices in no way should reflect upon you no matter what you may tell yourself. It’s an actual thing, and many people have probably suffered this in their lives over something, and I thought it was an inner issue that was handled well in this book, and sheds a light on a condition that honestly doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition but like I said, a lot of people have probably experienced it at some point in their lives and haven’t addressed about it as much as they’d have liked. The strained relationship between Brenna and her father was also another issue that was a great addition to the story, and the development of it throughout this story is something to take note of!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Jake’s Childhood Friend, Hazel…I just didn’t see much of a need to include her in the story to be honest. I thought there was a strange amount of emphasis put upon her when she came into the story, and part of me thought it meant that she was going to be a future love interest and/or main character for one of the future books. Luckily for me, that’s not the case, but all in all I just didn’t really care much for her addition to the story. I felt like she just added unnecessary conflict to the plot that could’ve done just as well without her.

Conclusion:

Yet another fun, hilarious, and sexy novel written by one of my favorite New Adult Romance authors, The Risk has everything you love about her books for those who are familiar with her work, but also is easy enough to jump into for those who are newer and just starting out with her as well!

These books are just such a nice change of pace sometimes from the darker and heavier themes I read in a lot of my Fantasy genre books, I’d just finished The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout as I’m typing this, and while I absolutely adored it, I have to admit I need a little space from Fantasy for at least like three books. I think I actually need a recovery from a book, and that is such a strange feeling for me!

Elle Kennedy’s college romance books are just lighter, easier, and remarkable in a way that’s way different from those other books, but I love them all the same and appreciate them in my life! For those who also read these, Hunter Davenport is the star of the next book in this series, and with his story arc so far in these books, it’ll certainly be interesting to see him center-stage and (of course) get his own little HEA.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: April 20th, 2021
Number of Pages: 600 Pages
Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus others in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – From Blood And Ash – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

‘You need to understand that I will do anything and everything for my wife.’ Casteel’s gaze latched on to his father‘s. ‘No risk is too great, nor is anything too sacred. Because she is my everything. There is nothing greater than her, and I do mean nothing.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout comes book three in her Blood and Ash series…

