Category: Syfy Romance

Absolved by Marnee Blake

Absolved by Marnee BlakeAbsolved by Marnee Blake
Series: Altered #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on December 11th 2017
Pages: 174
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Since a brain-altering drug killed most of Luke Kincaid’s town—including his father—and left him telekinetic, he’s determined to stop the fanatic who stole the drug to create his own super-powered army. That means working with scientist Dr. Beth Jenkins, whose graphic tees and beautiful smile are some of Luke’s biggest distractions.

A science prodigy, Beth works with the FBI and solves the toughest crimes, but she can’t figure out what caused her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The drug that ravaged Luke’s town is volatile, and the mortality rate is still high, yet Beth is convinced it holds the key to saving her mother, even if sexy and tortured Luke doesn’t believe it should be adapted for commercial use.

When bodies start to pile up, though, the two loners must decide if the goals that tie them together are greater the fears that would tear them apart.

Plunging into ‘Absolved’ felt like being hurled into the deep end of the pond and swallowing mouthfuls of pond water while trying to stay afloat, despite having read the first 2 books of Marnee Blake’s Altered series. The break between books meant that it was difficult to catch up on (and remember) what had happened during an apocalypse-like situation where a drug kills half the population and infuses the other half with telekinetic/mind-reading superpowers.

What I could figure out early on was that there were baddies to fight—bad guys with the notion that the drug responsible for the fall of the human race can help create a new world order—with a ragtag band of people to fight them, as was the growing push-pull tension between a scientist prodigy and a tortured computer guy trying to atone for his misdeeds woven into the whole story.

A prologue perhaps, or some insertion of context would have made ‘Absolved’ a lot easier to get into especially for first time readers; placing the scene or working out the back story out was an exercise in frustration because it was difficult to get to a point where pieces had to fall into place before I could get lost in the narrative without needing to re-read the first 2 books. That said, though it took a while for me to get into it, to sort out the details of what really happened before I could actually sit back and enjoy the story, ‘Absolved’ by and large, took off as soon as I fought my way through the bits that needed time to fall into place.

Clearly then, this isn’t a standalone, and as a YA/NA-type book, the sexual situations never quite went all the way, so to speak (as with all the books in this series) because the romance took a back seat to the rush to make the ruined world right again. Beth and Luke, like all the other pairings in the rest of the series, become the ‘heroes’ when hit by the drug, in contrast to the few who become villains because of it, but it was a pairing I couldn’t exactly get into.

Apart from the conflict that kept both Luke and Beth on opposing sides of the argument for most of the story, I found myself preferring ‘old’ Beth more before she was hit by the drug somehow—the problematic definition of what it meant to be heroic came into play for me here, though it’s probably nitpicking on my part or my rooting for the underdog—and was vaguely disappointed that she could suddenly achieve what she did and get past Luke’s feelings only when she had super-enhanced senses, which felt almost like a cop-out for the solution to her problems. Would a ‘normal’ person then, not be able to do what she did and help save the world, by this implication? Along with the change, the ‘new’ Beth became someone I couldn’t recognise and was frustrated with when it often seemed to be on Luke to fight that uphill battle to get back into her graces when it was clear he had demons of his own to fight—when she could seem to do no wrong in contrast.

Unfortunately, while I really liked Blake’s 2 previous books, I think ‘Absolved’ fell somewhat flat at all for those reasons above. I just wished I’d liked this one a lot more, but there just wasn’t enough for me to cheer for, not least the characters who went from push-pull to a rushed HEA that was hard to swallow.

War Games by Jess Anastasi

War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on December 11th 2017
Pages: 343
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four-stars

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

‘War Games’ closes Jess Anastasi’s ‘Valiant Knox’ series and I’ve obviously been waiting a while to get my paws on it, ever since I sniffed out the tension between Cameron McAllister and Theresa Brennan in the last book. In a nutshell, mutual dislike best characterises Bren’s and Cam’s relationship for the past decade, for mistaken reasons that have them mostly avoiding each other when they can.

With a strong element of pride and prejudice working here means that they start off cool, distant and rocky, until a downed pilot pushes them into close confines and forces them to reevaluate their grudges. But Bren and Cam are likeable characters who don’t generally play games—hard to do so during war when more important things matter—; both have a core of compassion and integrity that I’ve come to associate with the standout protagonists of syfy-romance, so it isn’t hard to get into their developing relationship even as the pace amps up towards the end.

