Tag: Speculative Fiction

Destruction by J.M. Madden

Destruction by J.M. MaddenDestruction by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 286
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Going back into the torture camp where he’d been so brutally abused is the last thing Navy SEAL Drake Fontana wants to do, but if there are other men being experimented upon he has to be the one to get them out. And he has to give them an option other than to be a test subject to the Silverstone Collaborative, the pharmaceutical company funding the diabolical experiments. If he had his way, Drake would go in alone, but he’s assigned a team of retired, disabled military from the Lost and Found group. They all have strengths, but he hates being responsible for their safety. The most vital of the team is Jordan Madeira. The woman has fire in her blood and her heart, and she has contacts in the Amazon he could never find on his own. More than that, though, Jordan holds an immediate, dangerous attraction for Fontana. As the team crosses the jungle destroying research camps and searching for survivors, he realizes that she is what his heart has always been longing for. Home. But Fontana has always had to fight for everything he’s gotten in life, and Jordan’s heart will be no different.

The ‘Dogs of War’ series is one that I do find compelling—the super-soldier experimentation kind of storyline always gets my juices going—and by and large, J.M. Madden keeps expanding this particular universe with a military conspiracy, a potential take-down of the perpetrators and even more characters that might in fact, find themselves as part of future books. As of now however, the series follows the hard journey of 3 former military men with paranormal abilities, the survivors of their batch, who now seek to tighten the noose on the necks of those who’d first captured them.

‘Destruction’ is Drake Fontana’s story as he takes point in the vengeful hunt for their captors and the rescue of the soldiers experimented on with a team from LNF (Madden’s other series). Unlike some other RS super-soldier books that I’ve gone through however, Madden’s guys stand out because their paranormal abilities aren’t grossly exaggerated and that they’ve not been turned loose on the reader like grunting alpha-males with unrelenting sex-drives, über-dirty-talk and barbaric tendencies. They’re all scarred and battle-worn one way or the other in any case, and the women themselves it seems, aren’t spared the torture as well. But out of the crucible comes Jordan Madeira as one of the most kick-arse heroines who has gone through her own brand of hell and tragedy.

However, the writing style did take odd turns at times with the use of even weirder metaphors, but this is merely a personal writing peeve of mine where the words don’t exactly fall into place or make perfect sense. The language did throw me off for a bit (maybe a bit more editing was needed), but as jarring as it was, the plot was engaging enough that I could dust myself off and go on.

Suspense takes priority in ‘Destruction’—Madden’s focus on the team and action means that there’s not as much time on the pairing of Fontana/Jordan as much as I liked with the sex scene at the end happening almost like an afterthought before the story ends on an unfinished note. To this extent was the romance unsatisfying, but the thought of the next book keeps me hoping for more anyway.

four-stars

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Endeavor, #1
Published by Piatkus Books on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Being a well-conditioned Star Wars fan, having a ragtag bunch of misfits playing Robin Hood, with its leader as the ultimate rebel sounds exactly like the sort of rogue space adventure I will always want to read. ‘Nightchaser’ is so different from Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles (which I admittedly did struggle with) with the promise of the swashbuckling adventure of space pirates, rogue traders and a large, sort-of evil empire—all with the shades of the much-beloved Star Wars universe that I inhabit—that it was compelling enough to get into: not too epic at the start that I was left lost and wandering in an asteroid field of complex world-building but with just enough futuristic technological details so that I was eased into Bouchet’s own brand of galactic adventure before the heavy stuff comes in.

 

Tess Bailey isn’t who she seems and her story gradually unfurls after a rollicking start, though a little more slowly by the time she encounters Shade Ganavan who in turn, is both enthralled and caught in a moral dilemma where she’s concerned. Bouchet juggles both Tess’s and Shade’s backstories quite well, buoyed by a strong and loyal supporting cast of characters who make up a crew of escaped convicts—all of whose pasts aren’t exactly fleshed out. By the time this instalment ends however, there’re more questions than answers, with things left very much unfinished.

What I find particularly jarring is the use of the first-person POV for Tess, which then moves onto the third-person for Shade, so much so that it feels like the former’s voice is coming straight out of a New Adult Fantasy novel versus the more distant yet crafted/sophisticated narrative voice of the author via Shade. My preference is firmly for the latter and even as I read on, I never quite got used to these switches, as infrequent as they may be.

Still, this is a read that’s not too heavy-going—I found myself putting it down more than I though I would nonetheless—and it’s not hard to get through, even if Bouchet does insert some of the socio-political themes that history cycles though time and again. The sage words of wisdom that several characters dole out are ultimately, variations on the typical but popular moral questions that syfy always posits, or at least, they provide a meta commentary that jumps out from the pages when this happens.

