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Ugly pokey aliens

Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol

Posted in Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 12th January 2018
Hunted by the Cyborg by Cara BristolHunted by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol
Series: Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance #6
Published by Cara Bristol on January 9th 2018
Pages: 270
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four-stars

Billionaire Carter Aymes, director of Cyber Operations, a covert cyborg force, devotes his wealth and life to saving others, rescuing hostages and other victims from desperate situations. His ultimate mission is to hunt down and eliminate Lamani, the alien terrorist mastermind, before he conquers the galaxy.

When Carter hires Beth O’Shea, a vulnerable but courageous woman with connections to his past, their attraction is immediate and strong, but he knows getting involved with her is a bad idea. He’s her boss, and he has way too many classified projects to protect to risk letting someone get close.

Rejected by the progenitors who cloned her, Beth is determined to live a normal human life, beginning by getting an ordinary job with a security firm. But, from the start, she questions the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the organization. She can’t help but wonder about the tall, muscled, larger-than-life director who gave her a chance when she desperately needed one. Could he ever be romantically interested in a woman like her, in a clone?

When Beth is attacked, they both realize how short and tenuous life is, and their mutual attractions becomes too powerful too resist.

As their relationship heats up, so does the urgency to capture Lamani before he can unleash a stealth weapon at a critical planetary Summit meeting. With time running out, Carter discovers that stopping Lamani may require sacrificing Beth’s life.

Will Carter be able to rescue her, or will his new love be the one person he can’t save?

Cara Bristol’s Cy-Ops series have always stood out for me, not just because of the imaginative breadth and ‘scientific believability’ of Bristol’s writing (what do I really know about nanotechnology?) but also for the compelling cybernetic future she presents in these books.

‘Hunted by the Cyborg’ feels like the book that I’ve always been waiting for, not just for the pairing but for the overtones of our very own contemporary concerns and fears that come through so strongly here. Carter Aymes had always been in the background of all the Cy-Ops books, the orchestrator of events, but he clicked in and out so quickly that it was impossible to know if he had a story of his own.

That Bristol chose to write Carter’s story made me finish the book in one sitting and I found it hard to put down when Bristol decided to pair this mysterious man with a clone (of an ex-girlfriend) and the resolution of their very unequal relationship and how that gap was ultimately bridged. There were concerns of whether Carter merely saw Beth as a naive, inexperienced replica of her ’twin’ but this being syfy-romance, the angst isn’t too overt—some issues did feel a little glossed over—as the action finally takes over, continuing the narrative arc of the space war that this whole series is built around.

This was however, an enjoyable and entertaining read overall, and I’m definitely hoping the series isn’t ending here.

four-stars

Beast by Anna Hackett

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

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

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

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

four-stars

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 3rd November 2017
Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
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four-stars

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…

Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.

As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

‘Wildfire’ is a return to the rollicky, zany fun that I had in the first book, complete with otherworldly creatures, deadpan, quip-filled humour and crazy feats of magic that, on an alternate earth, would send mortals running each time a window gets the slightest hairline crack. This mad magical universe is really what makes this series so irresistible: larger than life, yet still so steeped in a contemporary reality (or rather, downtown Houston) we can sort of relate to and understand.

A huge part of me still longed for the Nevada Baylor of the first book—the woman who kept her powers hidden as she relied on her wits and gun skills instead of playing with the big boys—rather than the newly-minted Prime taking her place in a complex and archaic House system full of backstabbing politics, where the constant game of keeping one’s head above water prevents everything from staying simple. I still cringed every time she used her powers—whether these occasions were justified were still up in the air for me—but this was merely a trade-off it seemed, for Nevada’s rise in magical society and the inevitable ‘revelation’ of her unique ‘gift’.

As much the story was still written in her POV here, Nevada and Connor were by now, an established couple, finding their way around this new relationship and how their magic abilities worked into it, so there wasn’t too much of the tension that we got in the first 2 books.

But I didn’t mind it too much, absorbed as I was in the story’s secondary characters, which were really the best I’ve ever read in a long, long time. For once, Andrews’s secondary characters—who were as multifaceted as the protagonists—kept me riveted, even sometimes taking focus away from the main couple despite the story being related in Nevada’s POV and I didn’t mind a whit.

The bottom-line is, it all went from loopy to loopier and although quite cookie-cutter in the way the authors handled its protagonists’ growth trajectories, ‘Wildfire’ is still a riotous fast-paced read that already hints at more to come.

four-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

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

Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 3rd July 2017
Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Pages: 139
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three-stars

Abducted by alien slavers, experimented on, and left blind, the last thing doctor Winter Ashworth needs is a big barbarian gladiator in her life, especially an annoying one who thinks she’s small and weak.

