Category: Magic/Paranormal

Destruction by J.M. Madden

Destruction by J.M. MaddenDestruction by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 286
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four-stars

Going back into the torture camp where he’d been so brutally abused is the last thing Navy SEAL Drake Fontana wants to do, but if there are other men being experimented upon he has to be the one to get them out. And he has to give them an option other than to be a test subject to the Silverstone Collaborative, the pharmaceutical company funding the diabolical experiments. If he had his way, Drake would go in alone, but he’s assigned a team of retired, disabled military from the Lost and Found group. They all have strengths, but he hates being responsible for their safety. The most vital of the team is Jordan Madeira. The woman has fire in her blood and her heart, and she has contacts in the Amazon he could never find on his own. More than that, though, Jordan holds an immediate, dangerous attraction for Fontana. As the team crosses the jungle destroying research camps and searching for survivors, he realizes that she is what his heart has always been longing for. Home. But Fontana has always had to fight for everything he’s gotten in life, and Jordan’s heart will be no different.

The ‘Dogs of War’ series is one that I do find compelling—the super-soldier experimentation kind of storyline always gets my juices going—and by and large, J.M. Madden keeps expanding this particular universe with a military conspiracy, a potential take-down of the perpetrators and even more characters that might in fact, find themselves as part of future books. As of now however, the series follows the hard journey of 3 former military men with paranormal abilities, the survivors of their batch, who now seek to tighten the noose on the necks of those who’d first captured them.

‘Destruction’ is Drake Fontana’s story as he takes point in the vengeful hunt for their captors and the rescue of the soldiers experimented on with a team from LNF (Madden’s other series). Unlike some other RS super-soldier books that I’ve gone through however, Madden’s guys stand out because their paranormal abilities aren’t grossly exaggerated and that they’ve not been turned loose on the reader like grunting alpha-males with unrelenting sex-drives, über-dirty-talk and barbaric tendencies. They’re all scarred and battle-worn one way or the other in any case, and the women themselves it seems, aren’t spared the torture as well. But out of the crucible comes Jordan Madeira as one of the most kick-arse heroines who has gone through her own brand of hell and tragedy.

However, the writing style did take odd turns at times with the use of even weirder metaphors, but this is merely a personal writing peeve of mine where the words don’t exactly fall into place or make perfect sense. The language did throw me off for a bit (maybe a bit more editing was needed), but as jarring as it was, the plot was engaging enough that I could dust myself off and go on.

Suspense takes priority in ‘Destruction’—Madden’s focus on the team and action means that there’s not as much time on the pairing of Fontana/Jordan as much as I liked with the sex scene at the end happening almost like an afterthought before the story ends on an unfinished note. To this extent was the romance unsatisfying, but the thought of the next book keeps me hoping for more anyway.

four-stars

Wolf Rising by Paige Tyler

Wolf Rising by Paige TylerWolf Rising by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team, #8
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 30th October 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Werewolf SWAT Officer Jayden Brooks has yet to meet The One—but when he rescues teacher Selena Rosa from a hostage situation at her high school, he knows he’s in trouble. Her scent is irresistible.

There’s a reason for that powerful scent—and it isn’t an expensive perfume. Thanks to the traumatizing events at the school, the werewolf gene flipped on and Selena’s going through the change. Even scarier, she’s on track to become an omega—an out-of-control and violent breed. It’s going to take everything Brooks has if he wants any chance to pull her back from the edge…and ultimately win her heart.

Eight books on into Paige Tyler’s shapeshifter SWAT series, ‘Wolf Rising’ finally goes deeper to explore the idea of the omega wolf: the long, violent ranger as opposed to the Alpha wolf pack like the SWAT team this series revolves around.

In the same pattern that Tyler takes with all the SWAT books, there’s the prologue that begins with a violent incident that marks the start of a man-turned-werewolf, then a period of time later as we find them settled as a motley crew of growling, all-too-alpha pack within a SWAT compound in Dallas and searching for their one true mate. The journey to each HEA is as always, fraught with some kind of danger, and it’s no different for Jayden Brooks who finds his one and only here after a traumatic event that starts her shifting process into an omega werewolf.