She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

~~~

Wow wow wow wow wow was what I kept repeating to myself as I finished this book a couple days ago as I’m typing this review up. The third book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash was an absolute tornado that hit me right in the chest more than any other book in quite some time, and it took me a couple days to allow myself to soak it all in and collect my thoughts as I make sense of the pure craziness that happens in the last chunk of this book. I mean, the Admin of the Facebook group for these books said this one was going to absolutely wreck us as a fandom, and while I wasn’t on the floor weeping my eyes out or throwing my book across the room in a fit of heartbroken rage, I can say that yeah…that sequence really left an impression on me as a reader. I am filled with wonder, with shock, and most of all I get chills running down my arms because I have to say to the author: BRAVO!

The world and the story that this author has created somehow just continues to get bigger and bigger with every book, and JLA reached heights that I honestly didn’t even know it’d get to with all the information I now know surrounding Poppy, The Ascended, Queen Ileana, Queen Eloana, and even the gods that are now starting to wake back up on the brink of war! I remember thinking back when the first book came out and how maybe it was going to be a really good knight/princess centric romance, but OHHHHHHHH am I wrong and so happy to be so! It’s reached Sarah J. Maas level of amazingness with all the worldbuilding, the shocking twists, the bitter betrayals, the many different kinds of magical beings, and of course the steamy and heartwarming romance.

Whenever I get these books in my hands, and I do the more expensive hardcover versions from Barnes & Noble because I try to purchase anything off Amazon as a last resort after working there, I really take my time and slowly read so that I can savor all of it. Too many times in the past have I completely binge-read a book in two days and then I stare blankly at the wall as I realize I have to wait a whole other year until the next one releases. I guess it helps a little, but in reality I also already finished it and it still feels like it will be forever until I find out what happens next in this series. The next book will be a prequel, which is going to be released later in fall 2021.

There’s also so much growth that happens in this book in multiple ways: both Poppy and Cas as individuals and as husband and wife. Poppy continues to change even this far into the series, and she gains more and more confidence in her abilities, both normal and magical. As she discovers more and more about her past, she she also learns whose in her corner and who will betray her all the same. She becomes so much stronger and badass too; that ending gave me some series Daenerys Targaryen Khaleesi vibes that felt so powerful considering she started off as the pure and demure maiden at the very beginning. Casteel slowly learns to open up and let himself be vulnerable in front of her too, he admits/confesses things that he’s told no one else, and shows pure emotion when Poppy hears it all yet continues to stay by his side. His past is so dark and tragic, and you can tell it means more to him than he says when Poppy reassures him and reveals her true feelings to him as well. The softer moments when these two are alone and continue to just talk and get to know each other as a normal couple are some very low-key amazing moments that helps elevate their status as one of the best couples in Fantasy literature. While becoming more intimate in more ways than one (both smutty and intellectually), they also quickly learn to take on the hard task of learning to rule a kingdom while everything is going on with the Ascended and the possibility of war on the horizon. They have to become ruthless and make a lot of hard decisions in order to help keep their land and their people safe, and it was fun to see them as they held their own against players of the game of thrones who’ve been around for centuries when compared to themselves.

‘You will bow before your Queen.’ Casteel eyed the Atlantian coolly. ‘Or you will bleed before her. It is your choice.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What I Liked:

  1. Poppy Continues to Grow/Develop As A Character! Like I said, her growth is seriously so amazing to read in this whole series. She becomes more confident in herself and her love for Casteel, and even grows quite a backbone when dealing with royals, nobility, and even celestial beings from another realm!
  2. SO MANY NEW CHARACTERS! But actually though…it’s crazy all the new faces we see in this third book, some are names we’ve been hearing about for quite some time now, while others are names you never thought you’d actually meet up with. First, there’s Casteel’s parents, King Valyn and Queen Eloana. Second, there’s Ian and Malec, both are brothers of our two main characters. There’s the infamous Miss Willa Colyns, who was such a total delight to finally meet! There’s a little reveal about her that I cheered with glee for that was absolutely hilarious! There’s Nyktos, the king of the Gods, who was also kind of an obvious addition considering the next book will be a prequel starring him. Then there’s Queen Ileana, the Blood Queen whose in charge of all the vamprys of the Ascended. She’s a real piece of work, that’s for sure!
  3. The Revenants! This was a very interesting concept that was introduced in this book, and while I guess it includes new characters, I wanted this to have its own part on the list. Let’s just say for now that the Blood Queen has a lot tricks and twists up her sleeves.
  4. Poppy’s Mysterious Backstory Finally Explained! This part was the big climax, and wow oh wow was it done in spectacular dramatics! There was so many twisting reveals, it’s no surprise that no one correctly guessed it on the FB group in the months leading up to this book’s arrival! I mean, with how complicated it all gets, who could’ve possibly gotten even close to how complex this whole family tree gets?!
  5. Casteel Continues To Be Book Husband GOALS! Rhysand who? But seriously, Casteel Da’Neer continues to raise the bar for ALL men who love that special someone in their lives. Like I mentioned before, he grows a lot too in this book and allows himself to show vulnerability and raw emotions when it comes to Poppy, and even better how he doesn’t get his masculinity called into question when Poppy becomes so much more powerful than him. He actually gets turned on by it, which for him is totally normal.
  6. Dragons! Yessssssssss Dragons…well Drakens to be more specific, but basically the same thing! Going to the lands of the gods, Poppy learns that Nyktos had his own group of warriors who could transform into Drakens at will and protect their land. You don’t see as much of them as you’d probably like if I’m being honest, but the set up with them for sure gets you excited for the later books down the road.
  7. There’s Set Up For The Prequel Coming Out Later! For those not in this FB group (The Blood and Ash Spoiler Group), it’s obvious that the next book out will not be the next book in this series, but actually will be a prequel that starts a new side series, and stars the King of the Gods, Nyktos. A Shadow In the Ember will come out October 19th, 2021 according to Goodreads, and there is a ton of set up for it for when it comes out. This just all adds to how much bigger and grander this whole story has become thanks to Jennifer L. Armentrout’s brilliant creative writing skills, like it makes me want to get back into my writing even more!
  8. The Smut! Oh yeah, those of us in the fandom are always looking for the steamy scenes that Poppy and Cas have in these books, and they didn’t disappoint in any way! Their passion continues to heat up the pages, and even get to try some new things out *wink*wink*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Slower Midpoint In This Book…The beginning started off on such a strong note, but once it got itself all sorted out and things slowed down for a bit of the middle of the book, I found myself a little bored in all honesty. Sure, we got to see moments where Cas and Poppy get closer than ever, but my boredom was also beginning to make me worry; Was I losing interest in this book? Was I losing interest in this series? What’s going on with the Ascended? Are we just going to be forgetting about them for awhile? Luckily, my faith was restored later on in the book when the tornado hit when we finally meet the Queen. I’ll try to remember to keep my faith in JLA as an author after that!
  2. No Joining Scene…Yep, I’m on that side of the fandom. It’s been so funny to see how torn all of us fans are when it comes to all this, which is a threeway by the way. I’m all for supporting polyamorous relationships, and while maybe I can agree that maybe for this particular story it’s not as important of needing to happen, I wouldn’t mind if we got at least one scene where this goes down. So I was disappointed that it didn’t happen, BUT there was a scene with some interesting voyeurism going on that continues my hope that maybe it’ll happen! There are plenty of more books set to come out for this series, so that also means plenty of more opportunities to make it happen!
  3. The Repetitive Worldbuilding Formula…There were some major info-dumps in this book, and the way it’s all told to us as an audience has just gotten a little old for me. Basically with how Poppy has so many questions—much to Keiran’s dismay—and then either Kieran or Jasper are the human encyclopedias who have all the information she needs. It’s a formula that’s been used several times now, and maybe it didn’t matter as much to other readers, but I personally am getting a little bored with it by this point because it’s happened so many times already. I don’t know, maybe there just needs to be new ways JLA can give us this information if there still is by this point in the series.
  4. The Too Close To Matching Names of Big Characters…Malik and Malec, Eloana and Ileana…I know in a lot of Fantasy novels/series that sometimes people just have similar names, but it was getting a little annoying how close these names were, sometimes I got them mixed up. Is it Mal-Lick and Mal-leek? Il-ianna and El-oh-ana? that’s how I’ve been pronouncing them so far up to this point!

