Review: The Forests of Dru by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Forests of Dru by Jeffe KennedyThe Forests Of Dru (Sorcerous Moons, #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #4
Pages: 180
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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An Enemy LandOnce Princess Oria spun wicked daydreams from the legends of sorceresses kidnapped by the barbarian Destrye. Now, though she’s come willingly, she finds herself in a mirror of the old tales: the king’s foreign trophy of war, starved of magic, surrounded by snowy forest and hostile strangers. But this place has secrets, too—and Oria must learn them quickly if she is to survive.
A Treacherous CourtInstead of the refuge he sought, King Lonen finds his homeland desperate and angry, simmering with distrust of his wife. With open challenge to his rule, he knows he and Oria—the warrior wounded and weak, the sorceress wrung dry of power—must somehow make a display of might. And despite the desire that threatens to undo them both, he still cannot so much as brush her skin.
A Fight for the Future With war looming and nowhere left to run, Lonen and Oria must use every intrigue and instinct they can devise: to plumb Dru’s mysteries, to protect their people—and to hold fast to each other. Because they know better than any what terrifying trial awaits…

My Review:

tides of bara by jeffe kennedyI love this series, but I’m not completely sold on this particular entry in it.

Let me explain…

This book picks up where The Tides of Bara leaves off, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until the very end. As the story begins, Lonen and Oria have finally reached Lonen’s kingdom, and all is not nearly as well as Lonen had hoped.

His people believe that Oria is an evil Baran sorceress who is controlling him with her magic. And while she certainly has bewitched Lonen, it isn’t with any nefarious power or sorcery. Against all odds, they have fallen in love with each other. And while love is certainly a kind of magic, if in this particular case it’s a snare, it’s a snare that has trapped them both.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyBut his people don’t see that. Particularly his older brother Nolan. Nolan should have been king, but when he and his troop fell into a mighty crevasse during the battle for Bara, all the way back in Lonen’s War, everyone quite reasonably assumed he was dead. Considering that it took him two years to find his way back from under the earth, it wasn’t a totally ridiculous idea.

Especially since the Destrye needed a king right that very minute, and Lonen was the only prince available. Now they all have to live with the consequences of that moment. One of those consequences is that Lonen has brought Oria back from Bara to be his queen, whether his people like it or not.

And they mostly don’t.

Oria doesn’t believe that this is a long term problem. She is not the first of her people to be brought to Destrye, even if she is more willing than has usually been the case. She has nothing to go back to in Bara, not after the events of Oria’s Gambit. She is a fugitive and an exile.

But Baran sorceresses simply do not live long away from the magic that wells up under Bara. She believes that she will die of starvation, and relatively soon, unless she can find a way to reach the magic that exists within the forests of Dru, no matter how different that magic is from her own.

There might be a way, but not with all the forces of Destrye and Bara stacked against them. Unless they manage to outrun their fate yet again.

orias gambit by jeffe kennedyEscape Rating B-: The problem that I have with this entry in the series is that it feels like a chapter in a waiting game. Until the very end, it doesn’t move the action forward very much. For most of the book, Lonen and Oria are effectively held captive by their own need to recover, by the Destrye court, and by Lonen’s duties to his family and his doubts about his kingship. It takes most of the novella for them to get out from under all the burdens and back on the road again.

The individual entries in the Sorcerous Moons series are relatively short – less than 200 pages each. When there is a lot of action, as there was in the first two books, those pages really fly by. But now that the story has hit what feels like the equivalent of the “middle book”, those short pages continue the trough and don’t have enough time to get back to the action.

I still like Lonen and Oria quite a lot. They are still negotiating a difficult marriage, and it appropriately goes in fits and starts. They love each other, they need each other, but they began with no understanding of each other whatsoever, so reaching a place where they work together smoothly is a trial for them. As it should be.

Oria spends much of this book, and the last one, losing strength and heading towards her demise. Seeing her finally rally towards the end of this book made for an excellent scene, even if the result did cause even more problems.

The most interesting character in this whole story is Oria’s familiar, the derkesthai Chuffta. Chuffta is a small dragon with all the snark a reader could ever ask for in a long-term companion. He has been with Oria all her life, and not only knows all her weak spots, but also knows just when to tweak them. And he LOVES to start fires.

But it feels as if his fate as well as the humans, is peering over the edge of a dark precipice. Nothing will be the same after the battle to come. I just wish it would get here already!

Review: Unfathomed by Anna Hackett

Review: Unfathomed by Anna HackettUnfathomed by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #4
Pages: 198
Published by Anna Hackett on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Long, tall, and deadly Morgan Kincaid enjoys her job at Treasure Hunter Security. Raised by a tough Marine father, she loves her guns and knives, and never backs down from a fight. She’s yet to find a man who can keep up with her and after a string of first dates, she’s not feeling hopeful. Assigned to an underwater archeological expedition on the trail of a long-lost shipwreck, Morgan finds herself protecting the very hard, delicious body of a certain globe-trotting archeologist. A smart rogue with a wide smile and a boat-load of charm.

Dr. Zachariah James has information leading to a shipwreck filled with history and treasure. After growing up with nothing, he’s forged a stellar career for himself, but history is more than just a job, it’s his lifeblood. So Zach is amazed to find himself as excited by a woman as he is by his dive. Dangerous Morgan fascinates him, and he’s eager to see what she’s hiding under her tough exterior.

