Category: Fantasy

Manu by Anna Hackett

Manu by Anna HackettManu Series: Hell Squad #16
Published by Anna Hackett on May 6th 2018
Pages: 138
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four-stars

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

When former berserker Manu Rahia lost his leg on a mission, he was forced to leave his squad. He knows his new role as head of the Enclave’s firing range and armory is important, but hates that he isn’t still out there fighting face to face against the aliens and protecting his brothers’ backs. But then one woman catches his eye. A no-nonsense woman dedicated to her job as head of security. A woman who seems cool on the surface, but who Manu is convinced is hiding more under her business-like exterior.

Captain Kate Scott dedicated her life to her career in the Army. Now she works hard taking care of security for the Enclave and its residents. She learned a long time ago that she isn’t a passionate woman, and that she’s better off sticking to her work. But seeing one big, bronze-skinned, muscled man at the range every day has her hormones going into overdrive. She’s never felt like this and she’s determined to get herself under control.

But when the aliens launch a viscous new attack, right on the Enclave’s doorstep, Kate and Manu must join forces to stop the raptors before more people get hurt. Kate will fight fiercely to protect her team and the base, as well as her heart. But Manu Rahia is a man who knows what he wants, will walk through fire to get it, and what he wants is Kate.

Hell Squad’s into its 16th installment and going strong as Anna Hackett makes her way through the squads defending earth that has gone under in an alien apocalypse.

Here, Hackett pairs the eldest of the Rahia brothers—these brothers have been making way too many waves even when they’re secondary characters in the rest of the books—with a no-nonsense former Army captain and it’s a romance that’s unusual in several aspects: an older hero/heroine, with the former whom I’d never thought would actually get his own book.

Apart from the quick attraction between Manu and Kate and their even quicker slide into instalove, I did like ‘Manu’ for the return to this particular world of the Gizzida and the continuing fight against them, as Hackett invents newer and newer threats which are barely countered by the end of the book. The numerous action scenes are engaging (mind-boggling even, considering the length of the novella), the sex scenes scorching and the HEA that happens at the end just reaffirms that there’s more to come, just not so soon, sadly.

four-stars

Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Ocean Light by Nalini SinghOcean Light by Nalini Singh
Published by Berkley on 12th June 2018
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling...

Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine...

But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back--even if it means striking a devil's bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy...

I’ve always had a soft spot for Bowen Knight, even loved his cause and his unwavering, determined fight for humanity in the Human Alliance (guess which one I belong to?)—the least of the three races it seems, in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling world. My heart sank when Bo went down hard in ‘Silver Silence’ and just as I thought all hope was lost, ‘Ocean Light’ became my own (and Bo’s) salvation. This was the book I’ve always wanted ever since Bowen burst onto the scene, from the moment I learned that he had an immovable but lethal chip in his head about to detonate any time.

That Singh chooses to introduce Blacksea using Bowen’s story is an obvious shift away from the Bear changelings in ‘Silver Silence’, a mysterious group hinted at in the closing books of Singh’s “season 1” of her Psy-Changeling novels that focused solely on the cats and the wolves. Here, Singh opens yet again new pathways and original insights into her massive world-building that continues now deep down in the sea, so compelling in ways that it’s hard to turn away from the myriad of sea creatures and their personalities that populate this book. Half the book however, after the intriguing setup, comprises Singh’s languid, thorough exploration of the world Bo has found himself in, not least the slow unfurling and the slow romance between him and Kaia, before the pace picks up frantically again towards the end.

Written into Kaia Luna’s and Bowen Knight’s attraction is a conflict that’s drawn up against these lines: the bad blood between the humans the Blacksea changelings rather than just a personal feud that Kaia sets up against Bowen for the losses in she feels keenly in her life. Enemies-to-lovers in this context, might just seem a little too dismissive after all, too small a view to take in the huge world that Singh has written, though this is still a trope nonetheless, in romantic fiction which I like a lot.

