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Antipodean Authors

Rogue by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th December 2017
Rogue by Anna HackettRogue by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Published by Anna Hackett on November 28th 2017
Pages: 144
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four-stars

Anna Hackett’s ‘Rogue’ is in fact, a collection of 2 stories (and 2 pairings) fitted into the typical length of her book, which is kind of a surprise considering how her Galactic Gladiators series has hit its stride. Still, ‘Rogue’ is as always, an adventure-filled book that follows a certain pattern that Hackett subscribes to: a pairing that is cemented through the undertaking of a massive quest—typically a search for something or someone—in which sparks fly, and love eventually comes along.

I’m a little uncertain about the short length of this novella duo—most of my other reviews of Hackett’s books often gripe about length and/or development of plot or relationships—though it’s easy to say as always, that there’s a lot packed into the 70-odd pages allotted to each couple here. For something already so short, Hackett’s couples do run the risk of instalove and I did get the feeling that things got hot and heavy way too quickly (along with the revelation that they’re falling in love with each other, which leaves me feeling sceptical) despite the slight buildup in the previous books.

‘Rogue’, for its 2 novellas, magnifies this problem of believability (I’m just speaking pairing-wise), but it isn’t to say that the ride isn’t a fun one. It’s wild, crazy and showcases the author’s sheer imaginative power that always brings to mind the great adventure movies with the backdrop of an epic syfy series. And obviously, I’m left still wanting more.

four-stars

Home for Christmas by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 5th December 2017
Home for Christmas by Tracey AlvarezHome For Christmas by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #9
Published by Icon Publishing on December 1st 2017
Pages: 136
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three-stars

They’re dreaming of a White Christmas…

Carly Gatlin can’t wait to take her fiancé to Colorado for a snuggly snow-filled Christmas, only a freakish summer storm sweeps in disabling everyone’s plans. Still, with holiday surprises in store and even a secret admirer for Stewart Island’s elderly notorious matchmaker, the happy couples of Oban might not mind being home for Christmas after all.

Tracey Alvarez’s ‘Home For Christmas’ delivers such a nostalgic punch for the folks of Stewart Island, with her trademark snark and witty humour. Maybe the best part of it here is that it’s a virtually no-angst and engaging dive into a series I like very much, with a hint of more to come.

‘Home for Christmas’ is quite cleverly plotted and structured: every chapter focuses on a different pairing that had come together in her previous books (pick your favourite here) and provides the badly-needed catch-up that I need of them from time to time, even if it’s just to see how they’re getting on past their happy-ever-after, thanks to bad weather changing the best-laid plans on Stewart Island. There’s also the unique Christmas cheer and the days leading up to it small-town style and culmination of it all in the gathering of the whole township for the event, as well as a sneak-peek into the sexy cop’s story which I can’t wait for.

If anything, the sweet holiday-vibe comes on strong here, and even from another side of the world where the season are reversed, who says Christmas can’t be festive without snow?

three-stars

War Games by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 17th November 2017
War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on December 11th 2017
Pages: 343
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four-stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

Beast by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th November 2017
Beast by Anna HackettBeast by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
on October 31st 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

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

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

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

four-stars

Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 30th October 2017
Cherish Hard by Nalini SinghCherish Hard by Nalini Singh
Series: Hard Play #1
Published by TKA Distribution on November 14th 2017
Pages: 297
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four-stars

Sailor Bishop has only one goal for his future – to create a successful landscaping business. No distractions allowed. Then he comes face-to-face and lips-to-lips with a woman who blushes like an innocent… and kisses like pure sin.

Ísa Rain craves a man who will cherish her, aches to create a loving family of her own. Trading steamy kisses with a hot gardener in a parking lot? Not the way to true love. Then a deal with the devil (aka her CEO-mother) makes Ísa a corporate VP for the summer. Her main task? Working closely with a certain hot gardener.

And Sailor Bishop has wickedness on his mind.

As Ísa starts to fall for a man who makes her want to throttle and pounce on him at the same time, she knows she has to choose – play it safe and steady, or risk all her dreams and hope Sailor doesn’t destroy her heart.

