Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayHot Response (Boston Fire, #4) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #4
Pages: 288
Published by Carina Press on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The men of Boston Fire are back and hotter than ever! Don’t miss this brand-new novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

My Review:

Hot Response is the fourth book in the Boston Fire series. I read the first book, Heat Exchange and was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be. But I’m happy to say that Hot Response reminded me of all the reasons that I loved this author’s earlier series. Multiples of them. To the point where I’m thinking about going back and seeing where I left off.

The Boston Fire series, unsurprisingly considering the title, is centered around the men and women who make up one shift at one particular firehouse in Boston, as well as the people who are part of their lives, usually in multiple ways, between the firehouse and their regular bar, Kincaid’s. After all, Kincaid’s is owned by a retired member of their company and the owner’s son is a member of their team. There are a lot of ties, including family ones.

The tension that makes this particular romance so fraught and so realistic at the same time is also about family ties. Particularly about the difference between the ties that bind and the ties that strangle.

Our hero, Gavin Boudreau, is a member of Ladder 37. He grew up in the neighborhood and is regularly on call for his parents and his nearby siblings. But for Gavin, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes they need him, and sometimes he needs them, and what goes around definitely comes around, all of it good.

Cait Tasker, on the other hand, seems to be on a one-way street with her family. She gives, and they take, and take, and take. The reasons for it make complete sense, but the result isn’t actually working for anyone, and particularly not for Cait. Her stepfather died suddenly, her mother couldn’t get herself out of the well of depression after losing a husband to early death for the second time, and Cait’s 16-year-old half brother is rightfully frightened but not able to keep his mother going on his own. And he has his own grief to process along with all the normal teenage angst and hormones and attitudes. Cait came home to help out, and she’s still helping. But she’s also helping to keep her mom and her brother from learning to stand on their own two feet. Or their own four feet together. Meanwhile, Cait’s older sister is far away and wants absolutely nothing to do with this mess until it’s fixed. And I can’t blame her. In this scenario, I’d probably BE her.

The last thing Cait needs in her life is a relationship. But it’s also the thing she needs most. Getting involved with Gavin is the first time since she came home that she’s done anything besides work, mediate between her mom and her brother, and crash. Especially since as an EMT she really can’t afford to crash.

The deeper Cait and Gavin get into their relationship, the happier they both are. At least until Gavin delivers some home truths that Cait just isn’t ready to hear. He may not want to make her choose between her family and their relationship, but he’s right that she needs to make some choices of her own. Is she propping up her family because they need her to keep doing it, or is she propping up her family because she’s afraid of what will happen if she lets go?

And is Gavin willing to wait for her to figure it out?

Escape Rating B+: First of all, I liked Hot Response a whole lot more than I did the first book in the series, Heat Exchange, a few weeks ago. You could say I had a much hotter response to this one, especially considering that my feelings about Heat Exchange were lukewarm at best.

One of the things I always loved about this author’s earlier series, something that was missing in Heat Exchange, was the way that the dramatic tension in her romances felt real and not contrived, and that was also true in Hot Response.

Cait and Gavin have chemistry together from the very beginning, even if Cait is trying to pretend it isn’t there.

But as strong as their pull towards each other are the forces that are keeping them apart – even when they’re together. It’s unfortunately all too realistic that the issue between them isn’t really between them so much as it is between Cait and her family and Gavin’s eventual loss of patience with the way things are. And not because anyone is a terrible person or because of anything evil, but just because Cait as well as her mother and brother, are just plain too scared to let go of each other – even when they should.

Both Gavin and Cait are interesting characters with high-pressure and occasionally dangerous jobs who are fun to watch and certainly deserve their fair share of happiness. I think it’s fair to say that they are likeable people who would be fun to hang out with, and we want to see them get their HEA. The things standing between them and that HEA feel all too real, situations that could happen in anyone’s life no matter how much they might wish differently.

Cait’s fear for her mother is understandable, as is Gavin’s decreasing level of patience in the way that Cait deals with that fear. This is one of those stories where the real-life answer is probably counseling for everyone, but that can’t happen until the “everyone” in question is ready for it. And Gavin is correct that they all seem to be holding each other back from reaching for the future by holding on too tightly.

In short, I really liked the hero and heroine, I “bought into” both their relationship and the reasons they had problems in their relationship, and was happy for their HEA. I’ll be looking forward after all to the next book in this series, Under Control, because I bet the situation will be far from under anyone’s control. That always makes for great reading!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

LINK:   https://goo.gl/tm4d11

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per person. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff

Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie HenaffThe Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Anne Capestan #1
Pages: 272
Published by Maclehose Press Quercus on April 3rd 2018
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"A new crime series starring Anne Capestan a brilliant but disgraced police officer placed in charge of a team of department misfits to investigate decades old unsolved crimes...Suspended from her job as a promising police officer for firing "one bullet too many," Anne Capestan is expecting the worst when she is summoned to H.Q. to learn her fate. Instead, she is surprised to be told that she is to head up a new police squad, working on solving old cold cases. Though relived to still have a job, Capestan is not overjoyed by the prospect of her new role. Even less so when she meets her new team: a crowd of misfits, troublemakers and problem cases, none of whom are fit for purpose and yet none of whom can be fired. But from this inauspicious start, investigating the cold cases throws up a number a number of strange mysteries for Capestan and her team: was the old lady murdered seven years ago really just the victim of a botched robbery? Who was behind the dead sailor discovered in the Seine with three gunshot wounds? And why does there seem to be a curious link with a ferry that was shipwrecked off the Florida coast many years previously?"--

My Review:

I picked up The Awkward Squad because the description sounded an awful lot like one of my favorite British TV series, New Tricks.

