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Twisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 12th October 2017
Twisted Truths by Rebecca ZanettiTwisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #3
Published by Forever on November 14th 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

You can't escape the past . . .

Noni is desperate. Her infant niece has been kidnapped, and the only person who can save her is a private detective with too many secrets to count--and more enemies than he can name. A man who walked away from Noni without any warning a year ago, a man who broke her heart. But with Talia's life on the line, Noni needs his help now more than ever--and this time, she won't take no for an answer . . .

The moment Denver Jones sees Noni, the memories come rushing back. The fire in her eyes. The determination in her voice. The danger of having her in his life. Denver had to push her away once, but now with vicious criminals threatening Noni and her niece, he'll do whatever it takes to protect them. But enemies from his past are circling, and they'll use anything--and anyone--to get to Denver.

It’s through the ‘inheritance’ of a friend’s baby that Noni Yuka gets tangled up in a gang’s trafficking activities while doing an online search for him—and trumpeting his presence when all Denver Jones wants is to lie low. It’s also the reason that he’d cut their affair short and found solace in a bottle, though Noni’s explosive return to his life thrusts him and his brothers into greater danger.

2 storylines converge in ’Twisted Truths’—which accounts for the length of the book—and without prior knowledge of the previous books in the series (as well as maybe the series before this) this might be a little hard to follow despite the brief recaps that Rebecca Zanetti does here and there. In short, the crazy brand of villainy that has been stalking the Dean brothers and now the Jones brothers come to a head here as the evil pair of Madison and Cobb pit themselves against Denver and by extension, the rest of the Jones boys.

As difficult as it might be to read as a standalone, ‘Twisted Truths’ is nonetheless full of action, some sexy times, some bizzare twists and turns (along with some TSTL moments from Noni), and sort of held together by a villain so overblown that an evil, giggling cartoon character might as well populate the pages. This closure however, is long time in coming and Zanetti does it by highlighting the bonds between brothers who may or may not be blood-related—who also jump in with seemingly unlimited resources to save the day.

three-stars

Storm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 22nd September 2017
Storm Gathering by Rebecca ZanettiStorm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #4
Published by RAZ INK LLC on September 19th 2017
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…

As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes with Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.

The rough, primal dystopian society that Rebecca Zanetti has created after the Scorpius bacterium struck is an exciting one. Point is, there’s a rich complexity in this bleak world split into factions populated by interesting characters who can and do add value to the plot.

But a pattern for the Scorpius Syndrome series emerges after going through 4 books: there’s a pairing that shows much promise (I definitely fall for the hooks left in previous books), but the plot’s momentum is never allowed to become an unstoppable juggernaut because it gets choked by certain twists, turns and irrational character behaviour that turn my enthusiasm dial down. Zanetti chooses instead, to deal with certain tropes that could and should have been left by the wayside in this brave new world, particularly so in ’Storm Gathering’.

I do like the shift in the storytelling to the Mercenaries and I’ve wanted Greyson’s and Moe’s story for a long while after seeing their interactions, but it was disappointing with the way they’ve been developed and presented here. Not that I’d expected a straight-up enemies-to-lovers type of story, but so much of the first half is filled with squabbles between the Vanguard guys and the Mercs, with Maureen as a bartering object to be passed to and fro between both camps. It isn’t helpful that Moe herself can’t decide what to do or where to stay; nor can Greyson decide where his loyalties should lie.

Their holding pattern got frustrating after a while, especially since I was hankering after a more developed story arc that should have built towards a final confrontation between the Elite Forces and Vanguard/the Mercs but only came partially to fruition towards the end. Greyson instead, pursues his own agenda of revenge, allows this goal to drive his alliances and generally vacillates so much in his decision-making that I began to wonder if the narrative arc was indeed getting anywhere. The weird spurts of humour don’t help either (which I can appreciate but thought those came with bad timing), and made the ’Storm Gathering’ feel like a parody at times when I’d actually expected rising tension and several standoffs.

