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Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 19th October 2017
Adrenaline Secrets by Carolyn ReillyAdrenaline Secrets by Carolyn Reilly
Series: Deadly DNA #1
on October 8th 2017
Pages: 216
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three-stars

He's a trained, cold-blooded killer. Freelancing as a soldier for hire, Jake Hanson is ready to take down GovCorp, the ruthless corporation that created the mercenary that he is. But when he gets teamed up in the jungles of Africa with the fiery and determined Kendra Reed, Jake struggles with his mission. After all, he's not programmed to feel—but he's beginning to feel a hell of a lot for the feisty ex-soldier.

She's a spy looking for answers. Kendra Reed works for GovCorp as a translator. But she has a hidden agenda. She's after the truth—and she'll stop at nothing to get it. Working with a genetically-engineered bad boy sparks intrigue in her. But the last thing Kendra needs is to be falling for someone like Jake.

Falling for each other was never on their agenda. As they face a deadly enemy, Jake and Kendra are forced to trust one another, while confronting the heated attraction that burns between them. With time running out and their adrenaline in overdrive, can they find a way to save themselves before it's too late?

The start of ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ plunges us straight into Carolyn Reilly’s intriguing world of the genetically-modified and the ‘natural’ borns, the schism deepened only by the physicality of the former, the ‘weakness’ of the latter and the prejudices that grew out of that widening divide. There is a fair bit to take in as well with a huge number of characters gracing the pages while Reilly sets up opposing factions: GovCorp vs. the Committee, GVs vs. naturals, Kendra vs. Jake, the rogues vs. everyone else (so it seems) as it slowly becomes clear that this is an alternate universe, or at least a futuristic earth not so distant that we can’t imagine ourselves in it.

It did take me a while to get my head around this reality that Reilly has created, though it’s definitely an action-packed but chilling ride that combines political tussle, whistle-blowers, double agents and paramilitary activities showing just how deep divides have become. Kendra and Jake were relatively believable protagonists though their fast-and-furious growing relationship amid the instability of the socio-political climate did at times however, feel more like lust than love. There were also, some abrupt and awkward breaks signalling POV changes that made me blink each time it happened, and the somewhat uneven characterisation/narration that threw me off.

In many ways, ‘Adrenaline Secrets’ reads like an establishing novel—it is in any case—as Reilly’s world-building gets off its feet. But it’s a world I’d be willing to revisit again and I’m already looking forward to see what Reilly has in store for this insane world that somehow, doesn’t feel too far from the nightmare our present reality can become.

three-stars

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy 16th October 2017
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantInto the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Published by Orbit on November 14th 2017
Pages: 512
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three-stars

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

‘Into the Drowning Deep’ delivers a potent cocktail of bloodthirsty monstrous mermaids, blood spatter and gore with aplomb. It’s also that kind of popcorn-throwing syfy-horror-fantasy I expect at a viewing of any apex-predator movie—a thrilling, entertaining and highly campy ride up until the credits roll—which the book delivers.

Just don’t take it too seriously, which, with the aid of popcorn and a few laughs along the way, is rather easy to do.

The writing is visually striking, though distant and sometimes cynical with a tendency to go off rambling tangents in the way I would associate with authors like Michael Crichton, Steve Alten or Peter Benchley. Despite the premise, it is rather slow-going and the introductions to all the other characters (with the parenthesis of their background lives happening too often, just like this) so it means that things don’t really get underway until half the book’s gone by. But once the ship sets sail, expect the blood and gore to splash everywhere thanks to mermaids that are the furthest from Disney’s red-haired Ariel and her trusty sidekicks; these ones eat man for their delicious flesh and won’t stop till they get their fill.

Fighting, dissection and loads of chomping ensue, which might be one of the best bits for me, the other being Mira Grant’s ability to slip into various writing styles. Innocent animals as well as people are taken apart in grisly glory courtesy of very sharp teeth, amid the frantic guesswork behind the evolutionary path of the fanged-tooth sirens/mermaids, along with (some moralising science-speak) about humanity’s whirlwind path of destruction and how everything is interpreted through a framework only we can understand and deem superior.

With constantly changing POVs, Grant doesn’t make out any clear hero but neither are they particularly likeable enough that you get invested in them. The story is after all, more plot- than character-driven as the ultimate goal here is to uncover the mystery of the strange happenings deep in the Mariana Trench. Still, it suddenly comes to a climax after a slow build, before quickly plunging to a half-hearted resolution, leaving the dismembered body parts, gore and some very angry humans and sirens in their wake. The clean-up and aftermath happen ‘backstage’, but the idea of man’s survival typically hangs in the balance with a conclusion that suggests there might be room for a sequel—this much we’re simply told as the sun sets yet again on the impasse of man vs. the deep.

three-stars

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

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

Never Let Go by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 28th September 2017
Never Let Go by Cynthia EdenNever Let Go by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #1
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He was more than just a man...

Dr. Elizabeth Parker didn't like wild, dangerous men...yet she still found herself falling for sexy Navy SEAL Sawyer Cage. He was her exact opposite--a man she should definitely stay away from, a man who lived for the thrill of danger...but he was also the man she found herself wanting more than any other.

But their secret relationship ended in heartbreak when Sawyer was killed on a mission. Grieving for him, the last thing Elizabeth ever expected was to find Sawyer listed as a test subject for the top secret government project she was heading--a project called Lazarus.