It turns out that it sounds a lot like it because it is a lot like it, and that’s a good thing. There are certainly differences, and the cases they actually end up solving are nothing alike, but the premise is the same, at least in the important bits.

The Awkward Squad is the last hope for a group of police officers in Paris who have screwed up irredeemably in one way or another, but who also can’t be fired for one reason or another. The divisionaire (think Superintendant) has created this squad of misfits, stuck them in a run down apartment far from police headquarters, given them the worst of the cast-off furniture and equipment, taken away their guns, and dumped every box of cold cases that HQ can find on their doorstep.

They are all supposed to take their relegation as a sign that it’s time to quit, or retire, or possibly even die.

Instead, their Commissaire (think commanding officer) takes the relegation as a sign of hope. She believes that if they manage to do good police work and show up whoever originally handled some of those old, cold cases, they’ll all have a chance at returning to HQ where they belong.

Anne Capestan, every bit as disgraced as the unit she finds herself commanding, is both half right and half wrong. She’s right in her idea that if they take their no-hope unit and do some real policing with it, they can all earn back the respect they’ve lost.

But she’s wrong in thinking that they all belong back at HQ, or as part of the regular police force that has marginalized them. As her “awkward squad” of misfit cops bands together, they discover that they do their best work outside of the bounds of the regular force – and with each other.

It’s supposed to have been a dead-end job for dead-end cops. It turns out to be a home, and a family and a damn good unit.

And a setup from the word go.

Escape Rating B+: It’s hard for me to lose the resemblance to New Tricks. In the show, the misfits are all retired cops, admittedly sometimes forcibly retired for the same types of infractions and troubles that plague this squad. The new commander in both cases has been sidelined after a well-publicized action that should have ended their career. And in both cases, they investigate cases that the original officers either half-assed or willfully neglected.

But unlike New Tricks, all of Anne’s squad are still serving officers, albeit barely in some cases. They all still have a chance to resurrect their careers if they can face their demons.

And Anne’s squad was set up for a special purpose, in addition to the stated purpose of driving them all to leave. There’s someone at HQ who hopes that Anne will dive into the two murders that were hidden among all the boxes of old casework, and that she’ll figure out what all the investigators before her have missed.

Not because she’s good, although she is, but because she’s dogged, particularly in the face of officialdom saying “NO”. Which it does. Repeatedly and often. Which only makes Anne more determined to get a “YES” – or make one.

But what makes this book is not just the case, although it is fascinating and convoluted and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

What makes this book are the members of that awkward squad and the way that they coalesce from a bunch of misfits into a family of choice. The way that they work their way around the roadblocks in their path as well as the way that they work their way towards each other, is often lighthearted and frequently hilarious.

In the end, their family is centered around a dog, and the case is solved because of a cat. With a lot of sometimes rueful laughter along the way – and often at their own expense.

I had a great time getting to know Anne and band of misfit cops, and I sincerely hope that further books in this series are translated and make their way to this side of the “pond”.

Review: Good Guys by Steven Brust

Review: Good Guys by Steven BrustGood Guys by Steven Brust
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Pages: 320
Published by Tor Books on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal--or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. "Lethal" turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved.

When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn't like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too.

"Hippie chick" Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she's as powerful as Donovan and Marci now.

They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before.

They all work for the secretive Foundation...for minimum wage.

Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren't they?

My Review:

If you take Magic Ex Libris by Jim C. Hines SPI Files by Lisa Shearin, Paranormal Scene Investigations by Laura Anne Gilman, and mix them with a bit of cold war spy fiction and a heaping helping of noir, you’ll get something like Good Guys.

Both SPI Files and Paranormal Scene Investigations involve organizations that investigate and clean up after crimes in magical versions of our own world. Libriomancer and its Magic Ex Libris series are part of the mix because in that version of our world, magic is hiding in plain sight, and part of the duty of the magical organization is to protect the world from the knowledge that magic exists. Add in that the libriomancers are fighting a conspiracy both from without and from within, and the magic side of Good Guys is pretty well covered.

Because the story in Good Guys follows one particular operations team for the mysterious and magical Foundation as they chase around the world making sure that a magical serial killer does not expose the existence of real magic in the world, even as they investigate the patterns to see if they can both figure out what his game is – and catch him before he reaches its end.

Or his. Or theirs.

The more they discover about the whys and wherefores of the crime spree, the more they have to ask themselves, are they really the good guys? Or are they just battling their own bureaucracy and running around the world on behalf of an organization that is no better than the one they fight against.

Escape Rating B+: It’s been a long time, possibly too long, since I read anything by Steven Brust. I’ll admit that I was expecting a bit more snark. (If you love snarky fantasy with an epic-ish/urban-ish feel, his Vlad Taltos series (start with Jhereg) is marvelous reading crack as long as you don’t try to swallow too many of them at once.)

The story in Good Guys is a fairly deft mixture of mystery/investigation with magic, and very much a part of the urban fantasy tradition of magical detectives solving mysteries in a contemporary world that is just a bit sideways from reality.

What keeps the reader glued to their chair is the way that the whole thing works. Because we’re both following this one rather eclectic, or possibly eccentric, team of investigators while also watching them plumb the depths of their own organization – and not liking what they find in those depths.