The stuttering pacing does pick up when an uneasy alliance is forged almost incidentally between Jax and Grey but the story ends just as it gets good. Objectively, it’s understandable why Zanetti chooses to deal with a nemesis at a time—the Pure Church appears to be next in the series with Damon’s story coming up—but just as I’ve been waiting for this entire series to culminate into something bigger, my enthusiasm is flagging here.

three-stars

Lethal Lies by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th April 2017
Lethal Lies by Rebecca ZanettiLethal Lies by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #2
Published by Forever on May 16th 2017
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three-stars

A deadly secret can't stay buried forever . . . Revenge. It's the only thing that will help Anya Best sleep at night. The serial killer who murdered her sister is on the loose, and Anya will stop at nothing to put him behind bars-even use herself as bait to lure him out of hiding. But she can't do this alone.
Private investigator Heath Jones's job is to bring bastards to justice. This time it's personal. He knew the Copper Killer's latest victim so when her sister asks for his help, he's all in. But when Anya uses the media to taunt the killer, she exposes Heath's identity, putting them both in jeopardy. Now, secrets buried long ago are coming to light and the forces determined to destroy him are watching Heath's every move, waiting to exact their own revenge. And they'll use anything and anyone to get to Heath.

‘Lethal Lies’, like ‘Deadly Silence’, is a spin-off from the Sin-Brothers series, with some paranormal bits hinted at, though it takes more of a back seat as Rebecca Zanetti focuses instead on the suspense. In here, Heath Jones fights for his own happy ending with Anya Best after the Copper Killer puts her in his sights and kills her sister as collateral damage. Revenge and grief push Anya into setting herself up as bait for him, inadvertently involving Heath in this crazy plan as her fake fiancé. But Heath’s weakness is playing the protector when he sees women abused or chased down and soon enough, finds himself in an untenable position where his foes finally know where he and his brothers are hiding out.

With the opening scenes arranged in an order that wasn’t entirely linear (with some flashbacks written into them), I felt as though I was thrust into a middle of a situation without a grounding context and spent quite a while bewildered, like an outsider who couldn’t quite make sense of what was going on until partway through. Is this book good as a standalone? If Heath and Anya had a history, what exactly is it? What is Anya’s murdered sister connection with the brothers?

It was only after the facts settled that it became somewhat clearer. Anya’s gauntlet, thrown down so impulsively, isn’t something that allows any secrets to be kept…and Heath and his merry band of brothers have a huge one that is compromised by her very public, naive trap-setting actions. Like the Sin-Brothers, there’s are foes out for Heath and the layers that help shield their business are all geared towards keeping them out of the public gaze which Anya has blown wide open. That bit intrigued me as it did in Zanetti’s previous series: the compound of elite, trained soldiers, genetically-modified and controlled by an evil doctor, though it isn’t emphasised at all here.

As far as suspense goes, ‘Lethal Lies’ was surprisingly slow-paced as we follow the story of how Anya and Heath get on drawing the killer out, with some steamy scenes thrown in as they give in to their mutual attraction. 50% into the book however, Heath/Anya are still on track (or rather, undercover) to become bait for the killer whose sights are on the latter, with several meetings with his brothers and an ex that refuses to go away as they spend too much time deciding if what lies between them is real or fake, in a to-and-fro that got frustrating. Several territory tussles between the brother and the FBI ensue, all of which seemed like red-herring fillers to bring the page count up but didn’t seem to add much to the developing action. I couldn’t quite decide if Anya’s insistence on her continued involvement was gullible or admirable though it was balanced at times by shots of maturity that didn’t deviate from her determination to avenge her sister. Heath on the other hand, was hard to unravel, apart from his inability to leave women in distress.

It did get better though, in the last 50 pages or so, when we’re finally set on the straight and narrow to getting the Copper Killer to appear. But his identity isn’t that much of a surprise and is more connected to the Sin-Brothers history than it is to Anya.

