Category: Speculative Fiction

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Crashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett

Crashed on an Ice World by Anna HackettCrashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett
Series: The Phoenix Adventures #9
Published by Anna Hackett Pages: 125
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three-stars

He’s her boss. She’s his best friend. These two deep-space convoy security specialists are fighting their simmering attraction…until a starship crash on a deadly ice world changes everything.

Elana Korra loves her security job as a medic on the convoy ship, the Sky Nomad…except for the fact that she’s in love with her boss. Rynan is tough, loyal, and protective, and she knows he will never cross the line with her despite her deepest fantasies. But one scorching kiss sets up a smoldering tension, and as they head off into uncharted space on a treasure hunt to find an invaluable old Earth treasure, Elana knows it is time to make a change—get Ry to admit how he feels about her or leave. But a deadly attack leaves Ry and Elana on a damaged, out-of-control ship hurtling toward an unforgiving ice world.

Rynan Phoenix lives for his job of keeping the Phoenix Deep-Space Convoy safe. The nightmare of his childhood has taught him to steer well clear of romantic relationships, and he’s forced himself to ignore Elana’s compact body and gorgeous face. But when they find themselves stranded on an ice world with passengers to protect and space pirates hunting them down, Ry is forced to confront just how he feels about the most important woman in his life.

Ry and Elana will need all of their training in order to keep themselves alive. As they find hints to the old Earth treasure, their desire turns hotter and deeper…but then they discover that far more dangerous things call this ice planet home…

I got into this one with trepidation, not because of Anna Hackett’s world-building—that one’s flawless, imaginative and has a tendency to suck you in no matter what book series Hackett is publishing at any time. The search for a Viking treasure trove on an ice planet, the chase by space mercenaries, the ultimate find…let’s just say it’s an exhilarating ride, the way any Indiana Jones movie is.

But if I found the treasure-hunting adventure fascinating, the relationship between Rynan and Elana was less so, simply because this dealt with the unrequited love of a woman who had gone years putting her dreams aside for her best friend who didn’t want to see her as anything more, yet hooked up with everyone and anyone in this time, right in her face. All this because of his mummy-issues that he couldn’t get over, and also used as excuses for his lifestyle and behaviour.

That alone nearly made me put down the book several times in the story.

In ‘Crashed on an Ice World’, several pivotal moments changed this holding pattern, though apparently all it took was the word of an old woman to make Rynan realise that he had been in love with Elana all along, to suddenly want to be all-in with her. Elana quitting to finally move on with her life, was still not enough for Rynan to risk stepping past that boundary. This ‘conversion’ was way too unbelievable, but apparently a leopard could change its spots, as Rynan went from commitment-phobic to all-committed in the space of second…free to suddenly take up with Elana at the flip of the switch.

I wish I could recommend this one more, but the pairing and the convenience of it just made me cringe. The whole treasure-hunting journey kept me reading however—it’s a very, very short read that tops out at 125 pages—though I found it simply hard to get on board with a protagonist who’d for so long, wanted the woman in front of him, but shoved it aside for other women.

three-stars

Wicked Attraction by Megan Hart

Wicked Attraction by Megan HartWicked Attraction by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #2
Published by Swerve on February 6th 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Dive into the second book in this fantastic new series set in the near future from New York Times bestselling author Megan Hart!

Ewan Donahue has made a lot of mistakes, but making Nina Bronson want to leave him has been the worst. With the initial threats on his life out of the way, he doesn’t really need her protection, but hiring her to take care of him again is the only way to get her back in his life. When Nina shows up ready to work —and nothing else — Ewan’s determined to win her back. If he can break through the walls his earlier betrayal built, maybe they can have another shot at love. When it turns out that this time, it’s Nina who’s being targeted for danger and possibly death, Ewan’s the one who has to keep her safe.

Cliffhanger endings can be brutal, but that’s always the risk with a series that deals with the lows and highs of a single pairing, and especially so if the narrative arc stretches out over all the books. Needless to say, ‘Wicked Attraction’ isn’t a standalone.

Here, the rift between Nina and Ewan widens, though that doesn’t stop both of them from dancing around each other, getting into the same arguments and eventually into bed. Rinse and repeat. She tells him off tearily but says she can’t ever hate him, he grovels and declares his love, once even to the point where he’d literally brought to his knees. The push-pull as always, is a constant repetitive issue here, though there is some development on fronts that feel a bit more peripheral to the issue dividing Ewan and Nina.

