Category: (Sub)Genre

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh

Wolf Rain by Nalini SinghWolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3, #3, Psy-Changeling #18
Published by Berkley on 4th June 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

The end of Silence was supposed to create a better world for future generations. But trust is broken, and the alliance between Psy, Changeling, and human is thin. The problems that led to Silence are back in full force. Because Silence fixed nothing, just hid the problems.

This time, the Psy have to find a real answer to their problems–if one exists. Or their race will soon go extinct in a cascade of violence. The answer begins with an empath who is attuned to monsters–and who is going to charm a wolf into loving her despite his own demons.

Nalini Singh’s über-popular Psy-Changeling series probably needs no introduction that far gone into its second series, set in the future when the Trinity Accord has been signed and a cautious peace has settled amongst the three races populating an alternate version of Earth.

The Psy-Changeling verse has expanded so much by this point that it’s practically impossible to jump into and rush through ‘Wolf Rain’ as a standalone. By and large, I did think Singh handled most aspects of the sheer size/weight of her own intricate world-building quite deftly here: the precarious juggle between the bonds of pack and romance and the weighted history that the races have, the larger, wider implications of the collapsing Psy-Net, the latent and new threats and the supporting characters who still have dedicated scenes for readers who can’t let them go.

‘Wolf Rain’ deals with the subtleties of the Psy, or rather, the subtleties of the Empaths who’d been cast aside who rose to prominence after the fall of Silence with the introduction of a rather aggravating, loud-broadcasting captive Empath Psy who simply doesn’t fit the designation E to a tee. After a quick look at other changeling groups in the first two books of this new season however, ‘Wolf Rain’ for this reason, feels oddly like a return to, or at least, a lateral expansion of the Snowdancer/Dark River-centric books where changelings shifters mostly get paired by with their former Psy enemies. Alexei Vasiliev Harte finds his mate in Memory here (battling a serial-killer at the same time) while sub-plots push forward the ongoing story of Psy-life after Trinity.

Every path is a hard-fought one, on the personal and the collective level—reflected by the longer than usual narrative—and needless to say, Alexei/Memory’s one is also a push-pull based on experience, insecurity and fear. Admittedly, this is a pairing that didn’t enthral me as much as Singh’s other couples and as a romance, didn’t quite live up to other pairings that had moved me a lot more…so this sort of impacted my rating of the overall story nonetheless.

Still, I liked the nuanced exploration of the fascinating PsyNet that draws so much from facets of computer networking and meta systems and that alone perhaps, makes ‘Wolf Rain’ worth it.

three-half-stars

Lost in You by Lauren Dane

Lost in You by Lauren DaneLost In You by Lauren Dane
Published by Carina Press on 13th May 2019
Pages: 176
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one-star

Getting lost in the arms of a bad boy never felt so good

Time and the military have made Joe Harris a better man than he was when he left Petal, Georgia, ten years ago. Now that he’s back, all he wants is to take care of his dad, get his garage up and running and spend time with his dog. He has no plans for a relationship, especially one with his best friend’s kid sister, no matter how much she tempts him. And boy does she ever.

Beth Murphy grew up surrounded by trouble, so these days she steers clear when she sees it. Until Joe Harris rides back into town—he’s the kind of trouble worth getting tangled up in. She knows he’s not the same guy he once was, but there’s something he’s not telling her.

When things at home take a turn, Joe does the only thing he can: he pushes Beth away. This is his responsibility, not hers. But Beth isn’t about to lose him—not when they’ve already lost their hearts to each other.

‘Lost in You’ started out promising, but dipped quite early on when I realised there wasn’t much else but talk about Beth going after Joe and Beth really going after Joe.

And that was my red flag, even though the best friend’s sister trope is one that I do nose around for whenever I can. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get engaged beyond the point where Beth started chasing Joe because there wasn’t much more to look for beyond that. A forthright heroine who knows what she wants is always a welcome change in direction in romance, but the small town talk simply seemed to be about everything and nothing as Joe and Beth danced around each other in a two-steps-foward-two-steps-back choreography.

Not having read Lauren Dane’s other series, ‘Lost In You’ did feel like I’d stepped in the middle of a show whose beginning I knew absolutely nothing about. Secondary characters who must have played an important and heartfelt role in previous books made appearances here but because I wasn’t invested in them at all, such scenes actually felt redundant and dragged the story under—this is obviously on me, but it was also a sign that ‘Lost in You’ just wasn’t my thing as well.

one-star

Rocky Ground by Kaylea Cross

Rocky Ground by Kaylea CrossRocky Ground by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point #4
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 26th March 2019
Pages: 203
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two-half-stars

She’s been hurt too many times…

Single mom Tiana Fitzgerald has sworn off all romantic relationships to protect herself and her daughter. Her track record is disastrous and she’s done getting hurt. But a certain sexy Scotsman in Crimson Point has other ideas, and somehow manages to sneak past her defenses at every turn. As the hits keep coming and her life implodes, she begins to see he’s unlike any man she’s ever known. Now he’s become the greatest threat to her heart, because there’s no possible future for them. Not when he’s leaving the country in a few weeks. And when her worst fears are realized, she must risk everything by placing her trust in in his hands.