There’s a lot of murk, and the frequent changes in perspective between the team leader, the criminal, the new recruit and the bosses on all sides of this mess occasionally muddies waters that are already pretty clouded. While the reader gets invested with Donovan and his team, the perspective shifts sometimes make it difficult to retain that focus. Especially as the author attempts to keep the reader in the dark while showing the criminal’s own thoughts and feelings. It might have worked a bit better, or it would certainly have worked a bit better for this reader, if we’d stayed with Donovan.

Which does not mean that the story wasn’t absolutely fascinating, and a whole lot of fun – because it certainly was. The investigation was every bit as twisting and convoluted as the best mystery, while the magical additions gave the forensic side of the equation lots of new toys to play with. Of course, that magic also gave the criminals new toys to play with as well.

And Donovan’s constant fight with, and continued attempts to work around, the bureaucracy that is as big a problem as it is a game, will find resonance with anyone who has worked in an organization containing more than three people. Paper-pushing procedures and internal politics are enemies that we all face.

In the end, the question of whether Donovan and his mysterious Foundation are really the good guys remains an open one. But their search for the answer is a whole lot of fun.

Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Master (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #3) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Legend claimsWhen Scotland fell to English ruleThe Highland dragons took a vow:Freedom at any price.

The war for Scottish independence rages on, but it's only a matter of time before England is victorious. Exhausted and battle-weary, Highland dragon Erik MacAlasdair will face unknown seas to seek the Templar stronghold and claim a power so great it could free his beloved homeland forever.

If only that kind of power didn't come with such a terrible price.

Daughter of a mortal woman and an ancient dragon, Toinette has never forgotten the proud Scot who once stole her young heart—she'll gladly fight at his side. But when dark forces leave them stranded on a cursed island, it will take everything they have to defy their fate...and trust the passion that burns within the heart of every dragon.

My Review:

Every book in this series is different. The first book, Highland Dragon Warrior, was a slow-build, slow-burn, both on the romance front and on the action front. The heroine was an alchemist, and the story moved along at the pace of her experiments.

The second book, Highland Dragon Rebel, is a road story. The romance, the danger, the action, all move along as the protagonists travel from place to place.

The third book in the series, Highland Dragon Master, is pretty damn creepy at points. I don’t mean creepy as in pace, I mean creepy as in, let’s call it horror-adjacent. For a story that takes place centuries before the Gothic genre came into being, it has that Gothic atmosphere of creeping evil.

Also Templars and the Ark of the Covenant. Well, not exactly THAT ark, but an ark that wants to make a covenant, and turns out to be every bit as destructive as that famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The books in this series are not like each other, and they don’t depend on each other to build the story. There are minor references to the heroine in the first book, and lots of call backs to the place that all the dragons call home, but nothing in Highland Dragon Master that can’t be picked up from context.

The title, like all the titles of the series, is kind of a twist. Both Erik and Toinette are Highland Dragons, but neither of them is the master in this particular scenario, unless the reference is to Toinette as her ship’s master. Instead, they have run into something that wants to master both of them – and that’s what they must prevent at all costs.

The story begins as a sea voyage, and ends as a second chance at love. But the middle is just about as scary as any horror fan might desire. The story begins as a search for treasure, but turns into something that will keep readers biting their nails hoping for good to triumph over evil.

This is a story where nothing turns out to be quite as it seems. Except the love that Erik and Toinette rekindle in each other – a love that they may be forced to end in the ultimate sacrifice.

Escape Rating B+: Highland Dragon Master was a lot faster paced than Highland Dragon Warrior, but not nearly as much fun as Highland Dragon Rebel. If you are thinking of picking up this series, particularly if you loved the author’s earlier dragon series which begins with Legend of the Highland Dragon but is set centuries later than this series, you might want to start with Highland Dragon Rebel.

I’ll also admit that I’m not a horror fan, so the strong sense of creeping evil that permeates this book from the moment they wreck on the mysterious island had me on the edge of my seat. It was also more than creepy enough that I waited until morning to finish the book because I didn’t want to read this one in just the flickering light of my iPad.

One of the things that makes this series so enjoyable are the characters. Toinette is one of the best. Even in the 14th century, she has found a way to live the life she wants to live in spite of her gender. Toinette is a ship’s captain. Not the sexy caricature of female captains we so often see, but a woman who has found her authentic self and lives that self. She commands her men and their loyalty not through sex appeal, but by being a good and fair commander. They give her their loyalty and if necessary their lives because she gives hers in return.

It is a soul-searching moment for her when she and Erik must reveal that they are dragon-shifters if there is to be any hope of saving the ship and her crew. That she agonizes over the change in her relationship with her men, especially her second-in-command, is heartfelt and very, very human.

And it is utterly marvelous that her second-in-command, who respected her as his captain before he knew she was a dragon, is able to shift their relationship without breaking that respect. At the same time, it is terrific to see that their relationship has always been that of partners without any element of sexual attraction between them, even though Marcus seems to be as heterosexual as Toinette. That they can be friends and colleagues and both be content with that relationship is something that needs to happen more often, and not just in romance.

This is also a story where the ends don’t justify the means, and where Erik has to go through a certain amount of soul-searching to come to that conclusion. He came on this quest in search of treasure to add Scotland in their perpetual war with England. And he finds it. But, as has been discovered before in other times and other lands and even among the stars, some gifts come at just too high a price.

