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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

Storm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 22nd September 2017
Storm Gathering by Rebecca ZanettiStorm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #4
Published by RAZ INK LLC on September 19th 2017
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…

As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes with Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.

The rough, primal dystopian society that Rebecca Zanetti has created after the Scorpius bacterium struck is an exciting one. Point is, there’s a rich complexity in this bleak world split into factions populated by interesting characters who can and do add value to the plot.

But a pattern for the Scorpius Syndrome series emerges after going through 4 books: there’s a pairing that shows much promise (I definitely fall for the hooks left in previous books), but the plot’s momentum is never allowed to become an unstoppable juggernaut because it gets choked by certain twists, turns and irrational character behaviour that turn my enthusiasm dial down. Zanetti chooses instead, to deal with certain tropes that could and should have been left by the wayside in this brave new world, particularly so in ’Storm Gathering’.

I do like the shift in the storytelling to the Mercenaries and I’ve wanted Greyson’s and Moe’s story for a long while after seeing their interactions, but it was disappointing with the way they’ve been developed and presented here. Not that I’d expected a straight-up enemies-to-lovers type of story, but so much of the first half is filled with squabbles between the Vanguard guys and the Mercs, with Maureen as a bartering object to be passed to and fro between both camps. It isn’t helpful that Moe herself can’t decide what to do or where to stay; nor can Greyson decide where his loyalties should lie.

Their holding pattern got frustrating after a while, especially since I was hankering after a more developed story arc that should have built towards a final confrontation between the Elite Forces and Vanguard/the Mercs but only came partially to fruition towards the end. Greyson instead, pursues his own agenda of revenge, allows this goal to drive his alliances and generally vacillates so much in his decision-making that I began to wonder if the narrative arc was indeed getting anywhere. The weird spurts of humour don’t help either (which I can appreciate but thought those came with bad timing), and made the ’Storm Gathering’ feel like a parody at times when I’d actually expected rising tension and several standoffs.

The stuttering pacing does pick up when an uneasy alliance is forged almost incidentally between Jax and Grey but the story ends just as it gets good. Objectively, it’s understandable why Zanetti chooses to deal with a nemesis at a time—the Pure Church appears to be next in the series with Damon’s story coming up—but just as I’ve been waiting for this entire series to culminate into something bigger, my enthusiasm is flagging here.

three-stars

Wolf Hunger by Paige Tyler

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 19th September 2017
Wolf Hunger by Paige TylerWolf Hunger by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT, #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on December 5th 2017
Pages: 212
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four-stars

Wolf shifter and SWAT Officer Max Lowry falls hard for she-wolf Lana Mason, but things spiral out of control when wolf hunters track her down, and Max realizes Lana has no idea who--or what--she really is.

When I first began Paige Tyler’s SWAT series some time ago, I did not expect it to take several turns which just didn’t resonate enough with me from book 3 onwards as SWAT members one after another, fell for their one and only mate in a blazing fashion that pretty  much meant instalove, instalust and an insta-HEA all rolled in one.

With ‘Wolf Hunger’ though, the series seemed to regain lost ground and the story was pretty much a savagely entertaining ride throughout. I’ve always wanted Max’s story and Tyler definitely delivered, especially after the listless reads from the previous books in this series that meandered a couple of times around the ‘been there, done that’ patch of grass, with a mythos that got less and less convincing as it wore on. But for this one, I jumped straight into Max’s and Lana’s story, only to get gut-punched by his tragic history, before getting reeled in by the thoroughly engrossing journey of Max finding his One (who didn’t know she was a werewolf) just as the werewolf hunters closed in on them.

There was some instalove involved still—the attraction between Max and Lana is written as iron-clad, set-in-stone and pretty much unshakeable from the beginning—but because both are generally likeable characters who don’t lurch into TSTL territory. Coupled with the fact that the instalove was also quite well-balanced by the suspense, I didn’t find it too hard to get invested in this pairing hook, line and sinker.

Above all, Tyler’s expansion of her werewolf universe certainly gave ‘Wolf Hunter’ more nuance and depth while melding a little humour with a ton of paranormal suspense. I liked that the introduction of the hunters showed the SWAT team’s vulnerability—that they do have enemies that can develop effective weapons against them—and I’m already hoping that Tyler works along this line for the next few books to come.

four-stars

Unmapped by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th September 2017
Unmapped by Anna HackettUnmapped by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #6
Published by Anna Hackett on September 5th 2017
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three-stars

With every novella that Anna Hackett publishes, it becomes increasingly obvious that her imagination never runs dry and that alone, puts me in awe of the content that’s been churned out from her desk month after month.

Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series really appeals to the, uh, dormant Indiana Jones in me: the crazy, far-flung locales and the treasures they’re hiding as the suspense and intrigue as the security guys battle the baddies. ‘Unmapped’ brings us to Antarctica this time around, in search of a client’s missing twin and that alone is a mouth-watering prospect. It’s a rollicking, upbeat ride from the start without any ‘real’ sense of tragedy (even if the ease with which it takes to arrange a trip far down south is somewhat unrealistic), peppered with slick James Bonde-esque villains unrelenting in their search for artefacts and structures of lost civilisations that are somehow uncovered with alarming ease.

I do think that it’s slightly weaker in the romance department, as Ronin and Peri come together without a backstory and gravitate toward each other simply because—with a hint of instalove around—unlike the couples whom Hackett builds up from previous books. I wasn’t entirely invested in this particular pairing or the believability of it, but then I already know that there are definitely some that work more for me than others, particularly when time is given for chemistry between a potential pairing to bubble over.

That said, ‘Unmapped’ is a very entertaining (albeit short!) read. There’s the whole lick of adventure through which I can vicariously live and it’s always an afternoon well spent when I can get lost in yet another one of Hackett’s worlds.

three-stars

Rebel by Rebecca Yarros

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 21st August 2017
Rebel by Rebecca YarrosRebel by Rebecca Yarros
Series: The Renegades #3
Published by Entangled: Embrace on August 28th 2017
Pages: 265
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four-stars

She'll defy his every expectation.

She’s Penna Carstairs. The Renegade they call Rebel. FMX-treme Magazine’s sexiest female athlete of the year.There’s no rule in extreme sports she hasn’t broken,No gender barrier she hasn’t demolished.

She’s the woman I met in a bar in Vegas.The woman I illegally BASE jumped for.The woman I spent one insane, incredible night with.But now I’m screwed.Or rather…not screwed.

Because the woman I can’t get out of my head is the one woman I can never touch again.I’m Dr. Cruz Delgado—the youngest professor on this campus. And Penelope Carstairs just walked into my class.

‘Rebel’ is Rebecca Yarros’s last book in her ‘Renegades’ series and it is quite a send-off for this group of daredevils accountable to no one…until Cruz Delgado comes onto the scene and messes it up, taking Penna Carstairs down with a bang while he’s at it.

For which I’m glad, to be honest.

Extreme sports aren’t exactly my thing and I’ll be the first to admit the Renegades hadn’t quite won me over with their deeds, which they do without caring too much about the consequences. But with Penna’s story, there’s some kind of redemption when the characters finally start to realise that there can be consequences too difficult to face with every action. Aside from the forbidden teacher-student relationship that Cruz and Penna had going, ‘Rebel’ has been by far, the best read of all in the series because Yarros also moves slightly away from the Renegades’ documentary making to writing about a daring rescue in Havana which ups the thrills and spills.

Penna—the only female extreme athlete among the thorns—shines so brightly it can get painful just to look at her. On paper, there’s everything going for her as she matches the boys step for step, ride for ride. But I liked the human side of her that emerges when she starts doubting herself after an accident caused by her sister and the loss of confidence that made her reckless in wanting to get back her mojo.

It’s only Cruz—the hot, older professor and Army vet—who gets Penna, matches her and outshines even the Renegades; in fact, I felt Cruz helped shape ‘Rebel’ for me and made it unforgettable. His grounding presence changes the entire dynamics of the story, bringing the sense of accountability that I appreciated, as well as a balanced voice of reason amongst the frat-boy, belligerent and petulant behaviour driven mostly by egos which left me sorely frustrated in the first 2 books. I loved how he looked these boys in the eye and held their actions up to scrutiny, essentially, taking care of the immature moments that frustrated me. He is the first to behave like the mature adult, making Pax and Landon seem like boys who didn’t really grow up in comparison, seeing through to Penna straightaway as she uses adrenaline highs in stunt after stunt to dull her mental state of mind.

My adulation of Cruz aside, the storyline does get gripping towards the end—the politics that Cruz got himself involved in gripped me more than the actual Renegades stunts—and I did ride the whole wave rather anxiously without stopping until I hit the deliriously happy epilogue though it came bittersweet. The epic adventures aside, seeing Penna/Cruz fight for each other simply made me one happy camper.

four-stars

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
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