In all, ‘Nightchaser’ is a decent read, even if my lingering sense of frustration from an incomplete narrative arc is going to stay for a while longer yet.

four-stars

Check by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Check by Mimi Jean PamfiloffCheck by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #3
Published by Paper & Silver, Inc. on 21st August 2018
Pages: 137
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Mr. Rook, eccentric billionaire and owner of the most exclusive island resort in the world, has a secret. Hint: Legends say it can make you young again. But when he’s no longer willing to pay the dark price to keep eternal youth on the island’s menu, the very thing that once kept him young is now turning on him.

With only hours left to live, the woman he loves is taken by the worst kind of man this world has to offer. Turns out she’s been keeping dark secrets of her own, and getting her back won’t be as simple as writing a check.

The cost will leave her broken hearted, hating him forever.

(Morbid?) Curiosity brought me here.

In ‘Check’, things do come to a head and with several twists and turns—this can range between absolute nuts and sort of believable if you squint—, somehow Stephanie and Rook break free of their curse, the bad guys miraculously get what they deserve and all’s well that ends well.

There’s no secret really, that I’ve found this series of Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s a little too zany for me, but the odd licks of the paranormal and the mysterious here and there keep me coming back. There are tantalising ideas here—with part-gothic, part-supernatural vibes, with the sacred and the profane crossing so many times that this should be a sultry and deliciously forbidden read—but they aren’t fully realised or deeply explored enough given the novella-length stories in this entire series.

But ultimately, too much of this story I think, depends on having a huge suspension of disbelief here in the existence of the paranormal, which is all well and good. Still, Pamfiloff’s implicit insistence that some things should stay unexplained (skirting paranormal explanations by simply having the characters choosing to not want to know more for the sake of their own sanity) just might not be good enough when it comes readers like me needing a semblance of explanation for events that don’t entirely really make sense in a story because well, it still needs to be satisfactorily coherent and not cross the line into the ridiculous.

Still, what kept me on the back foot really, was also a ‘heroine’ whom I absolutely loathed by the end of the series. While Rook himself isn’t all that innocent, the self-sacrifices he made in contrast, simply showed Stephanie up as petty, vindictive, petulant and fickle by the end of it all…too small-minded not to grasp the bigger picture and made things all about herself and her own tragedy.

In any case, it’s been quite a ride. I’m not too sure still what to make out of this, but this series simply felt like it could have done much more and reached so much higher than it did.

two-stars

Entropy by Jess Anastasi

Entropy by Jess AnastasiEntropy by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy, #4
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 271
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

Qaelan Foster’s latest outings with his cousin have been more misadventures than adventures and mostly of the dodgy variety. But then he gets entangled with the likes of Camille Blackstone, which brings a whole new meaning of trouble.

But first, context is king: ‘Entropy’ isn’t exactly a standalone and there’s quite a backstory as to how this book begins. Basic knowledge of Jess Anastasi’s world-building surrounding the Imojenna and its ragtag crew would provide a fuller appreciation of Qae/Camille’s relationship and why we keep getting teased with Rian’s own ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship with Ella). And that’s as much as I should say, without needing to go into any longwinded recounting (which a book review isn’t supposed to be anyway) of the whole story.

Sadly, I wasn’t too sold on Qae and Camille to begin with: their (sort-of?) one-night stand, without the buildup or chemistry didn’t do much for me so very early on in the story, though it was a clever twist on how things ended up—Anastasi leaves a little bit to anticipate—before the story really kicks in.

Unlike the trajectory that the Atrophy series has been taking, ‘Entropy’, with the story of Qae/Camille, is like a diversion, steered towards a different path of space adventures because it isn’t directly focused once more on Rian, his demons and his endless chasing after an enemy that he may never overpower. Whatever few scenes with Rian/Ella/others I lapped up; the rest with Qae/Camille, I read with a bit more lukewarmness and frustration. Because despite their flirty push-pull, foreplay-esque tussles which I probably would have liked more if there weren’t the weight of the narrative arc already written into the series, all I could keep thinking about was Rian and when he’d finally get his own story straightened out. It’s that heavy of a presence he has in ‘Atrophy’, which I find impossible to shrug off.

Even if Qae/Camille’s tale and their frolic with the space pirates didn’t exactly keep me engaged, I still like the organic whole of the ‘Atrophy’ series and that isn’t often that I can say this. Reading any book of Anastasi is like having a mish-mash of scenes from syfy-series that I’ve enjoyed over the years flash fondly through my mind. There’re parts of everything I love/hate, along with the understated dashes of humour which make me laugh not only because they always serve as shadows of what I miss in those—like new wine continually put in old wine skin.

