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Rogue by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th December 2017
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

War Games by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 17th November 2017
War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on December 11th 2017
Pages: 343
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four-stars

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

‘War Games’ closes Jess Anastasi’s ‘Valiant Knox’ series and I’ve obviously been waiting a while to get my paws on it, ever since I sniffed out the tension between Cameron McAllister and Theresa Brennan in the last book. In a nutshell, mutual dislike best characterises Bren’s and Cam’s relationship for the past decade, for mistaken reasons that have them mostly avoiding each other when they can.

With a strong element of pride and prejudice working here means that they start off cool, distant and rocky, until a downed pilot pushes them into close confines and forces them to reevaluate their grudges. But Bren and Cam are likeable characters who don’t generally play games—hard to do so during war when more important things matter—; both have a core of compassion and integrity that I’ve come to associate with the standout protagonists of syfy-romance, so it isn’t hard to get into their developing relationship even as the pace amps up towards the end.

The enemies-to-lovers (with frenemies being the state in between) is one of my favourite tropes, but apart from that, ‘War Games’, like every other book that Anastasi writes, is akin watching an action-packed, hour-long episode of a tv series merrily chugging its way through the season, as a primary conflict specific to the episode plays out and is by and large, resolved by the time the end credits roll. That said, ‘War Games’ isn’t quite suitable as a standalone read, considering there’s a whole universe and a bit of history behind the warring factions, so it could be a hard book to follow if you’re starting straight here.

What I’ve always loved about the Valiant Knox’s series is that the books are very easy to read, or maybe it’s because I’ve been following this from the get-go, when I was still high off my syfy addiction. Anastasi’s books are typically pitched at a level I can enjoy and follow without getting too confused, which I can’t always say of the detail-suffused and complex worlds of several syfy or fantasy epics that I’ve tried to sink my teeth into.

Still, it’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to a series that I like very much, even when the curtain finally falls on every couple’s HEA several years later.

four-stars

Beast by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th November 2017
Beast by Anna HackettBeast by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
on October 31st 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

Vek—the blue man/beast who has been roaring and growling his way into the hearts of Anna Hackett’s readers since the series introduced him—finally takes centre stage in this novella, with a woman who has the strange power to soothe him.

It’s nothing less than a thrilling ride with several surprisingly revelations along the way, as Hackett’s imaginary Cathargo (a mix of an ancient gladiatorial theatre in a dusty Star-Wars world with the technology of Bladerunner) springs to life yet again with an enthusiastic expansion of this odd place and the mad number of species that populate it. This far down the series, Galactic Gladiators has definitely gotten better and more enthralling as Hackett’s world-building expands—which possibly makes many of her books difficult to enjoy as standalones—as ‘earth people’, post-capture after the raid of a space station near Jupiter, find themselves in situations too alien (pun intended) for them to resist while finding love on the way.

There were many parts of ‘Beast’ that I liked, and the action and the secondary characters populating the universe notwithstanding, Vek and Mia actually turn out to be a pairing that’s probably the most unusual and heartrending thus far. Hackett proves that Vek is so much more than a killing machine with a sad past, and that with a shave and haircut, along with the love and care of a pint-sized human, is just as redeemable and deserving of a HEA as any of her other characters.

four-stars

Catalyst by Rachel Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 24th October 2017
Catalyst by Rachel GrantCatalyst by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #2
Published by Janus Publishing on November 21st 2017
Pages: 350
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three-stars

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

I’ve always thought of Rachel Grant as the romantic suspense author who goes where good authors of this sub-genre go, then where most books actually end, takes it a breath-stealing mile further. Where entire books would have been written around a sex-trafficking plot, Grant integrates hers with a smartly-written overview of cultural anthropology, native American issues and the knife-edge balance of the socio-political situation in Africa that makes her Flashpoint series beyond excellent.

‘Catalyst’ is written pretty much in the same vein as its predecessor: thrilling, engaging and entirely absorbing, particularly if you love the kind of geopolitical background (with some corporate dirt thrown in) that Grant painstakingly unravels—which I do—in a part of the world that’s hardly written about in such books. For that alone, I can’t wax lyrical enough about this series, which is akin to seeing a complex chess-piece that’s put together in a narrative arc that makes it feel as though there’s yet unfinished business to conclude.

It’s also almost a given that her characters are equally multifaceted, and it’s my own fault that I didn’t quite warm to Brie and Bastian at all, with the former being more manipulatively needy and self-pitying because of her past than I expected, while the latter was too careless with people and unashamedly being Bastian the bastard about it. The games they later played with each other because neither of them could get a handle on commitment also didn’t help my ability to like Brie/Bastian as a pairing while as Brie’s ‘rich girl’s woe-is-me penance’ got tiring after a while. That said, the first half of ‘Catalyst’ enthralled me more than the second, where I found I needed to suspend disbelief a bit more when it seemed that many of the mysterious threads laid out so intricately in the first half were actually tied together by an obsessive man in Brie’s past.

The action and suspense are nonetheless very well-done and I was especially taken by the hostile tension between Savannah James and Cal whose book I hope Grant tackles next, as much as I loved the appearance of one of Grant’s best heroes in the Evidence series here.

three-stars

Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 19th October 2017
Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn ReillyAdrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly
Series: Deadly DNA #1
on October 8th 2017
Pages: 216
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three-stars

He's a trained, cold-blooded killer. Freelancing as a soldier for hire, Jake Hanson is ready to take down GovCorp, the ruthless corporation that created the mercenary that he is. But when he gets teamed up in the jungles of Africa with the fiery and determined Kendra Reed, Jake struggles with his mission. After all, he's not programmed to feel—but he's beginning to feel a hell of a lot for the feisty ex-soldier.

