A- #BookReview: Guard the East Flank by M.L. Buchman

A- #BookReview: Guard the East Flank by M.L. BuchmanGuard the East Flank: a military romantic suspense (Night Stalkers Reload Book 1) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Night Stalkers Reload #1
Pages: 358
Published by Buchman Bookworks on July 1, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Emily Beale returns! And the Night Stalkers will never be the same.

Captain Sharelle Vargas may be the best pilot in the 160th SOAR helicopter regiment, but is she ready for Colonel Emily Beale?
Captain Troy Ryland loves three things in his his family farm, flying the most lethal helicopter in the US military, and the woman he flies with. Each pull him in a different direction. The clock isn’t ticking—it’s running out!
A new mission slams them into action as they must infiltrate the notorious “Wind from the East”—Russia. Once in, will their combined skills prove enough to escape with their lives and their hearts intact?
“(For) fans of Suzanne Brockmann, Maya Banks, Catherine Mann, and Kaylea Cross.” – Booklist
“OMG, I love how this guy writes military romantic suspense!!” – Smitten with Reading

My Review:

Lieutenant Colonel Emily Beale was a legend among the Night Stalkers. And so she should be, considering her many, many firsts and achievements and successful missions. (If you want details – and you should if you love military romance! – check out the original Night Stalkers series that began with The Night is Mine.)

The thing about legends is that people generally expect them to be dead. Or at least retired. Definitely past their prime.

But Emily Beale is none of the above. She’s clearly not dead, she’s still on active duty, and she’s not in the least past her prime. It’s just that her missions have shifted from overt to so covert they are black-in-black, while she seemingly spends her days and her time and her energy running Henderson Ranch and it’s many, many side-businesses with her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Henderson (retired) and raising their tween daughters.

It’s a good life. It’s a happy life. And it’s a fulfilling life. Well, it is for Mark. For Emily – not quite so much. Almost, but not quite.

Which is when and where Colonel Cassius McDermott, the current commander of the Night Stalkers, drops into Henderson Ranch with an offer that Emily Beale both does and doesn’t want to refuse. Cass is being promoted out of the job he’s held for the past decade. The Night Stalkers need someone who knows the command from the inside out AND has the necessary intelligence and experience to think outside the box – because 21st century warfare no longer takes place inside that box.

The Night Stalkers need Emily Beale to step up and take the reins – at least long enough to prepare someone to follow the trail that she’ll blaze. Again.

Escape Rating A-: There are two – or maybe it’s three – plot points circling the skies in this first book in the Night Stalkers Reload series.

(If you haven’t read the original series, it is marvelous and well-worth a read. Howsomever, you don’t have to read it first to get into this one. As with many romance series, it’s the setting and the setup that carries over from book to book – or series to series – and not the main characters. Not that previous main characters don’t appear in later books or later series, but you don’t have to know – or remember – all the deets about what happened before to get into what’s happening now. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t WANT to, but you don’t HAVE to.)

Back to those plot circles. The first, biggest and most obvious is the return of Emily Beale to the Night Stalkers. Not because she takes over the story, but she does take command, links long-term readers back to the original series – and, and most importantly – shows Beale as a woman at mid-career AND midlife caught between a huge rock and a ginormous hard place that seems real to any woman caught in that middle – even if they aren’t or weren’t an elite fighter pilot.

Emily loves her family, loves the life they’ve built, is mostly satisfied with the way things are and feels all of her commitments very strongly. Those black-in-black operations that she handles intelligence and analysis for keep her hand in without taking her away from the life she’s built.

But she’s not done, not intellectually and not emotionally. Her husband has retired from the military because their life at Henderson Ranch satisfies him all the way down to his toes. That’s not true for Emily. And yet, she doesn’t want to go back into the field.

Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t something missing in her life. Just as there will be something missing if she takes command of the Night Stalkers. Either choice leaves her half-bereft and full of regrets.

It’s so easy to feel for her dilemma. The specifics of her choice aside, the fact that she has to choose is very true-to-life. And that eventually realizes that she can’t handle the huge task before her without help – both from her family and from the people she commands and serves with.

At the same time, as with all of the books in the Night Stalkers series, there are two other plots that move from the foreground to the background as the story follows the early months of Emily’s command.

Both of those storylines rotate around Captains Sharelle Vargas and Troy Ryland, the present-day number one pilot team in the 160th SOAR. Their relationship is in flux in multiple ways. They’ve been carrying torches for each other since the day they were assigned together – three long years ago. But Troy knows that he’s a short-timer, getting out after 10 years to return to his family’s struggling farm. And he knows that Sharelle is in until the day they take her wings – or rotors – away.

A relationship is impossible – or it should be. But even as Troy’s contract is winding down, their romance is heating up.

And so is the danger of the black-in-black mission they’ve been assigned – to disrupt the supply chain between North Korean arms manufacturers and the Russian military fighting in Ukraine. All they’ll have to do is sabotage the Trans Siberian Railway using stolen Russian helicopters in Russian airspace with no one being the wiser – not even on their own side. Ever.

The mission is fascinating – and perhaps just a tiny bit prescient – which is scarier than any reader will want to admit. The romance is very much in the author’s trademark style in that it is a relationship of absolute equals in every possible way. Even if Troy has a bit of the misunderstandammits – not with Sharelle, but with his own hopes, dreams and particularly his obligations. For a really smart man – which he is – the situation he’s put himself into is pretty much the opposite.

But he does finally get his brain in gear along with his heart, leading to a terrific happy ending for the romance, even as the future of the Night Stalkers begins to wrap itself around his partner.

