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Action/Adventure

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

Alaska Wild by Helena Newbury

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 31st May 2017
Alaska Wild by Helena NewburyAlaska Wild by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on December 16th 2016
Pages: 396
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four-stars

Mason Boone. A former Navy SEAL who lives deep in the mountains, sleeps under the stars and hunts for his food. He’s rugged, untamed and gorgeous. And completely off limits: I’m an FBI agent and he’s a fugitive on his way to a military prison. But when another prisoner on our flight stages a breakout and the plane crashes, stranding us in the Alaskan wilderness, Mason becomes my only hope.
We're on opposite sides of the law...but the way he looks at me makes me melt. Could he really be innocent and can I help him overcome the past that haunts him? We're going to need to work together to survive but the greatest danger we face isn't nature: the other prisoner and his gang are out there...and they're hunting us.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s a huge amount of suspending disbelief that must be put in during the reading process and the extent to which I can hold back this disbelief is based on how much I’m engrossed in the action, the pacing and the characterisation.

For ‘Alaska Wild, I was hooked from the start as the action moved from a plane crash, to the wilderness to the frigid winter sea bordering Russia. Admittedly, it was harder to ignore the instant doses of lust emanating from a fugitive and an FBI agent (those long, bodily descriptions of sexual arousal came through way too early on), perpetuated supposedly by his big, strong body and his muscles upon muscles.

That bit aside, Kate Lydecker and Mason Boone do make a compelling pair from the start as the harsh elements of Alaska leave no space for histrionics or stupid behaviour when death quite literally stares them in the face in several instances. They are likeable, willing to fight for each other once the truth came out and pretty much made a good team together. Yet there is more than a touch of superhero-ing going on which I found rather ridiculous as no one truly gets injured in the many close shaves they have. Injuries, when they happen, seem to have no effect on Boone who goes on like an energiser bunny even when shot and apparently runs around sleeveless in arctic weather without feeling cold.

But while the focus was on dodging the bad guys and surviving not just their bullets but the brutal weather and landscape, I’d also hoped to read more about Boone’s eventual acquittal. That however, was confined to a few, succinct lines in the epilogue and how his military transgressions were cleared by the jury, leaving me feeling as though Boone deserved bit more than that. So when Boone and Kate finally ride off into their Alaskan sunset, I was strangely dissatisfied at the end when the hasty wrap-up of a story so lovingly crafted from the start just didn’t do justice to it.

four-stars

Edge of Truth by Brynn Kelly

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th May 2017
Edge of Truth by Brynn KellyEdge of Truth by Brynn Kelly
Published by Harlequin Books on May 30th 2017
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Rotting in an African dungeon is the last place journalist Tess Newell expected to find herself. As she's held hostage by the terrorist group she's investigating, Tess's salvation--and temptation--arrives in the form of another prisoner. A French Foreign Legionnaire with a sinful smile and too many secrets to be anything but dangerous. Yet she knows he's her only hope of surviving.
The Legion is the only family Flynn has. His sanctuary and his purgatory, after years spent in hell. When a mission goes south and Flynn is captured, it's not the enemy that worries him, but the brazen, alluring reporter whose prying questions threaten to bring down his world--and the walls he's built around his heart.
Yet after a daring escape, Flynn must risk it all and go on the run with Tess to retrieve the evidence she needs. The chemistry between them threatens to detonate but, with the enemy fast closing in, time is running out to unravel the truth from the lies in this deadly conspiracy...

A celebrity reporter is thrown into jail in some unknown location in Africa, presumably held by terrorists making a demand. But it appears that Tess has uncovered some secrets of her own, which will probably upend what most people categorise in their black-and-white-worlds of good vs. evil. Her only hope of escape, however, is an edgy, secretive soldier thrown into the same jail cell with her and until the truth emerges, it’s best that they stick together since escape is their end game.

While I’d read Brynn Kelly’s first book ‘Deception Island’ with a dose of skepticism, getting an early copy of ‘Edge of Truth’ made me excited once again for the shady, spooks and spies kind of story that promises heart-pounding action. To some extent, that is what the story offers.

But if it started out great for me, it fizzled out too soon, only picking up towards the end. Nonetheless, it’s well-written, with many detailed, descriptive scenes that amp up the experience of Flynn and Tess making their escape and guaranteed to make your pulse speed up.

