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Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 9th June 2017
Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-stars

Hemi by Anna Hackett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 7th June 2017
Hemi by Anna HackettHemi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #13
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on May 30th 2017
Pages: 115
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three-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

‘Hemi’ officially ushers in the Berserker squad and I’m glad we’ve come a way with this particular group of wild and rough-riding people. When they first appeared, they seemed to be a bunch of hairy things closer to grunting apes than humans who rode souped-up motorcycles that were used as mini-weapon-launching platforms to combat the aliens; which is sort of cool, but probably not quite the swashbuckling type of heroes I could envision. But Anna Hackett’s development of the squad is quite remarkable and I’ve come, over time, to see them fleshed out as individuals with even rougher and questionable pasts that are erased when the alien apocalypse happens.

Hemi Rahia’s and Camryn McNab’s story has been building for a while and make no mistake, that tension there beneath the pranks finally comes to fruition here. For every couple that Hackett focuses on, there is also a new, vile alien development that is specific to their getting together and it’s no different here. Hemi’s determination to win over Cam is as strong as her need to run away from him and this push-pull finally gives when forces bigger than them (read: disgusting alien parts that act as incubators) eventually show that couple disputes are more petty in the light of the fact that dying can happen any time. In the spirit of carpe diem, the action and the way the characters throw themselves into the fray, is fun with many shades of wild, rodeo-riding antics and good partying times.

As much as I enjoyed how fast-paced the action is, I thought that there’s also a bit more focus on Hemi/Cam’s personal drama here with several repetitive—and perhaps sweeping—lines about how men and women pretty much were into casual sex as a sign of the times, up until the point where they find the one they’re ‘meant’ for. While I did like Hemi/Cam and every little alien discovery the teams make, I think I would also have liked to see more of the big-picture, or at least some reference to a larger story arc that would show how war with the aliens is progressing and if there is an end (or some kind of HEA wrap-up for all involved), no matter how distant, in sight.

three-stars

Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 26th May 2017
Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Pages: 423
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five-stars

Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him. Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan. Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

It’s impossible to go into any of the Psy-Changeling books and not get blown away by the intricately detailed, futuristic world that Nalini Singh has shaped over the past 15 books. ‘Silver Silence’ is Silver Mercant’s story, the stoic, emotionless psy who finally meets her match in the Valentin Nikolaev the bear alpha and their epic romance—from wary suspicion to brief happiness to heartbreak—feels like a great love story unfolding amidst a shifting world that’s hurtling towards an unknown future.

The book isn’t a standalone, but admittedly, it can function as one especially if you don’t exactly wish to go through the first 15 books of the series to get to this point and half the title itself is the name of a mysterious psy who has appeared as Kaleb Krychek’s tough, capable but emotionless aide in the past few books. After ‘Allegiance of Honor’ closed the previous arc, Silver’s story heralds in a new age, so to speak, ushering in Psy-Changeling’s “season 2” and focusing on a period where all three races look towards unity as they seek to heal their deeply-fractured world.

In fact, ‘Silver Silence’ takes up the complicated threads from the end of the last book and adds even more layers to this shifting world that inexorably hurtles towards an unknown future even as new and recurring characters find their mates. It also feel like a reboot of the series that is making me feel the excitement I haven’t felt in forever when a good book comes along.

There are light-hearted moments as there are heart-wrenching ones and while I felt overwhelmed by the details at times as ‘Silver Silence’ kicks the action all back up into high gear, it’s hard not to look back at every turn and wonder just how far we’ve come since the first book. I laughed so hard at Singh’s introduction of the Bear changelings—their irrational behaviour that still somehow endears people to them above all—and loved every moment detailing how different they seemed to the rest of the changelings and pretty much fell for this bear clan as I did the wolves. There’s also renewed focus on the Human Alliance (though there’s already some gutting tragedy here!) which I hope will play a bigger role in the upcoming books and I simply can’t wait to see how far Singh goes to integrate these races in this new age.

Singh pits opposing characters here as she normally does in her stories—an emotional, primal changeling with a psy conditioned for absolute control—but adds an intriguing history behind the distinguished Mercant family line and the Stonewater clan that makes Silver’s and Valentin’s story so much more than just an opposite-attracts kind of story. The type of pairing isn’t new (a psy with an alpha changeling) but Singh’s storytelling never gets dull here, because Silver/Valentin’s relationship is tied so deeply to the instability during the Age of Trinity yet isn’t compromised by the unfolding of events. It’s also deftly handled such that it’s hard not to root for both Silver and Valentin, who are well-matched and unwavering when it comes to loyalty and desire, as they show the same kind of determination to be with each other no matter the circumstance. Their conflict and their different stances on sex (the virgin vs the experienced male) aren’t simply written for the sake of adhering to a particular romance-novel format, but rather the history of these races explains why Silver/Valentin behave the way they do and does actually lend a measure of credibility for readers who like challenging these well-established romance tropes.

