BOOK REVIEW: TRICK by Natalia Jaster

TrickTrick by Natalia Jaster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When we read, do we do it to devour a story, or for it to devour us?

I lost myself in this story. When I found Trick, I was so sick with a cold that I could do nothing but lie under the covers with hot tea and DayQuil, but when I read it, my cold was quickly forgotten and the story devoured me completely.

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Allow me to explain, sweetings…

TRICK is a story that contains the essence of some of our favorite and familiar tropes, but instead of force-feeding us the usual bag ‘o tricks (no pun intended), a new twist is created, a new hero is born, and a new type of love interest is unveiled. TRICK follows our MC, Briar, who is the princess of the Autumn kingdom, through a self-transformation process that is ignited through meeting a very special court jester named Poet. Poet is not everything you assume at first. Poet is so many things, and may represent a different shade in everyone who reads him. My reaction to him was visceral—I fell in love with him, his quick wit…his brooding, layered heart, and I fell even more so when I learned about his secret. We never quite find out his real name…and my god it somehow made me want him more. Well played, Natalia.

The Characters 5/5: The character development in TRICK is astounding. None of the characters are the same by the time you reach the end. Multiple character arcs are extremely difficult to write, and Natalia has achieved it beautifully.

The Plot 5/5: A certain central plot (biting my lip trying to stay spoiler-free!) becomes extremely important (especially to Poet) and emotionally very heavy. I found this plot was a very brave move as I do not think I have encountered such a theme before in fiction writing. It’s uncomfortable to see some of the characters react the way they do, and I think Natalia uses this discomfort to illustrate exactly why it needs to be addressed. It is a very real issue that I believe is relatable to modern society.

The Romance 5/5: *Fans self*…Someone turn on the AC, this one gets steamy, guys. Tastefully written, the romance alone would keep a reader entangled in the pages. I will never think of a man in tights the same.


Adult content: I would advise adult discretion before allowing anyone under 18 to read this story. Adult themes including sexuality, masturbation, violence, and ableism are all encountered (albeit beautifully written!)

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Furyborn (Empirium, #1)Furyborn by Claire Legrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An enormous thank-you is owed to the publisher for this ARC of FURYBORN and to NetGalley. I feel a kinship to Rielle and Eliana in trying to obtain a copy. It is with profound gratitude and excitement that I write this review.

Soon to be published in May 2018, you won’t want to miss this masterpiece!

I’m sitting on the floor, breathless, my ears ringing. Have you ever finished a book, then don’t even know where to go from there?

Reading this book was like free falling off of a mountain and…oh wait, that gives too much away.

Action-packed with non-stop adventure and intrigue, Furyborn had me hooked from beginning to end. Legrand captivates reader’s minds with language that flows from scene to scene with perfect imagery. This story hits the ground running and it doesn’t stop.

The story opens with a long but fascinating prologue. It explains the ending more then the beginning, as most prologues do. As the story unfolded, I found myself flipping back to the prologue and gaining a new perspective each time. Most prologues are vague and easy to forget. This one digs its nails in.

A dual narrative from two POV’s ping-pongs back and forth, hundreds of years apart in FURYBORN. Two strong female leads, Rielle and Eliana, embark on their own journey of self discovery, each finding out that (of course) not all is as it seems. Engaging the familiar tournament trope, Rielle’s narrative is a fresh take and keeps readers engaged and cheering her on for success. Eliana takes an anti-hero narrative, slashing her way through morally gray areas. Over time, I fell for them both as I presume so many readers will.

The world building was incredible. The religion, geography, and magic was detailed and was used impeccably to push the story forward. The character’s personal growth, relationships, and decisions all were deeply infused with their character arc. I feel like I know these characters as actual people. Not many books achieve that.

I cannot wait for the next two books in the trilogy!