The enemies-to-lovers (with frenemies being the state in between) is one of my favourite tropes, but apart from that, ‘War Games’, like every other book that Anastasi writes, is akin watching an action-packed, hour-long episode of a tv series merrily chugging its way through the season, as a primary conflict specific to the episode plays out and is by and large, resolved by the time the end credits roll. That said, ‘War Games’ isn’t quite suitable as a standalone read, considering there’s a whole universe and a bit of history behind the warring factions, so it could be a hard book to follow if you’re starting straight here.

What I’ve always loved about the Valiant Knox’s series is that the books are very easy to read, or maybe it’s because I’ve been following this from the get-go, when I was still high off my syfy addiction. Anastasi’s books are typically pitched at a level I can enjoy and follow without getting too confused, which I can’t always say of the detail-suffused and complex worlds of several syfy or fantasy epics that I’ve tried to sink my teeth into.

Still, it’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to a series that I like very much, even when the curtain finally falls on every couple’s HEA several years later.

four-stars

Beast by Anna Hackett

Beast by Anna HackettBeast by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
on October 31st 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

Vek—the blue man/beast who has been roaring and growling his way into the hearts of Anna Hackett’s readers since the series introduced him—finally takes centre stage in this novella, with a woman who has the strange power to soothe him.

It’s nothing less than a thrilling ride with several surprisingly revelations along the way, as Hackett’s imaginary Cathargo (a mix of an ancient gladiatorial theatre in a dusty Star-Wars world with the technology of Bladerunner) springs to life yet again with an enthusiastic expansion of this odd place and the mad number of species that populate it. This far down the series, Galactic Gladiators has definitely gotten better and more enthralling as Hackett’s world-building expands—which possibly makes many of her books difficult to enjoy as standalones—as ‘earth people’, post-capture after the raid of a space station near Jupiter, find themselves in situations too alien (pun intended) for them to resist while finding love on the way.

There were many parts of ‘Beast’ that I liked, and the action and the secondary characters populating the universe notwithstanding, Vek and Mia actually turn out to be a pairing that’s probably the most unusual and heartrending thus far. Hackett proves that Vek is so much more than a killing machine with a sad past, and that with a shave and haircut, along with the love and care of a pint-sized human, is just as redeemable and deserving of a HEA as any of her other characters.

four-stars

Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly

Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn ReillyAdrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly
Series: Deadly DNA #1
on October 8th 2017
Pages: 216
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three-stars

He's a trained, cold-blooded killer. Freelancing as a soldier for hire, Jake Hanson is ready to take down GovCorp, the ruthless corporation that created the mercenary that he is. But when he gets teamed up in the jungles of Africa with the fiery and determined Kendra Reed, Jake struggles with his mission. After all, he's not programmed to feel—but he's beginning to feel a hell of a lot for the feisty ex-soldier.

She's a spy looking for answers. Kendra Reed works for GovCorp as a translator. But she has a hidden agenda. She's after the truth—and she'll stop at nothing to get it. Working with a genetically-engineered bad boy sparks intrigue in her. But the last thing Kendra needs is to be falling for someone like Jake.

Falling for each other was never on their agenda. As they face a deadly enemy, Jake and Kendra are forced to trust one another, while confronting the heated attraction that burns between them. With time running out and their adrenaline in overdrive, can they find a way to save themselves before it's too late?

The start of ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ plunges us straight into Carolyn Reilly’s intriguing world of the genetically-modified and the ‘natural’ borns, the schism deepened only by the physicality of the former, the ‘weakness’ of the latter and the prejudices that grew out of that widening divide. There is a fair bit to take in as well with a huge number of characters gracing the pages while Reilly sets up opposing factions: GovCorp vs. the Committee, GVs vs. naturals, Kendra vs. Jake, the rogues vs. everyone else (so it seems) as it slowly becomes clear that this is an alternate universe, or at least a futuristic earth not so distant that we can’t imagine ourselves in it.

It did take me a while to get my head around this reality that Reilly has created, though it’s definitely an action-packed but chilling ride that combines political tussle, whistle-blowers, double agents and paramilitary activities showing just how deep divides have become. Kendra and Jake were relatively believable protagonists though their fast-and-furious growing relationship amid the instability of the socio-political climate did at times however, feel more like lust than love. There were also, some abrupt and awkward breaks signalling POV changes that made me blink each time it happened, and the somewhat uneven characterisation/narration that threw me off.

In many ways, ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ reads like an establishing novel—it is in any case—as Reilly’s world-building gets off its feet. But it’s a world I’d be willing to revisit again and I’m already looking forward to see what Reilly has in store for this insane world that somehow, doesn’t feel too far from the nightmare our present reality can become.

three-stars

Ash by Anna Hackett

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

Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Pages: 139
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three-stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three-stars

Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-stars