Tyler juggles several points of conflicts along with the romance: the war on drugs and gangbangers, the looming hunters, the unpredictable and uncontrollable omega wolf. But clearly all isn’t quite resolved yet as issues with the wolf hunters look to stretch further on into the future with barely any progress made on that front seeing as the romance and the omega wolf are what take priority in the plot.

With Tyler going with the myth of each shapeshifter finding the one and only mate for himself is one that I always find rather hard to swallow hook, line and sinker nonetheless—there are several gaps in logic and unanswerable questions that keep coming up—but it’s a trope of shapeshifting fantasy that certainly and conveniently helps cement a pairing together the moment they find each other. It seems that having part-wolf genes provides enough grounding rationale for instant love (or rather, lust), and the quick way in which Selena/Brooks fall for each other—attributed mostly to a scent both can’t shake off that’s probably akin to the first flush of love—left me sceptical.

Still, the mythology of werewolves at least, tailored-to fit in Tyler’s SWAT series, is what kept the pages turning for me as each book reveals a little more about them, despite several predictable plot points. Apart from Selena’s somewhat uncharacteristic TSTL behaviour after finding out what she’d become (this gets back on track rather quickly), ‘Wolf Rising’ is quite a straightforward and decent read that isn’t weighed down too much with convoluted past history despite being the eighth book in the series.

three-stars

Check by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Check by Mimi Jean PamfiloffCheck by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #3
Published by Paper & Silver, Inc. on 21st August 2018
Pages: 137
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two-stars

Mr. Rook, eccentric billionaire and owner of the most exclusive island resort in the world, has a secret. Hint: Legends say it can make you young again. But when he’s no longer willing to pay the dark price to keep eternal youth on the island’s menu, the very thing that once kept him young is now turning on him.

With only hours left to live, the woman he loves is taken by the worst kind of man this world has to offer. Turns out she’s been keeping dark secrets of her own, and getting her back won’t be as simple as writing a check.

The cost will leave her broken hearted, hating him forever.

(Morbid?) Curiosity brought me here.

In ‘Check’, things do come to a head and with several twists and turns—this can range between absolute nuts and sort of believable if you squint—, somehow Stephanie and Rook break free of their curse, the bad guys miraculously get what they deserve and all’s well that ends well.

There’s no secret really, that I’ve found this series of Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s a little too zany for me, but the odd licks of the paranormal and the mysterious here and there keep me coming back. There are tantalising ideas here—with part-gothic, part-supernatural vibes, with the sacred and the profane crossing so many times that this should be a sultry and deliciously forbidden read—but they aren’t fully realised or deeply explored enough given the novella-length stories in this entire series.

But ultimately, too much of this story I think, depends on having a huge suspension of disbelief here in the existence of the paranormal, which is all well and good. Still, Pamfiloff’s implicit insistence that some things should stay unexplained (skirting paranormal explanations by simply having the characters choosing to not want to know more for the sake of their own sanity) just might not be good enough when it comes readers like me needing a semblance of explanation for events that don’t entirely really make sense in a story because well, it still needs to be satisfactorily coherent and not cross the line into the ridiculous.

Still, what kept me on the back foot really, was also a ‘heroine’ whom I absolutely loathed by the end of the series. While Rook himself isn’t all that innocent, the self-sacrifices he made in contrast, simply showed Stephanie up as petty, vindictive, petulant and fickle by the end of it all…too small-minded not to grasp the bigger picture and made things all about herself and her own tragedy.

In any case, it’s been quite a ride. I’m not too sure still what to make out of this, but this series simply felt like it could have done much more and reached so much higher than it did.

two-stars

Chaos by J.M. Madden

Chaos by J.M. MaddenChaos by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2018
Pages: 201
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three-half-stars

Aiden Willingham has lived a hard life. As a Navy SEAL, he agreed to take part in an ultra-secret government testing program. The company running the program, the Silverstone Collaborative, has produced a serum from an Amazonian plant that’s been proven to enhance physical abilities and mental fortitude. Problem is, men-- heroes-- have died during the testing, and it’s time for the company to be taken down before more men die needlessly.