I have enjoyed both the Highland Dragons series and now this prequel series, Dawn of the Highland Dragon, very much indeed. This looks like it might be the end of this trilogy, but I sincerely hope that the author is not done with the Highland Dragons.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Fatal Chaos by Marie Force

Review: Fatal Chaos by Marie ForceFatal Chaos by Marie Force
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Fatal #12
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on February 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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First the calm. Then the storm...Escaping DC during the dog days of summer is one of the smartest moves Washington metro police lieutenant Samantha Holland ever made. Beach walks aren't quite as romantic with the Secret Service in tow, but Sam and her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, cherish the chance to recharge and reconnect--especially with a scandal swirling around the administration.No sooner are they back home than a fatal drive-by shooting sets the city on edge. The teenage victim is barely older than Sam and Nick's son, Scotty. As more deaths follow, Sam and her team play beat the clock to stop the ruthless killers. With Nick facing his greatest challenge--one that could drastically change all their lives and even end Sam's career--will the mounting pressure deepen or damage their bond?

My Review:

I read the first two books in this series (Fatal Affair and Fatal Justice) a couple of years ago. I always intended to go back, but couldn’t seem to get a round tuit. So when Fatal Chaos came up on my radar, in spite of it coming ten books after my first foray in this series, I decided to see if I could pick this Washington DC power couple back up where I left off, without reading the intervening books in the series.

And it turns out that I could. And that they remind me even more of an early 21st century Dallas and Roarke than they did upon earlier reading. And that’s still marvelous company to be solving crimes in.

(And yes, I realize that’s an awful lot of ANDS.)

There’s enough backstory to get new or new-ish readers right into the action. Sam Hollands is a Detective Lieutenant with the slightly fictional DC Metro Police Department. Her husband, Nick Cappuano, who was a senator’s chief of staff when first we met our heroes, has moved up in the world, mostly reluctantly. Nick is now Vice-President, after a series of deaths and scandals not dissimilar to the way he became Senator in the first place.

Nick is VP the same way that Gerald Ford was, or perhaps the way that Nelson Rockefeller was, albeit a whole lot better looking than either. He was appointed by the President after the office was vacated mid-term. I think I remember that the President who appointed Nick was also appointed rather than elected, hence the reference to Nelson Rockefeller, the appointed VP of an appointed P.

Come to think of it, this series also begins with a scandalous crime at the Watergate. Hmmm.

But as seems to always be the case with this series, Nick and Sam are under a lot of pressure, both separately and together. The President is in big trouble over the events in Fatal Threat. His son was on a murderous campaign to get Nick and Sam out of the way. Even though said son was well into adulthood, the press and the Democratic Party are having a difficult time believing that he knew nothing of what his son was up to. Impeachment is on the horizon, something that Nick and Sam dread possibly even more than the President does.

Nick isn’t sure he wants to ever be President, and he’s dead certain he doesn’t want to be President right now. Sam is absolutely sure that she doesn’t want to be First Lady, which will require her to have a Secret Service detail and force her to give up her career as a homicide detective.

Speaking of homicide, the case that Sam and her department are desperate to solve involves what initially appear to be a series of random drive-by shootings. However, those shootings are so accurate that the squad can only locate one person capable of committing the crime – a retired Metro PD sharpshooter who has been missing during the entire crime spree.

So Sam has to do what Sam does best – see just how many of her brothers and sisters in blue she can royally piss off before she catches the killers. All while burying her head in the sand over all the other threats to her life and happiness that loom on the horizon.

Escape Rating B+: When I read the first two books in this series, I said then that they were reading crack, and I’ll stand by that description. They are excellent reading crack. I finished this one in an evening, because I couldn’t put it down.

Sam and Nick are marvelous protagonists. They have found true love in the midst of extreme chaos, are not the least bit shy about showing it, and absolutely refuse to let it go, no matter what.

But there are an awful lot of those “whats” in their life together.

The big elephant in the room is the possibility that Nick might become President, with all of the changes that will cause in their life. Sam, like Eve Dallas in the In Death series, was made to be a cop. While there is a possibility that some day she might be willing to give up being a homicide detective, she is relatively young and that day is definitely not yet. It’s pretty obvious that it will kill an important part of her if she has to stop. So the threat to their happiness is very real, and hangs over most of the story.

The immediate problem is Sam’s case. Someone is killing at random, including children. Nothing seems to link the victims. But the method of the crime begins to narrow down the possibilities, and that’s where Sam gets herself in trouble. Again.

There’s a long history of some of Sam’s colleagues resenting her for her relatively quick rise through the ranks. And an unfortunate history of those same resentful colleagues exhibiting the kind of behavior that gets them thrown off them force, usually after Sam discovers what they’ve been up to. She’s already dealing with two different past incidents during this book, and at least two more crop up. Sam’s a busy woman, and does not let anything stand in her way when she’s on a case, not even the demands of her own body to get some rest after more than 24 hours on duty.

She’s certainly not about to let a philandering detective or an overly cautious commander protecting an old friend get in her way – not that she won’t pay for both of those incidents later, in another book.

And a big part of what makes this book and series so good, and also deepens the resemblance to the In Death series, is the way that Sam’s squad has developed into a terrific unit of friends as well as colleagues, and the way that they always have each other’s backs, especially hers.

While Sam may be the star, in the end it’s the team and their teamwork that solve the case. And that’s awesome.

I suspect that for readers who have kept up with the entire series, there is a lot more depth in the scenes that focus on the team and their friends and loved ones, as there are clearly lots of looks back at previous books and previous couples who have found their HEAs within Sam and Nick’s orbit. But even without having that deep background, and in spite of all the curveballs and crises that life keeps throwing Sam and Nick’s way, this is still a terrific piece of romantic suspense.