~~~

The dimple in his right cheek appeared, and he dipped his head, kissing just above my brow and then lower, over the scar. ‘Princess?

My lips curved up. What had started as a nickname had become a reality. ‘Yes?

His mouth moved over mine. ‘I love you.

The smile on my face grew as my heart did a little skip in my chest. ‘I love you.‘”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

Conclusion:

What a wild ride filled with just about everything you need to have an epic fantasy adventure: danger, drama, suspense, romance, humor, friendship, history, so many amazing characters, and shocking twists that take your breath away! This Blood and Ash series is literally EVERYTHING and was so enjoyable of a book for me. It would have been absolutely perfect if not for the slow midpoint for me, but with all that happens in the last chunk of it, it almost makes up for any boredom or concern I had at that point in my time reading this book.

I’ve never been a big fan of prequels, I always feel like they’re so limited in how far they can go as a story because they’re literally just set up for something you’ve already seen or read. In a way, you already know whats going to end up happening in the end, and the predictability factor of that isn’t all that interesting to me, so while I’m still looking forward to A Shadow in the Embers coming out this October that will shed some light on Nyktos and the Gods and all the rich history there, I’m not nearly as excited as I would be if book #4 of Blood and Ash was being released instead. Still, I trust JLA as an author by this point, so I’ll keep my inner reservation and reluctance and negativity to a minimum and I give this prequel a chance.

Blood and Ash book #4 is set to release March 2022 with the title and exact date to come at a later time than as I’m typing this review, but I’m sure those who’ve also finished this book can agree with me when I say that March feels like such a long ass time away!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Fake It ‘Til You Break It: by Meagan Brandy

Publish Date: February 5th, 2020
Number of Pages: 367 Pages
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre(s): New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

You don’t have to be looking to find the best fucking thing for you. Sometimes all you have to do is open your eyes and realize it found you first.”

– Meagan Brandy, “Fake it ‘TIl You Break It”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Fake.
That’s what we are.
That’s what we agreed to be.

I thought it would be harder, convincing everyone our school’s star receiver was mine and mine alone, but we played our parts well.

So well, the lines between us began to blur until they disappeared completely.

The thing about pretending, though, someone’s always better at it, and by the time I realized my mistake, there was no going back.

I fell for our lie.
And then everything fell apart.

It turned out, he and I were never playing the same game.