As they dive the azure waters off the coast of Madagascar, they uncover a sizzling attraction and clues to an impossible artifact, but soon they are under attack by dangerous black-market thieves. Among traitors, kidnappings, and ancient temples, Zach and Morgan will need to put everything on the line to have any chance at surviving.

My Review:

There are times when I’m astonished by the depths of human stupidity. Possibly in this case I mean willful blindness. Or a bit of both.

No one ever seems to believe that whatever treasure they are hunting could possibly be of interest to the nefarious Silk Road gang. And no one ever seems to think that telling the agents of Treasure Hunter Security that just maybe, possibly, Silk Road might find their find just the teensiest bit intriguing never seems to occur to people – at least not until Silk Road arrives in a metaphorical cloud of evil and kidnaps or kills someone.

This time THS is hunting sunken treasure with Dr. Zachariah James. James believes he has the location of a wrecked treasure ship off the coast of Madagascar. The cargo manifest says that the ship was filled with gold, diamonds and porcelain, a friendship gift from the King of Siam to the French. The Soliel d’Orient is a prize worth finding, both for its wealth and for the archaeological treasures it holds.

But Dr. James is only figuring on normal treasure hunters. Admittedly, lots and lots of them. That’s why he hires THS. Of course, he neglects to mention that there might be an artifact with mystical or mythical powers amongst the treasure. He doesn’t believe that the talisman even exists. And he certainly doesn’t believe in any mystical powers.

But Silk Road does. And they are on his trail from the moment the expedition starts.

Meanwhile, Dr. James is hunting more than just treasure. There’s something about Morgan Kincaid, the deadly female THS operative, that makes teasing and tormenting her even more exciting than a treasure hunt. To Morgan’s surprise, she feels those same sparks from Zach. She just doesn’t believe that any man’s interest in her will survive his knowledge of just how dangerous and deadly she really is.

But Zach loves the adrenaline thrill. And when Silk Road kidnaps them and drags them off on their own deadly treasure hunt, Zach knows that they will need every single one of Morgan’s deadly skills to survive.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Zach and Morgan as characters. They make an excellent hero and heroine for this story. They both have hidden depths and secret pains, and they are both slow to share any of themselves with another. They’ve both been hurt before by people who were supposed to love and protect them, and they are both wary of trusting again.

Morgan’s hesitation feels particularly real. She is a warrior, and that is a big part of her identity. That many men find her ability to take them down and beat them hard to be a turnoff is no surprise. She’s smart enough to know that if who she is isn’t what they want, that she’s better off alone. Which doesn’t stop her from feeling lonely.

But as much as I enjoyed the rising heat between Morgan and Zach, and the little glimpse of the ongoing tension between Darcy Ward and her buttoned-up FBI agent, I’m still feeling a bit of villain fail in this series.

Silk Road and their agents are definitely evil. But they keep coming off as bwahaha evil. Along with, in the case of the villain in Unfathomed, an unhealthy dose of cray-cray. But crazy doesn’t organize and fund an organization as big and as effective as Silk Road. We still don’t know who they are and why they are doing this. There are plenty of other ways to make oodles of money that aren’t half this complicated.

Inquiring minds really, really want an answer to those questions.

Even so, Unfathomed is another marvelous tale of action, adventure and romance, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #1) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
Pages: 235
Published by Ilona Andrews on December 2nd 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.
And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

My Review:

There aren’t many books about innkeepers, but after reading this I have to wonder why. Of course, the Gertrude Hunt is a very special kind of inn, and Dina Demille is certainly not an ordinary innkeeper.

This place is magic. It also has magic.

But it’s a particular kind of magic that has just as many roots in SF as it does in Urban Fantasy. And the roots of the Gertrude Hunt are particularly deep. That’s what inns do, at least the very special ones.

The system of inns and innkeepers in this series blends magic with science fiction in interesting ways. Dina’s guests are often extraterrestrial, and her ability to protect them is more than magical. She doesn’t ride her broom, she spears her enemies with it. But only when they threaten the inn.

And that’s what this story is all about. A threat to the inn. Or at least, something that Dina decides threatens the inn, and its neutrality and its secrecy. Someone is killing dogs in Red Deer, Texas. And cattle. And farmers. And whoever that someone is, they are leaving a particular calling card that Dina recognizes as being from someplace other than Earth.

Of course, the arrival of the space-vampires is also a big clue. They’ve come to take out whatever is marauding in Dina’s neighborhood. If they can. And Dina is willing to help them, for the good of everyone. Even if her own personal werewolf and the leader of the vampires have engaged in a cockfight. Over her.

But Dina is there to do her job, protect her guests, and help her neighbors. No matter what it takes.

Escape Rating A: Like the Gertrude Hunt inn itself, this book is completely charming.

And it also has its hilarious moments. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Costco quite the same way again. The alien hunter-creatures invading the canned food aisle, being pelted by supersized cans courtesy of a fellow shopper with an excellent throwing arm and the will to use it is one that I won’t forget for quite a while.

The juxtaposition of complete otherworldliness with total normality was an absolute hoot.

But the story here is all about Dina, and Dina deciding what kind of innkeeper she is going to be. She’d be within her rights to batten down the Gertrude Hunt’s hatches and wait until someone else takes out the intergalactic killers. The deaths of her neighbors are not technically her responsibility, as the presence of the deadly dahaka and his hunters is not her fault.