I’m left somewhat mixed on ‘Lethal Lies’, frankly. Yet there’s enough of their unresolved background and a foe still waiting in the wings that presumably, will lead to a showdown in the next book, which will probably keep me reading to the end.

three-stars

Justice Ascending by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 7th December 2016
Justice Ascending by Rebecca ZanettiJustice Ascending by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome, #3
Published by Zebra on January 31st 2017
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Tace Justice was a good ole Texas cowboy who served his country and loved his mama. After Scorpius, the world became dark, dangerous, and deadly... and so did he. The Vanguard medic is stronger, faster, and smarter than before, but he's lost the line between right and wrong. His passion is absolute, and when he focuses it on one woman, there's no turning back for either of them.
Sami Steel has been fighting to survive right alongside Tace, convincing the Vanguard soldiers she's one of them. In truth, Sami is a former hacker turned government agent who worked at The Bunker, where scientists stored both contaminants and cures. Only she knows the location, and she's not telling. Yet when sexual fire explodes between her and Tace, she'll face even that hell again to save him.

Post-apocalyptic life continues in the Vanguard camp as people adjust to this new reality, but Sami Steele’s past is coming back to haunt her especially when Tace Justice’s infection by the Scorpius bacterium shows lingering effects that only she can help solve. But along with that, there are threats from frenemies, other enemies as well as the number of zombie/rippers that still prowl around the deserted streets. In addition, there’s an elusive bunker which Vanguard thinks of as ‘paradise’ which could contain the cure to the infection—but according to what Sami actually has experienced, they don’t know the half of it.

There is such toughness in Sami that would certainly draw admiration from the most jaded of readers: her backstory is finally revealed and I liked how deeply it ties into the deepening plot of this whole series even as she tries to outrun her past to find belonging in Vanguard. On the other hand, it was way harder to like Tace, even if Zanetti provides an acceptable reason for the way he has been behaving: either the infection has loosed the darkness that has always been lurking in him, or it has given him a side that simply permits him to be an arse to people and to women. Obsessive, suddenly over-protective with mood swings that would most probably classify him as bipolar or schizophrenic, I felt rather uncomfortable with the way these changes are acted out as he later takes some of those parts of him out on Sami sexually.

But as much as Tace seems to be someone completely different from the person he used to be, I couldn’t quite get a grasp on why he seemed to regain his sense of smell—the full effects of the bacterium aren’t made clear to us—or his emotional feelings only when he seems to be near Sami, even if we’re told that he has been fighting off his attraction to her for months yet going at it with other women in the meantime because he’s insatiable. Why the sudden, inexplicable acting on the attraction to her after his hook-ups with other women? Or is this merely spurred on by the secrets he knows she has been keeping? Not having answers to these questions made it consequently harder to fully buy into this pairing, let alone get invested into the declarations of love when I couldn’t see their connection past Tace’s darker needs and how he thinks Sami fulfils them.

Definitely not a standalone, ‘Justice Ascending’ jumps straight into the already-convoluted plot but ends feeling very much unfinished, as the multiple, diverging subplots still stay dangling rather loosely in front of us even as Tace and Sami cuddle into their HEA. I was engrossed in the breathless action, the widening scope of this ruined world that Rebecca Zanetti has created and the interplay of allies and enemies as battle-lines are drawn and redrawn, but less than thrilled by a lukewarm pairing that didn’t seem to have any impetus apart from a sudden, developing lust and other darker emotions that the plague apparently helped manifest. There isn’t any indication that this series is going to go on but with so many loose threads, it’d be a shame if it didn’t, given all the potential pairings and plot-lines that Zanetti has already developed in this one.

