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Ugly pokey aliens

Champion by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 30th March 2017
Champion by Anna HackettChampion by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #5
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Space marine Blaine Strong enjoyed being a composed, controlled member of space station security…until he was abducted by alien slavers. Forced into underground fight rings and pumped full of drugs, he’s now seething with anger and out for revenge.

Rescued by gladiators and fellow humans on the desert world of Carthago, Blaine is fighting to be the man he once was. But when the House of Galen is attacked, he must focus on joining the gladiators to fight back. That means teaming up with a tough, competitive female gladiator who not only challenges him at every turn, awakens a fierce desire he’s never felt before, but a woman who can sense the churning emotions inside him.

Gladiator Saff Essikani is the best net fighter in the Kor Magna Arena. Raised from young to fight, she bows to no man and uses her empathic abilities to win at whatever cost. With her House targeted and people under their care threatened, she’ll stop at nothing to find those responsible. But then she finds herself face to face with a big, tortured man from Earth who affects her like no man before. As Saff and Blaine head into the desert to uncover a conspiracy, their incendiary desire flares hotter than the desert suns. But as Blaine’s angry emotions rage out of control, Saff knows that unless he learns to embrace the man he is now, he has no chance of survival.

There are many Anna Hackett books that are probably scored permanently in my memory, and I’m beyond happy to say that ‘Champion’ will number as one of them.

I’ve been somewhat on the fence with the Galactic Gladiator series but Blaine/Saff’s story is one that I truly liked and could get into without difficulty. It’s the sense of true equality that I got between the both of them – physically, emotionally, with similar spirits of determination, loyalty and courage – which I thought made this story so enjoyable, along with that chemistry that Hackett has written into this unlikely pairing. Throw in the desert landscape, the thrills and spills and the action and ‘Champion’ is a fantastic read that brings a mish-mash of classic but epic movies into play.

Now that we’re waist-deep into this strange, gladiator world, I’m starting to appreciate the sheer scope of Hackett’s world-building again – this woman’s got a heck of an imagination and enough gumption to bring it to life – and am actually quite amazed at how it’s expanding in a manner that’s making me want to know how the future books are going to go.

Still, I had an altogether satisfying experience, enhanced of course, as always, by the anticipation of the next book and pairing written into the end of this story.

four-stars

Diffraction by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 30th November 2016
Diffraction by Jess AnastasiDiffraction by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy, #3
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Pages: 315
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

After his unusual reaction to a weapon, Commando Varean Donnelly is accused of being a shape-shifting alien and imprisoned onboard the Imojenna. Sure, he has abilities he keeps hidden from everyone—including the gorgeous doc examining him—because the government makes sure people as different as him disappear. For good.
Imojenna doctor Kira Sasaki knows there’s something different about the handsome commando the captain’s thrown in their brig. She doesn’t think he’s Reidar, although he might have been a victim of their cruel experiments. But when Kira learns the stubborn commando’s racial make-up, she finds herself torn between defending him to Captain Rian Sherron and his crew or urging Varean to escape while he still can.

Apart from Jess Anastasi’s ending note that the long-awaited Rian/Ella story is nowhere in sight, it’s glorious to be back with the Imojenna crew and under the wiles of the volatile major captain, who still very much remains a lynchpin in the building action and the fabulous overarching plot of finding an alien species hell bent on infiltrating the galaxy with their stealthy shape-shifting methods. His mysterious past eludes him as much as it eludes us even each chapter unravels him a little more and I can’t seem to shake the feeling that even the leading romantic pair in this story can’t eclipse the importance of one man who finally seems to have turned a corner by the end of the book.

As much as it is about Rian’s continuing quest to destroy the aliens who’d destroyed him, ‘Diffraction’ however, is also about an AF commando who isn’t what he seems and the ship’s doctor who takes a shine to him. But apart from me wondering about the state of Rian’s liver from the constant drinking, there’s a mystery of Varean Donnelly’s heritage to solve and a backstory for Kira Sasaki that add some depth to this pairing. It’s nonetheless a slow-burn, a nuanced account of developing attraction and the measure of denial that seem to parallel the bond between Rian and Ella. The characters are not above eye-rolling moments though, especially as Kira gives into inexplicable TSTL moments when she pushes Varean away in the belief he would be better off with his kind then treats him rather coldly after that.