‘Cherish Hard’ is my first venture into Nalini Singh contemporary romance and I hadn’t known at all what to expect, being familiar as I am only with her psy-changeling series. Having also not read ‘Rock Hard’, of which ‘Cherish Hard’ is an off-shoot or spin-off or at least a prequel to Gabriel Bishop’s story, Sailor’s and Ísa’s story is nevertheless a standalone, which takes place a few years prior Gabe’s book.

What I hadn’t expected was a quirky style that’s unlike Singh’s driving, more epic world-building style found in the psy-changeling series, set in a cosy corner of Auckland as a ambitious landscaper pursues the woman he has in mind to the very end, with a whole lot of charm and sweetness. That younger man/older woman dynamic (or at least the stigma associated with it) is thankfully not drawn out too much; what Singh chooses to expand upon is that their ages put them at different points in their life—Sailor is busy building on his ambitions and his business and presumably has no time for anything else, while Ísa is looking for stability and a family.

But while this is the main conflict that the whole narrative seems to be moving towards, the inevitability of a large blow-up and a temporary break-up as found in too many romances is actually staved off by ‘adulting’ behaviour: Sailor and Ísa confide their fears in each other, talk it out and stick together on the road ahead of them.

‘Cherish Hard’ has made me want to check out Singh’s other contemporary romances but this spin-off that she is doing of the Bishop brothers is one that I know I want more of already.

four-stars

Winnawarra by Elizabeth M. Darcy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 26th October 2017
Winnawarra by Elizabeth M. DarcyWinnawarra by Elizabeth M. Darcy
Published by Luminosity Publishing LLP on December 8th 2017
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two-stars

Emily Perkins is over the moon to learn Jock Macgregor has left her a share in Winnawarra Station in the magnificent Kimberly region of Outback Australia. The bonus comes when she realises, his handsome grandson, Doug is the man of her dreams. She loves working beside him and every day is an adventure.

After receiving a letter from Jock, she discovers he was convinced the accident that killed his son and daughter-in-law was actually murder, and he included her in his will to investigate the deaths.

When accidents start happening to Emily, and she hears footsteps outside her room at night, she is convinced someone is stalking her.

Is she next on the killer’s list?

Isolated on an Outback cattle ranch, will strong, dependable Doug be able to keep her safe?

A murderer is loose at Winnawarra Station, and she must race against time to identify the killer before he strikes again.

The Australian rural romance is a sub-genre that I like quite a bit, so ‘Winnawarra’ sounded like a thing straight up my alley, particularly with some romantic suspense thrown in. But I’m frankly, struggling to write a review of a story where the bits that appealed equalled the parts that didn’t.

I did like the numerous cultural references in the book—the Australian rural ranching practices never fail to fascinate me—and Elizabeth M. Darcy’s style of writing is different in a way that takes a while getting used to. The premise for Emily’s arrival “Winnawarra” was as well, an unconventional one, as was the suspense that really amped up the tension and thrills when things went bump in the night.

However, I had a few issues with the inconsistencies in characterisation, writing and pacing, and that did affect my ability to get absorbed fully in the suspense. In fact, the protagonists didn’t seem to be the adults they were, while several bits of dialogues took on an odd archaic sheen that didn’t seem to fit with the contemporary tone of the story.

Emily seemed childishly impatient with crazy mood swings at times (not to mention the easy jealousy), blaming her fear on Doug’s inability to ‘keep her safe’, then getting close to accusing him of murder in her haste to uncover the mystery surrounding Winnawarra. To be fair however, Doug never looked as though he’d managed his PTSD at all and that did spill over in actions that were self-destructive to the point where it struck Emily precisely where her nerves were rubbed raw by her past relationship. And…no condoms? Seriously? When Doug had all but admitted he’d slept with way too many women when he was drunk and on a bender?

At the same time, the murder mystery that Emily was investigating also seemed quite tangential, involving characters that still seemed to steer the plot from beyond the grave, leaving me like the disconnected outsider trying to look in through a dusty window. The story did however, hit its stride past the halfway mark, though it led to a climax where the villain was revealed to be whom I suspected he was all along.

‘Winnawarra’ would be a decent read particularly if the rural traditions of ranching (along with hot cowboys) down under interests anyone looking to get into rural romance. Unfortunately, the story fell rather flat for me despite its potential.

two-stars

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
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