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Untraveled by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 19th August 2017
Untraveled by Anna HackettUntraveled by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #5
Published by Anna Hackett on August 8th 2017
Pages: 127
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three-stars

After a mission gone terribly wrong, former Navy SEAL Hale Carter has made a good career for himself at Treasure Hunter Security. He gets to use his engineering skills designing new gadgets, his SEAL skills providing security for exciting expeditions and treasure hunts, and he enjoys a variety of ladies on his downtime. He might still be plagued by nightmares, but all in all, life is good. Then he volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission into the Kalahari Desert, alongside a cool, attractive FBI agent who challenges him at every turn.

Special Agent Elin Alexander is driven to bring down the deadly black-market antiquities ring Silk Road. She's experienced firsthand how they destroy lives and she's vowed to end their greed and killing. After months of undercover work, she's eager for the mission to find the Lost City of the Kalahari. What she wasn't expecting was six-feet-three inches of former Navy SEAL as her partner. Hale is too handsome, too sexy, and isn't inclined to follow orders.

As the pair infiltrate the Silk Road hunt, Hale and Elin find themselves fighting a scorching attraction as they work to discover just what the lost city is hiding. But stuck in the bowels of a legendary ancient mine, Hale and Elin must put their trust in each other, to not only save the day, but to get out alive.

I swear, Anna Hackett has been on a roll these past few months. Novella after novella, world after dizzying world that takes a while (a huge mental shift is needed!) just to get into because they’re so extensive and broad with so much more to discover as each story peels back the layer of that particular world.

By and large, I enjoy many of them—some more than others, as always—but Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series is probably one of the ones I really like because of its closeness to history, archaeology and well, Indiana Jones. Apart from being a reminder that there is still so much yet to discover on planet Earth, the exotic locations don’t hurt too, and this time, ‘Untraveled’ is another rollicking ride of a treasure hunting security outfit dealing with King Solomon’s treasures and the crooks who tend to follow the money trail.

Hackett pairs Hale and Elin—a former SEAL and a ladies’ man with a take-no-prisoners FBI agent—this time around, and they are a pairing that reminds me so much of Shaw and Claudia from Hell Squad, though they battle human baddies rather than dinosaur-like enemies in the heart of Africa. Both Hale and Elin do have chemistry; they work well together and mostly, I did like the action and the plot, though I wasn’t quite able to shake off the instalove feel that made me a little less enthusiastic about the book that it could have been.

That said, ‘Untraveled’ is a fun, quick read and as always, Hackett provides pure escapist adventures that I can’t say no to. There’s always a hint and and a setup for the next book, so like an addict wanting a fix, that’s me standing in line already.

three-stars

Cover of Night by Laura Griffin

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th August 2017
Cover of Night by Laura GriffinCover of Night by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew #3
Published by Pocket Star on September 4th 2017
Pages: 128
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two-stars

Journalist Karly Bonham is on her first overseas mission, covering the new United States ambassador to Thailand, when she is taken hostage by terrorists, with only her wits and courage to keep her alive—until help arrives in the form of Navy SEAL Ethan Dunn.

As part of an elite SEAL team called Alpha Crew, Ethan has been on countless harrowing missions, but he knows this one is different the instant he meets Karly—the sexy young reporter who somehow managed to escape the terrorists’ clutches. Ethan is impressed by her, especially when he learns she has intel that could be the key to a successful rescue op. Ethan knows working with a civilian raises the stakes on an already dangerous mission. But with the clock ticking down, he enlists Karly’s help to thwart a vicious plot and bring a terrorist mastermind to justice.

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Crew’ series has been a very different read so far from her ‘Tracers’ series. The books in there are short, action-packed, with significant time lapses between several chapters and in many ways, a very, very distilled and disappointing version of a military/paramilitary romantic suspense novel.

The short length of the book does the whole story a disservice. I’ve no doubts about Griffin’s writing to begin with, nor with her ability to handle intricate plot lines and elaborate setups that have made some of her books so memorable for me.

But with ‘Cover of Night’ topping out at a mere 100-ish pages, I felt that Karly’s and Ethan’s connection did exist, though it was harder to be convinced by their relationship and the love declarations when all they had was a one-night stand fuelled by the thrill of a rescue and the let down of adrenaline. What for instance, made Ethan, who didn’t do relationships, want something more with Karly when there didn’t seem to be any other indication that she was different from the other women he picked up except for the fact that she rebuffed him? Moreover, Karly’s sudden change in attitude towards the end towards Ethan when he was pushing her for something more the night before he was about to be shipped out was beyond abrupt especially when the story ended just there.

In other words, everything felt too rushed and unfinished, from their relationship to the terrorist plot that was supposedly foiled with a significant arrest. ‘Cover of Night’ simply had so much potential which wasn’t quite fulfilled by the end, leaving me rather mixed about this series because it really could have been so much better.

two-stars

Elusive by L.A. Fiore

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 26th July 2017
Elusive by L.A. FioreElusive by L.A. Fiore
Series: Shipwreck #1
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 21st 2017
Pages: 253
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two-stars

I didn’t set out to be a pirate.Life for me was about surviving the ugliness that people knew existed but didn’t talk about. I lived in hell. Then I saw her. I knew I couldn’t keep her, but for just a little while I had found heaven. Eight years later, I can’t get her out of my head. It is a mistake sailing to her island. It is a mistake reaching out to her. She doesn’t recognize me. Or maybe she does. Closure, it is all I’m after. Then my past comes back to haunt me. She’s thrust into my ruthless world. An angel. A romantic who has a journal that leads to a shipwreck and a lost treasure. She’s wants to find the ending to a love story that is over two hundred years in the making. I want to help her find it. I didn’t set out to be a pirate.I didn’t set out to fall in love with an angel. I did both anyway.

