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Antipodean Authors

Ash by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 10th October 2017
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

Mend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 20th September 2017
Mend Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezMend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay #4
Published by Tracey Alvarez on September 15th 2017
Pages: 247
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five-stars

An idiot’s guide to falling for your best friend’s widow…

Former rugby star Isaac Ngata was New Zealand’s golden boy until five years ago when a tragic accident took the life of his friend and team mate. Now he’s a pariah with a screwed up knee and a burden of guilt toward his friend’s wife and daughter. Best thing for him to do is sink into the anonymous safety of his hometown. An even better thing to do would be to stop picturing Natalie in his arms.

For someone who doesn’t know a dummy pass from a drop kick, Natalie Fisher just wants to keep her late husband’s passion for sport in the past. But their teenage daughter’s rugby team is in desperate need of a coach and the man she can’t stand to be around has volunteered. A long buried attraction flares to life between Natalie and Isaac, one they can’t run far or fast enough to avoid. Soon rugby fever isn’t the only thing heating up Bounty Bay. Crossing the line never had such high stakes…

I’ve somehow always hesitated to jump into Tracey Alvarez’s Far North/Bounty Bay series, but this is probably because I’m so attached to her Down South crew that I’m probably as possessive of them as Alvarez is. But ‘Mend Your Heart’s blurb sounded heartbreaking from the start and I knew immediately that I wanted Isaac Ngata’s story desperately as much as I wanted my next Down South fix.

The family-like bonds in every series is probably Tracey Alvarez’s forte, as secondary characters float in and out of the whole book while propping the whole narrative as well as the protagonists up with a sly yet subtle kind of humour I’d be hard-pressed to find outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alvarez’s writing is definitely no slouch either, though it can take some getting used to her style, as well as the references to a sport that can be rather obscure for those who live on the other side of of the Pacific ocean. But rugby is everything in Kiwi-land and I love Alvarez’s deliberate spotlight on the All Blacks who aren’t, despite popular opinion, the only famous thing about this place.

But I digress.

Back to the plot as we know it: Isaac’s professional career and reputation went up in flames 5 years ago in an incident that destroyed any kind of relationship between his (now dead) best mate’s wife and daughter, and that’s just the beginning of what we know. It unravels slowly from here onwards, with bits and pieces that come along with the truth that you know is contrary to what Isaac (and popular opinion) has claimed. Natalie and Olivia are in essence, too close and yet too far for this guy to find his HEA, though it’s clear that it’s high time for him to.

Isaac himself jumped out from the pages and became an immediate hero-to-die-for when it became clear what he did to protect people he owed nothing to. The grumpy facade, that shell he’d retreated into and the emotions he didn’t quite try to hide and run away from like almost every alpha book hero I know, made him a shining beacon among the thorny arses in romantic fiction. I loved every moment of his interaction with Natalie, Olivia as well as the all-girls school rugby team, just as much as I cheered for their HEA with their nosy but well-meaning mates in the background. For a few hours, I’d been happily part of their whanau and needless to say, I’d gladly leap back in when Vee’s and Sam’s story comes out of the works.

five-stars

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfield

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Reviews 18th September 2017
Act Your Age by Eve DangerfieldAct your Age by Eve Dangerfield
Published by Eve Dangerfield on September 27th 2017
Pages: 356
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three-stars

Just because Kate ‘Middleton’ McGrath, wants a man to call ‘daddy’ in bed doesn’t mean—
Oh, you stopped reading. Cool.
Kate gets it. Kinks aren’t for everyone. Hell, they’re probably not for Mr. Henderson, her grumpaholic boss. She really shouldn’t have crush on him, but the man is just so goddamn stern. Sure, a lot of that comes down to ‘being her boss,’ but still, it feels like there might be something there.
Tyler Henderson is a golden boy who’s lost his shine. He’s old, his dream career is over, his fiancée’s left him. Now all the former firefighter is to try and bury his troubles in paperwork and hard liquor. He says ‘try’ because he can’t get Middleton out of his head long enough to wallow properly. He’s not going anywhere near the girl. HR issues aside, he’s done with sweetness and things don’t come sweeter than a cupcake-baking engineer who knits her own hats.
A case of mistaken identity causes Kate and Ty’s attraction to give way to blistering sex. They have more in common—and more to lose—than either of them realized. When it comes to unreasonable attraction you can rarely change your mind but can you act your age?

I’d initially thought ‘Act Your Age’ was more of an age-gap story from the blurb—with some doling out of kink—though to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be more than just a young woman’s crush on her much older, broken boss who’s a pale shadow of himself after his ex-fiancée walked away years ago. Instead, this turned out to be a twisty tale of navigating personality quirks, kinks and broken pasts with issues so huge that ‘Act Your Age’ feels too nebulous to be classified as either just erotica or romance.