three-stars

Deadly Silence by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 31st October 2016
Deadly Silence by Rebecca ZanettiDeadly Silence by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #1
Published by Forever on October 4th 2016
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Under siege. That's how Ryker Jones feels. The Lost Bastards Investigative Agency he opened up with his blood brothers has lost a client in a brutal way. The past he can't outrun is resurfacing, threatening to drag him down in the undertow. And the beautiful woman he's been trying to keep at arm's length is in danger...and he'll destroy anything and anyone to keep her safe.
Paralegal Zara Remington is in over her head. She's making risky moves at work by day and indulging in an affair with a darkly dangerous PI by night. There's a lot Ryker isn't telling her and the more she uncovers, the less she wants to know. But when all hell breaks loose, Ryker may be the only one to save her. If his past doesn't catch up to them first...

Having read Zanetti’s Sin Brothers series, the transition to this is seamless, only because the plot is familiar in ways that echoes in the other books. There are groups of boys experimented on; they develop special abilities, some more than others and they’re scattered throughout the country, all of them in some sort of confusion and doubt about this traumatic past. ‘Deadly Silence’ isn’t military-focused nor is it very strong on the paranormal side, but there are many things going on—seemingly unrelated events that fill in the gaps of a boys-home childhood and a growing ‘romance’ that starts past the casual relationship that Ryker and Zara have gotten going when the book begins.

But familiarity breeds contempt as well; I think what bothered me is the rinse-and-repeat feel of the story: a pairing of a dominant (who should belong in a BDSM club) whose crazy personality overwhelms a woman trying to be strong and independent, a blood-forged relationship with other men and an ongoing plot to uncover just what had been done to them years earlier.

I liked Zara well enough, thought her brave, compassionate and strong enough considering the kind of macho males we’re dealing with. The neanderthal male ‘hero’—if that is really the word to use here—however, bothered me the most: possessive to the point of being controlling and demanding, always at the edge of losing his temper and control, asking for Zara’s complete trust and disclosure when he wouldn’t offer up his own past and secrets, then uses sex to get her to capitulate and manipulate when she refuses. Surely there has to be a limit to the definition of ‘protective tendencies’? I was horrified by this behaviour even in fiction—in real life, this would be reported to the police for stalkerish behaviour (with a restraining order in place) and it’d be a relationship I’d be in a hurry to be rid of.

What kind of man says and does these things to a woman? I think it’s one from whom she should get far away as possible.

Yet I read on, engaged by the plot and sub-plots more than I could stomach Ryker, going through the ill-timed sex scenes that put the suspense down a notch because Ryker needed yet again to convince Zara with a heavy hand on her bits that she needed him for protection, as though good sex is the cure-all. The ending got somewhat insane, with the bad guys shaping out to be caricatures with very little shades of grey in between and still not getting caught.

So the saga lives on, only because the bad guys can’t seem to die and will continue to pose a threat throughout the series.

I’m not quite giving up, but I’ll tread with caution, because Zanetti and her writing can do so much better.

two-stars

Shadow Falling by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 13th July 2016
Shadow Falling by Rebecca ZanettiShadow Falling by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #2
Published by Zebra on August 30th 2016
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Before the Scorpius Syndrome tore through North America and nearly wiped out the population, Vivienne Kennedy was the FBI’s best profiler. The bacteria got her anyway. But she survived. She recovered. And when she woke up from a drug-nightmare of captivity, her skills as a hunter of men had gone from merely brilliant to full-on uncanny. Her mysterious rescuer wants her to put them to the test. But no matter how tempting he is, with his angel’s eyes and devil’s tongue, Vinnie knows she shouldn’t trust him.
If the FBI were still around they would rate Raze Shadow as one of the bad guys. His military training can’t wipe out his association with the Mercenaries, the most feared gang in a thousand miles. His loyalties are compromised. He won’t even tell Vinnie his real name. But there’s no FBI in the new America of fear and firepower, only instinct and risk.
And the way his arms wrap around Vinnie tells its own story. Whatever else Raze is concealing, he can’t hide his desire . . .