Aiden, along with three others, have escaped the camp with evidence of the company’s horrendous practices. Now they’re in a race to expose them. They’ve already lost one of their team, and the Collaborative’s mercenaries are converging.
Angela Holloway knew the homeless man with sadness in his eyes was trouble as soon as she saw him hanging around the site of a murder.

Uncooperative, he stonewalls her investigation, but draws her in when the badge comes off. Aiden has scars, both internal and external, that make her heart ache. It’s a serious no-no getting involved with a suspect… too bad her heart isn’t listening. As details come to light about what’s going on in her city, she has to fight for what she believes is right, as well as the man on the wrong side of the law.

I can’t recall the number of iterations of the enhanced super-soldier I’ve gone through, but by now, it’s probably a lot. The conspiracy, the theories, the villainous cold-blooded woman (this pops up too predictably), the tortured men and the paranormal abilities they’ve developed because of the secret testing program…well, I can’t get past those enough, it seems.

‘Chaos’ is another version of these stories, so what really differentiates such stories from one another would then be the quality of the storytelling, which I’ve found myself subconsciously assessing on a personal scale.

As much as I loved the prequel, ‘Chaos’ plunges straight into the meatier side of it, this time with a romance on top of it, as the very sympathetic Aiden Willingham finally gets some due justice alongside a capable woman who does seem perfectly matched for him. Better yet, there aren’t the shenanigans of men behaving like growling beasts (both in and out of bed) then given the official excuse thrown out time and again for their inevitable actions.

So, by and large, ‘Chaos’ is a decent read, but I did think that J.M. Madden’s writing tended to get lost in several loops at times—too much of this, too little of that, but these are clearly my own gripes.

There’s a lot going on in here (sometimes too much I think), which might account for the rambling telling rather than showing: the recounting of past events, the conflicted inner monologues, the ton of information and context that Madden seems desperate to relay to the reader. Like the book’s title, some parts were chaotic though shrouded in mystery, and as a result, slowed the pacing in the first quarter of the book where I’d expected more driving forward momentum.

That said, I’m curious to see how Madden will take this entire narrative arc—I’m eternally grateful that Madden doesn’t deliberately leaving a cackling villain who survives until the very end just to draw out the good-evil conflict—and that black hole of not knowing what will happen next in this case, is a very welcome one.

three-half-stars

Genesis by J.M. Madden

Genesis by J.M. MaddenGenesis by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #0.5
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 20th 2018
Pages: 45
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four-stars

After a harrowing mission, Navy SEAL Aiden Willingham was approached to participate in a secret research project. Now he realizes the Spartan Project is a covert, multinational government testing program run by a private company called The Silverstone Collaborative. The company’s mission is to create super soldiers, men capable of recovering from horrendous illness and injuries, using a serum derived from indigenous plants in the Amazon rainforest.

The program is brutal and when the men object, they go from test subjects to caged prisoners overnight. The doctor leading the program is world-renowned for his cutting-edge cures, but Aiden sees only the madness in his eyes. The serum is producing results, but men are dying every day of testing.

And, as more men die, the experiments turn more deadly. What the research team doesn’t realize is exactly what the serum is doing…creating a psychic connection between four of the men. Aiden and his team have to break out of the camp before they’re compromised further. But getting out of the camp is the easy part. They know that actually living to bring the Silverstone Collaborative to justice is going to be the most difficult mission any of them have ever undertaken.

It has been so long that I’ve actually gone into a book without romance as its primary goal and this much I’d say: it’s a change, a subtle shift in re-looking the way I tend to evaluate romances…and perhaps a most welcome one after having gone through too many forgettable and mediocre reads. That also means the very freeing sensation of not having to nitpick through romantic tropes and analysing why they work (or not) for me and then rating the plot and/or the characters as disappointing/unimpressive each time. At least, that has been the pattern with me for a long, long time.