He’s determined to capture her heart.

Scotsman Aidan MacIntyre never saw the fiery, beautiful Tiana coming. The prickly redhead has gotten under his skin as badly as he wants to get under hers. But she’s determined to keep walls between them. Luckily the former Royal Marine doesn’t know how to give up. Someone from her past wants to hurt her, but Aidan will stand between her and any threat. He’ll stop at nothing to protect her and the little girl who have completely stolen his heart—and fight for them to have a future together.

‘Rocky Ground’ didn’t appeal personally for reasons that I’ll readily admit are formed out of my own biases: that the whole story is built around bad, past relationships and exes, where the conflict has more to do with confronting one’s own bad decision making even with the small town support rather than the military-type, global-conspiracy kind of suspense I’m so used to Kaylea Cross producing over the years.

Never more so does it look more so like Hallmark with sexy times in Cross’s Crimson Point series; where issues that flare up are more domestic but everything is neatly wrapped up in a neat bow. The good and bad guys are so clearly delineated that an obvious volcanic vent in the rock separates them, where good and evil even more clearly separated. And that’s all well and good I guess, since it’s more than arguable—or at least blindingly obvious—that many people do turn to romantic fiction for the HEAs, the clear sense of good guys winning and the cosy, wrapped-up, feel-good endings when real life tends to offer the opposite…and that much I understand.

I can’t say that Aiden and Tiana HEA wasn’t hard won really, yet I couldn’t help but want a bit more grit/dark elements (or dare I say, tragedy or death, and not just for the bad guys?) where this series was concerned—where the protagonists have to deal with something more brutal that’s not written off the pages but on it, where picking things up in the most painful of ways should mirror some of the struggles faced in real life.

But I digress, as bent as I am on this somewhat sadistic path, even for fictional characters.

The bottomline is, I read ‘Rocky Ground’ through very easily (in fact, the Crimson Point books didn’t fare all too well with me), but wasn’t as moved as I have been by Cross’s other books. Tiana didn’t seem like a character I liked too much, while Aiden’s charming self—along with his persistence and his integrity—fared just a bit better. For the stalwart Kaylea Cross fan however, ‘Rocky Ground’ does have a variety of inserts to make the story flow: an evil ex, a natural disaster, a predictable but rather absorbing climax before the confetti-throwing, fairy-tale ending. It’s just not a story that stayed with me much.

two-half-stars

Counterpoint by Lauren E. Rico

Counterpoint by Lauren E. RicoCounterpoint by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Harmony House Productions, Lauren E. Rico on March 28 2019
Pages: 210
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four-stars

Brilliant young pianist Alexandria is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night she unravels in front of thousands at her Carnegie Hall debut.

Brilliant young pianist Nate is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night a horrific accident took away everything—and everyone he loved.

Now fate—and a wily cowboy pianist named Wyatt—have brought them both to Texas for a summer of intensive study and healing. And, though the two butt heads almost immediately, it’s soon clear that, together, Alex and Nate possess a dazzling chemistry that eclipses anything they might have done alone.

But the real test of their longevity as partners—on stage and off—comes when Alex’s overbearing father threatens to destroy everything they’ve both worked so hard for. Painful choices must be made and lives will be changed forever.

While Nate wrestles with the gut-wrenching guilt of his past, Alex is forced to confront the grim prospects for her future. And suddenly, each must decide if there is enough power in their music and enough courage in their hearts to breach the chasm between them.

Lauren E. Rico speaks directly to the soft spot I suspect I’ll always have for classical music and the very rare bit of romantic fiction written around it, because there’s just so much to explore in what’s typically considered a big-ego, elitist and inaccessible world. And well, that it was a world that I belonged to, very briefly so long ago, makes the classic music romance, so to speak, a wistful step back into that passionate, intriguing and cut-throat space.

The unique meeting of accomplished classical pianists, both child prodigies, both fallen in their own ways and unable to pick themselves up until the intervention of a mysterious do-gooder who wanted nothing more but to get them going again….no surprise then, that I jumped on ‘Counterpoint’ as soon as the ARC was available.

Nathaniel Calloway’s and Alexandria Mickelson-Fitch’s stalled careers start to collide in a way that neither could have ever imagined, thanks to a Texan cowboy professor who seem determined to get their back their tarnished stardom. Cue the resulting family drama, the heaving chests, the loud denials and affirmations came to the fore that catapulted the storytelling into soap-opera territory at times.

There were clear hurdles to jump over here: obsessive, helicopter parenting, volatile tempers with sometime immature outbursts (throw in the broody artistic-temperament) and so much ego-shuffling. I was sceptical of the quick switch from hostility to near-instalove, got frustrated when adults started behaving like teenagers who suddenly couldn’t see reason and devolved into self-absorbed, entitled, snivelling messes who couldn’t handle themselves let alone others.