Details matter in a story like this and Dangerfield admirably fully unravels both Kate and Ty in what can sometimes be a rambly narrative, though it does present a kind of clarity into both their screwed up histories. Nothing is as it seems on the surface at all and that’s what you learn early on—that there’s quite a bit of depth and complexity in Eve Dangerfield’s characters and why they act the way they do. I especially like the complexity of Kate, whose odd strangeness, Lolita-esque background, daddy-issues and seemingly flighty exterior because of her disorder, can also hide a burning need for a measure of sexual deviancy that somehow fully matches Tyler Henderson’s. Kate’s infatuation or crush is well-documented and as a sub, pretty much gives Ty the keys to go whatever the hell he wants where she is herself, on unstable ground. At the same time however, it was much easier to feel for Kate throughout it all—I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ty was a prick for most of the book—than root for both of them as a pairing when a protagonist generally behaves more honourably than the other.

It does seem inevitable though, that Tyler and Kate step into a world where they explore and slake this side of their sexuality, seeing as Dangerfield fleshes Tyler out to be the unmistakable Dom to Kate’s sub with his own ‘alpha’ kinks to work out. Their role play is strangely compelling, steamy and alarming, crossing so many boundaries here that would normally make me uncomfortable but Dangerfield does (through her characters) clearly lay out the parameters and the limits to their role play through Kate and that made it infinitely easier to go along for the ride.

The long and short of it is, ‘Act Your Age’ challenged me at every turn. I had to get used to the idea that kinky sex (with degradation and humiliation as part of the play) actually shows vulnerability in all its ugly glory, which in turn, allows Dangerfield to delve into what strips people bare past the lust and the brutal sex. And all credit to her here, because Dangerfield doesn’t shy away from the rawness of it all, like skin scrubbed pink until it scabs over, barely healing before another blow comes. By the end of the book, I realised that I actually loved Kate (but stayed somewhat belligerently negative about Ty), wished she’d gotten someone who deserved her and pretty much cheered a heroine who has grown so much since page one.

three-stars

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

Unmapped by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th September 2017
Unmapped by Anna HackettUnmapped by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #6
Published by Anna Hackett on September 5th 2017
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three-stars

With every novella that Anna Hackett publishes, it becomes increasingly obvious that her imagination never runs dry and that alone, puts me in awe of the content that’s been churned out from her desk month after month.

Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series really appeals to the, uh, dormant Indiana Jones in me: the crazy, far-flung locales and the treasures they’re hiding as the suspense and intrigue as the security guys battle the baddies. ‘Unmapped’ brings us to Antarctica this time around, in search of a client’s missing twin and that alone is a mouth-watering prospect. It’s a rollicking, upbeat ride from the start without any ‘real’ sense of tragedy (even if the ease with which it takes to arrange a trip far down south is somewhat unrealistic), peppered with slick James Bonde-esque villains unrelenting in their search for artefacts and structures of lost civilisations that are somehow uncovered with alarming ease.

I do think that it’s slightly weaker in the romance department, as Ronin and Peri come together without a backstory and gravitate toward each other simply because—with a hint of instalove around—unlike the couples whom Hackett builds up from previous books. I wasn’t entirely invested in this particular pairing or the believability of it, but then I already know that there are definitely some that work more for me than others, particularly when time is given for chemistry between a potential pairing to bubble over.

That said, ‘Unmapped’ is a very entertaining (albeit short!) read. There’s the whole lick of adventure through which I can vicariously live and it’s always an afternoon well spent when I can get lost in yet another one of Hackett’s worlds.

three-stars

Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah Mayberry

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 27th August 2017
Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah MayberryTemporary by Sarah Mayberry, Sarina Bowen
Published by Rennie Road Books on September 12th 2017
Pages: 260
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three-stars

The most beautiful man I've ever seen is the one who can ruin everything...

The first time I lay eyes on Callan Walker, I know he’ll be trouble. With his smug grin, hot Aussie accent and thousand dollar shoes, he’s just the kind of rich guy who always gets what he wants.

And he wants two things: a night of sin, and my cooperation as he outmaneuvers his powerful mother to take control of his uncle’s estate.

I can’t afford either one. I’m the only thing standing between my little sister and the foster care system. He may have money and charm on his side, but I have something even more powerful -- pure desperation. This temp job at his mother’s company can become a full time job for me. It has to.

But when Callan’s eyes rake over my body, sometimes I forget my obligations. His piercing gaze finds the fun, optimistic girl I used to be and not the tired person I’ve become.

And it works--if only for a moment. Our night together was a mistake. I can't afford to get sucked into his high-powered family’s treachery. But the closer I get to Callan, the more layers I find beneath those expensive clothes. Though I can’t forget this is temporary. He’s temporary. I have too much to lose.