But she can’t do it. These are her friends and neighbors, and she feels obligated to do what she can, no matter the risk to herself and her inn. Which doesn’t stop her from driving a hard information bargain with the vampires when it turns out that the whole mess is their fault. There’s something about vampires and convoluted internal politicking that just seems to transcend series.

I loved this glimpse into a world that both is and is not our own. Dina is a terrific heroine who knows just what she is capable of and has a strong ethical center. She’s capable of kicking ass, but that’s not her first response. She thinks first and then does.

I’m wondering what the author plans to do with the incipient love-triangle that has reared its handsome head. Or heads. The vampire is right, in the Earth stories where a vampire and a werewolf fight over a woman, the vampire always wins. Which doesn’t make it the right thing for Dina. At this early stage, there is an unwelcome strain of possessiveness on the part of both males, and Dina rightfully steers clear of both of them. She has her own calling. She isn’t going to fall into line behind either of theirs, no matter how charismatic (and they definitely are) they might be.

This is a development I’m going to be fascinated to watch.

My friends over at The Book Pushers have collectively raved about this series, and now I know why. This book was absolutely awesome, and I can’t wait to catch up with the series. And probably won’t wait, which will leave me in the same boat as everyone else, waiting breathlessly for the next installment.

Review: Hell Squad: Devlin by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Devlin by Anna HackettDevlin (Hell Squad #11) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: dystopian, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #11
Pages: 145
Published by Anna Hackett on December 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a spy and a soldier find themselves locked in an alien cage and told…mate or die.

A covert mission gone horribly wrong. Cool, composed spy, Devlin Gray is used to bad situations, but locked in the bowels of an alien facility with tough, sexy soldier Taylor and told to mate is bad. Very bad. During his career, he’s had to lie and kill, he’s been betrayed, and he knows he works best on his own. Now he is forced to depend on Taylor, and together they have to find a way to escape before it’s too late…

Taylor Cates has already been to hell once before. She lives to fight for others, just like her mother once fought for her, and Taylor vows to do whatever it takes to escape the aliens. As she works with the sexy, suave Devlin, she starts to see glimpses of the man beneath the cool exterior. An exterior she soon finds she wants to melt.

In the worst of circumstances, a passion is born. But on the run for their lives, Devlin and Taylor soon discover far worse things in the alien facility: human prisoners and a weapon that could be the very downfall of the human race. A weapon that will threaten their friends, their home, and everything they hold dear.

My Review:

marcus by anna hackett“Aliens made them do it” is a classic trope in fanfiction. It is also the opening gambit in Devlin, book 11 in the Hell Squad series. It’s hard to believe that we are 11 books into this series and that it’s only been a little over a year and a half since Marcus first walked into Elle’s heart (and ours) in the early days of the Gizzida invasion of Earth.

A lot has happened in those intervening books (and months). The desperate fighting squads of Blue Mountain Base, and the civilians they protect, managed to find their way to the hidden human Enclave, just barely ahead of the Gizzida. Now that the humans have gotten back together in Australia, and made a daring and successful attempt to re-establish communications with human outposts around the globe, it is time to take the fight to the Gizzida and throw them off our planet.

There’s an Independence Day vibe (the original, not the blasted sequel) to the whole thing. Along with a little bit of Borg thrown in for spice. And bodies.

But we’re not there yet. In this entry of the series, super-spy Devlin Gray finds himself locked in a Gizzida interrogation cell with Taylor Cates of Squad Nine. The aliens want to watch them mate. And as much as Devlin and Taylor suddenly realize that it might be more than fun under other circumstances, what they are currently in is neither the time nor the place. In the best tradition under these circumstances, they put on a show. Admittedly, not quite as hilarious a show as the one that Ivanova puts on in the Babylon 5 episode “Acts of Sacrifice”.

I said this trope had a long tradition.

But as so often happens when the aliens make two team mates “do it”, or even pretend to, the act makes the two partners realize that there is more between them than merely comradeship.

And that’s the case here. As Devlin and Taylor make their harrowing escape from the Gizzida factory, they discover both a horrific new weapon and their growing desire for each other. The weapon is a pain in the ass to even capture, let alone find a way to defeat.

What they feel for each other? There is no way to defeat love. Not even the hero’s stupid attempt at being a complete asshat. Whatever the future brings, they are both all in.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. If you enjoy science fiction romance and/or alien apocalypse stories and or dystopian romance, Hell Squad is a winner. Every book is a terrific combination of post-apocalyptic action with steamy hot romance. Each story contains both an individual HFN and moves the fight that forms the basis of the series arc forward a few notches.

I say HFN rather than HEA not because there is any doubt about or between any of the couples, but because the overarching question in the series is whether any humans have any chance at any kind of “ever after”. At all.

But as much as I love the series, and as much as I enjoy each outing, for this reader it feels like time to arc toward kicking the Gizzida’s asses off our planet. The patterns of the romances are starting to feel a bit too familiar each time, and the overall situation can’t remain in stasis. The Gizzida want to wipe out the human race, and have made entirely too much progress towards that goal. They have nearly overwhelming force, and it’s going to take a miracle or a giant deus ex machina to blow them off. But it feels like time for that to happen.

In Devlin, the human survivors both make progress towards that goal and discover a new roadblock, which seems to be a pattern as well. I want to see this world get its HEA.