Yet Kaia, a scientist-turned-cook (with maternal instincts and a soft, easily hurt heart that’s prone more to pulling away) in the Ryujin BlackSea Station, is the last person I’d expect Singh to pair with the hard security chief, who is as ruthless and emotionless as the Psy themselves without the telekinetic power. Coupled with the (somewhat unbelievable) bit of instalove written into a strong attraction—cue bodies hardening, arousal flaring—that strikes the both of them at first glance is perhaps also an attempt to humanise the hard-nosed image of Bowen Knight who is more a man of flesh and emotions more similar to the other alpha changelings than we think. I would have loved a stronger, harder, a more sword-wielding-type mate for Bo—the type that would have stood for his fight in the Human Alliance by his side with a weapon— but clearly this is my personal preference speaking for such heroines to materialise every time.

‘Ocean Light’ is satisfying on many levels, but I particularly loved the introduction to the Blacksea changelings and Bowen’s Knights. The threads of this incredibly complex arc that Singh has written are far from tied up, nonetheless. There are still too many unrevealed secrets here—things that Singh doesn’t choose to reveal—that baby steps seem to be the only way in which this juggernaut of a story can move on, which is both as rewarding and as frustrating at times.

four-stars

Cyborg by Anna Hackett

Cyborg by Anna HackettCyborg by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Pages: 156
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three-stars

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

In Anna Hackett’s Gladiator universe, it feels as though anything is possible. And that much frees the narrative to range from far-flung sand-dune adventures to ancient Rome-type fighting for sport and commerce.

With a stoic, near-emotionless cybernetically-enhanced guy suddenly thrust into the emotionally-laden sphere of impending childbirth with a woman he’d apparently been kidnapped with, I felt a little lost at sea here after the sudden shift in focus from the House of Galen to the House of Rone—like I’d been thrust into a backstory that I had no clue about at all, only for it to have been narrated almost as a throwaway line.

Nonetheless, ‘Cyborg’ feels like the book that’s leading us to the edge of some precipice that Hackett hasn’t yet thrown us over…as though it’s the penultimate book of a series that has mainly dealt with the systematic rescue of more earth women from unscrupulous traders and aliens, as the House of Galen and the House of Rone fight to dismantle illegal fighting rings and stop the kidnappings. Magnus Rone’s book continues this similar storyline with a different couple so it did seem a bit repetitive for me, though it’s always great fun each time to read the new things Hackett comes up with when the action scenes finally roll around.

The slight bit of a cliffhanger here is an excellent hook for the next book, though Hackett’s fans would barely need it at this point in time.

 

three-stars

His Beauty by Sofia Tate

His Beauty by Sofia TateHis Beauty by Sofia Tate
Published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) on May 8th 2018
Pages: 171
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three-stars

She never should have come here. Twice a week, Lily Moore comes to work for me, stealing my breath with her light and beauty and sweetness. She doesn't know the dangerous path she's on. All she knows is that I am a reclusive artist living on a crumbling estate. That I am scarred, broken by life. A beast . . .

Lily ignites a hunger unlike anything I've known, one that could shatter the isolated world I live in. Even as I see the same longing for me in her oh-so-blue eyes, I know she belongs to another---one who does not deserve her. But it's just a matter of time before the tension between us breaks. For this beast will have what he desires. To hell with the consequences. This is my world . . . and I will claim my beauty.

Sucker for fairytale retellings that I am (I can’t ever get enough), I dove into ‘His Beauty’ for what’s probably my favourite tale of all time.

What I’ve always enjoyed isn’t just the meeting of the beauty and the beast, but also the differing contexts and backgrounds (be it a contemporary or a historical spin on the fairytale) in which they meet. ‘His Beauty’ starts out slow, detailing the circumstances under which Lily finds herself at Grayson’s door, painting a picture of the life she leads—a life that’s about to drastically change when she takes on a cleaning job at a recluse’s mansion.

If Disney’s version revolves around books and reading, Sofia Tate’s subject matter here is art. Her characters, which are more mellowed versions of a beauty and beast who don’t go through the same jagged highs and lows that seem par for the course. Instead, ‘His Beauty’ is more slow-going, with a burn that starts from friendship as Lily spends half the story with a fiancé, and while getting a little too…sensitive and emotional when it comes to Grayson (read: fretting and weepy).

