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Urban Fantasy

Wicked Attraction by Megan Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 17th December 2017
Wicked Attraction by Megan HartWicked Attraction by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #2
Published by Swerve on February 6th 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Dive into the second book in this fantastic new series set in the near future from New York Times bestselling author Megan Hart!

Ewan Donahue has made a lot of mistakes, but making Nina Bronson want to leave him has been the worst. With the initial threats on his life out of the way, he doesn’t really need her protection, but hiring her to take care of him again is the only way to get her back in his life. When Nina shows up ready to work —and nothing else — Ewan’s determined to win her back. If he can break through the walls his earlier betrayal built, maybe they can have another shot at love. When it turns out that this time, it’s Nina who’s being targeted for danger and possibly death, Ewan’s the one who has to keep her safe.

Cliffhanger endings can be brutal, but that’s always the risk with a series that deals with the lows and highs of a single pairing, and especially so if the narrative arc stretches out over all the books. Needless to say, ‘Wicked Attraction’ isn’t a standalone.

Here, the rift between Nina and Ewan widens, though that doesn’t stop both of them from dancing around each other, getting into the same arguments and eventually into bed. Rinse and repeat. She tells him off tearily but says she can’t ever hate him, he grovels and declares his love, once even to the point where he’d literally brought to his knees. The push-pull as always, is a constant repetitive issue here, though there is some development on fronts that feel a bit more peripheral to the issue dividing Ewan and Nina.

Nonetheless, my reading experience with ‘Wicked Attraction’, was on the whole, quite uneven. Ups and downs, if you like. There were parts that interested me more than others and parts where I simply just flipped and skimmed. I was engrossed in the enhancement technology and what was happening to Nina’s body, couldn’t stop rolling my eyes about her neurotic slipping in and out of bed with Ewan yet protesting too much about how much he’d betrayed her (the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, perhaps?), liked some actions scenes and didn’t exactly care about the work that Ewan did with the talented kids as part of his latest project. Nina also did seem like a different character from the more stoic, alpha soldier in the first book; she was more given to emotional outbursts and more dramatic responses, though that was in part, attributed to the changes she was undergoing.

For these minuses however, Megan Hart does write well as I’ve said before, and her sensory prose continues here, which helped get me through the bits that lagged. There were bigger issues that seemed vital to the entire narrative arc but slid past me—the importance of memory and who should get to control them through technology—and I wished I were harder ‘hit’ by what Nina and Ewan were arguing for.

In short, I sort of did like Hart’s concept but I wasn’t always able to keep my interest in the development of the story. It was easy to pick up (and put down, unfortunately) and my ability to fully get into the characters each time made this a decent, but not entirely memorable read. \\

three-stars

Stay With Me by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 16th December 2017
Stay With Me by Cynthia EdenStay With Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #3
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on December 12th 2017
Pages: 165
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three-stars

Shelly Hampton intends to spend the holidays alone in her family’s mountain cabin, but when a snow-covered stranger appears on her door-step, her plans are shot straight to hell. The man before her seems oddly familiar, and he stirs a dark need within her.

It’s soon apparent that John Smith is far more than a normal man—he’s too strong, too fast, and she could swear that he seems to read her thoughts…and know her most secret desires.

But is John a man that she could love…or is he someone she should fear? Because even as the snow fall deepens, a deadly threat is closing in on her little cabin. And soon, Shelly will be trapped on the mountain with a dangerous man…a man who swears that he has come back from the dead, just to be with her.

There’s always something about this series that I find constantly hovers on the edge of the hysterical. I think my biggest problem really, is the gradual departure from the realism that the story starts out with. Everything is writ so large, sometimes to the point where I can lose that ability to suspend disbelief: the insane villains so stylised that they can be out of an opera, the alpha, over-the-top hero and a heroine can sometimes manage the miraculous and whose greatest enemies are her previous lovers.