Characters 5/5: First person POV always gets us into a character’s head. Legrand captures this beautifully.
Readability 5/5: Make sure you’re well-hydrated. It’s hard to tear yourself away.
World Building 5/5: Amazing detail. I want to visit!
Romance 5/5: Is it hot in here? Ok there is definitely a romance thread in this story within both POV narratives. I won’t say more than that. That being said, don’t read chapter 41 around your grandmother…


Parents and adult guardians should use their judgement for younger readers as there are scenes that include violence and abuse, masturbation, and explicit scenes of sexuality.

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BOOK SIGNING: Erin Summerill & Tricia Levenseller

Erin and Tricia

One of my favorite parts of reading and writing is getting to connect with others who have been traditionally published in the field. It is so fun to see how excited authors are about writing novels and telling the story behind their books.

Last month in Boise at my favorite independent bookstore, The Rediscovered Bookshop, I attended a book signing by Erin Summerill and Tricia Levenseller.  They interviewed each other about their books, then they opened the floor for guest questions.

They answered some great questions about their writing process, plot-building, other books they are inspired by, and my favorite: world building. Tricia recommends playing video games for world building as well as excellent practice for fight-scene writing.

I was fortunate to ask a few questions about each author’s writing process. I was curious about how Erin gets into “writing mode”.  Her favorite setting in which to write? A single room in her house, candles alight, instrumental music playing, where nothing but writing is allowed. There is always Cherry Coke and some Hot Tamales present as well. Her mascots include her cats, which make perfect writing buddies.

She guessed I was a writer when I got to speak to her one-on-one at the signing. Erin signed my copy of EVER THE BRAVE and I took home a cute mash-up pin from both authors, made by the team at The Rediscovered Bookshop.

Her advice to me for writing was simple: Keep going.

Photo Feb 28, 8 24 16 PM



Six Words & Phrases to Stop Using RIGHT NOW

WORDS&PHRASESRain teems down outside as you cozy up to the crisp pages of a new book, snug under your new fleece blanket and latest #bookish socks. You’re coasting along, line after line, eating up the words and losing yourself to the delicious story.

Suddenly, there it is. That word. Like nails on a chalkboard, the word comes screaming into your mind, like an unwelcome wild animal hissing and ripping up the furniture. There are certain words or phrases that just rub some readers and writers the wrong way. Some are overused, annoying, and totally cliché, while others just sound gross.

What is my word?


EVERYTHING is apparently “glinting” in stories. The moon, people’s teeth, glass on the ground, spilled water, you name it. I find it is a crutch word for some kind of light reflecting off of a surface, but it is so overused that when I see it, I am immediately taken out of what I am reading and thrown back into reality. Ew.

My solution? A $7.99 paperback thesaurus. Cheap, organized, and full of creative alternatives: Sparkle, flash, gleam, glimmer, shine, twinkle, shimmer…

A fantastic set of resources I have fallen in love with are the thesauri from Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. I am obsessed with these, especially the emotion thesaurus, negative trait thesaurus, and emotional wound thesaurus. They all aim to elevate your storytelling and are absolutely worth checking out. Another resource I love to use when trying to drum up better descriptions and phrasing is a site called Descriptionari.

Here are a few more words and phrases to stop using:

Bile: There are apparently a staggering number of characters in books that have gastric problems since they all seem to be in need of an antacid, stat. Phrases such as “Bile rose in her throat” or “I tasted bile in my mouth” are popular. Please, just…don’t.

Releasing a breath: Not only do many characters have GERD as mentioned above, but also seem to be holding their breath. They will then release this breath that they weren’t aware of. Most characters don’t hold their breath, but this phrase is commonly used to show a physical representation of tension inside a character. Consider a switch to something more unique such as “I took a sharp inhale, then the tension in my chest eased as I finally let it go.”

Very: Very strong, very weird, very high, very wet, very gray, very tired…you get it. It’s boring.

Shaking one’s head: You see it everywhere, but most characters don’t really need to do this. In some cases, it may work, however, it may be fitting to re-word so it isn’t so cliché.