I didn’t quite get the angst, or the sharp yearning from both sides that I normally associate with this fairytale; instead, I got increasingly frustrated when Lily kept resolutely wanting to continue with her jerk of her boyfriend to others, thus putting the relationship-development with Grayson on hold.

Consequently, as their attraction comes to a boil only much later in the book, it didn’t feel as though there was a sufficient build-up of the both of them, and I was actually thrown off when the more explicit scenes (and the vocabulary associated with them) came in from almost nowhere after Lily’s fiancé was finally out of the way.

As far as retellings go, if you prefer a slower-paced, less angsty version (with a teeny, teeny bit of suspense), ‘His Beauty’ is one to shelve. There’s an almost-disney-certified HEA, where all’s right with the world, but it’s not quite a ‘yay’ from me, sadly.

three-stars

X-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler

X-Ops Exposed by Paige TylerX-Ops Exposed by Paige Tyler
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

Lion hybrid and former Army Ranger Tanner Howland retreats into the forests of Washington State to be alone—he’s too dangerous to be around people. He had to leave the love of his life behind but little does he know, she followed him.

Dr. Zarina Sokolov has an anti-serum she hopes will make Tanner human again. But before she can convince him to take it, they discover he isn’t the only hybrid that survived the experiment. And there are people who want to use the hybrid shifters for sport, pitting them against each other for money. But does Tanner have what it takes to save his fellow hybrids and Zarina—or will he lose control again?

Tanner’s and Zarina’s story has been a long time in coming, their ups and downs well catalogued through Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series. And this starts on a down, so to speak, after Tanner has run off into the woods, tortured and determined to stay isolated because of his uncontrollable hybrid instincts. But Zarina is unwilling to give up on this man (?) who’s seen enough torture for a lifetime and her stubbornness somehow pulls Tanner from the brink, though all isn’t as it seems.

This far down the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ is near-impossible as a standalone with a narrative arc that has already been flung wide open and many dangling loose ends held by a multitude of secondary characters. With a focus on a pairing (as well as potential ones) and a different plot-line in every book, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ like every other book in this series, rushes ahead to tell its bursting-to-the-seams story without looking back too much because there’s just so much going on. The recap—and there is a bit of it—of previous events is understandably brief and Tyler pushes ahead with Tanner’s backstory that adds on to an already complicated canon that involves super secret departments, shifters, hybrids and genetic experimentations. As the 8th book of the series, appreciating the pairing, let alone the ever-expanding storyline, could be difficult for those trying to wade into the series right here.

It’s also probably worth noting that Zarina and Tanner’s ongoing saga is just what makes up half of the story; the other half is a rather major sub-plot taking place across the country in Maine as the now-partnerless Tate Evers teams up with a potential new lead (but cool) character trying to solve more of the same problem. I’m admittedly not too fond of the part where Tyler introduces survivalists, but they do play a part in the larger narrative arc, even if the push-pull between Zarina and Tanner doesn’t make much headway as the sub-plot gains in traction.

If I started out ‘X-Ops Exposed’ thrilled about Zarina and Tanner—Tyler’s action scenes are good and reading through them is akin to watching cool action-movie fight scenes—,the structure of the plot was such that the pace faltered in parts, along with some cock-blocking moments to the point where picking up later doesn’t quite have the same impact dimmed my enthusiasm somewhat. There is a vague notion of ticking clock that counted down to zero hours, a forward but somewhat muddied drive about how hybrids and their nefarious creators still cause trouble, but in the end I couldn’t step back and say for certain that I knew where the book was headed.

Only towards the end does Tyler bring these threads together (somewhat) and I started enjoying the action again. But like every other book in the series, ‘X-Ops Exposed’ closes some loops and opens others, upping the stakes in this political game as well. Frustrating as it can be, that’s also what keeps me coming back, truth be told.

three-half-stars

Her Dark Half by Paige Tyler

Her Dark Half by Paige TylerHer Dark Half by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

Trevor MaxwellCoyote shifter with an attitudeCovert operatorTrusts no one, especially his devastatingly beautiful new partner

Alina BoschFormer CIA, newest operative on the covert teamHired to spy on her partnerMotto: "Never be deceived again."

