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TBR Challenge October 2023 – Danger Zone

It’s October! This month always puts us in mind of spookiness and suspense, and thankfully, it looks like Wendy over at the TBR Challenge was thinking along the same lines. Caz found a very satisfying sci-fi thriller, and Lynn jumped into the backlist of a favorite romance suspense author who specializes in high-action plots. What’s your pleasure this October?

A World Away by Carole Cummings & Andy Gallo

When October comes around in the TBR Challenge, the prompt normally makes me think of picking up a paranormal romance or a romantic suspense title, but after I finished A World Away, it was such a perfect fit for the “Danger Zone” prompt, that I decided to veer away from those genres in favour of this exciting fantasy/sci-fi series opener.

A World Away is one of those books that hooked me from the very first page and kept me eagerly turning the pages and getting ever closer to the edge of my seat as the plot unfolded and the stakes kept getting higher. It’s a creative and imaginitive mix of fantasy, sci-fi and romance, a riff on the idea of parallel universes and alternate worlds in which we meet two best friends who have grown up in a world in which some people have special ‘talents’ – telepathy, telekenesis and much more – and which is also a world at war.

Nathan Duffy and Camilo Almenara have been friends ever since they were seven years old, when they met at a special Arcana camp for talented children. Cam actually has little or no talent but was present because the camp was run by his father, the most powerful Arcane-adept there is and a former Colonel in the army who is now responsible for overseeing the training of all those with Arcane potential in the whole of the Eastern Region. The two boys became firm friends and have been practically inseparable ever since. Years later, when they were perhaps on the verge of becoming more than friends, everything changed in the blink of an eye. A drunk driver crashed into Cam’s car, and although Cam walked away without a scratch, Nathan didn’t walk away at all. Somehow his talent – which has always been middling – protected Cam from being hurt, but then tried to heal Nathan and got it wrong, meaning Nathan needed extensive corrective surgery and was left unable to walk without the aid of a leg brace and crutches, and sometimes needing to use a wheelchair.

The accident and the months of recovery and rehab that followed have changed Cam and Nathan’s relationship in ways neither of them is prepared to talk about. Nathan changed, too, he’s more angry and caustic, and is careless of his health in a way that forces Cam into the role of ‘annoying nursmaid’ – which he hates, but which he accepts because he doesn’t really know what else to do or how else to help. Five years later, they’re in college and are still best friends, but Nathan has decided that the best thing he can do for Cam is to push him away – Cam is a genius-level physicist with a brilliant future ahead of him and doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his life as a caretaker for someone with mobility issues simply because he feels guilty. Cam, however, knows exactly what Nathan is trying to do and will have none of it – but he doesn’t know how to convince Nathan that his feelings for him are real and not just the result of some kind of survivor’s guilt.

The one bright spot on the horizon is that as Cam has no Arcane talent and Nathan’s is mediocre – despite showing a lot of promise when he was younger, his talent has never progressed beyond a middling level – they will both escape being drafted to fight in the East/West war that has been going on for longer than living memory. High-skilled adepts are sent to the front and often don’t return, and even Nathan’s disability wouldn’t save him from being drafted if his talent level was higher.

But one day, Nathan inexplicably finds himself in the middle of a dream that isn’t quite a dream and in which he’s him but not him – he can feel both his legs, he’s tied to some weird stone table that is pulling at him, a woman he doesn’t know is snarling questions at him and his own voice is pleading with him to “find Cam, find Cam, find Cam”… before he wakes in his dorm room to find it completely wrecked. The talent he’s kept tightly locked down since the near catastrophe he caused when he was three years old – and which tried to heal him after the accident – must have got away from him while he was in the grips of that nightmare or whatever it was. Terribly shaken and sick to the stomach, Nathan knows he can’t let Cam know about what’s happened. Cam will insist on helping and Nathan isn’t willing to risk putting him in the path of whatever power he is capable of unleashing – it’s too dangerous. But he also knows he won’t be able to hide what’s happening for long, and that once he’s found out, he’ll be pumped full of blockers and cut off from his talent for the rest of his life, or sent off to war. But if that’s the way is has to be then… at least Cam will be safe.