For the rest of the time though, I wondered where the narrative was going. There was loads of time spent in the deep POV, which made for exciting action, yet focused so much on sensory experience that I couldn’t, after a while, make sense of what was really happening (and lost any sense of time like the characters did), or whether progress was really made in getting to the crux of the story. Dialogue—banter almost—is interspersed with periods of waiting and action, and it took so long getting to the part where Tess finally stopped looking at Flynn with suspicion despite his many attempts at saving her. I’d hope to see more of the fallout after the conspiracy exposed, but the story never quite got there in the end, focusing instead, on the steps that Flynn/Tess took to escape and give the bad guys the runaround.

However, Tess’s self-righteous behaviour (mostly consisting of pushing away) annoyed me, as did her insistence that things had to be done only her way while accusing Flynn of having a hero-complex. I hated how she never listened but did things on her own because she was only convinced that only her way would keep everyone safe. Grateful much? This saviour-complex and the secrets she stubbornly strove to keep, supposedly for the good of everyone, crossed the line into TSTL for me long before I could even think of it as bravery. That her wilfulness ended up in her also breaking the one thing Flynn asked of her—to leave his past the hell alone because it left him in a world of hurt—made it hard for me to like her at all. It screws up clearly, her efforts gone to waste as Flynn rushes to her rescue…yet again. A hell of a lot happens in 2 days—as though time has been compressed—and there’s clearly instant-love at work here, with Flynn seeming to have more of a revelatory experience than Tess and I never quite got the feeling that she returned that sentiment with as much force as he did—that much she prioritised the ‘story’ above all else.

For me, the long and short of it is, I wished I were more convinced by this story, as well as by a pairing that should have made more sense but didn’t. Flynn/Tess weren’t entirely believable (or compatible) as a couple but if you’re in it more for the suspense and action, then ‘Edge of Truth’ would work perfectly.

three-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

Gone to Dust by Liliana Hart

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 25th April 2017
Gone to Dust by Liliana HartGone to Dust by Liliana Hart
Series: Gravediggers #2
Published by Pocket Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Sometimes the dead do rise…
Miller Darling is one of the most popular romance novelists of her time. Not bad for a woman who doesn’t believe in romance. She’s as logical as they come, and she doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters. What she does believe in is family, so when her brother disappears, she doesn’t think twice about packing her bag and her laptop and heading out to find him.
Elias Cole has an axe to grind. Of all the Gravediggers, he’s the most reluctant in his new role as dead man walking. He’s angry, and being stuck in the tiny town of Last Stop, Texas might as well be purgatory. He misses his country and the life he had before he was betrayed. The only thing keeping him sane are the men who are like him—the Gravediggers—and the woman who makes his head spin. He’s never met anyone like Miller Darling. She’s not intimidated by his scowls, and damned if he doesn’t find that appealing.
When Miller sneaks out of town in the dead of night, her suitcase in tow, he has no choice but to follow. He’s made an oath to the Gravediggers. Only death can separate them. But he’s willing to risk it all to follow the one woman who drives him crazy halfway around the world. But when the ones who own his soul find out that he’s deserted them, there will be nowhere to hide.

Elias Cole and Miller Darling have a recent and unhappy history, and it’s mostly a funny one of unfulfilled sexual tension where Elias left Miller, well, wanting. They’re brought closer together by circumstances that are odd but befitting the life of a romance author who lives inside her head when she receives a finger with a ring that says her equally oddball and irresponsible brother has gone missing.

Elias is literally forced to go with Miller as she goes after her brother and the journey is a hilarious one, peppered mostly by Miller’s fanciful imaginings that started to feel a lot like a parody of romance authors whose heads stay mostly in the clouds. I loved every minute of the banter, especially how often Miller makes Elias speechless with her overactive imagination.

At the same time, Elias’s own reasons for wanting revenge lends gravity to his purpose for being a Gravedigger and I was eagerly waiting for his backstory, as I do for the rest of the motley crew. Sadly, not too much of it is given and his purpose in seeking revenge is somewhat dimmed by the end of the book, proving a disappointment as I half-expected that goal to be fulfilled.

But as far as pairings go, I loved how Elias/Miller both surprised me at every turn, both with their conversations and actions that were as non-stereotypical as they could be in this genre. That they made me laugh most of the way was a fantastic bonus that helped make this book a standout.

Like the first book, this one made me sit up and take note, not just because of the intrigue that’s presented here—I’ve not forgotten that the funeral parlour in an ugly town in Texas houses the world’s deadliest operatives—but also because of the direction that the story took. I’d been expecting more counterterrorist-type scenarios as it did in Deacon’s case, but that was hardly the case this time around.

