Category: Speculative Fiction

Levi by Anna Hackett

Levi by Anna HackettLevi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #15
Published by Anna Hackett on January 30th 2018
Pages: 130
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And…Hell Squad returns with a bang, and quite literally so. I have a soft spot for this apocalyptic world set in the smoking ruins surrounding Sydney, as unbreakable bonds are forged—mostly with hot sex—in the aftermath of an alien invasion, by people who would never have crossed paths otherwise.

Anna Hackett’s series advances the whole narrative arc slowly and ‘Levi’—the 15th book in the series—takes a tiny step further in unveiling new developments in this ruined world: the Gizzida strengthen their hold on earth with their strange technology as the humans fight back slowly but surely. There isn’t much of a huge leap forward here, or a turning point that throws the entire series into a spin, except for the creation of a situation that is tailored to push Levi King and Chrissy Hagen together. The ride is as always, nonetheless, an action-packed and fun one, as are the hints of the couples to come in the next few HS books.

Like most series I read however, there’ll always be characters I like more than others and unfortunately, Levi King wasn’t one of them. Simply put, I’m way too sceptical about over-the-top bad-boys and Levi, with his manwhoring, presumptuous ways didn’t really win me over. That he suddenly sought something committed with Chrissy only because she challenged him still left me wondering about his staying power (blame the daddy-issues here), apart from the possessive vibe he often emitted.

But Chrissy…be still my heart. Hackett, wrote a champion with the marvellous, tough, sassy Chrissy, who was more than a match for Levi, in her stubbornness and refusal to give an inch to his crude pursuit. I loved her grit and her strength, cheered her in every way and was almost sorry when she finally gave into Levi.

That said, Hackett’s HS books are always an easy read; too many of her books in this series feel as though they end too quickly—but ‘Levi’ seemed the perfect length this time around, which definitely made it more satisfying than usual.

Run to Me by Cynthia Eden

Run to Me by Cynthia EdenRun To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #4
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 223
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two-stars

He’s used to getting what he wants…

Jennings “Jay” Maverick is a tech billionaire. He has the world at his feet, and he thinks he can buy anything…but he can’t buy her. One look at the mysterious Willow, and Jay knows that he is a goner. He wants to give her anything and everything she desires, but he’s the man responsible for the pain in Willow’s life, and getting close to her—well, that’s not going to be easy.

Her life is a nightmare that she can’t escape.

Willow woke up in one of the “Lazarus” research facilities. She now has increased strength, incredible speed, and some scary psychic bonuses. Because of the danger associated with her new gifts, she’s afraid to touch anyone. One touch from her, and a man’s darkest fears will seemingly turn into reality. But Jay isn’t afraid of her touch. Instead, he seems to…crave it. To crave her.

She can’t trust him, and he won’t let her go.

Willow knows that Jay has been involved with Lazarus in the past, but he swears he only wants to help her. She never expects the white-hot desire that burns between them, a desire that grows more with every moment that passes. Thrust together as allies, Willow finds herself wanting to put her faith in Jay, wanting to find someone she can rely on, but Jay may still be keeping secrets from her. Secrets that could get them both killed.

When darkness and danger close in…RUN TO ME.

There’s undoubtedly a darkly seductive, nightmarish insane edge to Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers engineered to always come back from the dead. And that keeps <i>me</i> coming back.

However, this far down the series, I’ve found things that I both like and dislike about the narrative arc and Eden’s peculiar characterisation of her protagonists here in particular—which I suspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of this series—bugs me quite a bit. So this puts me in the minority (what’s new?), having found ‘Run To Me’ a disappointment, all the more so because I was looking forward to Willow’s and Jay’s book.

Willow runs; Jay tries to chase and atone; the baddies aren’t too clear-cut and the race for ‘normalcy’, if there’s ever such a thing, continues—my gross oversimplification, of course. The non-stop action is a draw, as are the twists and turns in this story, though having gone through all the books in the series thus far, I find myself running into several issues that I can’t seem to ignore.

One thing that personally irks me in this book is that there are entanglements or conflicts built around ex-lovers who are still in the picture, and that these drive a wedge—no matter how big or small—between the pairing that Eden tries to bring together. Somehow the involvement of other women/other men diminishes the impact or the force of the pairing that I want to get behind…and now can’t exactly quite because of this particular white elephant that shines rather brightly in the room with them.

