Category: Speculative Fiction

Dom by Anna Hackett

Dom by Anna HackettDom by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #18
Published by Anna Hackett on June 17th 2019
Pages: 135
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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 Dom Santora has an ugly past he can’t forget. Born and raised in the darkness, he spent his life before the alien invasion as a Mafia enforcer. He’s found some meaning fighting against the aliens with his fellow berserkers, but he knows his soul is too stained to ever find redemption. And there is no way he’ll ever deserve the quiet beauty of a woman like Arden Carlisle.

When the raptors invaded, Arden lost her husband and children in the first horrible, bloody wave of the attack. Since that terrible night, she’s survived, but she hasn’t been living. Hollowed out by her grief, she’s found a way to keep going as the comms officer for Squad Nine. But lately, color has started to seep back into her world, and the person she sees most clearly is the dark, handsome, and lethal Dom.

Dom and Arden are two damaged souls who find each other in the darkness. But the Gizzida are putting the final pieces of their endgame into place. The aliens want the Earth and to wipe out the human survivors once and for all. As Dom, Arden, and the berserkers work to find a deadly alien bomb, they uncover the true horror of the aliens’ plans. To have any chance at love, life, and survival, Dom and Arden will have to fight harder than ever before.

With Anna Hackett’s post-apocalyptic Hell Squad series drawing soon to a close, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Quite literally so, given the odder and odder paranormal elements coming into play (I think of Fright Night zombies, leeches and all other weird things that Hackett’s throwing in here) along with the dinosaur aliens who have overrun future earth.

But the secret weapon of a wisp of another alien whose actions are powerful enough to be the Deus ex Machina of the entire series—conveniently saving the characters and the day when all hope is thought to be lost—is Hackett’s chosen form of redemption it seems. Selena may yet save us all, though it’s starting to be a recurring pattern. But I digress, as much as I love that character and her long-awaited story with the head of the Berserker squad.

‘Dom’ is the penultimate novella here, even as Hackett’s willingness to stretch the series on can be somewhat frustrating. The latest to fall prey to love, so to speak, Dom is silent and tormented by the trajectory of his entire life, only to find it with a woman who’s also lost everything in the alien war.

Like many of the HS books, the pattern is similar: there’s a strong strain of instalove given the brevity of the work and the heavy focus on action that helps cement the pairing, a new discovery and a final mission where a near-catastrophic event happens…but we all live to see another day, bruised, battered and torn. Dom and Arden don’t exactly stray from this template, but it’s Hackett’s imagination and her ability to throw new developments that ultimately carry the story through.

‘Dom’ is certainly enjoyable throughout, but I’ll confess my heart probably lies with the finale that’s yet to come.

three-half-stars

Wolf Instinct by Paige Tyler

Wolf Instinct by Paige TylerWolf Instinct by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT #9
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 25th June 2019
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

He's a wolf shifter.She hunts monsters.How can she be The One for him?
SWAT werewolf Zane Kendrick will do whatever it takes to take down the man who attacked his pack. His search takes him to Los Angeles, but when he meets Alyssa, the smart, sexy agent who comes to his aid, he's immediately interested in pursuing more than just the next lead. All his wolf instincts tell him that she's The One.

FBI agent Alyssa Carson has investigated some weird stuff lately, and finding missing people drained of their blood definitely falls into that category. When following a clue leads her to Zane, she agrees to work with him and his team. She's attracted to the gorgeous Brit, but she doesn't have time for anything but finding answers.

When Zane and Alyssa discover the sinister truth, it'll take everything they have to make it out of this mission with their lives―and hearts―intact.

This far down the series, you’d be hard-pressed to wonder what Paige Tyler has up her sleeve when it comes to expanding (slowly but surely) the SWAT universe. The holding pattern is admittedly still there: each books typically features a SWAT werewolf’s transformation, then his subsequent journey to finding his ‘One’ soulmate, as Tyler continues the pairing of Zane and an FBI agent who seems to have no problem swallowing that there is something supernatural around Zane and his team members.

Honestly, I’m a little indifferent to Zane/Alyssa’s lightning-fast relationship which felt a little lacklustre—having established the theory of ‘The One’ early on in the series by default sort of permits the author to justify some degree of instalove/lust—because the way the pairing is written doesn’t feel all too unique from the other pairs that came in Tyler’s previous books.
I was however, engrossed instead by the direction ‘Wolf Instinct’ took. What I didn’t expect was Tyler’s huge step into the paranormal with more creatures of the night joining the fray as the werewolf SWAT team gets more deeply embroiled in the whole hunter/werewolf fiasco, with some new and intriguing plot strands that do show some potential for future books. The ending left me nonplussed nonetheless, with a hurried and rather abrupt HFN that felt more inconclusive beyond the immediate acknowledgement that Alyssa was easily welcomed by the growing werewolf family in Dallas.
Still, as a standalone, ‘Wolf Instinct’ does work and the gift of Tyler’s writing is that she makes it easy reading for those who feel intimidated jumping straight into the ninth book of a series. There’s sufficient action and enough of a game-changer reveal, so to speak, towards the three-quarter mark that left me intrigued and curious enough about what Tyler might write about next.
three-half-stars

Savaged by Mia Sheridan

Savaged by Mia SheridanSavaged by Mia Sheridan
Published by Mia Sheridan on 28th May 2019
Pages: 349
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three-half-stars

When wilderness guide, Harper Ward, is summoned to the small town sheriff’s office in Helena Springs, Montana, to provide assistance on a case, she is shocked to find that their only suspect in the double murder investigation is a man described as a savage.

But the longer she watches the man known only as Lucas, on the station surveillance camera, the more intrigued she becomes. He certainly looks primitive with his unkempt appearance and animal skin attire, but she also sees intelligence in his eyes, sensitivity in his expression. Who is he? And how is it possible that he’s lived alone in the forest since he was a small child?

As secrets begin to emerge, Harper is thrust into something bigger and more diabolical than she ever could have imagined. And standing right at the center of it all, is Lucas. But is he truly the wild man he appears to be? A cold blooded killer? An innocent victim? Or a perplexing mix of all three?

Harper must find out the answers to these questions because the more time she spends with him, the more she risks losing her heart.

‘Savaged’ is an interesting read, to say the least, with an intriguing and a deliberately contextless start, but a slight, sagging middle that pulled the momentum of the plot development down a little. But Mia Sheridan has hopped on a trope that I like: the savage man and the civilised woman, so to speak and it wasn’t a hard decision to pick the book up despite some bad experiences I’ve had with her past books.

Jak’s story is told in fragmented bits, where past and present slowly come together in alternating chapters until it all gets caught up in the present. His meeting with Harper is serendipitous in some way, but made more so because of the rose-tinted sheen that Sheridan’s writing takes on particularly in ‘Savaged’: a mix of purple prose with long, long, descriptive inner monologues and descriptive paragraphs where star-crossed characters can almost mind-read others’ thoughts without much effort, sometimes to the point that it crosses into disbelief.

Honestly, it’s the kind of writing that I’m more familiar with in Sheridan’s arguably best-known work ‘Archer’s voice’ and in this respect, Jak/Harper’s story is a standout on its own because it’s just as unusual. As engaging as the early chapters were however, Jak’s background did feel at times, far-fetched (there’s just so far one can run with the social experimentation trope) and my scepticism often warred with the struggle to accept the plausibility of it.

But it’s clearly a case of ‘just me’ here when it comes to Sheridan’s writing style and the pattern of the storytelling and ‘Savaged’ still remains one of the better ones I’ve read from this author.

three-half-stars

Ghost by Janie Crouch

Ghost by Janie CrouchGhost by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #5
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on May 21st 2019
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Everyone eventually breaks under torture.

It’s a truth elite solider and government agent Dorian Lindstrom, codename Ghost, knows firsthand. His body may have recovered from what was done to him in that Afghani prison six years ago, but his mind…not quite so much.

He’s seeing dead people.

Grace Brandt, government codename Wraith, knows her past can’t be forgiven. She has stayed “dead” for as long as she could, but now the forces she’s been fighting, the secrets slowly suffocating her, won’t stay hidden any longer.

And the man she helped break—the man she's always loved—is the only one who can stop the danger threatening them all.

When it comes to keeping the people he loves safe, including the one who thinks she’s not worthy of it, there is no danger—past, present or future—Dorian won’t battle.


The Ghost will rise.

I’m in a bind.

What do you do, when the basis of romance—the believable pairing of 2 characters you need to root for and believe in—doesn’t quite work for you, even though the premise of the story itself is quite intriguing?

If I were to approach ‘Ghost’ from a non-romantic perspective, then the whole covert-spying, black-ops stuff with tons of brain-washing involved is one that can—and did—keep me on my toes. I loved the twists and turns; rather, I liked how Janie Crouch didn’t simply stop but kept going past the point where I expected the climax and resolution to be.

But as acknowledged in the afterword, Crouch recognises that the female protagonist—Grace Brandt, aka Ray (what the hell kind of name is that?)—isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And she definitely isn’t mine, more so because she’s written to be the other half of a damaged character whose story I’ve always hankered after from the very start.

Wary, suspicious, morally suspect and prone to simply run with Dorian always chasing after her…that she was Ghost’s, or rather, Dorian’s other half, was frankly a hard pill to swallow. This time, the repetitive arguments of her not being good enough for him seemed spot-on, and I’d spent the whole time wishing Crouch had simply chosen a different protagonist for Dorian. It also seemed inevitable that Dorian/Grace’s HEA didn’t feel sufficiently set in stone, even if it were a touch of the realistic that Crouch was aiming for after all that both had gone through.

My rating of ‘Ghost’ is probably quite an arbitrary one. I’d be the first to admit that it turned out as ‘average’ because I was weighing the romance against the plot and while the latter was not bad, it was weighed down completely by the former that I didn’t buy into at all.

three-stars

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