Clench: A lot of things clenching here, folks. Clenched jaws, hands, eyelids, fists… How about grasp, clamp, clasp, clinch (this is a real word, check it out), clutch, constrict, contract, grapple, grip, and hold? Or better yet, twist them into a more original, unique phrasing such as changing “My jaw clenched” to “The muscles along my jaw knotted.”

AN ARMY OF ADVERBS: (These are words that end with “-ly”). This isn’t a phrase per se, but rather a trend within a string of paragraphs. In a book I read late last year, I came across so many adverbs in the writing that it abruptly (see what I did there?) took me out of the story. A few dashed here and there are fine to sneak in, but please don’t let them build up.

What are your trigger words and phrases?




BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book stole the breath straight from my lungs. It is rare that I fall so hard for a book that I feel somewhat lost after it is over.

This is one of those stories.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black follows the story of our MC, Jude, who is taken to live in Faerie with her twin sister, Taryn, and older sister, Vivi, after some…um…family drama. She is mortal, while her….family…is not. While she is raised in Faerie, she is constantly reminded of her mortal status. She is belittled by classmates and bullied. At first, I thought this story would be just any old ‘bullying’ story, showing an MC overcoming their fears to stand up and fight for their dignity.

Boy, was I wrong.

Jude is CRAZY. I LOVE HER. She is so complex (as are all of the characters), that Black manages to knock the old tropes out of the park and completely re-invent character development. There are no “good guys” vs “bad guys” here. Everyone is a little bit grey…and that is what makes them all so interesting. You fall far into Jude’s head, her motivations, and her desires. You feel her heartbeat. My hat, truly, is tipped to Black for her amazing character development.

“Before, I never knew how far I would go. Now I believe I have the answer. I will go as far as there is to go. I will go way too far.” -Jude

The world building is also excellent. I was hoping for a little more geographical expansion as there are places only described to make the world feel bigger, however, most of the action actually takes place in 3-4 settings. I am hoping by Book 2 the world maybe opens up a little more.

The plot is deep, twisty, and dark. Some twists I expected and others were a complete surprise. The politics and drama of the fae world do not seem like ones I would want to get involved with!

Fans of fae fantasy stories, strong female leads, anti-hero tropes, drama/politics, and spies will love this one!

This book is appropriate for younger readers as you will not find explicit sexuality or inappropriate themes. Triggers include violence and bullying.

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Tackling YA Fiction Tropes: Too Cliché?


“He stands there, alone and silent, in the moonlight—tall, dark, and handsome. He pulls his shirt off, there’s definitely scars there, but he won’t tell me why. His crystal blue eyes peer through the part in his dark hair above his knitted brows—wet from the rain—and stare straight into my soul. If only I knew what he was thinking…or why he makes me feel this way.”

He’s mysterious. He’s a bad boy. He’s emotionally unavailable and SMIRKS A LOT. He’s…the brooding YA (Young Adult) male love-interest trope!

Does this character sound familiar? Anyone ever read Twilight?

What is a trope? A trope is a recurring literary device that may show common conventions and devices used within a story. Similar to the idea of a stereotype, these literary tropes become well-known throughout a genre. In YA (young adult), there are some common ones you will recognize. All stories have tropes in them. A good story depends on how they are swiveled to drive the story the right way.

What is a cliché? Cliche refers to an overused device such as a saying, idea, expression, or description such as a character’s eye color. They are so common or predictable that they lose meaning or novelty. Don’t use these when you write. NO ONE’S EYES ARE CERULEAN BLUE.

Clichés are tropes, but not all tropes are clichés. 

Carrie Ann DiRisio is the brilliant creator of Brooding YA Hero. You simply must check Broody out on Twitter and buy Carrie’s new book: BROODING YA HERO: BECOMING A MAIN CHARACTER (ALMOST) AS AWESOME AS ME.  Her book is a parody of YA tropes, perfect for writers wanting to dive deeper and learn how to twist them to their advantage.