After having gotten the rather fierce affirmation of Silver/Valentin’s HEA, to finish the first ‘episode’ of the new season is akin to waking up rudely to reality and the garish morning light, making you want to crawl back into the reading cave for the sequel…which isn’t yet on the horizon.

five-stars

Puss in Prada

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 18th May 2017
Puss in PradaPuss in Prada by Marie Jacquelyn
Published by Less Than Three Press on April 19th 2017
Pages: 60
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four-stars

Still struggling with his recent breakup, Alexander runs headlong—literally—into a witch who leaves him far less than human. Now a wise-cracking cat with a taste for expensive clothes, he is forced to live with the ex he can't get over and help the man find someone who will finally make him happy.

Cats can do no wrong in my book. Throw in a cat somewhere in a story and I’m typically sold. But Alex isn’t your typical cat. After getting turned into one, he’s as prissy as ever, insisting on designer wear, barely tolerates stupidity and yet remains the most self-sustaining cat I’ve ever read about.

‘Puss in Prada’ is so unique, so heartbreakingly funny and bittersweet that I was way too sorry when it ended. It’s also way too short for my liking because I was enjoying every minute of the snide, quirky and cute story told from the POV of a man-cat, who simply needed to learn some things about himself before that spell got broken.

For something so short though, Marie Jacquelyn does in many ways, capture the ‘tao’ of cats. I saw Alex superimposed over a cat and a cat’s prideful but independent ways superimposed over Alex’s own personality. I loved Alex as much as I loved Ethan, then got depressed when their story ended in a rushed HEA.

four-stars

Critical Instinct by Janie Crouch

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 14th May 2017
Critical Instinct by Janie CrouchCritical Instinct by Janie Crouch
Series: Instinct #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on April 10th 2017
Pages: 212
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four-stars

Every single person Paige has drawn has ended up dead. And now she’s drawn herself.
Paige Jeffries is the darling of the art world. Her works are original, compelling. But after a brutal attack two years ago —a savage beating from an unknown assailant—Paige has become all but a recluse. She knows her mind is broken. In her sleep she’s drawing scenes of violence. Murders. Going to the cops isn’t an option because they already think she’s crazy. And they may be right.
Seasoned homicide detective Brett Wagner is asked to look into a cold case nobody wants: the assault and battery of a local artist who claims to have drawn a picture of her own attack before it even happened. He remembers shy Paige from high school, and is driven to find her attacker, to believe her when nobody else does, to protect the innocent beauty.
Because when he witnesses firsthand what Paige is drawing in her sleep, Brett realizes they are scenes from actual cases. Cases that had no connection until now. Portland has a secret serial killer, and Paige is somehow linked to his mind.
And he’s coming for her.

‘Primal Instinct’ was my first-ever read by Janie Crouch and I’d always hoped that she would continue that very unusual series which, for a time, plunged me into paranormal crime-solving-type thrillers.

‘Critical Instinct’ is pretty much quite the answer to my pagan prayers and sacrificial offering, with a rather creepy introduction of a victim – a famous artist – who has actually drawn the picture of her own assault weeks before it really happened. It’s a combination as well of art, auras and people with special abilities (without going too much into quirky voodoo that gives me the creeps) and whether these have their place at all in law enforcement, which is based on the opposing part of the spectrum dealing with rational and logical problem-solving. But I liked the esoteric part simply because it was an original perspective on paranormal suspense for me, as much as I liked the chemistry between Brett and Paige.

Paige’s and Brett’s romance did come a little quickly for me nonetheless – I think I could have liked more UST as well as a bit more explosive steam when it finally breaks – but the focus is as always, and typical of this genre, the crime and the race to nail down the perpetrator before the heroine gets taken down. The psychic link between Paige and the perp also wasn’t exactly explained fully enough for me to believe, as was the strange reason for the latter’s choice of victims, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air from the type of romantic thrillers that I’ve come across in a long, long time.

I’m simply glad I didn’t put off this book the moment I discovered Crouch was continuing this series. There’s just so much here to plumb and I’m hoping Crouch takes it all the way.

four-stars

Theron by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 5th May 2017
Theron by Anna HackettTheron by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #12
Published by Anna Hackett on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

Squad mates, best friends, and fighting to survive in the middle of an alien invasion. Can she make one stubborn alpha male soldier see her as something else?

Sienna Rossi has always been a mix of contradictions. She loves ice cream, likes cooking, and is skilled at taking down aliens with her squad. Sweet and tough, soldier and woman, most people can't seem to make sense of her...even the loving family she lost in the invasion and especially men. One man accepts her as she is, her best friend Theron. But the big, silent, muscled soldier has her firmly in the 'friends' zone...except that Sienna knows he wants her, and she's determined to claim the stubborn man as hers.

Theron Wade lives to fight aliens. They killed his parents, his foster siblings, and his fellow Rangers. Now he has a new team--the tough, mostly-female Squad Nine. But one certain female haunts his dreams and stars in his darkest fantasies. Sienna is his sunshine in the darkness. He wants to her to be happy...and he knows that would never be with a man like him. A man with darker, rougher tastes that would shock her.

