Tag: Speculative Fiction

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli Callahan

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli CallahanDaddy's Best Friend by Kelli Callahan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 16th 2019
Pages: 160
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two-stars

This is a really bad idea...

She just showed up on my doorstep.
My best friend's daughter.
The girl I remember is all grown up,
But she's still a brat.

A place to stay?
I'll give her that and a whole lot more.
She needs a firm hand,
And a little bit of discipline.

Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to put my hands on those gorgeous curves...

She can whisper all of her secrets into my ear.
But I don't think I'm going to be able to let her go.
My best friend might have been her father...
But she's never had a Daddy.

There’s a definite kink in ‘Daddy’s Best Friend’—the Daddy/Dom/BDSM type—that, in the blurb and the title, should be enough of a warning for those who can’t stomach the older man-younger-woman sort of romance with a bit of a different flavour.

A bit of an age difference doesn’t bother me much really, as long as we’re talking about the legal age of consent…well, that and the quality of the writing. Kelli Callahan tackles Chrissy’s and Greyson’s back story with a bit more context thrown in, which meant that their sexual relationship started small and somewhat tentative, until it became a full-blown exploration of the Daddy-dynamic from the quarter-mark.
Kink and fetish aside, I realised that I wanted to read that their relationship was more than just Chrissy working out a daddy-issue or her needing him to be her spanky-panky-disciplinarian daddy (which would ultimately be wrong and incestuous in so many ways) and that a romance between 2 equals could legitimately grow out of this and not just stay in the iffy-icky part of arse-blistering. The transition wasn’t as marked or as convincing as I’d hoped, which ended up with more cringeworthy than I’d expected, as did the insane number of times the word ‘SMACK!’ appeared in the entire story when I was certain there had to be better ways to describe every action of that brought palm to arse.
two-stars

Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

Kings Rising by C.S. PacatKings Rising by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #3
Published by Berkley on 2nd February 2016
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Damianos of Akielos has returned.

His identity now revealed, Damen must face his master Prince Laurent as Damianos of Akielos, the man Laurent has sworn to kill.

On the brink of a momentous battle, the future of both their countries hangs in the balance. In the south, Kastor’s forces are massing. In the north, the Regent’s armies are mobilising for war. Damen’s only hope of reclaiming his throne is to fight together with Laurent against their usurpers.

Forced into an uneasy alliance the two princes journey deep into Akielos, where they face their most dangerous opposition yet. But even if the fragile trust they have built survives the revelation of Damen’s identity—can it stand against the Regent's final, deadly play for the throne?

Kings Rising’ left my head spinning and it is a thrilling conclusion to the series really, as C.S Pacat pushes the envelope with court machinations, battle strategies (on and off field). Or rather, it’s akin to following a game of chess as the pieces are moved around – by whom, you wonder? – in such a way the battle lines look straight but are in fact, blurred, where trust is an empty word since betrayals and backstabbing and pre-empting are part for the course here.

The third book builds on the first and the second, and there’s something – having come this far – I think I’ll always miss about the first book particularly since it all felt a little simpler than this. But so it goes with power-hungry royalty and the devious lengths they all go to in order to be the supreme ruler.

It’ll be years before I’ll forget Laurent (and to a lesser extent, Damen), who’s probably a triumph of characterisation: complex, contradictory, sweet yet cruel and way too volatile to handle with care. For Laurent alone, ‘Kings Rising’ is worth all the stars I can give, except for the abrupt ending minus a badly-needed epilogue that made it seem just too short.

four-stars

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince by C.S. PacatCaptive Prince by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #1
Published by Viking: Penguin on 7th April 2015
Pages: 262
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four-stars

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomises the worst of the decadent court at Vere. But in the lethal web of Veretian politics, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen is caught up in a dangerous play for the throne, he must form an alliance with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: he must never reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else...

When I finally got my claws embedded in ‘Captive Prince’, I hadn’t expected that it would have taken me a few years to read after C.S. Pacat’s name spread like wildfire. But better late than never and as good books are, they reel you in, sink deep into your consciousness and won’t let go until you’ve finished the trilogy.

I’m only a third through the series, through only the first book and already I need all of it.

