Category: Urban Fantasy

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige TylerHer Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #5
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6th 2016
Pages: 320
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two-stars

HE'LL DO ANYTHING FOR HER
Former Special Forces Lieutenant Jayson Harmon can't believe that his war scars don't matter to beautiful feline shifter Layla Halliwell. Why would she saddle herself with a broken man?

But Layla knows that Jayson is a hero to the core, and that only she can heal his wounded soul. So when Jayson is deployed on another deadly mission, no way is Layla staying behind...

Layla and Jayson have been ‘teased’ as a pairing throughout this series, though their introduction is a soft one: Paige Tyler doesn’t do the whole pining-after-each-other rigmarole here and their first meeting and their (somewhat chaste) getting together take place off-screen, so to speak. But the time their book rolls around, they’re a couple with obstacles to overcome and ‘Her Rogue Alpha’ is partially that.

Unfortunately, the book proved to be quite a disappointment. Perhaps the most glaring point was the split between Layla/Jayson’s jaunt in Donetsk and a separate plot involving Ivy, Landon and a shifter thief. Set up more like a separate developing plots in an episode of a tv series, having this in print simply made it more distracting than engaging.

I was also left sceptically wondering whether a person with rather severe back injuries could do what Jayson did and continue to do some superhuman feats just because he’d believed he could. Whether the shifter hybrid serum worked or him or not wasn’t clear – even the extent to which it worked was deliberately left out – but it felt as though Tyler wanted us to believe that Jayson would and could live with the pain in his back (while doing whatever he could do without a magic cure), exacerbating it on missions and still watch Layla’s back like he used to be in the Special Forces.

I wished this could have been a more satisfying read – the potential was certainly there – but so much was set up in a way that had me alternating between frustration and incredulity that I found myself putting down the book and taking it up way too many times.

two-stars

Her Wild Hero by Paige Tyler

Her Wild Hero by Paige TylerHer Wild Hero by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Name: Kendra CarlsenRank: Trainer, Dept. of Covert OpsObjective: Get out of the office and into the field

Name: Declan MacBrideRank: Munitions Expert, Dept. of Covert OpsStatus: Bear ShifterObjective: Protect Kendra at all costs

The steamy Costa Rican jungle brings out the bear in Declan MacBride when he and new operative Kendra Carlsen are ambushed. In the midst of relying on each other to survive, and fighting his explosive attraction to Kendra, this shifter is about to lose control...

When Kendra and Declan were introduced in Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series in the first book, I had high hopes. Until I realised Tyler had set up a situation where Declan hankered after Kendra while Kendra hankered after Clayne (who’s the hero in the second) book, slept with him, and never quite gave up the infatuation, and someone else now hankers after her.

Call my idea of romance a narrow-minded one, but this setup inevitably made Kendra/Declan a pairing that was hard to swallow, let alone get invested in.

This alone made ‘Her Wild Hero’ a hard read to go through, though I was starting to feel as though the series was lagging, with the introduction of hybrids and ‘micro-situations’ that felt like filler scenarios to get a particular paring together, as well as provide opportunities for Landon’s ex-Special Forces team to get involved in DCO tasks.

Still, the biggest problem I have with this series so far however,—and it’s a glaring one—is the number of ‘unrequited’ pairings and the trial-and-error basis that some non-couples go through before ending up with their mates. Thankfully, it isn’t the grating idea of finding the only one destined for themselves as in Tyler’s Werewolf series, but that there’s just much more room for occasions where ‘second chances’—where one party finally notices another, for instance—just never live up to my own expectations.

If I thought Declan was an adorable gentle giant, I actually loathed Kendra. Not for her stunning abilities to take care of herself in the field, but that her obsession with Clayne, her sleeping with him, only to find out that they had no chemistry, her deliberate keeping it from Declan when she knew he and Clayne didn’t like each other, her subsequent rising interest in Declan only when her crush on Clayne didn’t work out…just weren’t sufficiently dealt with, at least enough to be satisfactory.

Throw in her stubborn and stupid comparisons of Declan to Clayne and I actually thought Declan was her backup option, despite declaration that he was the only man she should be with when he’d been in front of her all this time. Her refusal to see Declan on his own terms (it had to take sleeping with Clayne to show her that?!) until getting stuck in a jungle with him just didn’t seem to give her all-in with Declan any credence. And then the sudden switch 7 years later from Clayne, Clayne and Clayne to Declan simply made her indiscretion more unforgivable.

I wished ‘Her Wild Hero’ was a book that I could get on with, but the ranting above probably shows that I really thought of the pairing—loved the H, hated the Hr. Everything was just details, which in the end, I found myself skimming. Clearly the glowing reviews show that I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but this is going to make me tread more cautiously with this series from here onward.

two-stars

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Wicked Attraction by Megan Hart

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

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

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

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.