Nonetheless, my reading experience with ‘Wicked Attraction’, was on the whole, quite uneven. Ups and downs, if you like. There were parts that interested me more than others and parts where I simply just flipped and skimmed. I was engrossed in the enhancement technology and what was happening to Nina’s body, couldn’t stop rolling my eyes about her neurotic slipping in and out of bed with Ewan yet protesting too much about how much he’d betrayed her (the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, perhaps?), liked some actions scenes and didn’t exactly care about the work that Ewan did with the talented kids as part of his latest project. Nina also did seem like a different character from the more stoic, alpha soldier in the first book; she was more given to emotional outbursts and more dramatic responses, though that was in part, attributed to the changes she was undergoing.

For these minuses however, Megan Hart does write well as I’ve said before, and her sensory prose continues here, which helped get me through the bits that lagged. There were bigger issues that seemed vital to the entire narrative arc but slid past me—the importance of memory and who should get to control them through technology—and I wished I were harder ‘hit’ by what Nina and Ewan were arguing for.

In short, I sort of did like Hart’s concept but I wasn’t always able to keep my interest in the development of the story. It was easy to pick up (and put down, unfortunately) and my ability to fully get into the characters each time made this a decent, but not entirely memorable read. \\

three-stars

Stay With Me by Cynthia Eden

Stay With Me by Cynthia EdenStay With Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #3
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on December 12th 2017
Pages: 165
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three-stars

Shelly Hampton intends to spend the holidays alone in her family’s mountain cabin, but when a snow-covered stranger appears on her door-step, her plans are shot straight to hell. The man before her seems oddly familiar, and he stirs a dark need within her.

It’s soon apparent that John Smith is far more than a normal man—he’s too strong, too fast, and she could swear that he seems to read her thoughts…and know her most secret desires.

But is John a man that she could love…or is he someone she should fear? Because even as the snow fall deepens, a deadly threat is closing in on her little cabin. And soon, Shelly will be trapped on the mountain with a dangerous man…a man who swears that he has come back from the dead, just to be with her.

There’s always something about this series that I find constantly hovers on the edge of the hysterical. I think my biggest problem really, is the gradual departure from the realism that the story starts out with. Everything is writ so large, sometimes to the point where I can lose that ability to suspend disbelief: the insane villains so stylised that they can be out of an opera, the alpha, over-the-top hero and a heroine can sometimes manage the miraculous and whose greatest enemies are her previous lovers.

Not to say that it isn’t entertaining—Cynthia Eden can cook up a mystery and resolve it very well—but the idea of super-soldiers becoming possessive primates (the growling, snorting and rough sex included) because of their programming somehow seems more laughable than stirring.

‘Stay With Me’ reminded me of a cross between Robocop/Terminator and Pet Sematary as Christmas decorations and celebrations go on—a slice of the paranormal inserted into the holiday season, which was a tad too batty for me.

Over all, Eden’s Lazarus Rising is definitely a series I’d be continuing with, but at the same time, I’ll be taking it all in with a heaping amount of salt…more than I normally do with such sub-genres.

three-stars

Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Dangerous Promise by Megan HartDangerous Promise by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #1
Published by Swerve on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Nina Bronson used to be all human -- until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

‘Dangerous Promise’ is quite a unique, somewhat futuristic take on the bodyguard cyborg and the client, or at least it’s probably one that will appeal to readers who are hungry for a kickass, enhanced, ex-military female who conducts her personal life like the stereotypical no-strings military alpha hero that are dime a dozen in this genre.

Not that a role reversal is uncommon in the plethora of romance stories today, but Nina Bronson is a female protagonist unusual enough to make anyone sit up and take note. That’s the book’s standout feature, along with the immediate conflict posed by Nina’s very own abilities being the very issue the billionaire womaniser Ewan Donohue has aggressively fought against. As the female mirror image of the alpha hero, Nina is an unmistakably strong female lead with technological enhancements that only elevate her above a ‘normal’ book-heroine, right down to her own casual hookups and her willingness to sleep with clients if that would protect them (if that even makes sense).

Unafraid to call out misogyny and the double standards that women like her face, Nina might just be a loudspeaker for what many might feel about the double standards and the complaints voiced against the romance genre today as she kicks and punches her way out of things/issues both verbally and physically. Next to her, Ewan can only be the beta hero, dimmed and outshone in every way by Nina’s wonder-woman abilities until he’s a grovelling mess, their only tussling happening in bed after he yields to her judgement when it comes to his protecting his life.

Upping the sexual tension with Ewan as they circle each other in a game that’s akin to a 2-steps-forward-one-step-back dance is perhaps the form of foreplay that Hart wants to bring across, but somehow, Nina’s relationship with Ewan seems unequal in so many ways. Ewan’s own history with women and the way he treated them until Nina didn’t exactly made me a huge fan of his; the constant comparison of how awfully selfish he used to be with others and with Nina proved more of a turn-off than a revelation of how special she is supposed to be. Moreover, for all of Nina’s insistence about owning her own sexuality, her sudden insistence that sex should only happen between consensual adults who want and like each other equally is the argument she uses to keep Ewan at arms’s length. As much as the inevitable sex scenes are hot, I can’t quite get on board with the subtly manipulative and contradictory sides of Nina and Ewan, the former of whom can seem to do no wrong even as she blows hot and cold.