I’m looking forward to going back for more.

TLC
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Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline WinspearMessenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs, #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, World War I
Series: Maisie Dobbs #4
Pages: 322
Published by Henry Holt on August 22nd 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London, 1931. On the night before the opening of his new and much-anticipated exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police declare the fall an accident, but the dead man's twin sister, Georgina, isn't convinced. When the authorities refuse to conduct further investigations and close the case, Georgina - a journalist and infamous figure in her own right - takes matters into her own hands, seeking out a fellow graduate from Girton College: Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator.

The case soon takes Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, as well as the sinister underbelly of the city's art world. And while navigating her way into the heart of the aristocratic yet bohemian Bassington-Hopes, Maisie is deeply troubled by the tragedy of another, quite different family in need.

In Messenger of Truth, Maisie Dobbs again uncovers the dark legacy of the Great War in a society struggling to recollect itself in difficult times. But to solve the mystery of the artist's death, she will have to remain steady as the forces behind his death come out of the shadows to silence her.

Following on the bestselling Pardonable Lies, Jacqueline Winspear delivers another vivid, thrilling, and utterly unique episode in the life of Maisie Dobbs.

My Review:

I was disappointed to learn that there was no “Month of Maisie” this year. The last couple of years the publisher has toured both the upcoming book in the series (this year it’s To Die But Once) as well as the entire series to date. It’s been my prompt disguised as an opportunity to read one of the earlier books and then treat myself to the new one.

I always look forward to this tour, so I decided to do my own “Month of Maisie” this year. Hence today’s review of Messenger of Truth. Eventually I’ll catch up to myself, as I started reading with Leaving Everything Most Loved (book 10 in the series) and have been reading both forward and backward ever since. (I’m planning to review the new book during its “book birthday” week at the end of the month)

Messenger of Truth is set in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression. As is usually the case for Maisie, she is somewhat at a crossroads. After the events in Pardonable Lies, she has broken with her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche. She did not find his lies all that pardonable.

She has also moved out of her free lodgings at the London house of her “sponsor”, Lady Rowan Compton and into a purchased flat of her own.

Last but not least, she is discovering that she enjoys her freedom, and needs her work, much too much to give it up for marriage to Andrew Dene, the surgeon who has been courting her for the past couple of stories. Andrew is a perfectly nice and respectable man, but also a traditional one. And Maisie has determined that the traditional life of a wife and mother is not what she wants, or at least not what she wants right now. Or possibly just not what she wants with Andrew Dene.

So a case drops into Maisie’s life, one that will focus her energies not just on her work, but on what she wants to do and where she wants to go from here. It is also a case that will help her turn towards the future and finally step out of the shadows of World War I, even though, in the end, the war is what the case is all about.

Georgina Bassington-Hope hires Maisie to discover the truth about how her twin brother Nicholas died. Or was killed. The police have ruled the death of the promising artist a tragic accident, but something in Georgina believes it was murder. When the police are fed up with listening to her, they refer her to Maisie.

Because Maisie will find out the truth. No matter who it might hurt. Even if the person most destroyed turns out to be her client. Or herself.

And no matter how much danger she puts them both into along the way.

Escape Rating B+: This series as a whole are excellent historical mysteries. If you like the genre and haven’t read them yet, start with the first book, Maisie Dobbs. And if you are a fan of either the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd or the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, you’ll probably also love Maisie. All three series take place in the same WWI and between the wars period, and all feature heroines who would have a lot in common – and would probably enjoy a cuppa together to compare notes but would probably not become besties. They are all fascinating in similar ways, and they all cover some of the same turf, but are not much like each other.

I digress.

One of Maisie’s singular characteristics is her dogged determination to discover the truth, no matter what the cost. While most of her methods are fairly standard detective work in the sense of searching for clues and following the leads, she is also a practicing psychologist.

Another difference is that Maisie in “sensitive” in a way that might be described as psychic, although Maisie herself would never call it that. But she deliberately sets out to sense the vibrations and aura of a place, and will also deliberately put herself into a meditative trance in order to pick up those vibrations. The less one believes in this, the more off putting one finds it.

Messenger of Truth is a story where she does that rather a lot at the beginning, if only because there aren’t many physical clues to work with. Maisie, as she often does, looks deeply into motive to finally figure out “who done it”.

One of the hallmarks of Maisie’s cases is that there is always much more going on than just the case, and the way that Maisie usually discovers something about herself and her own issues as she resolves the case.

There’s a big, well, not exactly a red herring but certainly a bright pink one in this case. Nicholas and several of his painter friends kept studios on the beach at Romney Marsh, and either witnessed, were involved in, or a bit of both, one of the oldest “occupations’ on the English coast – smuggling.

That particular operation creates ties, and clues, in several directions – the past, the future, and the Customs and Excise. The call back to Dr. Syn and a Disney movie I saw as a child, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, was a trip down memory lane. The look into the future, at the direction Hitler was taking and the desperation of Jews to get their possessions out of the reach of the Nazis was prophetic. The Customs and Excise actually created a bit of comic relief, but also highlighted just how many things the dead artist was stirring up that no one wanted stirred.

In the end, it all circles back to the Great War. As so many things did at that time, and in Maisie’s life.

Maisie herself is always a fascinating character. Her life has made her the ultimate outsider, not part of any of the social classes, but able to operate in all of them. At the same time, this is a case where Maisie herself is working through multiple crossroads, deciding whether she wants a traditional life after all, or to continue down the independent road she has chosen. And just how much of her war it is time to put behind her – even as the next war looms on the horizon.