Not to say that it isn’t entertaining—Cynthia Eden can cook up a mystery and resolve it very well—but the idea of super-soldiers becoming possessive primates (the growling, snorting and rough sex included) because of their programming somehow seems more laughable than stirring.

‘Stay With Me’ reminded me of a cross between Robocop/Terminator and Pet Sematary as Christmas decorations and celebrations go on—a slice of the paranormal inserted into the holiday season, which was a tad too batty for me.

Over all, Eden’s Lazarus Rising is definitely a series I’d be continuing with, but at the same time, I’ll be taking it all in with a heaping amount of salt…more than I normally do with such sub-genres.

three-stars

Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 14th December 2017
Dangerous Promise by Megan HartDangerous Promise by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #1
Published by Swerve on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Nina Bronson used to be all human -- until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

‘Dangerous Promise’ is quite a unique, somewhat futuristic take on the bodyguard cyborg and the client, or at least it’s probably one that will appeal to readers who are hungry for a kickass, enhanced, ex-military female who conducts her personal life like the stereotypical no-strings military alpha hero that are dime a dozen in this genre.

Not that a role reversal is uncommon in the plethora of romance stories today, but Nina Bronson is a female protagonist unusual enough to make anyone sit up and take note. That’s the book’s standout feature, along with the immediate conflict posed by Nina’s very own abilities being the very issue the billionaire womaniser Ewan Donohue has aggressively fought against. As the female mirror image of the alpha hero, Nina is an unmistakably strong female lead with technological enhancements that only elevate her above a ‘normal’ book-heroine, right down to her own casual hookups and her willingness to sleep with clients if that would protect them (if that even makes sense).

Unafraid to call out misogyny and the double standards that women like her face, Nina might just be a loudspeaker for what many might feel about the double standards and the complaints voiced against the romance genre today as she kicks and punches her way out of things/issues both verbally and physically. Next to her, Ewan can only be the beta hero, dimmed and outshone in every way by Nina’s wonder-woman abilities until he’s a grovelling mess, their only tussling happening in bed after he yields to her judgement when it comes to his protecting his life.

Upping the sexual tension with Ewan as they circle each other in a game that’s akin to a 2-steps-forward-one-step-back dance is perhaps the form of foreplay that Hart wants to bring across, but somehow, Nina’s relationship with Ewan seems unequal in so many ways. Ewan’s own history with women and the way he treated them until Nina didn’t exactly made me a huge fan of his; the constant comparison of how awfully selfish he used to be with others and with Nina proved more of a turn-off than a revelation of how special she is supposed to be. Moreover, for all of Nina’s insistence about owning her own sexuality, her sudden insistence that sex should only happen between consensual adults who want and like each other equally is the argument she uses to keep Ewan at arms’s length. As much as the inevitable sex scenes are hot, I can’t quite get on board with the subtly manipulative and contradictory sides of Nina and Ewan, the former of whom can seem to do no wrong even as she blows hot and cold.

As the first of a 3-book series, ‘Dangerous Promise’ draws out the dialogue and the threats much longer than I expected. The plot advances, albeit slowly and what would be typically resolved in the last three-quarters of the book reads instead like the end of a tv episode, where the characters return for round 2 and subsequently, round 3 as the series goes on. Hart definitely delivers very well-written action scenes, though these are short and brief and interspersed with a lot of dialogue-turned-flirty-banter that can get repetitive, inevitably slowing the pacing of the story. There’s also sort of a cliffhanger but there’s very much the sense that whatever resolution that Hart gives is a temporary one. Nina’s and Ewan’s story is far from over, that much is clear.

It’s kind of tough to write a review for a book which I wanted so much to like but fell a bit short of expectations, and that’s only because I prefer the type of relationships where both the h/hr need each other in equal ways, where both aren’t beyond reproach. But if the alpha female dominating the headlines, so to speak is what you’re after (Nina is a feminist’s wet dream after all), then ‘Dangerous Promise’ is the type of read that will be your catnip.

three-stars

Absolved by Marnee Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 28th November 2017
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.

