Category: Magic/Paranormal

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

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallan

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallanForged in Ember by Trish McCallan
Series: Red-Hot SEALS #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 394
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three-stars

In the final novel in the scorching Red-Hot SEALs series, a desperate mother and a Navy SEAL fight fire with fire to protect their love and save the world…

Amy Chastain has made a lot of enemies—none so ruthless as the insanely powerful New Ruling Order (NRO). When they killed her husband, it was hell. Then they targeted her children by injecting them with a dangerous, experimental isotope. Now Amy trusts only one man to help her: the ex-commander of SEAL Team 7.

In the company of Navy SEALs, Jace “Mac” Mackenzie was in his physical element. Now he’s on the run from the same cabal that poisoned Amy’s children. That doesn’t stop him from launching a mission to bring down the NRO—and find an antidote. But the clock is ticking. And as the sparks fly between him and Amy, Mac realizes he has more to lose than ever before.

As Mac closes in on the NRO, he uncovers a plot that threatens more than Amy’s children. Now it’s a race against time to stop a global conspiracy, save the woman he loves, and protect the family that’s starting to feel like his.

Driven by hate, Amy Chastain seeks vengeance for her children who have been used as scientific subjects. She’s not the only one part of the collateral damage when a flight was hijacked months ago, though that critical event has made it obvious that there are bigger things at play. Smack in the middle of the instability are new bonds that are made (though not without much friction in the process) and with a revelation of a Dan-Brown-type conspiracy, 4 SEALs manage to fall in love along the way. That, in a nutshell, is how far we’ve come.

‘Forged in Ember’ closes the whole series as the bad guys are dispatched, only with a loose thread or so left hanging so that there’s room for a sequel. There’s also a helpful recap of the entire story-arc in the beginning, which makes ‘Forged in Ember’ a passable standalone, but the odd bits of paranormal activity, coupled with the suspense, would probably mean that the rest of the books in this series are best read in order before tackling this one.

There’s no bigger relief than this—to see the final book in Trish McCallan’s ‘Red-Hot SEALs’ series appear, especially since the wait time for it has stretched an excruciating number of years. But I’ve held out, unable to forget that the series contains an odd but good mix of conspiracy theories, military suspense and paranormal happenings that form a cocktail potent enough to keep me constantly lapping at the pages. That McCallan’s writing style is exactly what I go for in this particular genre for doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve always been intrigued by the tension between Jace McKenzie and Amy Chastain after their very unusual meeting (in rather tragic circumstances) in the first book, anyway, and ‘Forged in Ember’ finally tells their story. Amy Chastain has always stood out like a beacon of unflagging courage and fortitude—the horrors of what she’d suffered from the first book have made me want her story from the start, as McCallan pairs a woman whose strength can’t afford to waver with a rough-hewn, temperamentally impulsive commander who’s as brutish, gruff and blunt as they come. Still, their coming together is more muted that I thought, hindered many times, by the race to save her son.

As a result, the HEA in the uneasy aftermath feels like shaky foundation on which this book ends. McCallan’s SEALs get their happy rides into the sunset, banished as they are from active duty as they know it, reinstated into another secretive order that will probably see the light of day again. There are things that I thought somewhat bizarre and out of place—the large insertion of native Indian tribal rites and rituals, the super-secret, well-stocked military base off the official lines, the influence of the supernatural here—which also takes a great amount of the suspension of disbelief. Or that paranormal abilities, which defy all attempts at rational explanation anyway, conveniently pop up at times give a deus-ex-machina cop-out to prevent more characters from dropping dead like flies and help save the day.
three-stars

Midnight Valentine by J.T. Geissinger

Midnight Valentine by J.T. GeissingerMidnight Valentine by J.T. Geissinger
Published by J.T. Geissinger on 6th February 2018
Pages: 316
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one-star

True love never dies.

Megan and Cassidy were childhood sweethearts who thought they would be together forever. Fate had other plans. Soon after they were married, Cass’s life was tragically cut short. Still grieving her soul mate five years later, Megan moves to the small town of Seaside, Oregon, hoping to rebuild her life.

Her first night there, she meets the town recluse, Theo. Withdrawn, guarded, and mysteriously silent since a terrible accident left him scarred, Theo takes an instant and inexplicable dislike to Megan. But as their paths cross again and again, Megan becomes convinced there’s more to Theo than meets the eye. When she discovers the reason for his silence, his nightmares, and especially his pointed dislike, Megan becomes convinced of something far more astonishing.

Is a second chance at a once-in-a-lifetime love possible, or is a broken heart the cruelest kind of liar?

The allure of reincarnation for some, is that there is a true love that never dies, that lovers can always find themselves lovers again in some other lifetime, reborn in different bodies—that bit I can understand.