Coyote shifter Trevor Maxwell is teamed up with CIA agent Alina Bosch to catch a killer. But when the mission becomes much more dangerous than they expected, they're going to have to ignore the attraction between them and learn how to trust one another to come out on the other side...

‘Her Dark Half’ is a book that has been coming for a long time, or at least the revelations in it, where the narrative arc comes to an end, so to speak, before another begins.

There’s clearly too much to recount here, but along with Alina’s and Trevor’s romance, Paige Tyler finally answers the questions (at least many of them) that I’d ranted about not being addressed in her previous books’ narratives that simply coasted along. For this reason, I’m not sure if this book would work as a standalone, because the more critical parts of the backstory and the buildup that happen in some of her past stories definitely would contribute to a fuller reading experience in this one.

I did like Alina/Trevor for most part, but most importantly, Alina’s deception wasn’t one that was held to the very end and then becoming the major conflict between her and Trevor. Paige Tyler simply had bigger fish to fry, too much action to write, more hybrids/shifters to put through the wringer and more bombs to drop on the unsuspecting reader. The opening up of the X-Ops world after this major shakeup is one that I’m definitely looking forward to and I’m really curious to see what else Tyler has in store after this.

four-stars

Her True Match by Paige Tyler

Her True Match by Paige TylerHer True Match by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops, #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 7th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

After a long game of cat-and-mouse

Feline shifter Dreya Clark picks the wrong penthouse to rob and ends up arrested by sexy detective Braden Hayes. But Braden isn’t the only one who’s been watching the cat burglar. Agents from the Department of Covert Operations swoop in to offer her a deal. If she wants to stay out of jail, she’ll have to work with them—and pair up with the hot cop. Great.

Danger throws this unlikely pair together

Braden isn’t thrilled about the DCO meddling in his investigation. He’s been chasing Dreya for years. Thrown together on a dangerous covert mission, fur flies and temperatures flare. But when danger closes in on them, their game of cat and mouse turns deadly-serious, and they’ll have to rely on each other to make it out alive.

The menagerie of animal shifters that I thought I’d be reading about so early in the series hasn’t yet come to pass and as I suspect, won’t ever. The shifters here merely shift partially, and Tyler does provide a believable-enough explanation for their genetic makeup and behaviour. The pairing of a shifter with a law-enforcement/ex-military character seems to be the default pairing here, though I’ve largely enjoyed the ways that they get together, and ‘Her True Match’ follows this self-same pattern. The cat thief and the cop is a pairing that had been set up in the previous book, so ‘Her True Match’ feels like a natural step for Braden and Dreya to come together.

I was nevertheless surprised to see how Braden and Dreya get on without the bumps I’d expected, but this—this relatively angst-free, easy get together—is probably a defining point as well of this series. Like others before them, Tyler made Braden/Dreya a pairing that get together without much difficulty, particularly since many of her her male heroes don’t seem to have any difficulty accepting that their heroines are part-feline with enhanced senses. The plot itself is interesting, as is the sub-plot and Trevor’s undercover role, though I thought Tyler’s focus on Ivy/Landon here as in all the other books gets tiring in a way that felt as if they are a pairing Tyler can’t let go of.

There are parts as well, that don’t seem to be addressed sufficiently or satisfactorily—Dreya being let off with stupid actions that seem to be beyond reproach, for instance. Keeping secrets from Braden despite the pledge of trust and partnership they make—with this indirectly leading to consequences that no one could have foreseen—yet having Braden think it is his fault (with his unfailing loyalty to a woman who might not fully deserve it) when Dreya hadn’t owned her own part in it put me off her quite a bit.

Still, that far down this series, I’m still not entire sure what to say about it. The villain’s villany grows—this does drag on as each book uncovers the villainy just a little bit more—as are there as well, parallel events that are anchored by Ivy/Landon as well as the hero/heroine of the next book to come. I’m invested enough to want to continue, though not jumping in excitement with the rather slow-moving overall narrative arc where the main characters still don’t seem to catch on quickly enough about the true motives of the bad guys.

three-stars