With Anastasi’s books as always, the blurb reveals just a facet of the fascinating universe and its politics and for this reason ‘Diffraction’ doesn’t function well as a standalone. Every chapter came as a surprise because I couldn’t see what was coming at all: secondary character deaths, new additions to the crew and many fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moments, with several twists and turns written with such swagger that I wondered if I’d found myself in an amalgamation of all the classic sci-fi series (and the latest Marvel offerings) that I’d binged on in the last decade. Overall, I think the bottom-line here is that it has been such fun, if only to be part of the developing action and the build-up to what might look like a spectacular battle between the bad guys and the good guys…should the series be taken that far.

four-stars

Warrior by Anna Hackett

Posted in Reviews 9th November 2016
Warrior by Anna HackettWarrior by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on November 6th 2016
Pages: 125
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

It was supposed to be an exciting job on a space station, but instead, scientist Dr. Regan Forrest finds herself fighting for her life when she’s kidnapped by alien slavers. Far from Earth and forced into a violent gladiatorial arena on the outer rim, she finds herself swept into the brawny arms of a big, wild alien gladiator.

Weapon, brute, gladiator, warrior… Sirrush warrior Thorin has been called many things. As a warrior of his people, he was a dark, dangerous weapon until even his own family were too afraid of him. Sold into slavery in the Kor Magna Arena, he has long ago earned his freedom. Now he enjoys the violent but rewarding life he’s carved out for himself. Until he rescues one small, smart, and perplexing female from alien slavers.

Regan is determined to make a place for herself in her new home. She may not have the skills to fight in the arena, but she’s smart and knows she can help...even as she fights her attraction to the big, bold, and fascinating Thorin. She knows he’ll never be interested in her. But when Regan catches a glimpse of her cousin across a crowded market, she needs help to mount a rescue, and it comes in the form of the gladiator she desperately wants. A gladiator hiding a dark, uncontrollable secret with the power to destroy them both.

Anna Hackett’s imagination knows no bounds, and for that I’ll always keep reading what she churns out with loads of awe and fangirling. I’ll be the first to admit though, that I’m still on the fence with this series where ancient Rome’s bloodiest gladiators meet Star Wars and Bladerunner combined (even if the intertextual references give me the biggest shivers).

Originality aside, there are also clichés upon clichés, the glaring one being the instant lust which converts into love too easily, and the oversexed (who always need fawning women it seems), overly macho and neanderthal gladiators who suddenly fall over themselves over Earth women who are way smaller and barely fit their hulking sizes. I ended up cringing, especially when the logistics of positions and viability came up and found myself wondering how that actually worked instead of getting my own knickers wet.

Every story is as always, a tantalising hint of a series that can go on and on; that big is the world-building of every Hackett book. I just need some time to get past these mad male characters – if it ever happens.

three-stars

Quantum by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 20th July 2016
Quantum by Jess AnastasiQuantum by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 8th 2016
Pages: 295
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Goodreads
four-stars

Someone wants Captain Admiral Zander Graydon dead. Like yesterday. Zander’s convinced his attractive assistant knows more than she’s willing to say, and if he can stop running long enough, he’ll find out exactly what she’s hiding. Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros is determined to keep her CO safe. Before she tips her hand, however, Mae has to figure out if the alluring man she’s protecting is the real Captain Admiral Graydon. Or an alien shape-shifting imposter.
On the run and no one to trust…not even each other.
Captain Admiral Zander Graydon has seen a lot of action, but almost getting killed three times in one day is pushing it. Only the company of his new assistant, Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros, makes things a little easier to swallow. Except the delectable Lieutenant Marshal Petros is hiding a number of secrets, and her presence might have something to do with the continued attempts on his life.
It’s no accident Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros finds herself in the firing line alongside the charming but very off-limits Captain Admiral Graydon. She’s taken the job as the admiral’s assistant to determine if a shape-shifting alien has killed the CO and assumed his form. Whether the admiral is human or not, Mae finds herself getting way too close to him as they run for their lives.
Military to the core, Mae and Zander will have to overcome their suspicions of each other to work together, when they realize the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

As with quite a few of Jess Anastasi’s books, I’ve learnt the hard way that the blurb is always insufficient in mapping out just how little it says of her expansive universe and the huge number of things that she’s got going on in it. Zander Graydon and Mae Petros might be the pairing that’s given priority in ‘Quantum’, but it isn’t too long before I’m sucked into the bigger picture that’s laid out here: an insidious breed of shape-shifting aliens have infiltrated planets and key governmental posts for reasons we aren’t quite too clear about yet and one man’s near-insane bid to wage war on them with a crazy ‘shoot first and then think’ policy in order to purge the monsters from his mind.