Key takeaways from Carrie’s recent trope discussion webinar I attended:

-Tropes are the building blocks of a story. They are NOT necessarily a bad thing. Tropes are like comfort food: We don’t want to read the same story 10 times. We want just the essence of tropes in stories so that they are familiar.

-Clichés are done so many times that they aren’t interesting anymore. Cliches lose originality and lose readers quickly.

So what are writers to do? No one wants to fall into a cliché rut. They key is to be original and twist common tropes to work to your story’s advantage. Use them as a device to drive conflict and drama!

Here’s some top tropes you may recognize:

  1. FEMALE PROTAGONIST blind to her own beauty. Typically has “dark hair” and thinks she’s “plain”.
  2. INSTA-LOVE! “Their eyes met over a steaming bowl of pasta.” Ooh, pasta. Now that I can fall in love with at first sight…
  4. BROODING MALE LOVE INTEREST. Perhaps closely related to Mr. Perfect, this guy has flaws, and he’s tight-lipped about his DTP (Dark Troubled Past)…and he’s bad for the protagonist…and it makes him SOOO hot.
  5. LOVE TRIANGLES! “They are both so hot, I can’t just pick one until the very end of the story (or entire trilogy)! Which leads to:
  6. …TRILOGIES! Why is almost everything YA in a 3-book series?
  7. PARENTS ARE JERKS! Or dead.
  8. INSTANT LEADER OF THE RESISTANCE. “Down with the king!”
  9. SUPER CLUMSY PROTAGONIST…but is amazing at fighting. Why? 
  10. UNDISCOVERED ABILITIES! “OMG, I’m a wizard?”


Do What You Love & Love Yourself For It

Valentine flatlay 3

“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.”

I’ve been told this a hundred times.

Doing what I love—namely reading and writing—has made a big impact in my personal happiness and well-being. As an act of self-care, it has changed the way I see the world, opened my creativity, strengthened my relationships and friendships, and improved my perception of stressors within the world around me. When I let go of trying to compare my achievements and skill level to others, it completely liberated me.

It’s ok to love what you do. It’s ok to be a beginner. It’s ok to do something purely because it makes you happy. Don’t compare where you are to another’s success. 

On this Valentine’s Day, we are inundated with images of the L-word and what we picture it should be. Of course, love is romanticized through iconic images. Couples kissing, fuzzy stuffed animals, and mountains of chocolate and candy flood our Instagram feeds. What we forget, sometimes, is that love extends far beyond romantic love. Self-love, for example, is fundamental to the human condition. Self-acceptance, self-care, and the ability to embrace the things that drive us are what fundamentally let us celebrate being human.

Doing what you love not only improves quality of life, but there are literal changes in your body’s chemistry when this happens. In the presence of something perceived as “Good”, the brain releases four main chemicals, creating desirable states of the brain and keeping us coming back for more. I like to call these guys The Fab Four: Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.

  1. Dopamine motivates us to take steps toward our goals, needs, and desires, then gives a wave of supportive gratification when attaining them. Why do you think it feels so great when you hit your daily word count?
  2. Serotonin circulates when you feel significant or confident.  When Serotonin is absent, feelings of loneliness and depression appear. Being outside in the sunshine promotes Vitamin D and serotonin production, a bonus for us outside-loving readers and writers!
  3. Oxytocin creates strength and trust within relationships. Released during sexual intimacy, touch/massage, childbirth or breastfeeding, and eating food (AMEN to that), Oxytocin is also famous for lowering blood pressure, increasing pain thresholds, and lowering anxiety.
  4. Endorphins are released in response to pain or stress and help to relieve anxiety and depression. That feeling after a workout you get is thanks to the release of endorphins. Laughing will bring this same feeling. Remember that mountain of Valentine’s Day chocolate? Studies have shown that dark chocolate can cue the brain to release endorphins. Reading books? If you recall my recent post about Books vs Technology, you may remember the chemistry lesson about the beloved book smell, which included the scent of vanilla. Vanilla and lavender scents have actually been linked to the production of endorphins in the body. Bibliophiles, buying books really DOES buy happiness! 