For this reason, I actually think it’s darkly ironic that all the other characters kept inadvertently saying things that further damned Jay in Willow’s eyes, when all he wanted was to protect her and atone for his misdeeds in the Lazarus project. Jay/Willow’s relationship is an uphill battle as a result, which after a while, becomes a repetitive push-pull of chasing and running away. Yet if I expected a hard, kickarse heroine, Willow seemed the opposite, never quite able to get past her own demons to rise above them.

Something else that niggles: there isn’t much that differentiates one alpha male from another, apart from the possession of a super power or whether they wear a suit or not. I find myself struggling here Eden’s heroes after a while, as they tend to meld into each other. Jay Maverick—who isn’t a super soldier—suddenly acts like one instead of the technological-baron billionaire he is and his stepping up as alpha—not that I don’t appreciate the possessive and protective vibes he gives out—just didn’t set him apart anymore from the behaviour of other protagonists like Sawyer or Flynn, minus the superpower.

I think I keep coming back to this series in the hope that the overall plot would get better and better, but they haven’t yet worked out too well yet. ‘Run To Me’ is the weakest of the series so far however, and I’m still wishing—or is it wishful thinking?—that the waters would be less muddied the next time around.

two-stars

Her Dark Half by Paige Tyler

Her Dark Half by Paige TylerHer Dark Half by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

Trevor MaxwellCoyote shifter with an attitudeCovert operatorTrusts no one, especially his devastatingly beautiful new partner

Alina BoschFormer CIA, newest operative on the covert teamHired to spy on her partnerMotto: "Never be deceived again."

Coyote shifter Trevor Maxwell is teamed up with CIA agent Alina Bosch to catch a killer. But when the mission becomes much more dangerous than they expected, they're going to have to ignore the attraction between them and learn how to trust one another to come out on the other side...

‘Her Dark Half’ is a book that has been coming for a long time, or at least the revelations in it, where the narrative arc comes to an end, so to speak, before another begins.

There’s clearly too much to recount here, but along with Alina’s and Trevor’s romance, Paige Tyler finally answers the questions (at least many of them) that I’d ranted about not being addressed in her previous books’ narratives that simply coasted along. For this reason, I’m not sure if this book would work as a standalone, because the more critical parts of the backstory and the buildup that happen in some of her past stories definitely would contribute to a fuller reading experience in this one.

I did like Alina/Trevor for most part, but most importantly, Alina’s deception wasn’t one that was held to the very end and then becoming the major conflict between her and Trevor. Paige Tyler simply had bigger fish to fry, too much action to write, more hybrids/shifters to put through the wringer and more bombs to drop on the unsuspecting reader. The opening up of the X-Ops world after this major shakeup is one that I’m definitely looking forward to and I’m really curious to see what else Tyler has in store after this.

four-stars

Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol

Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara BristolHunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol
Series: Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance #6
Published by Cara Bristol on January 9th 2018
Pages: 270
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four-stars

Billionaire Carter Aymes, director of Cyber Operations, a covert cyborg force, devotes his wealth and life to saving others, rescuing hostages and other victims from desperate situations. His ultimate mission is to hunt down and eliminate Lamani, the alien terrorist mastermind, before he conquers the galaxy.

When Carter hires Beth O’Shea, a vulnerable but courageous woman with connections to his past, their attraction is immediate and strong, but he knows getting involved with her is a bad idea. He’s her boss, and he has way too many classified projects to protect to risk letting someone get close.

Rejected by the progenitors who cloned her, Beth is determined to live a normal human life, beginning by getting an ordinary job with a security firm. But, from the start, she questions the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the organization. She can’t help but wonder about the tall, muscled, larger-than-life director who gave her a chance when she desperately needed one. Could he ever be romantically interested in a woman like her, in a clone?

When Beth is attacked, they both realize how short and tenuous life is, and their mutual attractions becomes too powerful too resist.

As their relationship heats up, so does the urgency to capture Lamani before he can unleash a stealth weapon at a critical planetary Summit meeting. With time running out, Carter discovers that stopping Lamani may require sacrificing Beth’s life.

Will Carter be able to rescue her, or will his new love be the one person he can’t save?