Rian Sherron – that cynical, snarky war-(anti)hero always on the verge of losing his self-control – is that much pivotal to the galaxy’s apparent survival. Yet what’s so unusual about this series thus far is that he hasn’t been cast as the romantic lead yet, even as everything revolves around this larger-than-life, brash and tortured character.

If ‘Atrophy’ lays out a dysfunctional cast of the Imojenna’s crew, ‘Quantum’ builds on the growing conflict in the wider universe and the burgeoning relationships between Rian and Ella (whose book Ms. Anastasi steadfastly refuses to release until they’ve maxed out their UST) and Zander and Mae, with only a little more focus on the latter pair. I have to admit Zander/Mae interested me a lot less than Rian/Ella, the latter of whom I thought was wimpy at times with her secret-keeping and the evasiveness she kept up with Zander even when it was clear she could trust him. But my preference or personal bias for heroines who put themselves out there – physically and emotionally – comes through clearly here and I did find myself more than disappointed when all Mae did was to cloister up, detach herself and leave the rift she caused to widen instead.

But I’ll say again that ‘Quantum’ is so much more than just Zander/Mae; I can’t help but think of them as just another relationship that’s one of many in this series that’s headed for an explosive climax, in all its irreverent and irrepressible glory. And that’s just the thing which is getting me moist with excitement, along with the anticipation of Rian’s story.

Thus far, I’ve been thrown for a few loops, laughed at the dry but engaging banter, been taken on an action-packed ride through some twists and turns I never saw coming and pretty much went down the long slide to a place no reader wants to go because it reeks of desperation: stalking the author for updates and news on the next book.

four-stars

Obsession by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 31st May 2016
Obsession by Jennifer L. ArmentroutObsession by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Entangled: Embrace on May 31st 2013
Pages: 254
Buy on Amazon
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three-stars

This is a stand alone novel that is an adult spin-off of the Lux Series You do not need to read a Lux book to read Obsession and vice versa.
He’s arrogant, domineering, and... To. Die. For.
Hunter is a ruthless killer. And the Department of Defense has him firmly in their grasp, which usually doesn’t chafe too badly because he gets to kill bad guys. Most of the time he enjoys his job. That is, until he’s saddled with something he’s never had to do before: protect a human from his mortal enemy.
Serena Cross didn’t believe her best friend when she claimed to have seen the son of a powerful senator turn into something... unnatural. Who would? But then she witnesses her friend’s murder at the hands of what can only be an alien, thrusting her into a world that will kill to protect their secret.
Hunter stirs Serena’s temper and her lust despite their differences. Soon he’s doing the unthinkable—breaking the rules he’s lived by, going against the government to keep Serena safe. But are the aliens and the government the biggest threats to Serena’s life… or is it Hunter?

The bizarre, violent death of a friend sends Serena Cross reeling. What she first believes to be a hallucination or a trick of the mind is in fact, a confirmation that aliens – at least in the world that Jennifer L. Armentrout has constructed in the Lux series – do exist and have always been among mankind. Her reluctant, love-deprived protector is an arrogant, not-quite human smirky male, appropriately named Hunter, who simply does what his name actually suggests, except that he hunts, kills and feeds on another alien species that has for eons, threatened life in the galaxy. Hunter is in fact an Arum, a shadowy species slated to continue the tradition of blasting their enemies back into cosmic oblivion. In the bigger picture, Earth is merely another stop for them and now stands at the brink of being overrun by the evil beings known as the Luxen.

Touted as a standalone, ‘Obsession’ seemed like a sensible start to a wildly popular series that I wanted to jump into immediately without having to read the past few installments. I did find myself lost at times, hungry for the world-building and the mythology of the Luxens and the Arum, but somehow fell short of being satisfied each time Hunter made several piecemeal revelations. The idea of vampiric beings caught up in some epic battle with another race intent on galaxy-domination is an enthralling one and I lapped it all up even if it started to read very much like a cagey version of Men in Black, done slightly off-pitch with characters (both alien and human) who somehow fall within the ‘hot’ and ‘beautiful’ categories too easily.