‘Gone to Dust’ has a heavy focus instead on the journey that Elias and Miller took and the development of their relationship, but eschewed the details about the treasure, the myth and Justin’s ultimate fate in favour of banter and steamy sex. In fact, the story ended very soon after they yanked Justin out of his hiding place and got the bad guy, making me feel as though I was left hanging when Elias and Miller finally decided that they loved each other enough to stay together after a very brief meltdown on Elias’s side.

I think I would have enjoyed it more if the ending had been less abrupt and if I’d seen more of the Gravediggers in action—there were admittedly fewer scenes with them here than in the first book—mostly because their strange relationships and quirky interactions were the highlight of this series so far. The rushed epilogue felt like a HFN without a definite plan for the future (that itself is briefly explained) but still, it would have been nicer to have ‘Gone to Dust’ more conclusively wrapped up without me feeling stunned and wondering if some pages had been missing after all.

Still, it’s a memorable read and as a series that’s only just beginning to gather steam, I’m eager to see what Hart has in store next for this group of unlikely brothers.

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

Hot Addiction by Lynn Raye Harris

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th April 2017
Hot Addiction by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Addiction by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #10
Published by H.O.T. Publishing on April 11th 2017
Pages: 227
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two-stars

When Dex “Double Dee” Davidson was abandoned at the altar by the woman he loved, he threw himself into his military career, training hard enough to get accepted into the elite Black Ops unit known as HOT. The love he felt for Annabelle Quinn burned to ash in the face of her betrayal—so when she crashes back into his life and begs him to save her, he has no problem laughing in her face.
Blackmailed into jilting Dex and forced into an abusive marriage, Annabelle never thought she’d escape the hell of the last five years. But her husband died a month ago and she’s finally free. Except she isn’t. Someone claims that Eric stole a fortune—and they want it back. If she doesn’t return it within twenty-four hours, she’ll be dead—and so will her young daughter. With time running out, Annabelle has no one to turn to. No one except Dex.
When Dex learns that Annabelle’s husband committed treason against the US by selling a top secret military project to the Russians, he has no choice but to get involved. He’ll protect Annabelle and her child, and he’ll find out who’s threatening her. But he won’t fall for her intoxicating sensuality ever again. And if he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him? It’ll be game over for good…

I try, I really try. Which is why I still go on with the HOT books despite being rather disappointed in Lynn Raye Harris’s past installments.

I like Harris’s storylines—the mixture of devil-may-care action and the active form of counterterrorism that these HOT guys fight—and how these books are actually a build up of an overarching narrative of a complex network of spies, baddies and shady characters who drive the ongoing plot. ‘Hot Addiction’ reminds me very much of ‘Hot Shot’ with its similar plot though, and while it isn’t quite a rehash of it, this takes place so much further in the HOT universe that things have clearly changed in the military situation that the guys deal with, as there are more happily married ones around.

But there’re too many times in the series that I can’t get over the stupidity of many of the heroines whose spineless behaviour can’t hold a candle to the guys they want. Sadly, Annabelle is yet another one in the long line of those—which is why I’ll fondly remember Victoria and Lucky as the ultimate HOT women—who jilted Dex because she chose her parents over him. Then not being able to face the truth of whether her daughter is Dex or the man she left Dex for tanked Annabelle completely in my opinion.

I understand that characters have their flaws. Tt makes them human and relatable, though there are some faults that go beyond my own personal limits—the lack of trust destroying relationships irreparably being one of those, clearly. Annabelle’s turning to Dex appeared more out of desperation than remorse and want, needing his company when she was scared witless yet it was still not enough to give up the whole truth to him. She gets my sympathy to an extent of course—a victim of rape never deserves it, despite what some people try to argue—but I couldn’t like her sufficiently because ultimately she didn’t have enough gumption to fight for what she wanted. I think she simply did way too many things wrong from the start which eventually snowballed into something she couldn’t control, then pretty much laying it on Dex when he tried to do the best by her just didn’t resonate with me, to put it nicely. That Dex was the one left grovelling in the end was probably the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Clearly this review falls in the minority and it’s just me with my personal triggers and innate sense of ‘justice’ of wronged parties acting up here. It didn’t change the fact that I felt sorry for Dex though, even though his HEA seemed to be harder fought on his side than Annabelle who should had grown more than a pair…yesterday. My rating reflects this, but that’s not to say that I’m not going to follow up on Mendez’s story, hoping for another hit the next time around.

two-stars
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