The blurb is as the story begins: the rightful heir to the throne of Akielon finds himself a slave in enemy territory and personal slave to the Prince of Vere and while there’s no love lost between these two countries,

Seeing it all through an outsider’s eyes—through the former prince (now slave) Damen’s Akielon eyes—makes us experience what he does: the slithering movements of the dirty court, the political machinations of the tussle for the throne, the carful and sly interplay of power between Laurent and the Regent, but above all, Laurent…the fascinating, brutal, calculative young prince who seems to stay ahead of everyone by calling checkmate every time.

I can understand why ‘Captive Prince’ is so polarising. Lying sort of in a parallel world that very, very vaguely corresponds to a mash-up of medieval Europe and classical Greek/Roman culture (the given map looks like a misshapened form of Italy and Sicily), Pacat’s world is as complex, bloodthirsty, multifaceted and as debauched as you can imagine. Slaves, courtiers, lords and soldiers mingle in a politically unstable time as the gift of Damen as a slave standing heads and shoulders above the rest starts the juggernaut rolling.

There’s also the unflinching use of rape as a tool of control, of submission, along with the fluidity of sexual/gendered relations that belongs to a time long past which can be very, very uncomfortable to go through. Pacat provides no apology for it in any case; it’s all in or none at all, the explicitness in all its glory, forcing you to either step in or turn away.

But there’s so much else to it than the amazingly detailed landscape Pacat has written. The characters that stand out, honed and sharp as a knife blade, whose motivations keep you guessing as train wrecks happen time and again…and you can only stare, wide-eyed, as it happens in technicolor right in front of your eyes.

Perhaps my only complaint here is the use of obscure words as though Pacat intended to ‘elevate’ the prose, to get the story to rise above the 21st century lay reader, or to even distance the reader even further from the reality we know. Still those threw me off—the lexical range of the story felt a little less impressive than if Pacat had simply relied on solid characterisation and more direct prose.

I’m hooked, no doubt about it.

four-stars

His Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert

His Forbidden Desire by Katee RobertHis Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert
Series: Island of Ys #1
Published by Trinkets and Tales LLC on 25th March 2019
Pages: 256
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two-stars

Princess Camilla Fitzcharles is willing to risk everything to escape her gilded cage of her life. She's secured an invitation to participate in the Wild Hunt, a deadly game hosted annually on the secretive Island of Ys.

This year's prize is the one thing that can set her free. Cami just has to survive long enough to win it.

Luca has spent the last fifteen years waiting for vengeance. Now the plans are in motion, and there's no going back. He couldn't have anticipated Cami, though. She's an innocent, a reminder of the life that was stolen from him. Something to be protected, not leveraged in this dangerous game.

This year the Wild Hunt has changed. For the first time since its inception, an outsider is named as the White Stag, the prey the rest of them hunt-Cami. She's on the run and in danger, and Luca will do anything to keep her safe.

The person she needs the most protection from?

Him.

‘His Forbidden Desire’ starts off as an odd cross between fictional European aristocratic romance and the Hunger Games series, where a princess thinks the latter is key to the gilded cage that she’s found herself in.

I’m unfamiliar with this particular aspect of Katee Robert’s writing; then again, Robert is an author who dabbles quite significantly in overlapping genres and I never quite know what I’ll get out of her next book. ‘His Forbidden Desire’ falls within the realm of speculative romantic fiction if labels are to be put on it, but then, I had a hard time getting past the feeling like I’d missed a big chunk of a back story that was never fully laid out.

Essentially, I went through the pages thinking that I barely knew anything by the end of the book: the four Horsemen—alternative identities laid out deliberately and elaborately by abuses children who banded together and now seek revenge—whose pasts are only hinted at, the wild scheme on an island off the African coast where cut-throat games are held for stakes higher than we know about, and a princess competitor who wants her freedom by winning the competition but exactly how that could be achieved isn’t quite told.
For this reason, I couldn’t get into Cami and Luca at all too. Hooking up during a hunt, pulled together and apart by competing agendas—it was quite a mess where emotions barely got a chance to ride out their full potential, busy as the protagonists were trying to avoid getting caught, and then the lust that somehow gets transformed into love by the time a betrayal is executed.
But in all, just too bizarre and frustrating to buy into the whole scheme.
Maybe I do prefer my stories more grounded in ‘reality’ so to speak as ‘His Forbidden Desire’ has taught me, where fictional countries and even odder but dangerous competitions stay as territory that I’ll only venture into when I’ve got nothing else lined up. Not the fault of Robert, obviously, just me.
two-stars

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh

Wolf Rain by Nalini SinghWolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3, #3, Psy-Changeling #18
Published by Berkley on 4th June 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

The end of Silence was supposed to create a better world for future generations. But trust is broken, and the alliance between Psy, Changeling, and human is thin. The problems that led to Silence are back in full force. Because Silence fixed nothing, just hid the problems.