As Squad Nine works to track and destroy a dangerous alien device, best friends collide. Theron introduces Sienna to a world of rough, edgy passion that she craves. But as a mission goes off track, the two of them will risk everything for love, for their lives, and to save the world.

I discovered Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad some time ago, then kept coming back to her books because the series became like an addictive, ongoing drama-serial as the last of the human survivors (that we know of anyway) fight to survive the alien apocalypse. Throw in strong women who know their way around the men and I’m sold.

There are some books which I clearly like more than others, but there’s no denying that the series is quite like a drug and I always miss it every time there’s a longer-than-usual break between books.

In every book, there’s always a new development in the ongoing fight against the aliens and ‘Theron’ is no different. There’s heaps of action just as there is unfulfilled sexual tension pulled as taut as a string between Theron and Sienna—and a boatload of kinky sex and hot filthy talk when it finally disintegrates. Silent, strong and with a penchant for rough sex with a little kink (though not quite BDSM) and as the other guy in the all-female squad 9 and a burly rose among the thorny women, Theron only wants a different kind of woman who can satisfy his tastes in the bedroom even though there’s only one woman he wants. It only takes a tussle with the aliens, some near-death experiences and a little creative thinking from Sienna to change his mind. For that, I thought Sienna is a good match for him, eager to play to his darker side and strong enough to push for what she really wants despite his insistence that he’s no good for her.

The bottom-line is, ’Theron’ does have an erotica factor in it but I was an eager reader, having suspected already in Hackett’s previous novella what to expect. I did wish I could have seen more sides to Theron’s and Sienna’s personalities though—apart from the fact that they’re both good soldiers and are adventurous both in and out of bed—and gotten to know them better, but the brevity of the novella makes no allowance for that. What we have instead, is a full introduction to the intriguing Berserker, motorcycle-riding squad whose books will be next. What else can I say but bring them on?

four-stars

Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabe

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 24th April 2017
Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabePhantom Pearl by Monica McCabe
Series: Jewel Intrigue #3
Published by Kensington - Lyrical Press on June 27th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

Riki Maddox is not your average tomb-raiding treasure hunter. Her targets are carefully chosen to wound her father's killers, the Japanese Yakuza. To thwart their quest to recapture World War II loot initially stolen by Japanese forces, she puts herself in constant danger--and in the sights of a man as driven and as daring as she is.
Working for the Department of Homeland Security, Special Agent Dallas Landry is a rare breed: an academic with an unmatched lust for adventure. He had a perfect success rate recovering stolen art and antiquities--until he came up against an intriguing menace known as Riki Maddox. She's placed his reputation on the line, and stopping her becomes his number one priority.
Now the two will cross paths once again in Australia--on a quest for the legendary Phantom Pearl, a priceless mammoth tusk carved by 15th century monks. Barely one step ahead of the Yakuza, it's a three-way race to recover the long lost treasure. One Riki is hell-bent to win. But playing games against a federal agent like Dallas will cost more than her freedom. The chase will demand she risk her life and her thirst for revenge--but it just might offer something more to live for...

Riki Maddox and Dallas Landry want the Phantom Pearl for very different reasons and that has pit them against each other. And it’s not a rivalry that is new either; Riki has rubbed Dallas’s losses in his face by winning the treasure hunt (or rather, artefact) first, leaving him a laughing stock in front of Homeland Security and Dallas has finally, finally caught up this time around in the search for the Pearl. It’s a chase that takes them half around the world and as they tangle with the Yakuza, Riki and Dallas learn that there is no end to treachery and are forced to reevaluate the meaning of allies and foes.

Coming off ‘Phantom Pearl’ is akin to stepping off the platform of a roller-coaster ride still woozy and dazed, with the sun a little too bright in my eyes. It’s that exciting a ride which makes you—quite paradoxically—want to slow down to savour every moment of it even as the pace picks up enough to break your neck.

I was immediately intrigued by the setting and the context, never having even heard of Yamashita’s gold despite having having some kind of familiarity with Asia-Pacific history. Monica McCabe blends fact and fiction seamlessly and easily made this summer blockbuster material for me, where every page is filled with wry humour, unexpected laughs and a treasure-hunting adventure in far-flung locations rich in mystery, action and swashbuckling romance. It’s so different from many romantic-suspense-adventure-type stories set in South America or even Europe that ‘Phantom Pearl’s’ sheer daring was enough to make me sit up and take notice.

While I couldn’t exactly swallow the sudden realisation of love sneaking over both Dallas and Riki just as I couldn’t quite imagine the huge climatic scene in Singapore’s largest shipyard happening without setting off international furore, I’m reminded yet again that ‘Phantom Pearl’ is fiction layered over fact and it’s all in the name of having an entertaining good time—which I did.

The Jewel Intrigue series are all standalones—all the books are entirely unrelated, linked loosely only by the theme of treasure hunting—and every story is a thrill ride that needs no prior knowledge to enjoy. McCabe is going instantly on my watch-and-read-list and needless to say, I can’t wait to see what else she has up her sleeve.

four-stars
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