For years, Elizabeth had worked feverishly to unlock the secrets of life and death, and with her Lazarus formula, she finally thought she'd made a breakthrough. Only she never expected to use Lazarus on her lover.

But the choice is taken out of Elizabeth's hands...

Sawyer is given the Lazarus formula, and he's transported to a remote government facility. At that facility, Sawyer wakes once more, only he's not the same man. He's stronger, he's faster, his reflexes and his senses are ten times better than an average man's. The government calls Sawyer a super soldier... Elizabeth still calls him...hers.

Unfortunately, Sawyer has no memory of his life before Lazarus. All he knows is that something about the sexy doctor awakes a primal response in him. He wants her, and he'll do anything to possess her. Soul-deep, he feels that she was meant to be his.

Death waits in the darkness.

But something is wrong inside the Lazarus facility. The test subjects are holding back secrets, and danger seems to lurk in the air. The Lazarus subjects are super-human now, and some of those subjects have a very, very dark side. Twisted cravings drive them to the very edge of sanity. Can Sawyer keep Elizabeth safe from the madness around them...or will the growing darkness consume them both?

NEVER LET GO...a gripping new romantic suspense from New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden.

There’s always something darkly seductive and irresistible about the super-soldier romance for me, seeing as these sort of stories are always finely balanced on the knife-edge of suspense and erotica. Depending on the severity of the super-soldier transformation however, it’s also undeniable that these tales run the risk of normalising the clichéd caveman behaviour of the heroes in question as the status quo in this sub-genre, as is the expected offshoot of writing altered personalities.

‘Never Let Go’ isn’t a new concept (Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers or Christine Feehan’s Shadowalkers come to mind immediately) though it definitely is an intriguing start, with a little twist of how the super soldiers actually get to where they are. I can’t quite say it’s a perfect read however, as it carries all the hallmarks of an establishing book with the same pattern of logic-deficient neanderthals who are primally ruled by instinct, libido and emotion…along with many loose ends which hint at a bigger picture that hasn’t yet quite coherently come together.

I’m still glad that Cynthia Eden has jumped on this bandwagon nonetheless, even though there are unavoidable pitfalls of this particular sub-genre of romantic/paranormal suspense: the most glaring ones being the cavemen who run around and the brutal savagery that results as part of their transformation, but also several authors’ tendencies to emphasise a narrowed definition of the good and the bad—no grey area of morality seems to exists apart from the questionable idea of ethics and playing god using frontier medicine and technology—which, if handled carelessly, can turn the characters into flatter and puppet-like figures.

And clearly, there were some parts where ‘Never Let Go’ that were grounded in those stereotypes, which tanked my enjoyment a little. As much as I liked Elizabeth’s and Sawyer’s early relationship before he went, well, ‘monstrous’, the middle bit of the story actually got quite hysterical, with parts resembling a b-grade slasher film as Sawyer struggled to fight the darkness in him and Elizabeth seemingly frozen between speechless terror and speechless desire. I was simultaneously horrified, incredulous and disbelieving, yet glued to the book while also wondering if there were going to be more mad turns and madder character deviations that the story was going to take.

That said, I’m not counting out this series just yet. Far from it, in fact. I just wish that I could have suspended my disbelief a little more, though there is cause for more cautious optimism given the hints that have already been dropped about the rest of the project and the other primals waiting in line to pounce.

three-stars

Heart of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 24th September 2017
Heart of Fire by Amanda BouchetHeart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Published by Piatkus on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 448
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two-half-stars

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

War-games and politics converge in the last installment of Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker series, though admittedly, it isn’t that much different from the first and second book, except for the fact that the plot moves on with loose ends consolidating and the sun setting over a new, united kingdom. In essence, a ‘Heart on Fire’s’ ending cannot come without sacrifice and blood and tears as with the epic tales that follow this trajectory, along with the big questions of destiny and human choice that run consistently through the narrative.

The biggest draw of this series had always been the intriguing mix of gods and people with magic swirling in the midst of them—with screwed up characters mingling with equally screwed up deities who do nothing but act on their own whims just because. It’s deeply imaginative and what I envisage pre-Christian, ancient Greek civilisation of mythology could have been, supercharged in a way that can only come alive in fiction with many modern inserts in it.

Yet apart from Greek gods messing around in people’s lives and paving the way for a woman who’s supposedly unique in the whole universe, I found myself having the biggest problem with Cat Fisa at the start: petulant, juvenile and reckless, though this isn’t too far-off from what might come from a teenage girl thrust into power and kingship, who’s doing everything she can just to survive and go with the flow.

But somehow I expect characters in New Adult fantasy to be larger than life with traits that transcend petty teen tendencies which means I need to see some kind of exponential growth from the Cat as the main protagonist, so the depiction of an immature twit with TSTL moments didn’t gel with these expectations. Yet because Cat annoyed me so much, the little pockets of drama involving secondary characters had turned out to be more entertaining than the main plot itself. As was the descriptions of the magical parts and the landscape that thrilled me more than the adventures of Griffin and Cat (who can suddenly grow wings) with too many ‘easy’ Deus Ex Machina devices here at play.

In short, ‘Heart of Fire’ wasn’t quite the breath of fresh air as the first book was, and it required a greater suspension of belief that took a lot of effort on my part. And before it becomes mortifyingly obvious that I’m just desperately digging around for things to like about this story, it’s probably best to say that this is a series that I should have stopped earlier on.

two-half-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
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