Tag: Antipodean Authors

Fighting Absolution by Kate McCarthy

Fighting Absolution by Kate McCarthyFighting Absolution by Kate McCarthy
Published by Kate McCarthy on 10th September 2019
Pages: 404
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four-stars

"She's a combat medic.He's SAS, and her best friend.They weren't supposed to fall in love."

At fifteen, Jamie Murphy finds herself broken and alone, convinced she doesn't need anyone.

Until she does.

Bear is the boy behind the fence, the one who was there for her when no one else was.

Until he's not.

Left with nothing, Jamie joins the army hoping it will give her purpose. The last thing she expects is the best friend from her past to reappear in the dusty plains of a war-torn country. No longer the boy she once knew, Bear is now a man: big, bearded, and SAS—one of the army’s elite.

Soon Jamie finds herself not only fighting against her enemies, but her feelings for a man who left her once before. Can she risk losing him all over again?

‘Fighting Absolution’ is not quite a conventional romance, so that’s best to get that out of the way at the start. For those who are used to the establishing scene of the protagonists following a particular trope they are familiar with, this tosses all of it out of the window. Maybe I’m one of those, so inured to tropes and straight-up, direct coupledom despite the difficulty the protagonists face getting together. After all, it’s the classification of romance, isn’t it?

Kate McCarthy strays from this a fair bit and inadvertently, treads on several triggers or safety boundaries that some readers might have. Incidental friends to lovers? Second chances? Or second choices? It’s hard to sit down and categorise it, as mixed as I am even as I write this review.

In short, I was afraid that this would become a love triangle within a ‘growing-up’ type of story. In some ways, it is, and it isn’t, with some layers of complication (read: deception) between the protagonists. The romantic trajectory isn’t a straight one where both protagonists meet and then things are immediately set in stone from there onwards. It certainly follows Jamie Murphy’s journey more than a couple’s journey together for at least a third of the book, then takes a bit of a skewed turn when a third party so to speak, gets introduced.

Honestly, I’m sort of uncomfortable with the this particular skew, but these are my own expectations talking because of McCarthy messing with my own idea of ‘meant-to-be’ that I’m used to in romantic fiction. It’s not a bad read by any means, though there is the usual frustrating push-pull, some stubbornness and the lack of communication resulting in could-be-avoided-conflict as the narrative shifts from angsty to oddly light-hearted and back to angsty again.

‘Fighting Absolution’ is a longer read with New Adult inclinations, and told in the shadow of war, PTSD and difficult personal histories, has a plot that relies on losses and gains for its emotional momentum. I’m not entirely sure how many years slip by between the pages, but the passage of time and the slow burn give the HEA a bit more depth and credence. I liked parts of it, was uncomfortable with some of the others…and that is going to be my bottom-line. But it wasn’t hard to get caught up with the drama of it all, and for that alone, it was quite worth it.

four-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

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

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh

Wolf Rain by Nalini SinghWolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3, #3, Psy-Changeling #18
Published by Berkley on 4th June 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

The end of Silence was supposed to create a better world for future generations. But trust is broken, and the alliance between Psy, Changeling, and human is thin. The problems that led to Silence are back in full force. Because Silence fixed nothing, just hid the problems.

This time, the Psy have to find a real answer to their problems–if one exists. Or their race will soon go extinct in a cascade of violence. The answer begins with an empath who is attuned to monsters–and who is going to charm a wolf into loving her despite his own demons.

Nalini Singh’s über-popular Psy-Changeling series probably needs no introduction that far gone into its second series, set in the future when the Trinity Accord has been signed and a cautious peace has settled amongst the three races populating an alternate version of Earth.

The Psy-Changeling verse has expanded so much by this point that it’s practically impossible to jump into and rush through ‘Wolf Rain’ as a standalone. By and large, I did think Singh handled most aspects of the sheer size/weight of her own intricate world-building quite deftly here: the precarious juggle between the bonds of pack and romance and the weighted history that the races have, the larger, wider implications of the collapsing Psy-Net, the latent and new threats and the supporting characters who still have dedicated scenes for readers who can’t let them go.

