Category: Speculative Fiction

Guardian by Anna Hackett

Guardian by Anna HackettGuardian by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Published by Anna Hackett on March 6th 2018
Pages: 139
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three-stars

Rescued from alien slavers, former cop Dayna wakes to discover she’s host to a powerful alien symbiont, and the only man who can help her is the mysterious and dangerous casino owner, Rillian.

Dayna Caplan has dedicated her life to protecting others…and now that she’s no longer a captive at the desert arena of Zaabha, she desperately wants to help find the last of the other human women who were abducted by the Thraxians. But now she has to deal with the intense hunger and powerful new abilities the alien living inside grants her…and the person forcing her to confront her new reality is the cool, enigmatic, and far-too-attractive Rillian.

Rillian has wheeled and dealed his way to the top of the food chain on the lawless desert world of Carthago. He lets no one close and keeps iron-clad control on his life…which vital to keeping the lethal power within him in check. But one human woman—tough, stubborn, and fascinating Dayna—works her way under his skin, and he finds himself obsessed with protecting her. But as dead bodies start appearing in his casino as a deadly warning, dangers are closing in on them.

With their allies, the gladiators from the House of Galen, Rillian and Dayna find themselves fighting for survival on every front. On the hunt to find Zaabha and the lost humans, they will face murderers, slavers, and the deadliest of all challenges…the aliens living within them.

Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiator series—like any other series of hers—are quick but and adventure-filled reads that, for the duration of the hundred-ish pages, have the arm-chair-travelling ability to immerse you straight into this desert world that expands as quickly as the universe itself with each book she puts out.

Back in Cathargo, ‘Guardian’ pairs former New York detective Dayna and über-rich (but cold and near-unfeeling) Casino man Rillian together, though Hackett gives a twist on the use of symbionts that gives their relationship an added dimension. The murders of Rillian’s old lovers oddly put Dayna in her element given her background, though it is the similarities of their physical makeup (post-capture and rescue) along with the pressing mission to find other Earth women that give the story its forward momentum, along with the copious amount of sexy times and the somewhat tiresome bit of instalove that Hackett writes in to satisfy even the most voracious of romance readers.

The brevity of ‘Guardian’ however, does short-change the richer world-building Hackett could have done on symbiosis; I would have loved to know more about the symbionts and the different ways they function besides invading human or humanoid hosts in Hackett’s Cathargo world at least—to what extent are they parasitic or psychic? How malevolent of a presence can they be, or are do they work in a co-operative fashion in human bodies? How many kinds are there and what forms do they come in?

My own niggling questions aside, ‘Guardian’ is a pretty decent addition to the series. Hackett’s setup of future pairings—thus far it’s a rather predictable mix of alien men with earth women—is hinted at again once more but damn if those aren’t the best hooks for her upcoming books.

three-stars

X-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler

X-Ops Exposed by Paige TylerX-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

Lion hybrid and former Army Ranger Tanner Howland retreats into the forests of Washington State to be alone—he’s too dangerous to be around people. He had to leave the love of his life behind but little does he know, she followed him.

Dr. Zarina Sokolov has an anti-serum she hopes will make Tanner human again. But before she can convince him to take it, they discover he isn’t the only hybrid that survived the experiment. And there are people who want to use the hybrid shifters for sport, pitting them against each other for money. But does Tanner have what it takes to save his fellow hybrids and Zarina—or will he lose control again?

Tanner’s and Zarina’s story has been a long time in coming, their ups and downs well catalogued through Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series. And this starts on a down, so to speak, after Tanner has run off into the woods, tortured and determined to stay isolated because of his uncontrollable hybrid instincts. But Zarina is unwilling to give up on this man (?) who’s seen enough torture for a lifetime and her stubbornness somehow pulls Tanner from the brink, though all isn’t as it seems.

This far down the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ is near-impossible as a standalone with a narrative arc that has already been flung wide open and many dangling loose ends held by a multitude of secondary characters. With a focus on a pairing (as well as potential ones) and a different plot-line in every book, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ like every other book in this series, rushes ahead to tell its bursting-to-the-seams story without looking back too much because there’s just so much going on. The recap—and there is a bit of it—of previous events is understandably brief and Tyler pushes ahead with Tanner’s backstory that adds on to an already complicated canon that involves super secret departments, shifters, hybrids and genetic experimentations. As the 8th book of the series, appreciating the pairing, let alone the ever-expanding storyline, could be difficult for those trying to wade into the series right here.

It’s also probably worth noting that Zarina and Tanner’s ongoing saga is just what makes up half of the story; the other half is a rather major sub-plot taking place across the country in Maine as the now-partnerless Tate Evers teams up with a potential new lead (but cool) character trying to solve more of the same problem. I’m admittedly not too fond of the part where Tyler introduces survivalists, but they do play a part in the larger narrative arc, even if the push-pull between Zarina and Tanner doesn’t make much headway as the sub-plot gains in traction.

If I started out ‘X-Ops Exposed’ thrilled about Zarina and Tanner—Tyler’s action scenes are good and reading through them is akin to watching cool action-movie fight scenes—,the structure of the plot was such that the pace faltered in parts, along with some cock-blocking moments to the point where picking up later doesn’t quite have the same impact dimmed my enthusiasm somewhat. There is a vague notion of ticking clock that counted down to zero hours, a forward but somewhat muddied drive about how hybrids and their nefarious creators still cause trouble, but in the end I couldn’t step back and say for certain that I knew where the book was headed.

Only towards the end does Tyler bring these threads together (somewhat) and I started enjoying the action again. But like every other book in the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ closes some loops and opens others, upping the stakes in this political game as well. Frustrating as it can be, that’s also what keeps me coming back, truth be told.

three-half-stars

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