In the end, it’s not the case, but Maisie that we come to see, and it is her life that we want to read about. The case just provides focus for both her and the reader.

I can’t wait to pick up To Die But Once to see Maisie dealing with her second war, this time from the homefront.

Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’Connor

Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’ConnorShelter My Heart (Caught Up in Love, #2) by L.G. O'Connor
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Caught Up in Love #2
Pages: 348
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


Two Weeks. One Life-Changing Proposal.

Devon, an ailing, young CEO-in-training due to inherit his dead father's conglomerate saves the day for Jenny, an engaged young woman on her way home to see her family. To repay his kindness, she agrees to be his date for his family's annual society gala and convince the board that he's healthy and going to marry. Two weeks are all Devon needs, and two weeks are all Jenny can give--until the stakes rise, forcing Jenny to answer the question: How far is she willing to go to save Devon's life?


Shelter My Heart is a Kindle Scout Winner

Contemporary Romantic Women's Fiction - New Adult, Billionaire Romance

My Review:

I picked this book because I absolutely loved what turned out to be the first book in this series. Caught Up in Raine was a terrific younger man/older woman romance, and if you like that trope I recommend it highly.

Although that book was Jillian and Raine’s story, the author decided to continue to follow the women in Jill’s family after Jill found her HEA. Shelter My Heart is her niece Jenny’s story, and the third book in the series will hopefully answer all the questions about whatever happened between Jenny’s mother Kitty (Jill’s sister) and family friend John Henshaw. We’ll see in a couple of weeks, as I’m scheduled to review that book, Surrender My Heart, in a couple of weeks.

But Shelter My Heart is Jenny and Devon’s story, and it’s a doozy.

As this story begins, Jenny is trying to rush all the way across the country to be there for Jillian when she has her baby. And things keep getting in her way. Not just the fight she has with her fiance on her way out the door, but even her airline connections are against her.

Jillian’s been rushed to the hospital, and Jenny is stuck in the middle of nowhere because her incoming flight and her outbound flight missed each other. It happens. But there are no coach seats on any of the remaining flights outbound, and tomorrow might be too late. Jillian’s is a high-risk pregnancy, and there are complications. Jenny needs to be there.

A knight in bespoke suit armor comes to her rescue, paying for her first-class ticket home. And, as it turns out, the seat right beside him. And that’s where our story really begins, with Devon Soames and Jenny Lynch on a plane together, discovering that they each have the ability to take the other one out of themselves, in spite of everything that is going wrong in their lives.

Jenny’s problems, in spite of the current scare over Jillian and her baby, are mostly either of her own making or completely beyond her control. She knows her engagement should be over, she’s just having a difficult time formalizing the ending, both to her family and to the douchebag in question.

She’s also lived through a lot of death. Four people close to her have died in the past few years, one every other year. And even though none of those deaths are remotely her fault, the events that surround the first one have made her feel cosmically responsible for the others.

Devon, on the other hand, is pretty much in the middle of a crap sandwich that isn’t his fault. But that white-knight syndrome of his won’t let him do anything but sacrifice himself and all he has in the hope of making things better for his sister and his invalid mother, if not for himself.

Jenny has the feeling that death is following her around. Devon, on the other hand, is very definitely dying. He survived cancer, but the chemotherapy he needed did a permanent number on his kidneys, and they’re failing fast. He needs a transplant to survive.

The problem is that pretending that he is completely healthy is absolutely required to keep his repulsive half-brother from taking over his late father’s company. And taking over that company is the only way to provide enough money to give his mother the care that she will need for the rest of her life.

Devon feels as if he has no future. And he might not. But meeting Jenny makes him dream about happy endings again – no matter how much he tries to convince himself that they are not for him.

Until they very nearly aren’t. The end. Almost.

Escape Rating B+: This is the kind of melodramatic, soap-opera-ish, angsty romance that you just want to eat up with a spoon. And I very nearly did – I finished in a day. As crazy as some of the situations are, there is a lot of heart in this story and I just could not stop reading until the end.

This is a story where pretty much everything piles on. There are so many points where it is angsty well past the point of melodrama, because just so much happens, and it is all a bit over the top.

And most of it happens to poor Devon.

Jenny did have a tragedy in her past, but it looms bigger in her memory than she is actually responsible for. And while her about-to-be-ex-fiance is a douche, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping Jenny from kicking him to the curb, with or without Devon in the mix.

Devon, on the other hand, seems to have drawn most of the rotten cards out of the deck. He is rich, and that’s the one thing that falls mostly right for him, except his wealth is threatened and may even be temporary.

Devon’s Dad was a real, honest-to-goodness (or make that honest-to-badness) douchecanoe of epic proportions, and it’s those proportions that Devon is dealing with, in addition to caring for his invalid mother, imminent kidney failure, and staving off a corporate takeover.

When Devon, who is not yet 25, was undergoing cancer treatment, douchecanoe daddy changed his will to leave the family corporation to Devon if and only if Devon was pronounced healthy and able to provide an heir to the family on his 25th birthday. If he dies, can’t pass a physical or doesn’t have a sperm count (Devon had testicular cancer, so this is more relevant than it seems), the company will go to his half-brother, who is an even bigger asshat than dear old dad. Which is saying something since said half-brother is the product of daddy’s adulterous affair, not a previous or subsequent marriage.