Review: Hero by Anna Hackett

Review: Hero by Anna HackettHero (Galactic Gladiators #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #3
Pages: 150
Published by Anna Hackett on December 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

Raised from birth to be a soldier, Kace Tameron is a disciplined, military-trained gladiator. He is on contract to the Kor Magna Arena to hone his fighting skills on the blood-soaked arena sand and then return to the military. He lives for one thing: to protect his planet, and on his world, love is forbidden. But then he collides with a feisty redhead from Earth who threatens to shatter his legendary control.

One moment, Rory Fraser was an engineer on a space station circling Jupiter and the next, she is abducted by evil alien slavers. After suffering at the hands of the Thraxians, she is rescued by her friends—with the help of the tough gladiators of the House of Galen. Rory finds herself outrageously attracted to straight-laced Kace. He is a skilled fighter, ultra-disciplined, and a hero at heart—but she knows passion beats within him, if only he’ll let it loose.

Rory is obsessed with finding another fellow abducted female from Earth, but as she asks questions, she finds herself ducking bullets and explosions. Someone wants Rory dead. Kace steps in as her protector, and together, they embark on a dangerous mission that will take them deep into the bowels of the arena, and deep into a scorching desire…both of which could lead them to lose not only their guarded hearts, but their lives as well.

My Review:

When Rory Fraser holds out for a hero, she ends up with two – the clean-cut warrior Kace and the robotic dog he gives her. Both the man and the dog save Rory’s life, and more than once at that. And I think that Hero the robotic dog adds just that special something that makes Hero the book my favorite (so far!) of the Galactic Gladiators series.

gladiator by anna hackettThe overall arc of the series was set in the first book, Gladiator. In a not too distant future, an intergalactic slave ship rode an unstable wormhole from the arena planet of Kor Magna to our own solar system. In a lightning raid, the Thallaxians hit a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter, and grabbed as many of the personnel as they could manage before beating a hasty retreat before the wormhole closed.

Kor Magna is over 200 light years from Earth. There is no going back.

So one by one, the crew of that station have been rescuing each other from deeper and deeper pits of hell on Kor Magna. Gladiator was Harper’s story. In many ways, she was the lucky one, because she was “bought” by the House of Galen and immediately freed. Harper rescued Regan, and her story is told in Warrior. Regan, in her turn, rescued Rory.

Although many of the trappings of the Kor Magna Arena sound a lot like the gladiator fights in Imperial Rome, there’s much more under the surface. The fights are not to the death, and the better Houses spend a lot of money on high-tech healing equipment and excellent healers. The gladiators are an investment, and the Imperators of the better Houses want to protect that investment.

The House of Galen is more than just one of those “better” Houses. All of the gladiators are free – no slaves among them. And while on the surface they swagger just as much as any other group of gladiators, under that surface they invade other Houses, and even worse places, to free those who are abused or who just aren’t meant to be gladiators.

In other words, they are Big Damn Heroes.

Kace Tameron is one of the biggest. Not that all of the gladiators aren’t big, especially in comparison to the human women. Humans in general seem to be smaller than the galactic average as represented on Kor Magna. But Kace is one of the military volunteers in the arena. His planet sent him to Kor Magna for two year’s worth of special training. But his planet, locked in perpetual warfare, has done a good job of brainwashing him into believing that the fight is all there is, and that duty is honor and honor is duty.

Rory Fraser breaks through all that conditioning. She’s been freed from horrific captivity, and she wants to live. And she wants Kace to take that step forward into living life to the fullest right there with her. If he can.

Because he’ll break her heart if he can’t.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one. I definitely think it’s the best of the series so far, and I can hardly wait for more.

One of the things that made this particular entry in the series so special was the introduction of little Hero. Rory is an engineer, and she always wants to tinker and fix things. When Kace gives her Hero, it shows both the love that he is trying to run away from, and also just how much he understands her. Hero is both someone she can love and something she can tinker with, all wrapped into one dog-shaped package.

Hero may be mechanical, but he acts just like a dog. And it’s awesome and sweet. I’ve been looking for a word equivalent to anthropomorphic to describe Hero. There is no attempt to make the robot seem human, instead, the robot is completely DOG. Caninomorphic?

One of the other things I really liked about this particular story is that neither of the characters gets into the “I’m not worthy” shtick. Kace has been programmed to believe that love is basically a hormonal imbalance wrapped up in a distraction. And he’s right in that Rory certainly does distract him. But it’s never about thinking he’s unworthy, it all about thinking that love doesn’t exist, and that he’s not supposed to emotionally connect to anyone. Likewise, while Rory is finding her footing, she has some pretty good and realistic ideas about how to earn her place in the House of Galen. She has both engineering chops and mixed-martial-arts skills. She never doubts her ability to make herself useful. Her only frustrations are getting Kace’s head out of his gorgeous ass and following the clues to the next enslaved human.

In each book, the ending foreshadows the next one, as each heroine rescues another human, who finds herself safe in the arms of one of the gladiators of the House of Galen. So I think I know who’s next. And hopefully saw some foreshadowing of the one after that. And they both look marvelous!