Too bad my foolish heart didn’t get the memo...

Sarin Bowen and Sarah Mayberry, separately, are already fabulously writers; together, they’re quite the writing powerhouse that makes ‘Temporary’ a stellar romance. As a result, there’s still a fairty-tale sheen to it all and a little of a rags-to-riches tale in a world where the fabulously wealthy tussle over money, estate and pride, leaving so much collateral damage in their wake.

‘Temporary’ happens in the wake of tragedy, which interrupts the deliberately-superficial lifestyle of billionaire tycoon Callan Walker, who sorts out his uncle’s estate with the help of a temp worker struggling to provide for her family. And like every Bowen and Mayberry book, it’s hard to put down, drama-worthy and compelling enough that you want to know just how the obstacles are laid out and overcome, ignoring the call for bed.

It’s also a predictable journey however, with several eye-rolling moments that the characters get into, especially when there’s a very strong element of ‘cannot help oneself but fall into bed with the hot guy’ knowing full well that there are consequences to such impulsiveness. Grace is fully guilty of the above, though it’s easy to relate to and sympathise with the lack of options she’s been given and with the way she fights to provide for her sister every step of the way.

I did however, have a problem with Callan, whom I found spent a fair bit of the book being a selfish, arrogant and entitled arse, which made him hard to like as a ‘worthy hero’ when he had her and only his own goals in his sight for a majority of it. He manipulated Grace through seduction, capitalised on her attraction to him and their sexual chemistry to do whatever he wanted at her expense—using grief as a justifying reason and knowing it will leave him unscathed in the end—only to spend the rest of the story realising the extent of the damage he’d caused and then grovelling towards the end (the authors do recognise this unforgivable bit at least). I did think that came too little too late—the grovelling doesn’t surpass the ‘crime’ so to speak—so that probably affected my ability to fully get behind this pairing.

And that’s obviously my black, cynical self talking. It isn’t to say I wasn’t entertained overall though and the abrupt end sort of suggests that there might be a sequel in store, which I already can’t wait for.

three-stars

Untraveled by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 19th August 2017
Untraveled by Anna HackettUntraveled by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #5
Published by Anna Hackett on August 8th 2017
Pages: 127
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three-stars

After a mission gone terribly wrong, former Navy SEAL Hale Carter has made a good career for himself at Treasure Hunter Security. He gets to use his engineering skills designing new gadgets, his SEAL skills providing security for exciting expeditions and treasure hunts, and he enjoys a variety of ladies on his downtime. He might still be plagued by nightmares, but all in all, life is good. Then he volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission into the Kalahari Desert, alongside a cool, attractive FBI agent who challenges him at every turn.

Special Agent Elin Alexander is driven to bring down the deadly black-market antiquities ring Silk Road. She's experienced firsthand how they destroy lives and she's vowed to end their greed and killing. After months of undercover work, she's eager for the mission to find the Lost City of the Kalahari. What she wasn't expecting was six-feet-three inches of former Navy SEAL as her partner. Hale is too handsome, too sexy, and isn't inclined to follow orders.

As the pair infiltrate the Silk Road hunt, Hale and Elin find themselves fighting a scorching attraction as they work to discover just what the lost city is hiding. But stuck in the bowels of a legendary ancient mine, Hale and Elin must put their trust in each other, to not only save the day, but to get out alive.

I swear, Anna Hackett has been on a roll these past few months. Novella after novella, world after dizzying world that takes a while (a huge mental shift is needed!) just to get into because they’re so extensive and broad with so much more to discover as each story peels back the layer of that particular world.

By and large, I enjoy many of them—some more than others, as always—but Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series is probably one of the ones I really like because of its closeness to history, archaeology and well, Indiana Jones. Apart from being a reminder that there is still so much yet to discover on planet Earth, the exotic locations don’t hurt too, and this time, ‘Untraveled’ is another rollicking ride of a treasure hunting security outfit dealing with King Solomon’s treasures and the crooks who tend to follow the money trail.

Hackett pairs Hale and Elin—a former SEAL and a ladies’ man with a take-no-prisoners FBI agent—this time around, and they are a pairing that reminds me so much of Shaw and Claudia from Hell Squad, though they battle human baddies rather than dinosaur-like enemies in the heart of Africa. Both Hale and Elin do have chemistry; they work well together and mostly, I did like the action and the plot, though I wasn’t quite able to shake off the instalove feel that made me a little less enthusiastic about the book that it could have been.

That said, ‘Untraveled’ is a fun, quick read and as always, Hackett provides pure escapist adventures that I can’t say no to. There’s always a hint and and a setup for the next book, so like an addict wanting a fix, that’s me standing in line already.

three-stars
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