Cara Bristol’s Cy-Ops series have always stood out for me, not just because of the imaginative breadth and ‘scientific believability’ of Bristol’s writing (what do I really know about nanotechnology?) but also for the compelling cybernetic future she presents in these books.

‘Hunted by the Cyborg’ feels like the book that I’ve always been waiting for, not just for the pairing but for the overtones of our very own contemporary concerns and fears that come through so strongly here. Carter Aymes had always been in the background of all the Cy-Ops books, the orchestrator of events, but he clicked in and out so quickly that it was impossible to know if he had a story of his own.

That Bristol chose to write Carter’s story made me finish the book in one sitting and I found it hard to put down when Bristol decided to pair this mysterious man with a clone (of an ex-girlfriend) and the resolution of their very unequal relationship and how that gap was ultimately bridged. There were concerns of whether Carter merely saw Beth as a naive, inexperienced replica of her ’twin’ but this being syfy-romance, the angst isn’t too overt—some issues did feel a little glossed over—as the action finally takes over, continuing the narrative arc of the space war that this whole series is built around.

This was however, an enjoyable and entertaining read overall, and I’m definitely hoping the series isn’t ending here.

four-stars

Her True Match by Paige Tyler

Her True Match by Paige TylerHer True Match by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops, #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 7th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

After a long game of cat-and-mouse

Feline shifter Dreya Clark picks the wrong penthouse to rob and ends up arrested by sexy detective Braden Hayes. But Braden isn’t the only one who’s been watching the cat burglar. Agents from the Department of Covert Operations swoop in to offer her a deal. If she wants to stay out of jail, she’ll have to work with them—and pair up with the hot cop. Great.

Danger throws this unlikely pair together

Braden isn’t thrilled about the DCO meddling in his investigation. He’s been chasing Dreya for years. Thrown together on a dangerous covert mission, fur flies and temperatures flare. But when danger closes in on them, their game of cat and mouse turns deadly-serious, and they’ll have to rely on each other to make it out alive.

The menagerie of animal shifters that I thought I’d be reading about so early in the series hasn’t yet come to pass and as I suspect, won’t ever. The shifters here merely shift partially, and Tyler does provide a believable-enough explanation for their genetic makeup and behaviour. The pairing of a shifter with a law-enforcement/ex-military character seems to be the default pairing here, though I’ve largely enjoyed the ways that they get together, and ‘Her True Match’ follows this self-same pattern. The cat thief and the cop is a pairing that had been set up in the previous book, so ‘Her True Match’ feels like a natural step for Braden and Dreya to come together.

I was nevertheless surprised to see how Braden and Dreya get on without the bumps I’d expected, but this—this relatively angst-free, easy get together—is probably a defining point as well of this series. Like others before them, Tyler made Braden/Dreya a pairing that get together without much difficulty, particularly since many of her her male heroes don’t seem to have any difficulty accepting that their heroines are part-feline with enhanced senses. The plot itself is interesting, as is the sub-plot and Trevor’s undercover role, though I thought Tyler’s focus on Ivy/Landon here as in all the other books gets tiring in a way that felt as if they are a pairing Tyler can’t let go of.

There are parts as well, that don’t seem to be addressed sufficiently or satisfactorily—Dreya being let off with stupid actions that seem to be beyond reproach, for instance. Keeping secrets from Braden despite the pledge of trust and partnership they make—with this indirectly leading to consequences that no one could have foreseen—yet having Braden think it is his fault (with his unfailing loyalty to a woman who might not fully deserve it) when Dreya hadn’t owned her own part in it put me off her quite a bit.

Still, that far down this series, I’m still not entire sure what to say about it. The villain’s villany grows—this does drag on as each book uncovers the villainy just a little bit more—as are there as well, parallel events that are anchored by Ivy/Landon as well as the hero/heroine of the next book to come. I’m invested enough to want to continue, though not jumping in excitement with the rather slow-moving overall narrative arc where the main characters still don’t seem to catch on quickly enough about the true motives of the bad guys.

three-stars

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige TylerHer Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #5
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6th 2016
Pages: 320
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two-stars

HE'LL DO ANYTHING FOR HER
Former Special Forces Lieutenant Jayson Harmon can't believe that his war scars don't matter to beautiful feline shifter Layla Halliwell. Why would she saddle herself with a broken man?

But Layla knows that Jayson is a hero to the core, and that only she can heal his wounded soul. So when Jayson is deployed on another deadly mission, no way is Layla staying behind...