In many ways, ‘Obsession’ falls both within and without the syfy-fantasy genre but not living up to its potential is perhaps the most disappointing takeaway I’ve had in a while. If I loved the set-up and the richness of the backdrop, I was equally let down by how it never seemed to reach its potential. The world-building never seemed incomplete and took a back seat to the overwhelming, uncontrollable lust that plagues both characters, overshadowing even the conflict at the end which faded off in a whimper than the almighty bang I thought it would be.

three-stars

Trapped by Alison Aimes

Posted in Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 8th April 2016
Trapped by Alison AimesTrapped by Alison Aimes
Series: The Condemned, #1
Published by Orchid Publishing on December 31st 2015
Pages: 220
Buy on Amazon
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four-stars

Cadet Bella West has one simple objective when she joins the scientific mission to Dragath25, the notorious penal planet housing Earth’s condemned. Earn the credits necessary to save her family from starvation. But when her shuttle crashes and the majority of her crew perish, her simple mission becomes complicated fast. Now, to stay alive she’ll have to depend on one of Dragath’s own. But such protection doesn’t come free.
Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, 673 has become more beast than man after eight grueling years on an unforgiving, hazardous planet of dirt and rock—and even more treacherous inhabitants. He doesn’t look out for anyone but himself and he certainly never grows attached. So when the bold female offers him pleasure in return for protection, he takes the deal without hesitation. He never expects how her touch will alter him. Or the growing realization that saving her may be the key to his own salvation.
But as dangers mount and their ‘simple’ deal unravels will he prove to be her surprise savior or her ultimate downfall? Because caring for someone on Dragath25 may prove the greatest hazard of all.

A very engaging and thrilling read – made more pleasurable by the unexpectedness of the story – of a marooned ship on a harsh, brutal prison world where only the fittest survive. Yet affection can blossom in strange climes, as Bella and Caine both prove in a way that’s realistically bumpy and believable.

I particularly loved Caine’s backstory and the transformative journey he underwent, where the man he used to be finally emerged like a shining beacon from under the hide of a beast. Bella isn’t a pushover either (albeit somewhat naive) but above all, there’s this edge to this series that’s already making me very curious about the second book.

four-stars

Captured by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol

Posted in Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 17th March 2016
Captured by the Cyborg by Cara BristolCaptured by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol
Series: Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance #3
Published by Cara Bristol on March 15th 2016
Pages: 135
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four-stars

Sometimes the biggest risk is to one’s heart….
A science fiction romance by USA Today Bestselling Author Cara Bristol
An ex-Cyber Operations field agent, Dale Homme has kissed danger and betrayal more times than he cares to count. Now he runs a clandestine factory beneath the surface of the moon Deceptio, where confidentiality and security matter more than anything. When a beautiful young woman arrives seeking a job, Dale knows within minutes she’s lying. Everything about her is false: her past, the people she claims to know, her reason for being on Deceptio. Illumina Smith? Even her name is an alias.
Logic says send her packing. His gut says she’s in trouble. She needs him. So he’ll do anything to keep her safe…. even if it means keeping her captive.
Captured by the Cyborg is third in the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series but is written to be read as a stand-alone novella.

Thoroughly engaging and a breeze to read, ‘Captured by the Cyborg’ catapulted me deep into the familiar, beloved vocabulary I’ve come to associate with syfy-romance: it’s geek-speak recontextualised into a narrative, woven around a pairing that didn’t seem plausible in the beginning but left me wanting by the end.

The story brings us straight into the mysterious operations a kilometre beneath an isolated, barren moon and into a secret operations factory run by former special operative Dale Homme, whose latest recruitment drive brings a beautiful, ethereal but damaged alien into his employment. Illumina Smith isn’t who she says she is and despite his better instincts, Dale keeps her on the payroll, eventually discovering a past that is as painful and fraught as his. I enjoyed every moment of Illumina’s and Dale’s interaction and without the hindrance of TSTL actions by both sides, found this pairing unusual but entirely suited to each other. I only wished though, that the process of integrating cybernetics into a body – especially for Illumina – was’t the be-all and the end-all solution; her regaining her wings and the miraculous hair growth seemed a tad too eager for everything to end well…and quickly.

Action-packed, (but) with an over-the-top villain that made me grimace a little, it’s nonetheless a book that surprised me again and again with well-written scenes and dialogues, and proved to be a superb entertaining distraction on what would have otherwise been a dull and mundane day.

four-stars
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