‘Wolf Rain’ deals with the subtleties of the Psy, or rather, the subtleties of the Empaths who’d been cast aside who rose to prominence after the fall of Silence with the introduction of a rather aggravating, loud-broadcasting captive Empath Psy who simply doesn’t fit the designation E to a tee. After a quick look at other changeling groups in the first two books of this new season however, ‘Wolf Rain’ for this reason, feels oddly like a return to, or at least, a lateral expansion of the Snowdancer/Dark River-centric books where changelings shifters mostly get paired by with their former Psy enemies. Alexei Vasiliev Harte finds his mate in Memory here (battling a serial-killer at the same time) while sub-plots push forward the ongoing story of Psy-life after Trinity.

Every path is a hard-fought one, on the personal and the collective level—reflected by the longer than usual narrative—and needless to say, Alexei/Memory’s one is also a push-pull based on experience, insecurity and fear. Admittedly, this is a pairing that didn’t enthral me as much as Singh’s other couples and as a romance, didn’t quite live up to other pairings that had moved me a lot more…so this sort of impacted my rating of the overall story nonetheless.

Still, I liked the nuanced exploration of the fascinating PsyNet that draws so much from facets of computer networking and meta systems and that alone perhaps, makes ‘Wolf Rain’ worth it.

three-half-stars

Tame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Tame Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezTame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Far North #6
Published by Tracey Alvarez on 15th March 2019
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Loving your enemy is harder than you’d think…

Tui Ngata loathes the Griffin family after a wildfire tore through her family farm seventeen years ago and her father was accused of starting it. While on vacation in a tropical paradise she’s able to forget the bone-deep feud with her neighbors and find one night of pleasure in the arms of a handsome stranger. Until she finds out this stranger isn’t who she thought he was…

After his uncle died in the tragic fire that destroyed hundreds of acres of his family farm, Architect Kyle Griffin has made a life for himself far away from Bounty Bay. But he’s drawn back, forced into sorting out the mess and drama his Grandfather’s death has left behind. The distraction is hopefully one way to forget the beautiful woman who’s haunted his every waking moment since the end of his vacation. Except he can’t forget her, especially when he discovers the lasting consequences which will forever unwillingly bind them together.

But someone doesn’t want Kyle and Tui falling in love. And that someone is willing to raze their lives to ashes to prevent them fraternizing with the enemy.

Well, let’s start with this.

Tracey Alvarez’s writing always holds a special place in my reader-heart. There’ve been many times when I’ve favourited some of her books from either the Far North or the Down South series, but unfortunately, ‘Tame Your Heart’ isn’t quite one of them, even if it’s a long-awaited return to a stubborn Ngata sibling and a guy who, from the enemy-side of the fence, shouldn’t be a fantastic man but is—just as the former just refuses to see it.

And the story’s got enough hooks to pull you in, with several elements put together well enough—bad blood and even worse history between families, an accidental pregnancy, a one-night stand with the ‘enemy’, a small mystery—to keep the pages turning. What I did appreciated, was Alvarez’s subtle, nuanced portrayal of the Maori and their very personal connections to the land that they have, the stigma that had grown around the injustices they faced (and by extension, the indirect reference to the cultural trauma that they’ve suffered).

The addition of a fat ginger cat, is a bonus.

But what then, do you do, when you like 1 half of the pairing Alvarez has written and absolutely loathe the other?

I’ve always found it a fine line between someone trying to assert his/her independence and being obnoxious or TSTL about it and Tui Ngata fell into the latter category. In fleeing the very stigma she’d feared she’d become when she was a teen, Tui became the opposite thing she was afraid of: still stuck in a different rut of her own, a flight risk with a penchant for running and bolting at everything when she felt threatened at the ripe old age of 31 seeking to have fun and never being tied down.

I had a problem with her ‘wild-child’ character personally; counting the number of times she tried to leave, or storm out or deflect when the going got tough made me lose my patience with her just as Kyle seemed to have his own work cut out for him: to do everything within his means to get a fully-grown adult to learn what commitment is, who regressed into a teenage version of her hormonal self at every turn someone tried to be reasonable with her. Free-spirited she was not; instead I found her cowardly immature and rebellious for the sake of being so because she could, prone to making things all about herself and determined to deny/belittle what she had with Kyle just so that she could bail out.

My rating reflects my own conflict about the book and probably about the series so far. It’s also one that’s more disappointed than disapproving, where I wished the romance and the characters could have been done differently. The bottomline is this: there was so much I wanted to like—my own unreasoning love for New Zealand playing a big part of it along with Alvarez’s writing—and so much more I wished I could have rooted for.

three-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