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys FordHanging The Stars (Half Moon Bay #2) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Half Moon Bay #2
Pages: 206
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Angel Daniels grew up hard, one step ahead of the law and always looking over his shoulder. A grifter’s son, he’d learned every con and trick in the book but ached for a normal life. Once out on his own, Angel returns to Half Moon Bay where he once found…and then lost…love.
Now, Angel’s life is a frantic mess of schedules and chaos. Between running his bakery and raising his troubled eleven-year-old half-brother, Roman, Angel has a hectic but happy life. Then West Harris returns to Half Moon Bay and threatens to break Angel all over again by taking away the only home he and Rome ever had.
When they were young, Angel taught West how to love and laugh but when Angel moved on, West locked his heart up and threw away the key. Older and hardened, West returns to Half Moon and finds himself face-to-face with the man he’d lost. Now, West is torn between killing Angel or holding him tight.
But rekindling their passionate relationship is jeopardized as someone wants one or both of them dead, and as the terrifying danger mounts, neither man knows if the menace will bring them together or forever tear them apart.

My Review:

fish stick fridays by rhys fordIf it wasn’t for bad luck, the Harris family in Half Moon Bay wouldn’t have any luck at all. Or so it seems. In the first book in the series, Fish Stick Fridays, Lang Harris is being stalked by a deranged ex-lover. While Lang does get his happy ever after, it only comes though a LOT of pain.

In Hanging the Stars, the story switches from Lang to his twin brother West. And someone is trying their damndest to kill West. So far, they keep missing, but not by much. They get close enough often enough that West retreats to his remote retreat, a house outside of Half Moon Bay.

It’s where Lang, along with his husband Deke and their niece Zig (the stars of Fish Stick Fridays) can look in on West frequently, and where West has the opportunity to spoil Zig at every turn. West’s and Lang’s relationship has always been a bit fraught, thanks to the way that their icy-cold father pitted them against each other at every turn. But West’s relationship with chaos-agent Zig is a thing of beauty. And joy. Both brothers seem to be lavishing the little girl with all the affection neither of them got as children.

But there’s something else waiting for West Harris in Half Moon Bay, and it’s something that he has been avoiding for years. His past. And that past is all wrapped up in the person of Angel Daniels, the only man that West has ever loved. Even though they left each other behind, in pain and tragedy, back when they were teenagers, no one and nothing has ever gotten that close to West since.

Angel hasn’t moved on either, at least not in that sense. But Angel now has other demands on his time and his heart. He’s become the default guardian for his kid brother Roman, a pre-teen boy dealing not just with the vicious onset of puberty, but also coping somewhere on either the ADHD or autism spectrum, or possibly both.

And someone recovering, just as Angel still is, from their physically and emotionally abusive father.

Angel is also coping with managing the Moonlight Hotel in Half Moon Bay, a decrepit fleabag of a place that he has somehow managed to cobble into a last chance home for all of the town’s misfits. He became the manager of the old hotel, and the owner of the adjacent bakery, in a deal with West and Lang’s grandmother.

It’s all that Angel has, and all that keeps Child Protective Services from sweeping Roman into foster care. And West’s company has been trying to take it away from him, in order to build expensive condos on beautiful Half Moon Bay.

When the threats against West’s life escalate, he’s forced to come back to Half Moon Bay, to confront his past, his company’s rather rapacious present, and all his unresolved feelings for Angel.

While somebody takes potshots at both of them from the shadows.

Escape Rating A-: The mystery here is quite a puzzle. Someone is after West. Someone is also after Angel. And that same someone, whoever it is, keeps trying to pin those crimes on the two would-be victims. In other words, someone is doing a damn good job of making it look like Angel is behind the attacks on West, and vice versa. That nefarious someone doesn’t succeed, but they do make a damn good try of it.

In addition to living through seemingly random attempts at murder, arson and kidnapping, some of which are more successful than others, West is also forced to deal with the discovery that one of his best friends and business partners has been robbing him blind. But that “friend” can’t be the person behind all the mayhem, because the dangers keep escalating after the bastard gets himself killed.

The hits just keep on coming. But in the middle of all the fires, and gunshots, and everything else that keeps going wrong, West and Angel manage to grope their way back to each other. Sometimes through broken glass.

And they start making a home for Roman. It looks like West is planning to spoil Roman every bit as much as he does Zig. Watching the family dynamic start to come together is awesome.

But there is a whodunnit behind it all. I’ll admit that I figured out who must be doing it, or at least part of it, fairly early on. Angel was so worried, and rightly so, about one basty-assed-nastard coming back into their lives that it was bound to happen. I’ll also admit that the motives behind the mess were not completely what I expected.

As much as I loved this book, and as much as I enjoy this series so far, I’m wondering where things go from here. In the author’s Cole McGinnis series, because Cole was a private investigator, it made sense that he kept dodging baddies and bullets, But the level of violence that Lang and West both had to face doesn’t seem organic to what would otherwise be a marvelous small-town romance series. So, even though both characters needed to work through a lot of pain to figure out what they really wanted out of life, I hope that in future installments either the danger ratchets down, or it attaches itself to someone who faces those dangers for a living. No family has this much bad luck.

Or at least I sure hope not. My last name is Harris too!

Review: Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri + Giveaway

Review: Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri + GiveawaySecrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 312
Published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing on December 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

According to Mayan tradition, if you whisper your troubles to the Worry Dolls, they will do the worrying instead of you--therefore, it follows that Worry Dolls are the keepers of a great many secrets . . .
On the eve of the end of the world--according to the Mayan calendar--Mari Guarez Roselli's secrets are being unraveled by her daughter, Lu.
Lu's worry dolls are at-capacity as she tries to outrun the ghosts from her past--including loved ones stolen on 9/11--by traveling through her mother's homeland of Guatemala, to discover the painful reasons behind her own dysfunctional childhood, and why she must trust in the magic of the legend.