Rescued by gladiators on the desert world of Carthago, Winter is doggedly working to embrace her new life. But two of her friends are still missing and she’ll do anything to help get them back…even if she has to work alongside Nero Krahn: hunter, barbarian, gladiator. The scowly, brooding man is too big, has too many muscles, and pushes all her buttons.

Nero is the House of Galen’s best hunter and tracker. Raised on a barbarian world, where strength and might are prized, he was bred to hunt and fight. Now the arena is his home and his loyalty is to his imperator. He knows he can use his skills to find the two lost women, even if that means protecting a small blind woman who takes every chance to misjudge his words and lash him with her sharp tongue.

But as they follow a dangerous trail to save their friends, a new enemy emerges—one who wants Winter. The pair find themselves reluctantly attracted to each other, uncovering a scorching desire that shocks them both. As Nero fights to protect Winter, the barbarian gladiator will discover the true meaning of strength from the small Earth woman he wants to claim as his.

‘Barbarian’ is Nero’s story and he’s the latest to fall and stumble over Winter, a woman from the second ‘group’ of personnel taken from Fortuna Space Station. Nero and Winter are as different as night and day and lust, much less love, takes a while to develop especially when they both have a prickly start.

This has to be a whispered confession: Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiator series isn’t exactly my favourite of the lot though I definitely like how much more depth and layered this desert universe has become since the first book. The breadth and the depth of Hackett’s imagination never fail to impress nonetheless and every new book is as always, a deeper uncovering of what lies beneath the surface of every world that exists in that particular universe.

In this case though, I found myself more interested in the developing plot than the pairing itself, not just because I wasn’t entirely convinced of Winter and Nero as a couple, but also because with the ‘sameness’ of the rote pairings thus far. The barbaric gladiators are typically alike and Nero slots into this mould too easily: rough and tumble with gleaming bodies and way more physical (both in size and strength) than the normal human male. The constant references to their hugeness and Earth’s women being smaller do tend to get a little old and the pairings are formulaic in the way gladiator after gladiator gets paired with a human woman from earth. I would like to see the secondary characters who have had passing appearances in the book given their own story or at least, a story with a move away from the gladiator/earth woman kind of couple that Hackett has been doing up until now.

Yet with all Hackett books, the teaser of the next pairing—plus the build-up of the next couple from previous stories—is such a strong pull and that’s keeping me reeled in still.

three-stars

Hemi by Anna Hackett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 7th June 2017
Hemi by Anna HackettHemi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #13
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on May 30th 2017
Pages: 115
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three-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

‘Hemi’ officially ushers in the Berserker squad and I’m glad we’ve come a way with this particular group of wild and rough-riding people. When they first appeared, they seemed to be a bunch of hairy things closer to grunting apes than humans who rode souped-up motorcycles that were used as mini-weapon-launching platforms to combat the aliens; which is sort of cool, but probably not quite the swashbuckling type of heroes I could envision. But Anna Hackett’s development of the squad is quite remarkable and I’ve come, over time, to see them fleshed out as individuals with even rougher and questionable pasts that are erased when the alien apocalypse happens.

Hemi Rahia’s and Camryn McNab’s story has been building for a while and make no mistake, that tension there beneath the pranks finally comes to fruition here. For every couple that Hackett focuses on, there is also a new, vile alien development that is specific to their getting together and it’s no different here. Hemi’s determination to win over Cam is as strong as her need to run away from him and this push-pull finally gives when forces bigger than them (read: disgusting alien parts that act as incubators) eventually show that couple disputes are more petty in the light of the fact that dying can happen any time. In the spirit of carpe diem, the action and the way the characters throw themselves into the fray, is fun with many shades of wild, rodeo-riding antics and good partying times.

As much as I enjoyed how fast-paced the action is, I thought that there’s also a bit more focus on Hemi/Cam’s personal drama here with several repetitive—and perhaps sweeping—lines about how men and women pretty much were into casual sex as a sign of the times, up until the point where they find the one they’re ‘meant’ for. While I did like Hemi/Cam and every little alien discovery the teams make, I think I would also have liked to see more of the big-picture, or at least some reference to a larger story arc that would show how war with the aliens is progressing and if there is an end (or some kind of HEA wrap-up for all involved), no matter how distant, in sight.

three-stars
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