‘Midnight Valentine’ however, takes this in a direction that doesn’t sit at all well with me and I’ll say from the start that there isn’t anything wrong with the engaging writing, or the snarky personality of Megan that I love but that I had some serious, personal issues with the entire premise of how the pairing was actually written.

But as it became evident that J.T. Geissinger began nudging the reader towards the idea that Megan’s dead husband had been reincarnated in another man’s body (a living, breathing man who’d had another life, another personality before his accident), I found myself disliking this more and more. That Cass’s personality and history could inhabit or rather possess someone else to the point, filled him with the sense of pre-cognition where it drove Theo near insane with anguish (where he actually had to check himself into a mental hospital) made me highly uncomfortable, not only because it felt violently invasive, but that it also inherently refused Megan the opportunity to move on from her loss.

For Geissinger, through a series of creepy coincidences—some of which are too incredible to be true—to call this love spanning the test of time is simply an idea here that I can’t help but wholeheartedly reject. I finished ‘Midnight Valentine’ very, very disturbed, needless to say, wishing almost that I could scrub this particular story from my mind.

one-star

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

Run to Me by Cynthia Eden

Run to Me by Cynthia EdenRun To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #4
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 223
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two-stars

He’s used to getting what he wants…

Jennings “Jay” Maverick is a tech billionaire. He has the world at his feet, and he thinks he can buy anything…but he can’t buy her. One look at the mysterious Willow, and Jay knows that he is a goner. He wants to give her anything and everything she desires, but he’s the man responsible for the pain in Willow’s life, and getting close to her—well, that’s not going to be easy.

Her life is a nightmare that she can’t escape.

Willow woke up in one of the “Lazarus” research facilities. She now has increased strength, incredible speed, and some scary psychic bonuses. Because of the danger associated with her new gifts, she’s afraid to touch anyone. One touch from her, and a man’s darkest fears will seemingly turn into reality. But Jay isn’t afraid of her touch. Instead, he seems to…crave it. To crave her.

She can’t trust him, and he won’t let her go.

Willow knows that Jay has been involved with Lazarus in the past, but he swears he only wants to help her. She never expects the white-hot desire that burns between them, a desire that grows more with every moment that passes. Thrust together as allies, Willow finds herself wanting to put her faith in Jay, wanting to find someone she can rely on, but Jay may still be keeping secrets from her. Secrets that could get them both killed.

When darkness and danger close in…RUN TO ME.

There’s undoubtedly a darkly seductive, nightmarish insane edge to Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers engineered to always come back from the dead. And that keeps <i>me</i> coming back.

However, this far down the series, I’ve found things that I both like and dislike about the narrative arc and Eden’s peculiar characterisation of her protagonists here in particular—which I suspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of this series—bugs me quite a bit. So this puts me in the minority (what’s new?), having found ‘Run To Me’ a disappointment, all the more so because I was looking forward to Willow’s and Jay’s book.

Willow runs; Jay tries to chase and atone; the baddies aren’t too clear-cut and the race for ‘normalcy’, if there’s ever such a thing, continues—my gross oversimplification, of course. The non-stop action is a draw, as are the twists and turns in this story, though having gone through all the books in the series thus far, I find myself running into several issues that I can’t seem to ignore.

One thing that personally irks me in this book is that there are entanglements or conflicts built around ex-lovers who are still in the picture, and that these drive a wedge—no matter how big or small—between the pairing that Eden tries to bring together. Somehow the involvement of other women/other men diminishes the impact or the force of the pairing that I want to get behind…and now can’t exactly quite because of this particular white elephant that shines rather brightly in the room with them.

For this reason, I actually think it’s darkly ironic that all the other characters kept inadvertently saying things that further damned Jay in Willow’s eyes, when all he wanted was to protect her and atone for his misdeeds in the Lazarus project. Jay/Willow’s relationship is an uphill battle as a result, which after a while, becomes a repetitive push-pull of chasing and running away. Yet if I expected a hard, kickarse heroine, Willow seemed the opposite, never quite able to get past her own demons to rise above them.

Something else that niggles: there isn’t much that differentiates one alpha male from another, apart from the possession of a super power or whether they wear a suit or not. I find myself struggling here Eden’s heroes after a while, as they tend to meld into each other. Jay Maverick—who isn’t a super soldier—suddenly acts like one instead of the technological-baron billionaire he is and his stepping up as alpha—not that I don’t appreciate the possessive and protective vibes he gives out—just didn’t set him apart anymore from the behaviour of other protagonists like Sawyer or Flynn, minus the superpower.

I think I keep coming back to this series in the hope that the overall plot would get better and better, but they haven’t yet worked out too well yet. ‘Run To Me’ is the weakest of the series so far however, and I’m still wishing—or is it wishful thinking?—that the waters would be less muddied the next time around.

two-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