My Review:

This is a slow-simmering story, as we read about mother-and-daughter Mari and Lu, each from their own very distinct, if equally unreliable, perspectives.

These two women have been touched by tragedy, over and over. They both seem to survive, and yet, neither of them really does. And the tragedies they share drive them even further apart than the ones they experienced separately.

As the story begins, Lu is at the airport, wandering a bit because she chose not to take her scheduled flight to her mother’s home country of Guatemala. Lu just wasn’t ready for the trip, or for whatever secrets her mother expected to be revealed to her.

Lu was even less prepared to hear over the airport’s speakers that the plane that she was supposed to be on had crashed with no survivors. And that the crash site was her own little community in New Jersey.

This was the second time that Lu had dodged fate. She was supposed to have been on a school trip on September 11, 2001 to see the World Trade Center. In the midst of a snit with her twin sister Rae, Lu decided not to go. So Lu was at school when the towers fell, and her sister died. She lost her father that day as well, he was a firefighter, a first responder, and he never made it out.

Lu might as well have lost her mother that day too. Mari retreated for long stretches of time in to the sleeping pills and wine that had always been her crutch. The only difference now was that Lu at least knew what drove her mother to self-medicate her pain and loss.

When Lu comes back from the airport, she discovers that she is the only member of her family left behind, as tragedy has struck again. Her mother is in a coma as a result of the plane crash. And her mother is pregnant.

From this point we view the story from two diverging viewpoints. With Lu, we see her childhood and young adulthood as she remembers them, and we see Lu in the present, coping with the decisions that must be made about the care of not only her mother, but of her unborn brother or sister. And we see her finally take the trip that her mother meant her to take, the trip to discover the truth about Mari’s past.

But we also view that past from Mari’s perspective. Within the depths of her coma, she seems to be telling, at last, the true story of her life to her unborn child. And as the past merges with the present, the joys, the sorrows, and the regrets are finally laid bare.

Escape Rating B: This story takes a while to go from a simmer to a boil. It feels as if the first two thirds are set up, and the final third is the payoff. But it definitely does pay off marvelously in that last third. The story in the present is from Lu’s perspective, and for a lot of the book, she is just barely treading water. Her life seems to have been on hold since 9/11. She can’t seem to let herself live. She can’t even manage to let herself leave the island community of Rock Harbor that both shelters and imprisons her.

There are so many things that Lu doesn’t know, and so much that she doesn’t want to tell herself.

But Mari is an even more unreliable narrator. She has been hiding the facts of her early life from Lu, and also from herself. There is too much in the past that she hasn’t wanted to face – which has not kept that past from haunting her life.

There’s also an element of magical realism in the way that this story works. After all, how are we reading Mari’s perspective? She is in a coma in the present throughout the entirety of this book. And yet, it feels right that we learn about her in her own voice.

The story revolves around choices, the different choices that women make, and the different choices that are available to them. So much of what went wrong in Mari’s life revolves around her choices and the choices of those around her. Lu seems to be trying to avoid making choices, until she finally realizes that she has to face up to them. In the end, she makes the choice that is right for her, and after having lived through her story, we feel it with her.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Secrets of Worry Dolls to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour.

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Review: Warrior by Anna Hackett

Review: Warrior by Anna HackettWarrior (Galactic Gladiators #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #2
Pages: 155
Published by Anna Hackett on November 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

It was supposed to be an exciting job on a space station, but instead, scientist Dr. Regan Forrest finds herself fighting for her life when she’s kidnapped by alien slavers. Far from Earth and forced into a violent gladiatorial arena on the outer rim, she finds herself swept into the brawny arms of a big, wild alien gladiator.

Weapon, brute, gladiator, warrior… Sirrush warrior Thorin has been called many things. As a warrior of his people, he was a dark, dangerous weapon until even his own family were too afraid of him. Sold into slavery in the Kor Magna Arena, he has long ago earned his freedom. Now he enjoys the violent but rewarding life he’s carved out for himself. Until he rescues one small, smart, and perplexing female from alien slavers.

Regan is determined to make a place for herself in her new home. She may not have the skills to fight in the arena, but she’s smart and knows she can help...even as she fights her attraction to the big, bold, and fascinating Thorin. She knows he’ll never be interested in her. But when Regan catches a glimpse of her cousin across a crowded market, she needs help to mount a rescue, and it comes in the form of the gladiator she desperately wants. A gladiator hiding a dark, uncontrollable secret with the power to destroy them both.

My Review:

This was the perfect book to read last night after I gave up on watching the election news. It was ALL bad, so I decided to go to bed and live in delusional hope for one more night.

I got swept away by Warrior, and I’m oh so grateful that I did. For a brief hour or two, I was as far away from Earth as I could get, cheering on the fighters in a gladiatorial arena on the far side of the galaxy.

gladiator by anna hackettThe first book of Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series is Gladiator, and it sets up the worldbuilding and the overarching story for the series, as well as featuring its very own Happy For Now. It doesn’t feel like an HEA, not because there are any doubts about or between the romantic leads, but because they are living in a dangerous situation. They are both arena gladiators, and while the combat isn’t supposed to be deadly, accidents certainly do happen. And sometimes they’re not accidents.