And oh by the way, this “boys club” arrangement completely disregards the existence of Devon’s twin sister, who is an absolute shark as far as executive material is concerned. She is a better CEO for the company than either Devon or the bastard, a fact which Devon fully acknowledges but that dear old dad refused to admit on account of her gender. Like I said, Daddy was a douche.

There also turns out to be enough corporate skulduggery going on to fill an entire season of a soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty, but it does mostly take a back seat to the romance between Jenny and Devon – even though he refuses to open up about all the shit that’s going down in his life until generally the last possible moments. Over and over again.

In the end, it’s the love story that carries this tale. The reader is caught up in the two of them, as they fall in love, and its the real deal, in spite of how brief a time they’ve known each other and all the crap that they are forced to wade through. You want them to find their HEA, even though Devon is frequently too boneheaded to let Jenny in.

His sister Lettie blames that on a combination of white-knight syndrome and testosterone poisoning, with an emphasis on the testosterone poisoning. She is often the person pushing them together, and definitely the one pushing Devon to reveal all before it’s too late.

Lettie really deserves her own happy ending. She’s earned it. And I hope the series extends long enough for her to get one. But wrap Shelter My Love and it’s story up in a very pretty, neatly tied bow. In spite of the long arm of coincidence, and the octopus tentacles of family greed and corporate shenanigans, this one is like dark chocolate, yummy and gooey with just that touch of bitter to make the sweet really pop!

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySmooth-Talking Cowboy (Gold Valley, #1) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Gold Valley #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Gold Valley, Oregon, where a rough-and-tumble rancher and the girl next door are about to learn that opposites attract

Olivia Logan has a plan: win back her ex by making him see what he’s missing. But first she needs to find a man who’s willing to play along. With his laid-back cowboy charm and knack for getting under her skin, Luke Hollister is an unlikely hero—but he wants her help convincing her father to sell him land, which means he needs her as much as she needs him.

Luke likes his life—and his women—uncomplicated. So why does good girl Olivia heat his blood like no one else? She’s always been off-limits, but the more time they spend as Gold Valley’s hottest new “couple,” the more real it’s starting to feel. Luke was supposed to help her win back another man…not keep her in his arms. But now that he has her there, he’s not sure he’ll ever let go.

My Review:

It’s not so much that Luke Hollister is a particularly smooth talker – it’s more like Olivia Logan is particularly susceptible to his brand of cowboy charm – even if she can’t admit it, not even to herself.

But then, Olivia has a long and sad history of not admitting what’s important to her to herself or to anyone else. She has become so invested in being a “good girl” for so many sad and bad reasons that falling for Luke’s charm is the furthest thing from her mind.

Until after it happens, and she’s forced to realize, at least in the privacy of her own mind, that he’s just what she’s been waiting for all along – even when she was pining away for someone else entirely.

This author has a knack for getting her heroine’s into really angsty situations, and Olivia Logan is no exception, even if some of her angst, or at least the layers on top, are mostly of her own making.

In the Copper Ridge series, which takes place just down the road from Gold Valley, Olivia Logan was one of the secondary characters. As her friends and co-workers met and fell in love with the men of their dreams, Olivia was absolutely certain that she had already found the man she was destined to spend the rest of her life with.

The fact that it was obvious to everyone that Olivia Logan and Bennett Dodge had absolutely zero chemistry didn’t seem to matter to Olivia. She had convinced herself that Bennett was the perfect man for her. And it turned out that Olivia’s father had convinced Bennett that Olivia was the right woman for him.

This is not the stuff of which dreams are made. Occasionally it IS the stuff of which nightmares are made.

After a year of extremely tepid dating, Olivia expected a ring. Bennett wasn’t ready. It’s dubious whether Bennett would ever be ready, but Olivia wasn’t ready to admit that. She broke up with Bennett in the hopes that her absence would make him realize just what he was missing.

Instead, Olivia discovered exactly what she was missing, in the person of Luke Hollister – a man who delighted in getting her just a little bit riled up every time they met. Sort of like the way that little boys tease the girls they like but don’t know what to do with yet.

Luke wasn’t interested in relationships, and Olivia wasn’t interested in anything but. But without Bennett to fill in the empty spaces, Olivia discovered that being a good girl was kind of a strait-jacket, and that Luke was the perfect person to help her out of it. And everything else she might possibly have on.

If she’s willing to take a risk on not being perfect, on getting hurt, and on saying (and doing) what’s really in her heart.

Escape Rating B+: As I said earlier, Olivia has been one of the secondary characters in Copper Ridge, and in the author’s Copper Ridge series. She has not been one of the more likeable characters, but up until now, we didn’t really know why.

What we do know is that she’s just a bit socially awkward, and not for any of the usual reasons. Olivia has been so invested in being the “good girl” that her parents expect her to be that she has done her best to live a completely disciplined life and remove any and all temptations to stray from the straight and narrow. And she’s pretty judgemental about anyone who does stray from that straight and narrow.

Olivia is a twin, but her twin sister is not in the picture. Vanessa didn’t just stray from the straight and narrow, she ran headlong away from it, into sex and booze and eventually drugs. As happens in so many families, the more that Vanessa turned toward the “dark side”, the more that Olivia felt obligated to become her opposite, the “good girl”. And now that Vanessa is who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, Olivia is kind of stuck in her role. Not only does the entire town expect it, but so do her smothering, overprotective parents who are desperate to hover over the child they still have in their lives.

Marrying Bennett Dodge was part of the life that Olivia was expected to have. It’s only once Bennett is out of her life that she’s able to look at what she really wants – even when she herself doesn’t want to see it.

