Category: Action/Adventure

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
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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

Total Control by Laura Griffin

Total Control by Laura GriffinTotal Control by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew, #4
Published by Gallery Books on 2nd September 2019
Pages: 183
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two-half-stars

Navy SEAL Jake Heath has his eyes on Alexa Mays. The FBI Agent is whip smart and hot as hell, but she won’t give him the time of day. So, when she calls him out of blue, he thinks his luck has changed.

But instead of meeting up for a romantic dinner, Alexa needs Jake for a very different reason. Her counterterrorism team is hot on the heels of the extremist that Jake’s task force has been tracking for months, and now he’s on American soil. The only way she can take him down is with Jake’s help.

Alexa knows Jake is tough and relentless...and that the chemistry between them is electric. Although she’s risking her heart—and maybe even her career—by bringing him onto the mission, she doesn’t have another choice. Together, they’re an unstoppable and powerful team.

As the hours tick by and a lethal enemy gets closer to launching an unimaginable attack, Alexa and Jake need to fight fire with fire before the clock runs out. The only question is: will their own flames get in the way?

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Ops’ series and I have been on rocky ground since day one; it is so startling dissimilar to the heart-pounding crime thrillers that she writes that these brief, novella-length works feel like they’ve been penned by someone else, both in style and in plot-execution. Yet I keep returning to them, hoping that each one would get better, even as ‘Total Control’ has left me on the fence.

Everything was cursory here: context and histories that were told rather than shown, explained away with a few lines rather than drawn out with chapters, and lacked the usual solid development that Griffin’s careful plotting in her full-length works contain. Her protagonists’ connection seemed forced especially when Alexa Mays only decided to give Jake Heath the time of day after 6 months of radio silence because she needed something from him.

In fact, it was harder to like Alexa at all, when Griffin seemed to have set her up as callous and manipulative from the beginning, which made Jake’s willingness (by blowing off his family for her) to ingratiate himself into her good books even more inexplicable. I think, above all, there were scenes that lacked the ‘softer’ emotional bits—or rather, vulnerability—that would, ironically, given an action-packed story more edge and more impact. That it went from zero to a hundred towards the last quarter—a bit of a feat considering this topped out at a rushed 120-ish pages on my reader—was something that came unexpectedly, though not in an unwelcome fashion, until it tapered off to a rather abrupt conclusion that felt like a HFN.

I’m not ashamed to say that I liked the past 20 or so pages the best, which nonetheless, still wasn’t quite enough to erase the lacklustre first half. I only wished ‘Total Control’ was a full-length (and more balanced) book and had it been, it would have been phenomenal.

two-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
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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

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth EssexAlmost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex
Series: The Reckless Brides, #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on 31st July 2012
Pages: 353
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four-stars

A Lady in Disguise
For generations, the Kents have served proudly with the British Royal Navy. So when her younger brother refuses to report for duty, Sally Kent slips into a uniform and takes his place—at least until he comes to his senses. Boldly climbing aboard the Audacious, Sally is as able-bodied as any sailor there. But one man is making her feel tantalizingly aware of the full-bodied woman beneath her navy blues…

A Man Overboard
Dedicated to his ship, sworn to his duty—and distractingly gorgeous—Lieutenant David Colyear sees through Sally’s charade, and he’s furious. But he must admit she’s the best midshipman on board—and a woman who tempts him like no other. With his own secrets to hide and his career at stake, Col agrees to keep her on. But can the passion they hide survive the perils of a battle at sea? Soon, their love and devotion will be put to the test…

‘Almost a Scandal’ was an automatic read because it’s got those gender-bending qualities that I love, or at least it’s has a Mulan-esque sheen of a woman dressing as a man to in a male-dominated field that somehow always pulls me in.

Yet strangely, Elizabeth Essex’s writing, so focused on Regency-period British naval supremacy, shines precisely not quite in the wonder of cross-dressing or gender relations, but in this, more so particularly if you’re interested in the intricacies of bringing a warship ship out and engaging in battle, though the sheer detail of every movement, every activity done on board could be tedious if you’re in it more for the romance itself than the setting. It’s well-researched, a little jolly for the tough conditions of war, perhaps, but delivers a breath of fresh sea-air.

Still, amidst the drama of the high seas, Sally Kent and Colyear’s relationship is one forged out of family history, hard-earned respect, battle-worn lines and sexual tension bursting at the seams. A slow burn, the many smouldering looks between them and the inevitable sense of mounting passion kept me engrossed and jittery, more so because Essex’s protagonists are generally likeable and never exactly fall over the rail in a fit of histrionics.

A curious mix of naïveté and a highly-developed sense of justice, Sally Kent is as capable, or perhaps even more so than quite a few men on the Audacious, while Col—intense, controlled, so dedicated and so brilliant until Sally unravels him—feels like the brooding, swoonworthy-type who oddly enough, generally lacks the off-putting, prickish vibe of the male protagonists in more traditional historical romances. It was no hardship to root for this pairing, maybe because it was easy to like them as individuals first.

