Book Review

Zodiac Academy: The Awakening

Zodiac Academy: The Awakening

  • Author: Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: September 8, 2021
  • Publisher: Independently Published
  • Series: Zodiac Academy #1

CONTENT WARNING: extreme bullying, blood, violence

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

I’ve seen this book all over BookTok, and figured I’d give it a shot. However, now that I’ve read it, I honestly have no idea why everyone is raving about this book. Normally, if I have to write a negative review, I try to find at least some positives to start with, but after reading the entire thing and seriously trying hard to find positives to highlight, I can’t seem to find a single one. And while I’m supportive of indie authors, books like this give indie books and authors a terrible reputation. Let me explain what it was about this book that made it impossible for me to like, or even rate with a full star. 

Tory and Darcy are twins who grew up in foster care after the death of their parents when they were very young. We’re told that they’re tough, street-smart, and untrusting of others, despite all evidence to the contrary. For two girls who spent basically their entire lives in foster care, they’re not very smart, and they’re incredibly trusting of others. We’re also told how powerful they are, but every chance they have to use their powers seems to result in an epic fail. There’s so much telling rather than showing, especially when what we’re shown about them is exactly the opposite of what we’re told.

It doesn’t help that the two characters have identical voices, so that it’s impossible to tell the difference between their POV chapters, let alone be able to remember their different experiences. The only way I could tell who was narrating was the name listed at the beginning of the chapter, or if they mentioned their name during the chapter. And since the chapters weren’t short ones, it was hard to figure out what was happening to who.

Although the book blurb claims that there’s “forbidden love and bully romance,” the entire book consisted of extreme bullying, with no romance or love at all. Like, that’s the whole plot. I couldn’t find anything even close to resembling any sort of plot throughout the story. And I posted that I was starting this on TikTok and everybody came out of the woodwork to tell me how great it is, and how it really starts to get good in book 3, after the painful experience of suffering through an entire book, I couldn’t see myself reading further into this mess. Not even if someone paid me to. 

I was bullied throughout my school years. I’m sure at least a few of my readers can relate, although my experiences weren’t nearly as severe as what was going on in this school. As in, I never had to fear for my life like the characters seemed to. And honestly? I never found my bullies as attractive or irresistible people. Every time I saw them, all I could see was the ugly and horrible things that they said and did. Yet somehow, while fighting for their lives, these girls managed to find their bullies as super hot and found themselves unable to resist them. If I had ever found myself held against the chest of my bully, I would have been fighting to get away, not justifying how great it feels and that it isn’t the worst place to be. Like one of the twins (can’t remember which one, obviously) does here:

“And as much as I would have liked to deny it, being held against Darius Acrux’s broad chest really wasn’t the worst place a girl could find herself.”

The story is written in British English, but takes place, at least at the beginning, in Chicago. I don’t have any issue with authors writing in places they don’t live in, although I would at least expect them to do basic research. Because I’m somehow supposed to believe that there is an apartment in a major city in America that costs less than $350 a month for two people to live in? In 2019? I don’t think so. If that’s all the rent costs them, why couldn’t one of them just get a minimum wage job? It would have been more than enough to cover rent, and they wouldn’t have had to turn to a life of crime.

“This money was our future. In this precious brick hole was nearly two thousand dollars. Enough for six months rent in our apartment.”

There’s other examples of British stuff coming along throughout the book, with the Chicago-based twins using terms that Americans just don’t use. Like pumps instead of heels. Who even uses that word other than middle-aged or older people here in America? The last time I heard it used widely was in the late 80s, with the Easy Spirit commercial. “Looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker.” They also refer to flip-flops as “thongs,” which has a totally different meaning here, and I’ve never heard any American call a mailman a “postie.” And then to add to the hot mess, a character who is known for making ridiculous statements, but grew up in Solaria, an alternate/parallel universe to our own, throws this out there, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell a jammy dodger even is:

“‘Holy jammy dodgers on a diamond-encrusted plate!’”

The problems don’t stop there. Apparently the authors thought it was important to get a Spanish-speaking character in there, who randomly throws in Spanish words, despite the authors seeming to have no basic understanding of Spanish. As in, the nouns are gendered, and gender of the article has to match the gender of the word it’s referring to. And I’m no expert on Spanish, since I can communicate at an intermediate level, but this kind of stuff is taught along with the basics. So the female twins would have been las gemelas, not this:

“‘You’re Los Gemelas Vega -sorry, the Vega Twins.’”

Spanish isn’t the only language that suffers in this book. The authors consistently made groan-worthy spelling errors, like talking about “a sweep of plumb lipstick.” It’s kind of hard to get invested in a book when these issues just leap off the page. And trust me, they do for me. I’ve done my share of proofreading, and it seems like this book just didn’t get proofread at all. Or even maybe spell-checked. There’s an acronym which winds up being A.S.S., but the authors left the last period out more than half the time. And then to come across a sexy scene, which I wasn’t invested in anyway, but to find horrific spelling errors since the authors don’t know the difference between homonyms? It completely took me out of the story. The final straw came at the end, when they used “disburse” instead of “disperse.”

“But as I raised my hands to his chest with the full intention to shove him off, I found my fingers roaming over the hard plains of his muscles instead.”

“He resumed his assent up my thigh, his thumb pressing down exactly where I wanted it and forcing me to release a gasp of pleasure against his lips.”

For a book with no plot, no character development, no intrigue, and absolutely no plot twists, how could I possibly rate this book higher than half a star? I would have rated it with absolutely no stars if I could. How is this book even popular? It’s horribly written, poorly plotted, and completely unintriguing. I would have DNF’d it, but people kept assuring me how good it was and how much better it gets, even though I never saw that. All I really wanted to know was what Order the girls belong to, but to find that out, I’d have to read further into the series, so instead I found it on the internet. It was a lot easier and less painful than reading farther into this series, which I can only chalk up as a horrific experience I have no desire to continue.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: Not a single one.  In 373 long pages.

6 replies »

  1. I’m noticing a trend with book recommendations from TikTok. Granted, some of the books were “popular” before being featured on the app, but if books continue to be nothing more than “hyped up,” then #booktok is going to fail.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If this is what booktok considers a “good book,” I have serious reservations about taking more of their suggestions. 😂 This is a dumpster fire that is trying to pass itself off as an actual book.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t want to say Teens are responsible for “bad book trends” because many of them can tell the difference between a “good” book and a “dumpster fire.”

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve seen a lot of adults defending how good this book is too! I’m shocked, and can’t imagine reading more even though everyone seems to say it gets better in books 3-4. Im too disgusted to even try going further.

        Liked by 2 people

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