Not that Luke is much more self-aware. Just as the loss of her twin is at the heart of so much of Olivia’s behavior, and so much of her internal conflict, Luke Hollister is also hiding a deep loss that he hasn’t been able to get past. It’s their traumas that finally bring them together, and nearly tear them apart.

The lesson at the end of the story is both sad and beautiful. You’ll see.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna HackettLevi (Hell Squad, #15) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #15
Pages: 182
Published by Anna Hackett on January 29th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a bad boy berserker collides with a spunky mechanic on a dangerous sabotage mission.

Levi King has always lived rough. Raised by a biker dad, he fought for everything he had—including being president of the Iron Kings motorcycle club. But when the aliens invaded, he lost it all. Now he wades through the muck with his fellow berserkers, fighting to protect the last of the human survivors. He fights hard and parties harder, and follows no one’s rules but his own. But then he finds himself fascinated by a mouthy, auburn-haired mechanic who isn’t afraid to give him a piece of her mind.

Chrissy Hagan survived months of alien captivity and now she’s found a purpose at the Enclave—as mechanic in charge of the armored Hunter vehicles. She keeps her babies purring…and hates every scratch the soldiers put on them, especially when a certain arrogant, cocky, and annoying biker is responsible. Did she mention annoying? What about tattooed, man-bunned, and far too sexy? Chrissy and Levi do more than strike sparks of each other…they start full blown infernos, and she isn’t afraid to use her wrench on his hard head when required.

But then a vital mission requires Chrissy to step out of the safety of the Enclave, and sabotage and steal an alien vehicle. Working side by side, desire burns white-hot. Levi discovers he will give everything he’s got to keep Chrissy safe and claim her as his…if they both get through the deadly mission alive.

My Review:

OK, we’re now 15 books into the Hell Squad series. And it’s still pretty damn awesome.

This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction romance series that will even work for people who don’t generally like post-apocalyptic science fiction. Like me. In a way, the series is kind of an extended version of the first Independence Day movie. The aliens have landed, and they are determined to wipe out humanity and strip the planet. (Or absorb humanity and strip the planet, as the Gizzida definitely have some Borg-like features).

Unlike the movie, instead of the happy ending where the aliens get kicked off Earth with extreme prejudice happening relatively quickly, and before all of the planetary-wide organization has been wiped out, the Hell Squad series stretches out over a relatively long period of time. At this point in the series we’re definitely a couple of years into the mess, and the human population has been decimated, using something closer to the original meaning of the term. But instead of one person in ten being wiped out, the results of the Gizzida invasion have been more like the other way around – one person in ten has survived.

The series focuses on one group of survivors in Australia. The inhabitants of the Enclave have been taking the fight to the Gizzida, and the aliens are determined to wipe out this last bastion of resistance by any means available. And they are unfortunately very, very inventive at thinking up new ways of targeting the remaining human population.

While all of the books in this series are definitely romances, there is an overarching story about the ongoing resistance to the Gizzida  as well as the neverending search for a way to kick them off our Earth. (I’m really, really looking forward to that story!)

In each story in the series, the romances have featured different people among the resistance. While the original story (Marcus) was all about the romance between one of the soldiers and the squad communications officer, as the series has unfolded the romances have featured every sort of person who would be needed to keep a place like the Enclave running.

In the case of this particular story, the romance is between Levi, one of the members of the Berserker Squad, and Chrissy, an ace mechanic in the equivalent of the motor pool. If it has an engine, Chrissy can fix it, armor it up and keep it running, no matter what.

But as a woman who has always worked in a man’s world, she’s kept her heart to herself. As someone who was once a prisoner of the Gizzida, she also highly values her freedom. That combination has meant that she keeps herself to herself, does her job, and is not impressed by the high-testosterone members of the Squads. Not until Levi breaches her defenses.

As with many books in the series, a situation arises where the noncombatant partner has to go on a mission that will put them directly in harm’s way. In this case, the Gizzida have flooded an area near their Sydney Airport base, and are obviously building something that they don’t want the humans to see. It’s up to Chrissy to help steal one of their amphibious vehicles and help drive it into the underwater compound so that the Berserkers can investigate at close quarters.

And of course the mission goes pear-shaped. Until Chrissy saves the day. And her man.

Escape Rating B+: The first third of this book, while a lot of fun, felt a lot like previous books in the series. A lot of patterns have developed over the course of the series and they are pretty easy to spot. Still fun to read, though.

Howsomever, at about ⅓ of the way in, the book suddenly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I have no idea why, but once I hit that point, I was all in for the rest of the wild ride.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the author keeps expanding the base. It’s not just soldiers, and the women are never damsels in distress. We see all the people who are needed to keep a place like this, and a resistance, up and running and taking it to the enemy. Every single person is busy, and everyone contributes something to the fight.

Chrissy is a terrific heroine for this series. Like many of the women, she’s both strong and vulnerable. That she was a prisoner of the Gizzida and was rescued gives her a different perspective on life in the Enclave. She never mourns what she lost in the invasion – only who she lost. But after her imprisonment, she sees every tiny luxury as a gift to be grateful for. And she is.

I liked Chrissy as a character quite a bit, as was happy to see her find her Happy for Now. All the romances in this series are all HFNs, not for the usual reasons, but because the Now is so precarious.

I hope to see them all become HEAs when the Gizzida get kicked back into space – or into Hell – for good. Hopefully in the not too distant future.