But perhaps what Essex has done towards the end in not short-changing the reader into an abrupt conclusion but one that’s painfully drawn out to an ending that’s well-deserved is what really makes ‘Almost a Scandal’ a very memorable foray into a historical romance.

four-stars

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Griff by Anna Hackett

Griff by Anna HackettGriff by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #17
on March 17th 2019
Pages: 186
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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 Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

I’ve so missed the Hell Squad series and ‘Griff’ is a return to something that has been a lengthy absence in Anna Hackett’s post-apocalyptic world for quite a long time. It’s back to alien-squashing, living to fight yet another day as the squads do battle against bug-ugly, dinosaur-like invaders.

What I liked was the slow expansion of the universe yet again, the insertion of a slightly different sub-plot here and I do sort of scent the end of the series coming, or at least, one that closes out this huge arc that started 17 books ago, though the potential for spin-offs or side-stories is near limitless.

With Griff and Indy however…

The brother’s best-friend trope has always made me raise my brows a little in any case. Why would there be a so-called bro-code of never going after the sister unless your best friend’s an arse of massive proportions, which then would lead me to question why you’d even have such an arse for a best friend. But if you’re a standup, good bloke, then the bro-code wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it?

Indy and Griff sort of fitted into this pattern from the start and while Hackett did write a love-hate sort of relationship with Indy pushing Griff away after his initial rejection, the question of why Griff decided that he wanted Indy only now, when he didn’t do a thing about it (and even was engaged to someone else) for the past decade at all went unaddressed. Still, their romance, the secrets Griff hid and their heavy pasts did feel somewhat glossed over in favour of the instant lust/sex, and because an alien invasion and getting injured in the line of duty apparently seemed to trump every rejection and feelings of resentment built up over the years. There was more of a story there or at least, should have been more of a story there that I felt could have been told.

Still, I can’t say I regret the action and the suspense, particularly now so that the endgame seems to loom ever nearer. Griff and Indy weren’t as quite unique a pairing as some of the others that Hackett has written, but as far as the build-up of what felt like a coming final battle, that’s got me already clenching in anticipation.

three-half-stars

Tormented by Alison Aimes

Tormented by Alison AimesTormented by Alison Aimes
Series: The Condemned #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 29th 2019
Pages: 266
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three-half-stars

She was never meant to be his…

Two ruthless enemies.
One cage.
Zero chance of escape.
An explosive lust that can’t be contained.

Council assassin Jade Lakotesh survives by trusting no one. Attachments a weakness. Sex a weapon. Her mission success rate flawless. Until she ends up naked, captured, and collared, her latest assignment in jeopardy. The blame for her predicament: the hothead, scarred man who prowls the cage beside her—his confusing appeal a danger she has no idea how to neutralize.

Ex-Resistance fighter Walsh Ryker hit rock bottom with the deaths of those he loved most. Now, he’s plummeted to a new low, trapped with a cellmate as ice cold as she is stunningly hot. She’s out for blood, lacks any ability to cooperate…and leaves him more alive than he’s been in years. For a man no longer interested in feeling anything at all, she may be the greatest hazard he’s faced to date.

As danger mounts and they must work together to defeat a shared threat, will the unwelcome passion between these two enemies entomb them in the dark forever—or be the key that sets them free?

It has been quite a while since I’ve returned to Alison Aimes’s ‘The Condemned’ series, but it’s entertaining as hell with a bit of a spin to the tale of enemies-to-lovers and a flashy, bloody and violent B-movie erotica vibe.

I was hoping in some ways, for a continuation for Bella and Caine’s story after the first book. But Aimes is taking the series in a different direction and I’m slowly coming round to it, as her focus shifts onto the inhabitants of the brutal penal planet Dragath25 and the slow unravelling of the politics between a dystopian earth and corruption that shows good/evil is not as it seems.

Aimes pits the cold, robotic Jade Lakotesh against former resistance fighter-turned-slave Walsh Ryker and it’s not at all smooth-sailing from start to end, but I was surprised—pleasantly—by the twists and turns in story, and the gradual expansion of the world-building that seemed to be gaining steam without any signs of flagging. Essentially, it was much more than what the blurb suggested and much more than what I was expecting and that always turns out well.

The instant lust that made me cringe aside, Aimes does handle character and pacing quite well (there were parts that had me rather frustrated with them both nonetheless). Still, the biggest draw of ‘Tormented’ isn’t just about Jade and Ryker, but rather, the sudden opening up of the penal planet ‘verse and the insertions of so many secondary characters that have so much untapped potential.

Sure, it’s flashy and sometimes, probably a little gratuitous when it comes to sex and violence – the amount of dirt and dust had me cringing during the smutty scenes that went on as though these were niggly details not worth bothering about – but at its most basic, this was a fun, roller-coaster ride.

three-half-stars