Time has a way of blurring my memories of books that I should remember better, but it’s always a feat to be pulled back into a series that’s been left by the wayside for a while. ‘Shadow Falling’ is a breathtaking return to Rebecca Zanetti’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world wrecked by the Scorpius virus and a brilliant one at that, unravelling the breadth and depth of the ruinous landscape, its core players and the divided camps where sides must be taken.

It’s part-movie and part-gamer’s paradise, thoroughly absorbing yet still expanding richly with every story – rightfully so – while guaranteeing a HEA for each featured couple per book. It’s Vinnie’s and Raze’s turn here, a setup cleverly written into the first book and so impactfully scored in the first chapter of this one that made me bait on Zanetti’s enticing hooks.

I found Raze a more believable – albeit typical – hero than Vinnie as a female lead whose constant babbling and juvenile actions made her sometimes annoying and way below her station. More’s the pity because a greater explication of her backstory and a comparison of how much she’s changed for instance post Scorpius, really could have shaped her into a more convincing character than what we know of her current (and sometimes flighty self) right now. Raze/Vinnie is a pairing that, while more than decently written, somehow took a back seat to the world-building and the potential pairings Zanetti has already put in motion for her sequels (and it’d better not end with the third book). For all the steamy scenes and the conflict, Vinnie and Raze’s relationship just didn’t quite rock me to the core, despite the feral, neanderthal element infused in Zanetti’s alpha heroes given the context and circumstance and the steamy scenes that were nothing short of explosive. In the scramble for a new pecking order, Raze and Vinnie are simply another couple who struggle for belonging.

What I thought missing was a fuller picture of the Scorpius bacterium’s destruction, the actual effects it had on our lead characters rather than glossed over speculations and conclusions that didn’t quite satisfy. But maybe that’s the bigger draw of post-apocalyptic stories as well beyond its characters that I was feeling which reading the story: the violent, brutal state of chaos where alliances and relationships needed to be forged anew in the very recent detritus of the collapse of the world we’re intimately familiar with. And that’s what I want more of here. But then, with Sami/Tace and possibly Moe/Grey on the way, I want a lot more of that too.

four-stars

Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 7th December 2015
Mercury Striking by Rebecca ZanettiMercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #1
Published by Zebra on January 26th 2016
Pages: 384
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four-stars

With nothing but rumors to lead her, Lynn Harmony has trekked across a nightmare landscape to find one man—a mysterious, damaged legend who protects the weak and leads the strong. He’s more than muscle and firepower—and in post-plague L.A., he’s her only hope. As the one woman who could cure the disease, Lynn is the single most volatile—and vulnerable—creature in this new and ruthless world. But face to face with Jax Mercury…
Danger has never looked quite so delicious…

A meteorite from space was all it took to change the world that we know. Ravaged by a hardy strain of bacterium called Scorpius, humanity now lives in fear and in clusters of zombies (the infected, a.k.a. Rippers) and humans (yet untouched). Months after the plague, Lynne Harmony comes in search of Jax Mercury, the hard soldier who has secured territory of his own – for protection and a kill, in exchange for vital information that could very well change the tide of war.

While I wasn’t entirely enthused by the relationship developing between Jax and Lynne – there were near-schizophrenic moments of fiery accusations, shades of dominance/submission, campy lines, spanking and sex – I did like Rebecca Zanetti’s world building of a post-apocalyptic future peppered with flesh-eating zombies that I could see myself getting lost in. There’s a backstory that’s still unfolding, villains who are on the run and cliffhangers moments waiting to happen, all of which are hallmarks of a potentially good series – and these are nothing less that what I would expect from good post-apocalyptic fiction that pushes human nature and desires to the extreme. I wasn’t entire convinced that ‘Mercury Striking’ was sufficiently thought-provoking, but it definitely provided hours of entertainment and time in a ravaged world that Zanetti has brought to life. Already, there’s a good setup for the mysterious Raze’s own book, which is way too long in coming.

four-stars
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