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Dystopian

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

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

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

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

Holmes by Anna Hackett

Posted in Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 8th March 2016
Holmes by Anna HackettHolmes by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #8
Published by Anna Hackett on March 5th 2016
Pages: 143
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three-stars

General Adam Holmes' life is dedicated to keeping his small band of survivors alive. On the run, with only Hell Squad and the other soldiers for protection, they are making their last dangerous drive to the secret stronghold of the Enclave. But there are a lot of aliens between them and their destination, and the survivors are tired, worn, and at the end of their limits. Adam feels the pressure dragging him down, but as their leader, he can't be their friend and he can't dump his burden on anyone else.

Long before the alien invasion, Liberty Lawler survived her own personal hell. Since then, she's vowed to enjoy everything life has to offer and she's managed to do that, even in the middle of an apocalypse. She does what she can to help the survivors in her convoy, but one man holds himself apart, working tirelessly for them all. Liberty can see Adam is at his breaking point and she vows to tear through his rigid control and save him from himself.

But the aliens are throwing everything they have at the humans, trying to stop them from reaching the Enclave. Adam will find his resolve tested and the pressure higher than ever. But it will be one beautiful woman--one who won't take no for an answer and who worms under his skin--who can save them all and give him the strength to go on.

Loved Adam Holmes from the beginning, was gratified to see him get his story, but Liberty – despite her past – isn’t a convincing partner at all, which probably explains my entirely lukewarm reception to the book, especially after the amazing Claudia got her story. Still great to see the continuation of the Gizzida’s reign and the general development of the plot, so I’ll definitely be continuing with Hell Squad for a long time to come.

three-stars

Shaw by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 26th January 2016
Shaw by Anna HackettShaw by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad, #7
Published by Anna Hackett on January 26th 2016
Pages: 176
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four-stars

Hell Squad sniper Shaw Baird is a man on a mission. His squad is his family and now the invading aliens have done the unforgivable…taken one of his team. Claudia Frost—soldier, friend, and all-round badass—is running on borrowed time. Shaw has vowed to bring her home, whatever it takes…and he’s only just realizing now she’s been taken that Claudia is a vital piece of him.
Claudia Frost is surviving…barely. Kept in chains, made to fight for the aliens’ enjoyment, she can’t survive much longer. But she knows her squad is coming for her…knows Shaw is coming. Only thoughts of the sexy, charming sniper get her through the hell, and for the first time in forever, she wishes she hadn’t let the wounds of her past stop her from taking a taste of the man who is her friend, her sanity and her secret obsession.
But rescuing Claudia is only the first dangerous step. The alien keeping Claudia prisoner is far more intelligent, far more patient and a hell of a lot deadlier than any they’ve faced before. Not only is he hunting their band of human survivors through the forests of the Blue Mountains, but he wants Claudia. And he’ll let nothing get in his way.

And Hell Squad returns with a big bang!

Claudia Frost has been taken by the Gizzida and her squad-mate Shaw is determined to get her back. In the process, the last single members of the Hell Squad learn what they really mean to each other while dealing with the aftermath of a devastating alien invasion.

One of the toughest and most kickass heroine I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about, Claudia’s story is one that I’ve been waiting for. I’ve always found Claudia intriguing and in this book, Anna Hackett peels away all her layers to reveal a multi-faceted character (strong, determined, realistically practical) whom I can cheer for. There’s so much to like about her and her indefatigable strength – despite all that she’d faced in her past – that Shaw, that sniper playboy with whom she’s always had a more-than-friends relationship (ish) with, pales like a shallow man in comparison as he strives to keep up with her coolness. I could only wish he could have been a lot more than he’d ever been for her, given that the somewhat flaky explanation for his fast-and-loose behaviour with the ladies isn’t convincing enough to sway me over when he suddenly pledges his loyalty only to Claudia despite never having done anything like that before.

But for now, be still, my girl-crush.

Together however, Shaw/Claudia is a pairing, like every other pairing before them, that’s probably a sub-plot in the entire story arc that unfolds slowly but surely in a journey that goes from mountains to coastline. Yet I like the way Anna Hackett builds this post-apocalyptic world by focusing on pairings and thoroughly enjoyed especially the mini-interactions between Squad 9 and the Berserkers here, making me quite relieved that this whole epic tale is far from done.

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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