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Pawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 10th November 2017
Pawn by Mimi Jean PamfiloffPawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #2
Published by Mimi Boutique on October 30th 2017
Pages: 266
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three-stars

SHE KNOWS HE'S BAD. THE QUESTION IS, HOW BAD?Stephanie Fitzgerald is nobody's pawn. Determined to discover the truth about a missing loved one, she lands a job at the world's most exclusive resort, working for the only man with the answers--Mr. Rook. He's shockingly handsome, thoroughly intimidating, and completely off-limits.

But the truth she seeks isn't black and white, and Mr. Rook is a far more dangerous temptation than she ever knew.

Will Stephanie resist her desires, or will she be lured into Mr. Rook's world of hidden sins?

I think Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s Mr Rook’s Island series is one of the more bizarre reads I’ve ever come across in the romance genre at least. Like a mix of the old tv series Fantasy Island (whose protagonist’s name even resembles Mr. Rook), Survivor and Stephen King’s horror stuff with some gothic elements thrown in, ‘Pawn’ pretty much continues in the vein of the female protagonist who pokes around an island that promises every fantasy come to life.

And that’s where the fun and doubts start, because nothing is as it ever seems, period.

Written wholly in Stephanie’s POV, the reader, in the same boat as Stephanie, falls down the rabbit hole into places that take on a life of their own and with people who never quite tell the truth, though it’s unclear when and what they’re lying about. In the centre of the maelstrom itself is the mysterious enigmatic James Rook, with whom Stephanie feels a strange connection yet can’t fully trust. Dreams and nightmares start to meld into reality and you, like Stephanie, start wondering how loopy things can get before it starts to break down.

I’d initially thought that the first book was merely suspense, but ‘Pawn’ makes it clear that there is a strong paranormal element that runs through this series. There are certainly some questions answered—questions that I had from the very start—though even more remain, with several loose plot ends that the cliffhanger ending quite annoyingly leaves hanging.

As with the first book, I’m not entirely certain how to rate this one. There’re the combinations of the sacred and the profane running throughout here, so perhaps this step into the forbidden (in so many ways) and the weird paranormal is what makes the the book a hard one to put down. At the same time, it’s hard to really ‘like’ the pairing with a distrustful and flaky female lead by the time ‘Pawn’ ends and Rook’s lack of transparency, just when you think they’ve kind of found their HEA. So maybe this 3-starred rating is an arbitrary one (I’ve honestly never quite done this before), just because Pamfiloff is managing to keep me so off-centre with this.

three-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

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 2nd November 2017
White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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three-stars

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.

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

69 Million Things I hate about You by Kira Archer

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 10th September 2017
69 Million Things I hate about You by Kira Archer69 Million Things I Hate About You by Kira Archer
Series: Winning the Billionaire #1
Published by Entangled: Indulgence on October 9th 2017
Pages: 257
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three-stars

After personal assistant Kiersten Abbott wins sixty-nine million dollars in the lotto, she suddenly has more than enough money to quit her impossibly demanding job. But where’s the fun in that? She decides to stay and exact a little revenge on her insufferable ass of a boss.

Billionaire Cole Harrington quickly figures out something’s afoot with his usually agreeable personal assistant. When he finds out about the office pool betting on how long it’ll take him to fire her, he decides to spice things up and see how far he can push her until she quits.

The game is on, with everyone waiting to see who will crack first. But the bet sparks a new dynamic between them, and soon they realize they just might have crossed that fine line between hate and love.

“69 Million Things I hate about You” doesn’t exactly cast romantic comedy in a new light, but its inventive, unique premise drew me to this immediately. After all, who wouldn’t want that sweet revenge on a demanding, serial-model-dater of a boss that piles you with nothing but stress and no time off?

I liked the tit-for-tat vibe, the oneupmanship that Kiersten and Cole got going the moment it was obvious that she was going to get back at him for the hard time he gave her for the past few months. But some of the games did veer towards the ridiculous/childish even as Cole put a different spin on Kiersten’s efforts to thwart him when he beat her at her own game.

Clearly, it’s all formulaic rom-com from here onwards as the stakes get higher and higher until it becomes clear that this holding pattern would break somehow, so shut down the nagging idea that having money allows you to do whatever the hell you want as both Cole and Kiersten cross over into the outlandish and give each other a hard to harder time. It’s a read that’s after all, fun though not entirely believable (I had a bit of difficulty making that leap from Cole’s and Kiersten’s pranks to their falling in love) yet adventurous in a way that makes it stick out in a long line of books.

three-stars

Dark Mafia Prince by Annika Martin

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 9th September 2017
Dark Mafia Prince by Annika MartinDark Mafia Prince by Annika Martin
Series: Dangerous Royals #1
Published by Annika Martin on June 28th 2016
Pages: 235
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three-stars

THE DARK MAFIA PRINCE IS BACK TO RECLAIM ALL THAT HER FAMILY STOLE.

Aleksio: Don’t look at me like that. So trusting.
Like you think I’m not a monster.
 Like I won’t wrap your hair in my fist and bend you to my will.
 Like I won’t sacrifice you, piece by piece, to save my brother. I’m the most dangerous enemy you’ll ever have because every time you look at me, you see somebody good. That friend who died. And when you look at me like that, I die again.

Mira: I spent years making myself invisible. A good girl, apart from the noise.
 Then you came back, beautiful and deadly in your Armani suit. 
Don’t look at me like you still know me, you say.
 But I remember your smile and those sunny days. Before they lowered your small casket into the ground.
 Before they told us the prince was dead.

‘Dark Mafia Prince’ isn’t the usual type I go for, but once in, is impossible to turn away. It’s built around vengeance, the unforgiving criminal underworld that obeys only a particular code of honour that’s difficult to understand for those who love walking the straight and narrow. Consequently, I’m expecting the protagonists to be anti-heroes instead and heroines to be anything and anyone, yet can ‘tame’ these hardened criminals somewhat by the end of it.

To some extent, the story does do what it says. The writing is compelling, filled with the brutal edge of terror that I couldn’t take my eyes off the unfolding narrative even if I wanted to. True to the warnings, it’s dirty, filthy and unapologetically rides the part where sex isn’t all sunshine and roses and I got into this book knowing that. There’s more than a hint of pleasure in humiliation—whether it’s a pretend scenario or not—, deliberate insults and part-degradation in a situation that isn’t acceptable on any level, though understandable in the context that’s laid out here. Some parts read like dubious consent, with a dose of Stockholm Syndrome thrown in; hence, I did have a bit of a hard time believing that instant connection after years of separation and differing life experiences.

After all, we’re talking about an anti-hero who isn’t the honourable, straight-walking type but one who kills as part of his lifestyle. Mira’s sudden entry into Aleksio’s life is a carefully-choreographed act as his vendetta against her father knows no bounds, but it feels as though there’re just too many speed bumps to overcome in their relationship, not to mention their totally opposing world views about life for them to have a convincing HEA.

‘Dark Mafia Prince’ isn’t a perfect read as a result. I do think that the characters’ voices need a bit more differentiation and that Mira/Aleksio as a pairing lacked development as the action was focused more on finding the mysterious Kiro. With the entire narrative arc unfinished as well, I definitely want the next 2 books in the series, though maybe not immediately.

three-stars
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