This time, the Psy have to find a real answer to their problems–if one exists. Or their race will soon go extinct in a cascade of violence. The answer begins with an empath who is attuned to monsters–and who is going to charm a wolf into loving her despite his own demons.

Nalini Singh’s über-popular Psy-Changeling series probably needs no introduction that far gone into its second series, set in the future when the Trinity Accord has been signed and a cautious peace has settled amongst the three races populating an alternate version of Earth.

The Psy-Changeling verse has expanded so much by this point that it’s practically impossible to jump into and rush through ‘Wolf Rain’ as a standalone. By and large, I did think Singh handled most aspects of the sheer size/weight of her own intricate world-building quite deftly here: the precarious juggle between the bonds of pack and romance and the weighted history that the races have, the larger, wider implications of the collapsing Psy-Net, the latent and new threats and the supporting characters who still have dedicated scenes for readers who can’t let them go.

‘Wolf Rain’ deals with the subtleties of the Psy, or rather, the subtleties of the Empaths who’d been cast aside who rose to prominence after the fall of Silence with the introduction of a rather aggravating, loud-broadcasting captive Empath Psy who simply doesn’t fit the designation E to a tee. After a quick look at other changeling groups in the first two books of this new season however, ‘Wolf Rain’ for this reason, feels oddly like a return to, or at least, a lateral expansion of the Snowdancer/Dark River-centric books where changelings shifters mostly get paired by with their former Psy enemies. Alexei Vasiliev Harte finds his mate in Memory here (battling a serial-killer at the same time) while sub-plots push forward the ongoing story of Psy-life after Trinity.

Every path is a hard-fought one, on the personal and the collective level—reflected by the longer than usual narrative—and needless to say, Alexei/Memory’s one is also a push-pull based on experience, insecurity and fear. Admittedly, this is a pairing that didn’t enthral me as much as Singh’s other couples and as a romance, didn’t quite live up to other pairings that had moved me a lot more…so this sort of impacted my rating of the overall story nonetheless.

Still, I liked the nuanced exploration of the fascinating PsyNet that draws so much from facets of computer networking and meta systems and that alone perhaps, makes ‘Wolf Rain’ worth it.

three-half-stars

Griff by Anna Hackett

Griff by Anna HackettGriff by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #17
on March 17th 2019
Pages: 186
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three-half-stars

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

I’ve so missed the Hell Squad series and ‘Griff’ is a return to something that has been a lengthy absence in Anna Hackett’s post-apocalyptic world for quite a long time. It’s back to alien-squashing, living to fight yet another day as the squads do battle against bug-ugly, dinosaur-like invaders.

What I liked was the slow expansion of the universe yet again, the insertion of a slightly different sub-plot here and I do sort of scent the end of the series coming, or at least, one that closes out this huge arc that started 17 books ago, though the potential for spin-offs or side-stories is near limitless.

With Griff and Indy however…

The brother’s best-friend trope has always made me raise my brows a little in any case. Why would there be a so-called bro-code of never going after the sister unless your best friend’s an arse of massive proportions, which then would lead me to question why you’d even have such an arse for a best friend. But if you’re a standup, good bloke, then the bro-code wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it?

Indy and Griff sort of fitted into this pattern from the start and while Hackett did write a love-hate sort of relationship with Indy pushing Griff away after his initial rejection, the question of why Griff decided that he wanted Indy only now, when he didn’t do a thing about it (and even was engaged to someone else) for the past decade at all went unaddressed. Still, their romance, the secrets Griff hid and their heavy pasts did feel somewhat glossed over in favour of the instant lust/sex, and because an alien invasion and getting injured in the line of duty apparently seemed to trump every rejection and feelings of resentment built up over the years. There was more of a story there or at least, should have been more of a story there that I felt could have been told.

Still, I can’t say I regret the action and the suspense, particularly now so that the endgame seems to loom ever nearer. Griff and Indy weren’t as quite unique a pairing as some of the others that Hackett has written, but as far as the build-up of what felt like a coming final battle, that’s got me already clenching in anticipation.

three-half-stars