He didn’t have to break me to win.
But he did it anyway.

~~~

This was my first Meagan Brandy novel, and while I wasn’t exactly blown away, I can say that she can also certainly write an engaging romance novel that had me turning the pages late into the night to see what happened next. She wrote a “fake dating” circumstance here, and I’m always a huge sucker for those kinds of stories! They’re always so much fun to read for me, it’s almost as fun as the good ‘ole “Enemies to Lovers” trope.

I especially liked the two main characters, Demi and Nico. They were far from perfect, but incredibly engaging with their own inner conflicts and how things were revealed as the plot thickened with that plus their developing feelings for each other while they kept up the ruse that they were together. This was by far the best part of the whole novel!

The side characters left a lot to be desired unfortunately…the parents were either the usual richie-rich, barely there types or the drugged out type who can’t even take care of themselves, and just everything about them seemed so extra and over the top. There was also an excessive amount of best friends and ex’s that honestly made it hard to remember everyone at some points in the story. There were way more than necessary, and I go more into it all later on in my review, but I think you get the point already.

The romance was done incredibly well, it was a really drawn out slow burn that I’m sure other readers have squirmed in their reading space when things finally get a little more heated. It also feels a little weird for me to be reading new adult romance that takes place in high school considering I’m 27 years old, but hey…smut is smut. There was a spicy scene right away that felt a little out of place, but was hot all the same (maybe, maybe not depending what you’re into I guess), but the spicy scenes were pretty decent for anyone who wants to know, but may be too shy to admit it (I’m here for ya boo).

‘Don’t play, baby.’

‘Tell me I am,’ I rasp. When his brows dip, I continue. ‘Your baby.’ My eyes hit his. ‘For reals, not for fakes. For keeps, not for now.’

The heavy thump of his heart beats against my hand, and I flatten my palm there, not wanting to miss the way it’s climbing.

‘Pixie.’ He leans in, brushing his lips over mine. ‘You are. You’ve been,’ he stresses. ‘Even when you had no fuckin’ clue… you were my baby.’

– Meagan Brandy, “Fake it ‘Til You Break It”

What I Liked:

  1. I’m A Sucker For The Fake Dating Trope! I could read just about any romance novel with this setup, because there’s something about two people who (usually) despise each other off the bat but also slowly but surely fall for each other and there’s so much angst with them hiding their true feelings from each other until they can’t take it anymore…ugh, I just love it! If you’re someone who loves this romance trope, I can assure you that you’ll probably enjoy this title for this aspect of the story alone. It helps that there was some major chemistry between Nico and Demi too; I loved how their dynamic changed throughout the story as they became more aware of who they were as individuals and who the other person was too, and while I was not entirely a fan of all the last minute drama tossed in at the last minute of the story, there was some throughout the middle that helped test their feelings for each other and (eventually) truly toss them together! I especially really enjoyed when it’s revealed how Nico’s had feelings for her for years, and how far his feelings actually went with her,
  2. Nico Is Kind Of A D-Bag! I know this seems like a really odd thing to like, but it was somewhat refreshing to have the main male main character be really questionable in his actions and words. He’s a stoic, quiet presence but also has a man-whore kind of reputation, and he’s not afraid to tear people to shreds with his words. While he may seem like a total D-bag to some readers, I at least still found him likeable despite his behavior, and it also helps that Demi totally calls him out on his BS several times too! It also helps that you learn more about him as you read on and learn the motives behind how things came to be as well, it definitely helps shed some new light on him if you’re reading this and are not a fan of his, just to keep in mind!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Lot of Last Minute Drama Added In…So while there were a few key pieces of conflict thrown in throughout the midpoint of the story to make things more difficult for our fake couple and their true feelings, the last chunk of the book had some major swerves thrown in that only threw me off with the pacing of the whole book to be honest. It felt excessive and way over the top, and sure I was pleading with the author to “just let them be together already,” it wasn’t for a good thing here…This sort of thing made the whole ending feel so clumped together and rushed, which is my usual critique of romance novels if you’ve been reading them as I post them over the years. The drama with Trent was actually pretty well done actually, that I will give kudos for.
  2. The Writing Is Really Repetitive…There’s a constant mention of lip licking or biting whenever a character is turned on or notices when the other does something involving their lips, and it gave me 50 Shades of Grey PTSD with the constant lip biting mentioned…A couple of times would’ve been fine I guess, but it got old really quick.
  3. The Excessive Side Characters…I feel like the amount of side characters this book had wasn’t necessary and a few of them could’ve been cut with another round of editing. The group of girlfriends were funny at times, but also annoying at plenty of other times, and I feel like there definitely didn’t need to be four of them. We never really get any sort of description of what they look like either, which to me shows even the author feels like you could just toss in some random face and you’re fine with that so long as you can remember any face to the names. Maybe just two friends would’ve been just as effective in telling the story, and while we’re at it: maybe there didn’t need to be three romantic rivals Demi has to deal with when it comes to Nico’s past conquests. We get it: he’s got a past and it comes to bite them both in the butt later on, but again I feel like maybe two of them could’ve been combined as characters and it would’ve been just as effective of a situation.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun and entertaining read if you love the whole “fake dating” romance trope long with romance set in high school, or opposites attract; any fans of those should really consider adding this book to their TBR stack in the near future. It wasn’t an amazing book by any means, but you definitely become invested in Nico and Demi’s relationship when it gets going in the story!

I feel like fans of authors like Penelope Douglas and L.J. Shen will like this author’s book and (maybe) other titles too, they all kind of fit the same category with new adult romance set in high school aged characters, but this one I’d say was more on the tame side when compared to their works. It doesn’t get as dark and gritty as these other authors’ books I’ve read, but the writing style and circumstances that happen in the plot feel somewhat similar to me.

It was a nice standalone to read in between the bigger and heavier books in series that I’m reading too; this was a super quick read which is also appreciated, I’d say I’m interested enough to see what else Meagan Brandy has in her arsenal of romance novels if one ever comes my way.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell