Category: Speculative Fiction

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette CrossWolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross
Series: Stay A Spell #1
Published by Juliette Cross on 14th January 2020
Pages: 378
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

What's the worst thing that can happen to a werewolf? Unable to shift for three months, Mateo Cruz knows all too well. His wolf has taken up residence in his head, taunting him night and day with vividly violent and carnal thoughts. Convinced he's cursed, he needs the help of a powerful witch before he literally goes insane.

​Evie Savoie has always obeyed the house rules of her coven--no werewolves. They're known for being moody and volatile. So, when a distempered, dangerous werewolf strolls into the bar and almost strangles one of her late-night customers, she's ready to bounce him through the door. But the desperation in his eyes when he begs her to help him softens her heart and convinces her to bend the rules.

​What Evie doesn't know is that Mateo's wolf has a mind of his own. And now that she's in his sights, he wants only one thing. Her.

‘Wolf Gone Wild’ has an insanely attractive blurb, I’ll admit. A man who’s going insane with a wolf that’s barely leashed stumbling into a bar/restaurant asking a witch for help, when these two paths shall never cross? It’s sort of forbidden in a way, but Evie Savoie isn’t going to turn away a man in need.

Juliette Cross’s worldbuilding comes in early on: there’re long-lived supernatural beings littering the streets of New Orleans, each with their own coven, den or some other mysterious clan and the uneasy peace is kept by the Savoie witch Sisters, each with their own unique powers. But when a hex so strong is placed on Mateo Cruz, the witches find that they have to welcome a werewolf into their covern, despite what traditions dictate.

I loved the starting few chapters, where Cross’s writing was tinged with humour as Mateo battled his inner wolf with some hilarious inner conversations, most of which dealt with trying to talk sense into a lusty, bloodthirsty wolf that was straining at the leash to break people’s limbs and be dirty with women. The very slow buildup was as much as it was foreplay as it was full of innuendo and suggestive winks; Mateo’s dirty inner wolf drove a lot of it but it did plateau after a while as this became status quo each time Mateo and Evie spent time together.

This was however, also where the plot evened out after an upward climb, which went on for a while and I found myself trudging to the halfway mark before wondering if the progress between in Mateo’s case (aside from their heaving chests, salacious talk, etc) was going anywhere soon. The more interesting bits were the hints of future pairings as the story wore on, and I lapped those up more eagerly than I did of Mateo/Evie after the first half.

Still, this was a fun read, with a heavy dose of Star Wars geekery tossed in and if you like your paranormal romances juggling the ominous and the light-hearted, this is the one to go for.

three-stars

Shadows by Kristen Proby

Shadows by Kristen ProbyShadows by Kristen Proby
Series: Bayou Magic, #1
Published by Ampersand Publishing, Inc. on 29th October 2019
Pages: 324
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

I am never alone. Not even when I am alone. I see the unquiet dead, the souls that wander through the French Quarter.

They can’t move on, and I can’t stop seeing them. I wear malachite for protection, and I control what I let in. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Everything changes the day Cassian Winslow joins my ghost walking tour and knocks my world off its axis with green eyes the color of the stone around my neck.

An unspeakable evil is loose in New Orleans, taking young women and leaving a bloodbath in his wake.

More shadows lurking for me. More unhappy dead. There might be a way to stop it. Open myself up to Cassian. If I do, it could spell his death. But if I don’t, it’s mine.

In the bayou of New Orleans (a place that certainly lends credibility to the paranormal plot), three sisters gifted with paranormal abilities are suddenly thrust into a fight for their survival when things happening in the physical start mirroring what happens in the paranormal plane. If the story begins with a seemingly harmless ghost walking tour and an near-instant connection between Brielle and Cash, it ends with a creepy suggestion that there is more than just the present life that stalks these characters and that much had already gotten me wanting the rest of the series.

Brielle and Cash’s relationship is angst-free and easy; the road bumps they face aren’t in the developing relationship itself, but in the obstacles they face in keeping Brielle alive. There are spooky bits to keep you wide-eyed, insane twists that keep the story going just when you think it’s over and lots of heart-racing thrills to haunt you out of a peaceful night’s sleep way past the last page.

‘Shadows’ is quite a departure from what I’ve expected of Kristen Proby’s books and it’s a change that surprised me—and not a bad one either, given how quickly I inhaled the paranormal elements and the things that quite literally went bump in the night. The combination of suspense and the paranormal isn’t new, but Proby might have stumbled into a winning one here.

four-stars

Shifter Planet: The Return by D.B Reynolds

Shifter Planet: The Return by D.B ReynoldsShifter Planet: The Return by D.B. Reynolds
Series: Shifter Planet #2
Published by Entangled tangled Publishing, LLC (Amara) on 14th October 2019
Pages: 276
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Rachel Fortier is a much sought-after expert when it comes to exotic planets—especially the deadly kind. So when she’s hired by Earth Fleet’s most respected scientist to join a mission to the tightly closed planet Harp, it’s a dream come true. Until she discovers their mission is to capture shifters and sell them to the Military.

Shifter Aidan Devlin is on patrol far from his clan when he sees a shuttlecraft landing where it definitely shouldn’t be. As the invaders emerge, he’s surprised to see a lone lovely woman, who doesn’t seem to belong. But when he’s captured and put in a cage, he has no one but her to help him escape.

Drawn together by a hunger they can’t resist, and desperate to discover who betrayed Harp, Aidan and Rachel first have to survive a deadly journey to the city. But once there, they find themselves confronted by a conspiracy that goes even deeper. Because Harp is harboring a traitor. And he’s willing to destroy their world—and everything in it—to get what he wants.

‘Shifter Planet: The Return’ plunges us back to a future where a long-isolated earth-colony comes under scrutiny by Earthers once again, and with it, its closely-guarded secrets that threaten to come to light. I’ve a soft spot for this series ever since D.B. Reynolds brought Harp and its shifter-inhabitants to my e-reader, so it’s more than welcome to see that she isn’t done with this world yet.

But while Reynolds’s world-building is fascinating, detailed and complex, much of it feels—quite literally—as the title suggests, a return to the first book, plot-wise as well, only with 2 different protagonists who are much like the first book’s pairing. Aiden and Rachel Fortier face Harp’s wildlife as their main threat as well as a traitor in the midst, with Earth’s growing interest in what Harp can offer.

Reynold’s biggest attraction perhaps, was an incredibly capable heroine battling prejudices (sometimes even with a hint of misogyny Rachel faces), showing time and again how she shouldn’t have been underestimated in the wild as she took more than adequate care of herself. I couldn’t exactly understand her dogged determination to walk straight to the enemy other than the insistence he needed to be confronted and that her reputation was on the line, but it was the driving momentum behind Rachel’s actions, along with a carefully-orchestrated series of events that led to the big reveal.

Deception played a big part here nonetheless; lying by omission and distrust carried on for a while and I was relieved actually, to be past that at around the halfway mark.

What proved to be the book’s annoying downer was probably Aiden’s manwhoring ways that were repeatedly thrown in my face, then justified immediately after by the fact that casual sex was encouraged among shifters and how much the ladies loved him and how many women he’d screwed. There was the mild implication Rachel was a woman Aiden could lose his heart to and make him want more because she could handle herself around him and in the wild when the rest of the soft city-women couldn’t, and that felt vaguely insulting somehow—as though he’d needed someone to meet those standards to ‘change’ his ways, so to speak when the rest wouldn’t get a sniff since they weren’t good enough.

As much as I liked the epic adventure through the planet, the romance fell short at the end: a hurried few lines about whether Rachel should leave for earth, an even quicker declaration of love and…that’s it. In fact, much of it felt incomplete, with an epilogue that had nothing to do with the main pairing and a vague suggestion that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Harp and its inhabitants.

In short, I wasn’t too sure what to make of this. It’s a compelling read—this made me stay past my bedtime—but it’s the realisation afterward that the similarities this bore to the first book and a rather unlikeable ‘hero’ for much of it that gave me pause about what could have been a higher rating.

three-stars

The Lost Spear by N.J. Croft

The Lost Spear by N.J. CroftThe Lost Spear by N.J. Croft
Series: Lost #0.5
Published by Sideways Books on 26th August 2019
Pages: 114
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Archaeologist Dr. Eve Blakeley has dedicated her life's work to finding Genghis Khan's final resting place. But first she'll have to find the Spirit Banner, Khan's lost spear, an eight-hundred-year-old weapon shrouded in as much mystery and lore as his lost tomb. The two are intertwined by centuries of secrets.

During her search through the mountains of Mongolia, she's joined by MI6 agent Zachary Martin, who is convinced that recent, seemingly random acts of terror around the globe are somehow connected to her.

But as they follow the clues to the spear, the line between her historical research and present-day terrorism blurs even more... Someone doesn't want her team to find the spear, and they'll do anything to keep the secrets of Genghis Khan buried forever.

It’s strange that ‘The Lost Spear’ came as part of the ARC offering under Entangled Publishing. But the blurb wasn’t one that I could resist, so I took a chance on an archaeological thriller, not knowing whether it was actually part of an imprint primarily associated with romantic fiction.

The long and short of it is, ‘The Lost Spear’ would be a disappointment especially if you think this is one that falls under that category. The romance plot is thin and weak, with the barest hint (that’s more told than showed) of what could happen between several characters. That the male protagonist (is MI6 agent Zachary Martin even one?) was kissing Eve Blakeley with nary a hint of chemistry while contemplating his own feelings towards his recently-dead partner mere pages ago didn’t really bode well for a strong romance.

That said, if archaeology and searching out lost items, racing against time if your thing, then ‘The Lost Spear’ does well to outline an intriguing mystery surrounding Genghis Khan and his Spirit Banner and the quest to find it.

But at 114 pages, it felt like this went nowhere, with a compendium of theories about the Spirit Banner, the revelation of bad guys who quite predictably masqueraded as good guys and an unsatisfactory cliffhanger that at the end, left me wondering if this was just a circular walk in the steppes of Central Asia. It’s a clear setup for what looks like a full-length sequel, but I’m not sure if I’m into this enough to continue.

two-stars

Wolf Rebel by Paige Tyler

Wolf Rebel by Paige TylerWolf Rebel by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team #10
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th November 2019
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

She let him get away

SWAT werewolf Rachel Bennett is hounded by nightmares after a vicious attack left her with PTSD. Not knowing who or what she can trust anymore, she's relieved to be assigned to a high-profile protective detail. Diving into work might be the distraction she needs, until she notices the mysterious hunk who seems to follow her wherever she goes―and recognizes him.

Now he needs her help...

After he's badly injured, former Navy SEAL Knox Lawson seeks out Rachel when he realizes he's turning into a werewolf. He'd once been part of the group hunting her kind, but he knew he had to quit when he found Rachel in his crosshairs. Now he desperately needs her help.

Rachel isn't sure she trusts Knox, but having him around keeps the nightmares―and the monster creating them―away. Knox might not know much about being a werewolf, but there's no doubt he'll do everything in his power to win her trust and keep her safe.

With a rapidly growing menagerie of paranormal creatures injecting new life into the SWAT series, ‘Wolf Rebel’ is a fun and campy, enemies-to-lovers with a twist story as Paige Tyler ups the ante here with more than just repetitive storylines of werewolves obsessed with finding their mates. Whether Tyler has consciously done this deliberate kink in the growing narrative arc or not, it’s one I can definitely appreciate—it does keep things fresh if you’re concerned with the onset of reader-boredom that far down this series.

A malicious entity taking the form of an evil clown, a traumatised cop and an ex-SEAL turned ex-hunter turned werewolf (how’s karma for that?) find themselves tangled in a thriller-romantic suspense mix that thankfully doesn’t cut too deep in order to retain its entertainment value. Essentially, ‘Wolf Rebel’ took a direction that I wasn’t expecting but it was easy to hop on for the squinty-eyed ride as shapeshifters, vampires and other paranormal things came together with faint echoes of Stephen King’s IT tied to even fainter echoes of gothic (?) horror.

Rachel Bennett and Knox Lawson might seem an unlikely pair, but Tyler writes them in a way that does work with the multiple obstacles that they both face. Their getting together isn’t as drama-laden as I thought it would be; external circumstances bring them together so that means there isn’t overt conflict for the sake of deliberately tearing a couple apart before some third party intervenes to drive them back together.

Suspension of disbelief is par for the course, but ‘Wolf Rebel’ seems to have regained that panache I thought the series started lacking in the middling few books, with a newly expanded arc that bodes pretty well for future books.

four-stars

War by Laura Thalassa

War by Laura ThalassaWar by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen, #2
Published by Independently Published on 11th July 2019
Pages: 502
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

They came to earth-Pestilence, War, Famine, Death-four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

The day Jerusalem falls, Miriam Elmahdy knows her life is over. Houses are burning, the streets run red with blood, and a traitorous army is massacring every last resident. There is no surviving this, especially not once Miriam catches the eye of War himself. But when the massive and terrifying horseman corners Miriam, he calls her his wife, and instead of killing her, he takes her back to his camp.

Now Miriam faces a terrifying future, one where she watches her world burn town by town, and the one man responsible for it all is her seemingly indestructible "husband". But there's another side to him, one that's gentle and loving and dead set on winning her over, and she might not be strong enough to resist.

However, if there's one thing Miriam has learned, it's that love and war cannot coexist. And so she must make the ultimate choice: surrender to War and watch humankind fall, or sacrifice everything and stop him.

The premise of the Four Horsemen (and the mortal women they find along the way) is an unusual one and it’s a massive read that you’ll need to hunker down with.

After going through ‘War’ and ‘Pestilence’, it does appear that the emerging pattern winding its way through the series will probably involve every horseman on the warpath of judgement and destruction while their mortal women fight to save the human race. But Laura Thalassa doesn’t shy away from brutality and perhaps that’s in part, what makes ‘War’ so difficult to put down as I made my way wide-eyed through the pages and saw things through Miriam Elmahdy’s eyes as they happened. The imagining of a post-apocalyptic world that burns and crumbles when wave after wave of destruction hits, where judgement is unrelentingly meted out by otherworldly beings is strangely, a seductive idea.

But it’s precisely here that I stumbled too. The biblical overtones—the title and the series say it all—made it impossible to ignore the eschatological implications of whatever one’s religious leanings might be about the end of the world. Still, whether theology or religion or whatever those beliefs are though, it could be harder for some more than others, I think, to swallow an author’s execution of the end times, hook, line and sinker.

The harder part to believe however, was that a long-lived ‘heavenly’ (manwhoring) creature got laid low by a young woman, then had his plans for riding through the earth and bringing death derailed because he fell in love and gained some measure of human emotion. That their heavenly mission so to speak, was eventually realised as a ‘wrong’ one made it seem like a negation of the idea of supernatural judgement—one that Thalassa pulled out so strongly from the start—and perhaps, a reversal of what the book was so strongly built on (and which I had already bought into) from the very start.

Thalassa hints at War and Miriam as broader types of war and love and that the reconciliation of these both as ideas and characters would mean some kind of catastrophic turn in the plot – and a turn there was. The irony was that as War shed his otherworldly beliefs and took on more empathetic human traits, the story lost a little more of its sheen for me at the very end.

The long and short of it is, suspension of disbelief is par for the course and if the middle sags a little with a bit of repetitive storytelling, the riveting last quarter most likely made up for it. ‘War’ is by and large, well-written, both in characterisation and the odd (meta) pockets of humour that peeked out of the pages—this is where the lengthy storytelling helped and very few of the scenes actually felt like page-fillers for the sake of…page-filling. But it succeeded in making me think, so in many ways, I’d say ‘War’ is quite the success.

three-half-stars

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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