A modern-day pirate story is as rare as the treasures found deep on the sea floor these days. ‘Elusive’’s blurb doesn’t reveal that much, but it was enough to draw me into a book that I honestly thought I would have liked better. It’s my first L.A. Fiore book in any case, and I hadn’t a clue what to expect.

Much of the first half traces separate lives and timelines of the 2 protagonists and it was done well and believably enough for me to get into the brutal world that Noah/Kace had grown up in as opposed to the relatively sheltered life that Willow led. The journey after their meeting however, meandered through several other scenes which I assume continued to chart their separate development as individuals, right up to the point where they met again.

I wondered where the initial lack of focus on them as a couple was going to lead, and found it equally difficult to buy into their story when they finally met and came together for the second time. There was of course, the obvious parallel of an 18th century man’s love for his young wife that was drawn here, though I wasn’t as enthusiastic about Noach’s and Willow’s love story than I was with the action and the suspense that naturally come with treasure hunting and adventure diving.

That latter part, I enjoyed a lot more, and it was more the characterisation than the action, that I struggled with. Noah and Willow were, for the lack of a better word, hard to pin down, blowing hot and cold, rational and sometimes irrational as far as the crow flew.

Based only on an impulsive night 8 years ago—memories do fade and rose-tinting does come into play—Willow’s infatuation somehow grew into love as she had added naive romanticism as a layer on top of it. In the present, Willow acknowledged herself that she’d built up a ‘pirate ideal’ in her head, then superimposed it onto the hardened man she saw later—a man who frankly, treated her callously in ways he only knew how to.

In fact, Noah’s affection for Willow seemed to have extended only to lust, and that selfish tinge of him putting money and his ragtag crew first didn’t convince me that he actually loved her as much as she’d loved him. But Willow—for all her naïveté—did have to grow up somehow, the hard way and I’m glad that Fiore charted her transformation more carefully than Noah.

In all, it’s a story of characters who definitely live unapologetically on the wrong side of the law—don’t read this if you want your men upright and full of integrity—and where amoral decisions rule. Most of all though, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief throughout and that pretty much summed the whole experience up for me.

two-stars

Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 3rd July 2017
Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Pages: 139
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three-stars

Abducted by alien slavers, experimented on, and left blind, the last thing doctor Winter Ashworth needs is a big barbarian gladiator in her life, especially an annoying one who thinks she’s small and weak.

Rescued by gladiators on the desert world of Carthago, Winter is doggedly working to embrace her new life. But two of her friends are still missing and she’ll do anything to help get them back…even if she has to work alongside Nero Krahn: hunter, barbarian, gladiator. The scowly, brooding man is too big, has too many muscles, and pushes all her buttons.

Nero is the House of Galen’s best hunter and tracker. Raised on a barbarian world, where strength and might are prized, he was bred to hunt and fight. Now the arena is his home and his loyalty is to his imperator. He knows he can use his skills to find the two lost women, even if that means protecting a small blind woman who takes every chance to misjudge his words and lash him with her sharp tongue.

But as they follow a dangerous trail to save their friends, a new enemy emerges—one who wants Winter. The pair find themselves reluctantly attracted to each other, uncovering a scorching desire that shocks them both. As Nero fights to protect Winter, the barbarian gladiator will discover the true meaning of strength from the small Earth woman he wants to claim as his.

‘Barbarian’ is Nero’s story and he’s the latest to fall and stumble over Winter, a woman from the second ‘group’ of personnel taken from Fortuna Space Station. Nero and Winter are as different as night and day and lust, much less love, takes a while to develop especially when they both have a prickly start.

This has to be a whispered confession: Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiator series isn’t exactly my favourite of the lot though I definitely like how much more depth and layered this desert universe has become since the first book. The breadth and the depth of Hackett’s imagination never fail to impress nonetheless and every new book is as always, a deeper uncovering of what lies beneath the surface of every world that exists in that particular universe.

In this case though, I found myself more interested in the developing plot than the pairing itself, not just because I wasn’t entirely convinced of Winter and Nero as a couple, but also because with the ‘sameness’ of the rote pairings thus far. The barbaric gladiators are typically alike and Nero slots into this mould too easily: rough and tumble with gleaming bodies and way more physical (both in size and strength) than the normal human male. The constant references to their hugeness and Earth’s women being smaller do tend to get a little old and the pairings are formulaic in the way gladiator after gladiator gets paired with a human woman from earth. I would like to see the secondary characters who have had passing appearances in the book given their own story or at least, a story with a move away from the gladiator/earth woman kind of couple that Hackett has been doing up until now.

Yet with all Hackett books, the teaser of the next pairing—plus the build-up of the next couple from previous stories—is such a strong pull and that’s keeping me reeled in still.

three-stars

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
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