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

Posted in Fantasy/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 19th November 2017
Bitter Spirits by Jenn BennettBitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
Series: Roaring Twenties #1
Published by Berkley Sensation on January 7th 2014
Pages: 317
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three-stars

It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her.

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

‘Bitter Spirits’ is a huge departure from the type of books I normally go for in this genre. But having had this on my to-read list for a long time, I’m somewhat glad I made that plunge into San Francisco’s bootlegging Prohibition era that’s seemingly riddled with Chinese mystics, ghosts that waft through the alleys as strongly as the odours of Chinatown and shady characters who look for séances and exorcism exercises. The atmosphere and the whole set-up with more than a tinge of the paranormal in the beginning pages drew me in, as did the climatic ending that I thought fell a little too easily into a HEA when I was itching for Winter to be on his knees.

I loved Aida Palmer from the start—as I always do when it comes to the independent, spunky woman who has always made her way in life alone despite it all, enchanted by what she does and how she does it for a living. But if I liked how Jenn Bennett wrote Aida, her handling of Winter somehow put me off him.

In fact, the biggest problem I had here was with Winter himself, who blew hot and cold so easily (he resembled the kind of mood-swing-ridden ‘hero’ from Victorian or Regency romances of old) and I’d wished Aida had taken the fight to him more directly instead of caving to his ‘handsomeness’ and his big body and his apparently bountiful erections, particularly when he’d said awful things to her and pretty much behaved in a manner that warranted more than a grovelling apology—which he never gave. That she had to face his old sexual liaisons was gag-worthy for me at least and that did actually down my own impression of his character.

The pacing did lag a bit in the middle, as did their roundabout search for the curse placed on Winter, not helped by the bloated number of scenes that seemed to catalogue how often  they took in each other’s bodies—sometimes at the most inopportune times—and detracted from the issues that both Aida and Winter needed to talk out between them—which again, did not happen. The long and short is, my excitement fizzled out somewhat after the impressive opening pages and I’m going on to the next book with a bit more caution.

three-stars

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 3rd November 2017
Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
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four-stars

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…

Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.

As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

‘Wildfire’ is a return to the rollicky, zany fun that I had in the first book, complete with otherworldly creatures, deadpan, quip-filled humour and crazy feats of magic that, on an alternate earth, would send mortals running each time a window gets the slightest hairline crack. This mad magical universe is really what makes this series so irresistible: larger than life, yet still so steeped in a contemporary reality (or rather, downtown Houston) we can sort of relate to and understand.

A huge part of me still longed for the Nevada Baylor of the first book—the woman who kept her powers hidden as she relied on her wits and gun skills instead of playing with the big boys—rather than the newly-minted Prime taking her place in a complex and archaic House system full of backstabbing politics, where the constant game of keeping one’s head above water prevents everything from staying simple. I still cringed every time she used her powers—whether these occasions were justified were still up in the air for me—but this was merely a trade-off it seemed, for Nevada’s rise in magical society and the inevitable ‘revelation’ of her unique ‘gift’.

As much the story was still written in her POV here, Nevada and Connor were by now, an established couple, finding their way around this new relationship and how their magic abilities worked into it, so there wasn’t too much of the tension that we got in the first 2 books.

But I didn’t mind it too much, absorbed as I was in the story’s secondary characters, which were really the best I’ve ever read in a long, long time. For once, Andrews’s secondary characters—who were as multifaceted as the protagonists—kept me riveted, even sometimes taking focus away from the main couple despite the story being related in Nevada’s POV and I didn’t mind a whit.

The bottom-line is, it all went from loopy to loopier and although quite cookie-cutter in the way the authors handled its protagonists’ growth trajectories, ‘Wildfire’ is still a riotous fast-paced read that already hints at more to come.

four-stars

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 2nd November 2017
White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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three-stars

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.

three-stars
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