She's a spy looking for answers. Kendra Reed works for GovCorp as a translator. But she has a hidden agenda. She's after the truth—and she'll stop at nothing to get it. Working with a genetically-engineered bad boy sparks intrigue in her. But the last thing Kendra needs is to be falling for someone like Jake.

Falling for each other was never on their agenda. As they face a deadly enemy, Jake and Kendra are forced to trust one another, while confronting the heated attraction that burns between them. With time running out and their adrenaline in overdrive, can they find a way to save themselves before it's too late?

The start of ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ plunges us straight into Carolyn Reilly’s intriguing world of the genetically-modified and the ‘natural’ borns, the schism deepened only by the physicality of the former, the ‘weakness’ of the latter and the prejudices that grew out of that widening divide. There is a fair bit to take in as well with a huge number of characters gracing the pages while Reilly sets up opposing factions: GovCorp vs. the Committee, GVs vs. naturals, Kendra vs. Jake, the rogues vs. everyone else (so it seems) as it slowly becomes clear that this is an alternate universe, or at least a futuristic earth not so distant that we can’t imagine ourselves in it.

It did take me a while to get my head around this reality that Reilly has created, though it’s definitely an action-packed but chilling ride that combines political tussle, whistle-blowers, double agents and paramilitary activities showing just how deep divides have become. Kendra and Jake were relatively believable protagonists though their fast-and-furious growing relationship amid the instability of the socio-political climate did at times however, feel more like lust than love. There were also, some abrupt and awkward breaks signalling POV changes that made me blink each time it happened, and the somewhat uneven characterisation/narration that threw me off.

In many ways, ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ reads like an establishing novel—it is in any case—as Reilly’s world-building gets off its feet. But it’s a world I’d be willing to revisit again and I’m already looking forward to see what Reilly has in store for this insane world that somehow, doesn’t feel too far from the nightmare our present reality can become.

three-stars

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy 16th October 2017
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantInto the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Published by Orbit on November 14th 2017
Pages: 512
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three-stars

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

‘Into the Drowning Deep’ delivers a potent cocktail of bloodthirsty monstrous mermaids, blood spatter and gore with aplomb. It’s also that kind of popcorn-throwing syfy-horror-fantasy I expect at a viewing of any apex-predator movie—a thrilling, entertaining and highly campy ride up until the credits roll—which the book delivers.

Just don’t take it too seriously, which, with the aid of popcorn and a few laughs along the way, is rather easy to do.

The writing is visually striking, though distant and sometimes cynical with a tendency to go off rambling tangents in the way I would associate with authors like Michael Crichton, Steve Alten or Peter Benchley. Despite the premise, it is rather slow-going and the introductions to all the other characters (with the parenthesis of their background lives happening too often, just like this) so it means that things don’t really get underway until half the book’s gone by. But once the ship sets sail, expect the blood and gore to splash everywhere thanks to mermaids that are the furthest from Disney’s red-haired Ariel and her trusty sidekicks; these ones eat man for their delicious flesh and won’t stop till they get their fill.

Fighting, dissection and loads of chomping ensue, which might be one of the best bits for me, the other being Mira Grant’s ability to slip into various writing styles. Innocent animals as well as people are taken apart in grisly glory courtesy of very sharp teeth, amid the frantic guesswork behind the evolutionary path of the fanged-tooth sirens/mermaids, along with (some moralising science-speak) about humanity’s whirlwind path of destruction and how everything is interpreted through a framework only we can understand and deem superior.

With constantly changing POVs, Grant doesn’t make out any clear hero but neither are they particularly likeable enough that you get invested in them. The story is after all, more plot- than character-driven as the ultimate goal here is to uncover the mystery of the strange happenings deep in the Mariana Trench. Still, it suddenly comes to a climax after a slow build, before quickly plunging to a half-hearted resolution, leaving the dismembered body parts, gore and some very angry humans and sirens in their wake. The clean-up and aftermath happen ‘backstage’, but the idea of man’s survival typically hangs in the balance with a conclusion that suggests there might be room for a sequel—this much we’re simply told as the sun sets yet again on the impasse of man vs. the deep.

three-stars

Ash by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 10th October 2017
Ash by Anna HackettAsh by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #14
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can’t seem to stay away…online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash’s tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

Finding love in an alien-apocalypse-survivor world is far from impossible, at least according to Anna Hackett, because all it really takes is a kind of desperation to survive, to cherish whatever you have, to live in the present and to take what you want—to the point where protagonists who wouldn’t have given each other time of the day in the ‘normal’ world actually work in this context.

More like a miniseries of novella than a full-length books, ‘Ash’, like all of Hackett’s books, is a fast read with a bit of instalove, with enough sexy times to scorch the pages and action-packed scenes that don’t let up. But I’ve missed this world of hers and ‘Ash’ is a great return to it.

Hackett tells a riveting story, as each book slowly advances the plot with a new discovery that helps flesh out this post-alien-earth, while serving as a catalyst at the same time to cement the growing relationship between the pairing in question. The geek factor is played up a fair bit in Ash/Marin’s story and it’s computer gaming that brings an unlikely pair together—a tech geek and an ex-biker who has had his own dreams dashed before the alien invasion. And while I do like the dynamics of Marin and Ash, I cringed a little at Marin losing her brains at the sight of a muscular, handsome ex-biker and becoming all awkward when she saw him.

As a novella however, Ash/Marin, like all of Hackett’s other pairings, find their HEA fast enough, given that there are bigger and more worrisome entities to care about. No time is wasted with their getting together, though a late twist in the game gives too much of a Deus Ex Machina moment for me to fully buy into it. Still, it’s a solid addition to the series as far as things go and it’s making me very curious about how Hackett will end this entire narrative arc in this universe when it finally ends.

four-stars
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