And this particular group of gladiators spends some of its nights hiding in the shadows, rescuing captives who have been purchased by other, less honorable gladiatorial houses,

Gladiator ends with one such rescue. The Thraxians kidnapped at least three women from a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter. Harper, the heroine of Gladiator, has become one herself. At the end of Gladiator Harper, along with the other fighters from the House of Galen, rescue the second, Regan.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, at the end of Warrior they rescue the third. Her story will be told in Hero, and I can’t wait!)

But Warrior is Regan’s story. She’s not the warrior of the title, though. That would be Thorin. He is one, big, tough warrior, but he’s also a man who has been wounded and betrayed too many times to believe that he is worthy of being anything more than a fighter and a killer. He believes that the monster who lives inside him makes him less than man.

Regan thinks he’s more man than she ever expected might be interested in her shy and bookish self. Of course they’re both wrong. The romance (and the danger) are in the ways that they finally figure things out.

But only while dodging a kidnapping attempt and using Regan as a very vulnerable Trojan Horse in order to rescue her friend.

The action and the hot romance never stop in Warrior. Prepare to be swept away for a steamy good time.

Escape Rating A-: I liked Warrior even more than I did Gladiator. Some of that is right book, right time, and more of it has to do with the world being just a bit more established. The heavy worldbuilding lifting was done in Gladiator, now the author has the opportunity to flesh out more of the details.

The flesh is definitely worth ogling, too. Your mind will be filled with visions of eye candy during this series.

At the same time, while the romance heats up, we also get to see a bit more of how the arena system, and the House of Galen, operate. This world is like Las Vegas hopped up on steroids and blasted into outer space. It’s a gritty place, where the lights and the glamour hide a whole lot of seedy underbelly. Which makes it darkly fascinating.

hero by anna hackettIf you like your setting a bit desperate, your action nonstop and your romance hotter than a rocket ship, I highly recommend that you let Warrior sweep you off your feet for an evening. And then hold out for Hero, coming in December.

Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna HackettThrough Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #10
Pages: 183
Published by Anna Hackett on September 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A deep-space convoy master who demands everyone follow his rules discovers a stowaway on his ship: a smart scam artist who’s never met a rule she wouldn’t break.
Dare Phoenix runs his convoy with absolute control. In uncharted space, lives depend on it. When one plain, dowdy woman comes aboard, his gut tells him that something is off about her. Soon there are assassins on his ship, sabotage, and people dying, and Dare discovers his drab passenger is definitely not what she seems. Instead, he uncovers a smart-mouthed scam artist who defies him at every turn.
Dakota Jones is a survivor. Life has taught her that if you don’t grab what you want, someone else will snatch it away. Tired of having nothing, she’s stolen a map to the location of an immense lost treasure from Earth and she’s going to find it. Okay, so maybe stealing the map from a deadly terrorist group wasn’t her best decision, but now she just needs to dodge their crazy followers, hide out on the Phoenix Convoy, and find a way to decode the map. Easy, right? Wrong. As soon as she sets eyes on the sexy, in-charge Dare Phoenix, she knows she’s made a terrible mistake.
Dare and Dakota strike sparks at every turn…but with her life in danger, she reluctantly agrees to join forces with Dare to find the treasure. But every step of their adventure is dogged by danger, and the biggest threat they face is getting burned by their incendiary attraction. On this hunt, they will find themselves going beyond their depths, tested to their limits, and deep in uncharted territory.

My Review:

return to dark earth by anna hackettI’ve enjoyed every single book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series, from the very beginning At Star’s End to this latest book in the series.

And one of these days I fully expect to discover that the contemporary treasure hunting family in her new Treasure Hunter Security series are the direct ancestors of the Phoenix brothers – both sets of them.

The Phoenix Adventures are set in a gritty far-future post-diaspora galaxy. The mother planet, Earth, is still a nuclear wreck, explored all too dangerously in Return to Dark Earth

Humans have even interbred, or genetically engineered, some interesting hybrids, like Nissa Phoenix (nee Sanders), Captain of the Phoenix convoy flagship and wife to her former nemesis, Justyn Phoenix (see Beyond Galaxy’s Edge for the details on that story.)

In this latest entry in the series, Through Uncharted Space, Dare Phoenix and his brothers Justyn and Rynan are indeed traveling through uncharted space, leading a convoy to far-distant worlds, taking their passengers into the unsettled black where there is opportunity for a better life for many, and a chance of adventure for others.

For this branch of the Phoenix family, it’s a living.

But when Dare discovers that one of their passengers is much, much more than she initially appeared to be, the whole family gets bit by the treasure hunting bug yet again. And Dare finds that the troublesome package that Dakota Jones represents is everything that he’s been searching for – whether they find the treasure she seeks or not.

As Dare and Dakota at first resist but eventually succumb to the chemistry between them, the convoy detours into a search for a long-lost Earth treasure ship – and the waterworld it crashed on.

In order to get the treasure all that Dare and Dakota have to do is find a planet that no one believes exists, while dodging a horde of determined assassins who will let nothing get in the way of getting to the treasure first – and killing anyone who gets in their way. And Dakota Jones is first on their hit list.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I was looking for a book that would carry me away to its world for a few blissful hours – and Anna Hackett’s books always do.

at stars end by anna hackettThis is a long-running series, and I enjoy it every single time. Which doesn’t mean that there are not easily discernible patterns to the stories. Just like Eos Rai in the first book, At Star’s End, Dakota is hiding who she is and what she really wants in order to reach a goal that she fears the Phoenixes will steal from her. All the while hiding from someone much more nefarious in pursuit.