As the prequel J.M. Madden’s ‘Dogs of War’ series, ‘Genesis’ is the short but brutal story of captured soldiers experimented on and their daring escape—men bonded by torture and their emerging abilities—from a nightmare that they can’t seem to free themselves from. I barely remember Aiden Willingham at all from Madden’s other books, but the prequel takes care of it all, unravelling his past in a way that leaves no uncertainty or mystery (at least for Aiden as a character) in the next book to come. In any case, ‘Genesis’ is quite the exciting read: full of danger at every turn, with the thrills of these men’s desperate race for survival during harrowing flight for freedom (with a lick of the paranormal), proving a rollicking good start to a series which I can’t wait to see out.

four-stars

Pestilence by Laura Thalassa

Pestilence by Laura ThalassaPestilence by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 20th 2018
Pages: 382
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three-stars

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

When Pestilence comes for Sara Burn’s town, one thing is certain: everyone she knows and loves is marked for death. Unless, of course, the angelic-looking horseman is stopped, which is exactly what Sara has in mind when she shoots the unholy beast off his steed.

Too bad no one told her Pestilence can’t be killed.

Now the horseman, very much alive and very pissed off, has taken her prisoner, and he’s eager to make her suffer. Only, the longer she’s with him, the more uncertain she is about his true feelings towards her … and hers towards him.

And now, well, Sara might still be able to save the world, but in order to do so, she'll have to sacrifice her heart in the process.

Now then, how’s this for a monumental twist of enemies-to-lovers? Saying that ‘Pestilence’ subscribes to this trope is like putting a pram’s wheels on a Ferrari. Or some other super car. Somehow Laura Thalassa manages it at least in the beginning half with a chilling and riveting start of 4 horsemen of the apocalypse riding through earth bringing death and destruction.

Particularly visceral is the trek down the famous highway 99 from Whistler to Squamish, a dystopic vision of a lone horse rider and his unwilling companion now superimposed on my memories of one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever been down. The extended time Pestilence and Sara spend together is in itself unusual: one filled with macabre curiosity and horrors, necessitating a slow, slow burn as Pestilence somehow finds a human side to get in touch with.

Yet what started as fascination turned into uneasiness, which then turned into pure disbelief. Issues of faith, religion and judgement—or at least what Thalassa presented—were never far from my mind running as meta commentary as I kept on reading, which Thalassa definitely succeeded in doing if this was always her aim.

As a romance however, it just became painfully obvious that Pestilence and Sara was a pairing that became harder and harder to get invested in as time wore on, the primary difficulty being reconciling the idea of the otherworldly Pestilence falling prey to human charms and human fallacies with the perpetual image I have of these perfect and deadly creature who always seem far above imperfections. To be laid low by a 21-year old who pretty much showed the ever-changing sides of a young adult (part-petulant, part-annoying, part-compassionate and part-self-righteous) who came close and pushed away repetitively? It just seemed somehow below an eternal being who’d never once wavered from his monumental task since time immemorial, who was now swayed too easily by a firefighter with a crude mouth and a penchant for not making up her mind.

What finally turned me off her however, came tragically at the end, where Sara’s own twisted rationale of love gave her the courage to walk away as she finally deemed Pestilence—who had a heavenly duty to fulfil—unworthy of her affections. Accusing Pestilence of judgement when she was guilty of doing the same, then having him crawl back to her was when I felt Thalassa had personally taken off the shine of what had made Pestilence so unique as an anti-hero, before imbuing him with the earthly loyalty of a teenage boy with stars in his eyes.

On the other hand, the constant vacillation of characterisation had me struggling with Pestilence, vague as Thalassa is with his origins and more so with his personality, the reasoning being that we mere mortals can’t ever hope to understand his higher purpose (it just made him frustratingly unknowable and too mysterious for all the millennia he’d been around).

With an ending that had me more baffled than happy, the story finishes on a grim warning and a rather uneasy HFN (to put it badly, considering Pestilence had somehow condescended to be human for the time both he and Sara will be around). I was still left feeling out of my depth as a reader, unable to hang on fast a pairing that took root but didn’t quite take off.

three-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