Layla and Jayson have been ‘teased’ as a pairing throughout this series, though their introduction is a soft one: Paige Tyler doesn’t do the whole pining-after-each-other rigmarole here and their first meeting and their (somewhat chaste) getting together take place off-screen, so to speak. But the time their book rolls around, they’re a couple with obstacles to overcome and ‘Her Rogue Alpha’ is partially that.

Unfortunately, the book proved to be quite a disappointment. Perhaps the most glaring point was the split between Layla/Jayson’s jaunt in Donetsk and a separate plot involving Ivy, Landon and a shifter thief. Set up more like a separate developing plots in an episode of a tv series, having this in print simply made it more distracting than engaging.

I was also left sceptically wondering whether a person with rather severe back injuries could do what Jayson did and continue to do some superhuman feats just because he’d believed he could. Whether the shifter hybrid serum worked or him or not wasn’t clear – even the extent to which it worked was deliberately left out – but it felt as though Tyler wanted us to believe that Jayson would and could live with the pain in his back (while doing whatever he could do without a magic cure), exacerbating it on missions and still watch Layla’s back like he used to be in the Special Forces.

I wished this could have been a more satisfying read – the potential was certainly there – but so much was set up in a way that had me alternating between frustration and incredulity that I found myself putting down the book and taking it up way too many times.

two-stars

Her Wild Hero by Paige Tyler

Her Wild Hero by Paige TylerHer Wild Hero by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Name: Kendra CarlsenRank: Trainer, Dept. of Covert OpsObjective: Get out of the office and into the field

Name: Declan MacBrideRank: Munitions Expert, Dept. of Covert OpsStatus: Bear ShifterObjective: Protect Kendra at all costs

The steamy Costa Rican jungle brings out the bear in Declan MacBride when he and new operative Kendra Carlsen are ambushed. In the midst of relying on each other to survive, and fighting his explosive attraction to Kendra, this shifter is about to lose control...

When Kendra and Declan were introduced in Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series in the first book, I had high hopes. Until I realised Tyler had set up a situation where Declan hankered after Kendra while Kendra hankered after Clayne (who’s the hero in the second) book, slept with him, and never quite gave up the infatuation, and someone else now hankers after her.

Call my idea of romance a narrow-minded one, but this setup inevitably made Kendra/Declan a pairing that was hard to swallow, let alone get invested in.

This alone made ‘Her Wild Hero’ a hard read to go through, though I was starting to feel as though the series was lagging, with the introduction of hybrids and ‘micro-situations’ that felt like filler scenarios to get a particular paring together, as well as provide opportunities for Landon’s ex-Special Forces team to get involved in DCO tasks.

Still, the biggest problem I have with this series so far however,—and it’s a glaring one—is the number of ‘unrequited’ pairings and the trial-and-error basis that some non-couples go through before ending up with their mates. Thankfully, it isn’t the grating idea of finding the only one destined for themselves as in Tyler’s Werewolf series, but that there’s just much more room for occasions where ‘second chances’—where one party finally notices another, for instance—just never live up to my own expectations.

If I thought Declan was an adorable gentle giant, I actually loathed Kendra. Not for her stunning abilities to take care of herself in the field, but that her obsession with Clayne, her sleeping with him, only to find out that they had no chemistry, her deliberate keeping it from Declan when she knew he and Clayne didn’t like each other, her subsequent rising interest in Declan only when her crush on Clayne didn’t work out…just weren’t sufficiently dealt with, at least enough to be satisfactory.

Throw in her stubborn and stupid comparisons of Declan to Clayne and I actually thought Declan was her backup option, despite declaration that he was the only man she should be with when he’d been in front of her all this time. Her refusal to see Declan on his own terms (it had to take sleeping with Clayne to show her that?!) until getting stuck in a jungle with him just didn’t seem to give her all-in with Declan any credence. And then the sudden switch 7 years later from Clayne, Clayne and Clayne to Declan simply made her indiscretion more unforgivable.

I wished ‘Her Wild Hero’ was a book that I could get on with, but the ranting above probably shows that I really thought of the pairing—loved the H, hated the Hr. Everything was just details, which in the end, I found myself skimming. Clearly the glowing reviews show that I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but this is going to make me tread more cautiously with this series from here onward.

two-stars