Still, I lapped up every descriptive passage of the music that both Nate and Alex played, lapped up their duets and the heady sense of the music that spilled from the pages and left me wanting more as I rode every wave of high and low with them. The music’s made magic in Rico’s hands and I could only wish there were more of such stories from her.

four-stars

Nothing but Trouble by P. Dangelico

Nothing but Trouble by P. DangelicoNothing But Trouble by P. Dangelico
Series: Malibu University #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 26th March 2019
Pages: 229
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four-stars

Reagan Reynolds...Water polo god. Owner of a face that belongs under Wikipedia’s definition of drop dead gorgeous. Too charming for his own good. But most importantly––the worst driver on the planet.

No, really, I’m pretty sure his blind nana taught him how to drive.

I had no idea who he was until he almost ran me over. And frankly, I kind of wish I still didn’t because then I wouldn’t have a sprained ankle to show for it. And my leg wouldn’t resemble a boa constrictor that’s swallowed a feral pig.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

I’ve spent years saving every penny I’ve ever earned to be able to transfer to Malibu University. And now my entire future––including my scholarship––is in jeopardy.

So I either accept the help he insists on giving me, or lose everything I’ve sacrificed for.

In the meantime, I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re becoming friends.

And I’m definitely going to pretend he’s not turning into the object of my…umm, dirty fantasies.

That’s not happening.

Not even a little.

Because the minute I clapped eyes on him I knew he was nothing but trouble.

What I’ve mostly found with New Adult books is that emotions (and with it, some irrational behaviour) hold huge sway over what characters say and do—hormones I guess, do play a huge part—and that’s both a boon and bane of this sub-genre that can go so wrong and yet so right.

‘Nothing but Trouble’ is my first P. Dangelico read and it kept me up past my bedtime, with a NA/YA story that started out lighthearted but soon unravelled into angst, unrequited emotions and heavier issues—parental, peer pressure, drugs—that some New Adult books have cut their cloth with.

The frat-boy syndrome swings into play here: athletes and manwhoring seem to be synonymous terms and appear in way too many sports romance books. Reagan felt a bit like an anomaly of sorts, but make no mistake, most of his team wholly embrace the bevy of bunnies that flock to them. Still, Dangelico’s male characters can undoubtedly be bastards, nonetheless. Reagan’s indecision (and his pulling several dickish moves throughout despite some tragic, trying circumstances), and his constant swaying regarding wanting to keep Alice at a distance while giving her more mixed signals made her in contrast, a stalwart, steady protagonist whom I found myself liking a lot.

Still, I was pulled in by the circling, the heart-breaking push-pull and the electric, growing tension between Reagan and Alice until it finally broke. Their story is well-written and engrossing in a way I hadn’t expected when I picked this up with a seamless introduction to secondary characters and hints of their future HEAs, even if I’m a little more sceptical about what they’ll turn out to be.

four-stars

Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey

Heat Stroke by Tessa BaileyHeat Stroke by Tessa Bailey
Series: Beach Kingdom, #2
Published by Tessa Bailey on 15th March 2019
Pages: 178
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four-stars

They can't be together. They won't stay apart.

Marcus “Diesel” O’Shaughnessy is a brash, oversized CrossFit enthusiast with a naked lady tattooed on his rippling forearm. Jamie Prince is a private school teacher with an extremely low tolerance for bull. The two men have zero in common. Well, except for three things.

They’re both moonlighting as lifeguards for the summer. No matter how hard they try, they cannot stay away from each other. And both of them have secrets they’re determined to keep.

But what happens in the shadows of the Long Beach boardwalk can only remain hidden for so long, before the July sunshine reveals the hot, unrelenting connection they never expected, forcing Marcus and Jamie to decide if they’re simply caught up in a temporary heat stroke or if they’ve found something worth rescuing...

3 lifeguard brothers, 3 different stories, all long beach-centric. I’ve not read the first book but I’m eternally grateful that Tessa Bailey has done something different with Jamie’s story, seeing how seldom she ventures into M/M territory just sweetened the pot.

I had all the feels when Bailey wrote about the pain of needing to hide one’s sexuality, the struggle about finding acceptance and the fear/insecurity about facing peer pressure when push came to shove about choosing yourself and what you wanted others to see. Jamie Prince slayed me with his history, his openness and his big heart; I loved him as much as I felt for Marcus who, for the longest time, straddled between wanting to come out and staying closeted in fear of judgement for the kind of lifestyle he wanted to lead.

The issues aren’t new but in Bailey’s hand, Jamie/Marcus’s evolving emotions sprung out starker than usual, with a funny mixture of endearing sweetness and some cringeworthy scenes about cock cages and weird, non-stop erections that made Viagra’s effect pale in comparison. Cue the big talking, the (somewhat toned down) dirty bits and some inevitable push-pull…I’m just happy to say Bailey delivered that I needed to read about two characters I could and wanted to cheer for.

four-stars