As the first of a 3-book series, ‘Dangerous Promise’ draws out the dialogue and the threats much longer than I expected. The plot advances, albeit slowly and what would be typically resolved in the last three-quarters of the book reads instead like the end of a tv episode, where the characters return for round 2 and subsequently, round 3 as the series goes on. Hart definitely delivers very well-written action scenes, though these are short and brief and interspersed with a lot of dialogue-turned-flirty-banter that can get repetitive, inevitably slowing the pacing of the story. There’s also sort of a cliffhanger but there’s very much the sense that whatever resolution that Hart gives is a temporary one. Nina’s and Ewan’s story is far from over, that much is clear.

It’s kind of tough to write a review for a book which I wanted so much to like but fell a bit short of expectations, and that’s only because I prefer the type of relationships where both the h/hr need each other in equal ways, where both aren’t beyond reproach. But if the alpha female dominating the headlines, so to speak is what you’re after (Nina is a feminist’s wet dream after all), then ‘Dangerous Promise’ is the type of read that will be your catnip.

three-stars

Rogue by Anna Hackett

Rogue by Anna HackettRogue by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Published by Anna Hackett on November 28th 2017
Pages: 144
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four-stars

Anna Hackett’s ‘Rogue’ is in fact, a collection of 2 stories (and 2 pairings) fitted into the typical length of her book, which is kind of a surprise considering how her Galactic Gladiators series has hit its stride. Still, ‘Rogue’ is as always, an adventure-filled book that follows a certain pattern that Hackett subscribes to: a pairing that is cemented through the undertaking of a massive quest—typically a search for something or someone—in which sparks fly, and love eventually comes along.

I’m a little uncertain about the short length of this novella duo—most of my other reviews of Hackett’s books often gripe about length and/or development of plot or relationships—though it’s easy to say as always, that there’s a lot packed into the 70-odd pages allotted to each couple here. For something already so short, Hackett’s couples do run the risk of instalove and I did get the feeling that things got hot and heavy way too quickly (along with the revelation that they’re falling in love with each other, which leaves me feeling sceptical) despite the slight buildup in the previous books.

‘Rogue’, for its 2 novellas, magnifies this problem of believability (I’m just speaking pairing-wise), but it isn’t to say that the ride isn’t a fun one. It’s wild, crazy and showcases the author’s sheer imaginative power that always brings to mind the great adventure movies with the backdrop of an epic syfy series. And obviously, I’m left still wanting more.

four-stars

EXP1RE by Erin Noelle

EXP1RE by Erin NoelleEXP1RE by Erin Noelle
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on October 26th 2017
Pages: 168
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one-star

Numbers. They haunt me. I can't look into a person's eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death. I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try. I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair. Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing. Until I meet him. Tavian. The man beyond the numbers. How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

I swear I felt the chills in the beginning chapter. Loved the premise, the strange oddness and the sense of foreboding that I couldn’t shake, enough to fly through the pages, and go on the armchair holiday that both Lyra and Tavian went for when a bombing at an airport derails their plans.

And if I liked their chemistry and attraction, I couldn’t shake off the blatant cheating in here when all the arguments initially put out by both Lyra and Tavian about being morally above it just fell apart because their desire trumped it. What happened to the initial self-righteous boasts about not wanting ever to be the other woman? Or not being a cheat or a lying bastard in a relationship?

That was when it all fell apart for me and everything that happened after – the sheer lack of remorse justified by the feelings they invoked in each other, the cowardice shown by Tavian, the repulsive way he treated his longterm girlfriend because he’s found his soulmate – was consequently harder and harder to swallow. I didn’t like how the story seemed to condone the cheating; neither could I like the characters for not doing anything about what they already knew was wrong, destined soulmates or not. In short, this was something I couldn’t look past and frankly, didn’t want to.

The only thing that kept me reading (though my interest had by then, waned significantly) was the twist in the story and how the author was going to resolve the problem of rewriting destiny, so to speak. A peek into the first few chapters of the second book simply showed that both protagonists had become characters I don’t recognise at all. That the author had to make the wronged party – Tavian’s Fiancée – the villain in the story when she was clearly the one who was short-changed left me flabbergasted and well, repulsed. So despite the cliffhanger ending in book 1, I’m probably more than happy to bid this goodbye, right about now.

one-star