But until Rian’s story comes, I suspect I’ll be in a well of frustration.

Imperator by Anna Hackett

Imperator by Anna HackettImperator by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on July 8th 2018
Pages: 206
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

‘Imperator’ closes out Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, or at least it’s the end…for now, until the next House gets its own story as a spin-off in the future.

Opening straight from the end of the last book (best to read them in order at least), Sam Santos’s and Galen’s story is one that Anna Hackett has been promising for a while. The fight agains the mortal enemy in this world comes to a head in this book and it’s an exciting one, though it did get loopy at times, as if Sam and Galen went round the merry-go-round getting free from the Thraxians, only to be captured again.

Sam, the former head of security on a space station, is as much as a gladiator and imposing warrior in her own right—I keep imagining a very sweaty Beyoncé dressed in tight leathers constantly holding a sword and knife for some reason—and a perfect match for Galen. Uber-capable, super tough, straight-shooting and determined, it’s easy to root for a strong female protagonist that you wish would always grace the pages of adventure romance books—eclipsing even the stoic and ever-in-control Galen who’d always scoffed in resignation about his gladiators falling for earth women.

I’ll admit that this isn’t quite the series that I’ve been salivating over, despite the rush of romance, adventure and iron-clad HEAs that are guaranteed in Hackett’s books. With the same formula of pairing women from earth with alien mates, the last-minute miraculous rescues and the survival against all odds that’s found in all of the books, I’m guessing that I’m probably thirsting after some deviation…somehow, somewhere.

The world-building is nonetheless impressive—it’s why Hackett’s books primarily appeal, even if not always for the pairing for me at least—and the book’s easy enough to breeze through, which would make it a perfect escape for a couple of hours.

three-half-stars

Chaos by J.M. Madden

Chaos by J.M. MaddenChaos by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2018
Pages: 201
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Aiden Willingham has lived a hard life. As a Navy SEAL, he agreed to take part in an ultra-secret government testing program. The company running the program, the Silverstone Collaborative, has produced a serum from an Amazonian plant that’s been proven to enhance physical abilities and mental fortitude. Problem is, men-- heroes-- have died during the testing, and it’s time for the company to be taken down before more men die needlessly.

Aiden, along with three others, have escaped the camp with evidence of the company’s horrendous practices. Now they’re in a race to expose them. They’ve already lost one of their team, and the Collaborative’s mercenaries are converging.
Angela Holloway knew the homeless man with sadness in his eyes was trouble as soon as she saw him hanging around the site of a murder.

Uncooperative, he stonewalls her investigation, but draws her in when the badge comes off. Aiden has scars, both internal and external, that make her heart ache. It’s a serious no-no getting involved with a suspect… too bad her heart isn’t listening. As details come to light about what’s going on in her city, she has to fight for what she believes is right, as well as the man on the wrong side of the law.

I can’t recall the number of iterations of the enhanced super-soldier I’ve gone through, but by now, it’s probably a lot. The conspiracy, the theories, the villainous cold-blooded woman (this pops up too predictably), the tortured men and the paranormal abilities they’ve developed because of the secret testing program…well, I can’t get past those enough, it seems.

‘Chaos’ is another version of these stories, so what really differentiates such stories from one another would then be the quality of the storytelling, which I’ve found myself subconsciously assessing on a personal scale.

As much as I loved the prequel, ‘Chaos’ plunges straight into the meatier side of it, this time with a romance on top of it, as the very sympathetic Aiden Willingham finally gets some due justice alongside a capable woman who does seem perfectly matched for him. Better yet, there aren’t the shenanigans of men behaving like growling beasts (both in and out of bed) then given the official excuse thrown out time and again for their inevitable actions.

So, by and large, ‘Chaos’ is a decent read, but I did think that J.M. Madden’s writing tended to get lost in several loops at times—too much of this, too little of that, but these are clearly my own gripes.

There’s a lot going on in here (sometimes too much I think), which might account for the rambling telling rather than showing: the recounting of past events, the conflicted inner monologues, the ton of information and context that Madden seems desperate to relay to the reader. Like the book’s title, some parts were chaotic though shrouded in mystery, and as a result, slowed the pacing in the first quarter of the book where I’d expected more driving forward momentum.

That said, I’m curious to see how Madden will take this entire narrative arc—I’m eternally grateful that Madden doesn’t deliberately leaving a cackling villain who survives until the very end just to draw out the good-evil conflict—and that black hole of not knowing what will happen next in this case, is a very welcome one.

three-half-stars