And both women have roughly the same goal, to find the location of a lost Earth transport ship carrying massive amounts of pre-diaspora Earth treasure. Eos, who has a brief cameo in Through Uncharted Space, found the Mona Lisa and countless Terran art treasures. Dakota is searching for the Atocha Treasure, which may be the treasure from the Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If it isn’t this actual treasure, the prize in Through Uncharted Space was almost certainly inspired by it.

One of the fascinating things about this series is the way that the stories link together, without absolutely requiring the reader to start at the very beginning (although it’s all awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)

In this case, the assassins hunting Dakota are in the employ of Nissa Phoenix’ brother, who is the leader of a deadly cult. We’ve run into him and his gang before, and we undoubtedly will again.

But the story here, as always, is the search for the treasure and the unexpected romance between Dakota and Dare. That romance is not unexpected on the part of the reader, but it certainly is on the part of the participants.

Both of these people have a whole lot of dark buried in their pasts. They both come from histories of extreme poverty and hellish abuse, and they both escaped. But neither believes themselves either capable of or worthy of being loved, and neither trusts outsiders at all. They have a tremendous amount to overcome, and nothing that happens in this story makes it easy.

But it is so satisfying when they make it.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: The Tides of Bara by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Tides of Bara by Jeffe KennedyThe Tides of Bára (Sorcerous Moons, #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #3
Pages: 200
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on October 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonKobo
Goodreads

A Narrow Escape
With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.
A Race Against Time
At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…
A Danger Beyond Death…
Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

My Review:

orias gambit by jeffe kennedyThe action in The Tides of Bára picks up immediately after the end of Oria’s Gambit. Or perhaps I should say the failure of Oria’s gambit, as they are both the same thing. Unfortunately for Oria and Lonen.

In other words, this is not the place to start Sorcerous Moons. Start at the beginning with the marvelous Lonen’s War. The Sorcerous Moons series isn’t so much as series as it is one long story, broken up into publishable-sized chunks.

They’re short chunks so start at the beginning.

The Tides of Bára is the second half of the middle book in what is so far projected to be a four-book series. The author hasn’t committed trilogy, she’s committed tetralogy. But that tetralogy feels like it is necessary for this story to reach its conclusion.

In Lonen’s War, we saw the set up. We saw the arrogance and corruption of the Bárans first-hand, both through the eyes of neglected Princess Oria and conquering “barbarian” Lonen. Lonen has brought war to Bára, a war that was only begun because the Bárans were stealing water and mass murdering his people using nearly unkillable golems. Lonen brought the war to Bára to make them finally face some risk to their own people.

Oria breaks herself out of a literal ivory tower existence that was supposedly for her own good, but was mostly to benefit those in power. As such things usually are. When the peace she brokered between Lonen and her people is betrayed, Lonen returned to Bára in Oria’s Gambit to punish someone for that betrayal. He thinks that someone was Oria. When he finds out that it wasn’t, Lonen and Oria join forces.

Oria sees a marriage of convenience to Lonen as the only way to re-take power before her corrupt brother manages to seize the throne. The marriage takes place, but in spite of her political maneuvering, her power grab fails and her brother tries to have her killed.

As The Tides of Bára opens, Lonen and Oria are fighting their way out of Bára . While Oria believes that the wild magic of the desert will kill her sooner or later, she has some hope that she can find a way to survive. And she is certain that if Lonen can get out of the city, he will survive to go back to his people. Remaining in the city is guaranteed death for both of them. A sliver of hope of survival is better than none.

But once they are free of the city, after a hair-raising escape, they have a long and dangerous journey ahead of them to reach the Destrye, Lonen’s people, with no guarantee that Oria will survive the journey, or that if she does, she will be capable of helping his people survive. Or even if they will let her.

In spite of the odds against them, they have to try. It is their only hope. But what neither of them expects is that along the way, their marriage of convenience will change into something much, much more.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyEscape Rating B+: The Tides of Bára is a road story. It’s the story of Lonen and Oria’s literal journey from Bára to Destrye, and it is also the story of the journey of their relationship from marriage of convenience to marriage of love. The physical journey has more than its share of very real dangers, but the emotional journey is equally as charged.

They began this story on opposite sides of a battlefield. Out in the desert, Lonen and Oria, with the help of Oria’s familiar Chuffta and Lonen’s stalwart battle stallion, the incongruously named Buttercup, are all alone in a vast sea of sand. Bára has drained the life out of the land for endless miles around. What little water there is rises in sudden and deadly tides, and is not merely undrinkable salt water, but is actually poisonous to humans.

They seem to be all alone in the world, and absolutely forced to rely upon each other. Initially their pride keeps them apart, but as they journey, the barriers between them break down. It’s an emotional journey from wary trust to love. To the point where they are each a bit too willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, with nearly disastrous consequences. They are still both learning that they are stronger together than either can possibly be separately, and it’s a difficult journey with a lot of two-steps-forward and one-step-back. As it should be.

This is a necessary part of the story, for the action to switch from Bára to Destrye, and for Oria to be forced to leave everything she knows behind so that she can finally become who and what she is meant to be. But the journey itself is grueling, and bears an unfortunate resemblance to another grueling journey in fantasy, that of Frodo and Sam through Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. The land is equally desolate, and the long dark night of the story and the soul is equally difficult to read through.

And it sets up the story for what I hope will be an epic and glorious conclusion in book 4. Soon please!