The story is gripping – fast-paced and complex without being confusing, and full of twists and turns. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling it, but we’re thrown into the story on the very first page and are very quickly drawn into the mystery of what is happening to Nathan and why. The writing is excellent – the authors build the suspense skilfully throughout the story, ramping up the tension in some nail-biting set pieces and scary scenarios, and juxtaposing them with some tender and heartwrenching moments between Nathan and Cam, who are both so determined to sacrifice themselves for the other that they sort of fail to see – or admit to – what is right in front of them. I’m not usually the biggest fan of romances where everyone knows the leads are in love but them, and there’s nothing really keeping them apart other than whatever is in their own heads, BUT I didn’t mind it so much here as I was able to put most of it down to youth and inexperience (Nathan and Cam are twenty/twenty-one) and a response to trauma. They’re superbly written characters with a lot of emotional baggage to overcome; there’s some serious pining going on (I’m here for ALL the pining!) and they both show emotional growth and depth as the story progresses. There’s lots of humour and snark and some well-written secondary characters including Cam’s sister Beatriz, Nathan’s friend Andi and the Colonel, who has been somewhat estranged from Cam ever since his wife’s death when Cam was nine years old. I enjoyed seeing him and Cam beginning to understand each other better and taking steps to repair their relationship. My only real quibble with the book overall is that I’d like to have known a bit more about the background to the East/West war – although as this is the first in a series, perhaps that will come.

An enjoyable mix of sci-fi action thriller and best-friends-to-lovers romance, A World Away is a captivating series opener, and I’m looking forward to diving into Nathan and Cam’s future adventures.

Note: This book was previously published as Relativity: Lateral Parallax book one and has been updated and extended. There are no essential changes to the story, but an 8,000 word epilogue has been added.

Grade: A-      Sensuality: Warm

– Caz Owens

Buy it at Amazon


Wyoming Winter Rescue by Juno Rushdan

When I saw the “Danger Zone” prompt, I immediately thought of my stash of Juno Rushdan books. Her action-packed thrillers tend to be brimming over with narrow escapes and plenty of plot, and Wyoming Winter Rescue definitely did not disappoint on that score.

Because her suspense plots tend to pack in a lot of action, I’ve noticed that the best of Ms. Rushdan’s books involve characters who have some kind of history before the opening of the book. It’s hard to develop a romance from scratch when you’re tying together lots of plot threads, so I think it helps if there’s already some kind of rapport between the leads for the author to use as a starting point.  In this case, Lynn Delgado and Nash Garner had dated previously, so there’s already that tension between them when they get thrown together.

The story throws readers into the action right away. Lynn Delgado is a psychotherapist, and the novel opens with a patient of hers becoming violent in the midst of a crisis. As someone who was worked with folks who are severely mentally ill, I found this scene very upsetting. It does tie into the overall plot of the book, but I have to admit that I wished it had been handled differently because it was quite triggering.

Several weeks later, Lynn is held hostage by a man in her car. This episode is seemingly unrelated to the traumatic encounter at her office, but pulls Lynn into a larger overall hunt for a serial killer who has been abducting women. He seems to have Lynn in his sights, and when the FBI is called in, Nash is determined to protect Lynn.

As the story develops, we learn that Lynn ended things with Nash because he compartmentalized so much of his life, and she couldn’t handle the barriers he put in place. She wanted a deeper and more honest emotional connection. While this story has the two of them caught in some stressful and dangerous situations, it does throw them together in ways that allow them to reassess their relationship. I appreciated that aspect of the story even though they go from caution to speeding through to an HEA awfully quickly. While the suspense plot moves well at warp speed, the development of the romance feels like whiplash sometimes.

Speaking of the suspense plot, the author does a good job of throwing out clues to the overall scheme without making it either too obvious or too obscure. I did end up figuring it out before the leads do, but there are enough plot twists thrown in that I have to admit I wasn’t always sure of my conclusion.

I found the investigation interesting, and I kept turning the pages as I avidly followed the track of the investigators. The heroine has a couple of dangerously clueless moments, but I did enjoy Wyoming Winter Rescue overall.

Grade:  B    Sensuality: Subtle

– Lynn Spencer

Buy it at Amazon

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