So do what YOU love. Do it often. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

Create what moves you, and you will move the world.

With love on this Valentine’s Day,




R.M. Schultz

Ryan M Schultz takes us on a fast-paced adventure to ancient Egypt in his novel, “Eve of the Pharaoh”, which recently hit #1 on an Amazon best-seller list!

Check out my review HERE and grab your copy today! I had the opportunity to ask a few questions about his writing process and inspiration for this historic adventure:

When did you first start writing? Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

In high school, I wrote a full-length, terrible fantasy novel after reading the classics and great works in the genre. But I still enjoyed creating a story and characters, and wanted to become a writer.

My grandfather once told me: If you love it enough, you will find it.

No, actually he never said that…he mostly told the same stories over and over again, but I wanted to come up with something inspiring.

How do you get into writing-mode? Do you do anything specific to warm up? Where do you write?

Spending time outdoors: watching the ocean, lake, mountains, fog, rain, trees, or snow. Those things put my mind in a special place, and I see things I otherwise wouldn’t. When I haven’t spent enough time outside, I have to force myself to sit and start writing. What comes out, in the beginning, is garbage this way, but I eventually find myself immersed in the story again and can get back into the groove. Editing the material hundreds of times afterward is then part of that process.

I’d like to write while viewing that outdoor scenery, but so far I’m in my office, typically late at night after the family has gone to bed. Maybe one day, if I sell enough books, I’ll write during the day, in a room overlooking water or the mountains.

What brought you to the idea for “Eve of the Pharaoh”? 

When I entered the tombs of the deceased, and read the writing that spoke to others long before you and I walked the earth. To feel that same stone, breathe the same air, and read the same stories within images upon the walls…

There’s probably no better way to tell a story than to experience and feel it internally and externally—to tread the same ground and sail the same river.

Through that experience, I believed a modern thread would help the story connect with people today.

What did you find most difficult while writing it? 

The past story flowed out of me. The present was more difficult, but weaving the two threads together and making sure the timelines of events fit with the actual past, as well as the discoveries in the present (and in the story) was very difficult.

When writing the storylines of Gavin and Horemheb, did you write them simultaneously, or did you write their stories separately before weaving the chapters together? 

In the first book of the series, I wrote them simultaneously and wound up creating the most difficult aspect mentioned above when going back through and editing the storyline of both threads.

For the second book, I wrote them separately and then wove the threads together. We’ll see if it is any easier once I attempt my editor’s and beta readers’ suggestions this time around.

How did you conduct research for this book?

Traveling, exhibits, classes, and reading about 15 books about ancient Egypt. The books included textbooks, travel guides, art, hieroglyphic translations, literature, and architecture from ancient Egyptian stories.

When you’re not writing, what are you doing?

Attempting to raise my daughter and working as a veterinary radiologist, which takes a combination of art, imagination, medicine, and science. I tried to incorporate all of these aspects into Eve of the Pharaoh.

Name three things you can’t live without:

Wow, this is a hard one. So many…family (including pets), adventure, and creating/experiencing other’s stories.

What was the best money you’ve spent as a writer? 

Cover design. I loved making the movie trailer, writing the script, and how it all turned out. Editors have been hit or miss.

In six words, write down your personal narrative story:

Small town kid turned inquisitive adventurer.

What else are you working on?

I’ve completed book 2 in the first draft form and am starting to go through the outline for the third and final book while putting words on paper.

And, for years, trying to come up with a completely original storyline and premise that millions of people will love—one that will make them feel the way I do when experiencing a great story. Does the opportunity exist? I hope one day to find it.




You can catch up with Ryan on his website at to check out the official book trailer, reviews, and more!

Lovers of adventure, history, and travel will love “Eve of the Pharaoh”, available now!