I’ve been a fan of this author since I read the very first Night Stalkers book, The Night is Mine, back in 2012. This series – and all of the author’s other series that I’ve dipped into and/or devoured over the years – have always been an excellent reading time – and this first entry in the Reload series absolutely did not buck that trend.

If you’re a fan of military romance in particular, or if you are just jonesing for a romance where the characters are always standing on equal ground – in spite of or because of whatever emotional baggage they may be trailing behind them – Buchman is a author who always delivers no matter the setting or setup. This reader will certainly be back for the next book in the Night Stalkers Reload series whenever it appears – and in the meantime I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the Miranda Chase series, Wedgetail, coming this Fall!

Review: At the Slightest Sound by M.L. Buchman

Review: At the Slightest Sound by M.L. BuchmanAt the Slightest Sound (ShadowForce: Psi #1) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: ShadowForce: Psi #1
Pages: 204
Published by Buchman Bookworks on September 14, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

Delta Force recon specialist Hannah Tucker needs out of the Colombian jungle and she needs out now.

Night Stalker pilot Jesse Johnson aims to oblige...until his helicopter is shot down. He finds that more than a little inconvenient.

Stalked by guerrillas, crocodiles, and other jungle unfriendlies, they must learn to control skills they never knew they had — or even existed!

Together they discover an unpredictable psychic ability to project sound and distract their enemies. Though the crocodiles remain unimpressed.

Their introduction to a secret military force, whose unique psi talents lay hidden in the shadows, launches them into a whole new world they never imagined.

My Review:

I read the first three books in the ShadowForce: Psi series in one glorious weekend binge. I had such a good time that I want to push them at everyone, and the best place to start is with the first book, the setup for THIS series, At the Slightest Sound.

So here we are.

The story begins with Night Stalkers helicopter pilot Jesse Johnson crash landing in Colombia on his attempt to rescue Delta operator Hannah Tucker. They’re both more than a bit bruised and banged up, and now they’re both in the jungle in the midst of the guerrilla forces that she was sent to find and he was sent to rescue her from. They’re going to have to rescue each other if either of them is to have a chance of surviving.

But Jesse and Hannah have an ace up their sleeves that they don’t even know they have. Hannah isn’t just very, very lucky at escaping capture, she has an uncanny ability that makes her pursuers look the other way at the most inconvenient moment – at least for those pursuers.

Hannah can throw, not her voice, but sound. Sound that distracts her enemies just when she most needs them distracted. She’s unwilling to admit that she might be a freak – but she and Jesse need that freakish ability of hers to survive. And, they need Jesse’s equally freakish ability to magnify those sounds to get the rescue of Jesse’s rescue to notice two camouflaged people hiding in the middle of a dense jungle from flyover height.

They come out of that jungle, together, caught between an intensive pull to find a way to stay together – in spite of both being lone operators in parts of the service that will pull them apart – and a desperate push to find their way back to some kind of normal, either by denying their strange abilities – or embracing them.

And that’s where things get really interesting, as they receive rather cryptic instructions from Hannah’s equally cryptic boss – to meet up with a group of ex-military and civilian operatives who have powers just as far outside the so-called normal as theirs.

It’s going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. It’s already the start of a terrific romantic suspense series!

Escape Rating A-: This was definitely a case of the right book at the right time. The book I was in the middle of was good but not great, and the one I’d just finished, which was in a similar vein to the ShadowForce series, was at that same not-quite-sweet spot, good but not as great as I’d hoped. And I have a review of the 4th – and it looks like final – book in this series scheduled for the end of the month, so I needed to get caught up.

I was only planning to read this first book, but the series turned out to be a bit like those potato chips – as in you can’t read just one. So I kept right on going, although I’m still saving that final book until next week. I think. Maybe I can resist.

I wouldn’t be able to resist too long, because this series reads more like a single story spread out over four relatively short books than it does four separate stories loosely connected into a series.

Although it is loosely connected to several of the author’s previous series. Which you don’t HAVE to have read to get totally immersed in this one. But they’re fun, adrenaline-inducing reads and if you like ShadowForce you’ll love them too. (If you’re looking for a fantastic way to while away about a month of this pandemic, start with The Night is Mine and get lost in this author’s world for a terrific – and long – time.)

Meanwhile, there’s At the Slightest Sound, and the three threads that it does an excellent job of packing into its rather tight length.

There’s the obvious thread, the high-adrenaline, high-stakes mutual rescue of Hannah and Jesse. Hannah is a Delta operator, she can get herself out of anything, anywhere, anytime. And she usually does. But she’s also a solo operator, not used to either counting on or dealing with anyone else.

Jesse is a helicopter pilot. The best of the best at what he does, just as Hannah is among the elite at what she does. But the one thing Jesse doesn’t do is get himself lost on the ground in unfamiliar territory. Hannah is the one leading their mutual escape, and Jesse has zero problems letting her lead.

The equality of the romantic partners is also one of the hallmarks of this author’s writing – it’s one of the things I read him FOR because it’s still rare and always GREAT to see.

But there are two other pieces to this story. One is wrapped around Hannah’s special talent and her understandable unwillingness to accept that she might be even more “different” than she thought she was. She already knew she was different, just by being a female Delta operator, but this is a step beyond – in more ways than one.

There’s less on this front for Jesse to accept or deal with. His talent only exists in conjunction with hers. He can amplify her signal, but can’t make a single spooky sound on his own. And he’s just plain more laid-back than Hannah.

However, the thing that they both have to come to terms with is that they are falling for each other, that they trust each other implicitly, and that they have an intimate relationship that hasn’t even managed to find a bed to consummate itself in yet, in less than 48 hours. They’ve both held their hearts closed before now, and they’re both having a difficult time accepting that they’re all in on a relationship that’s barely begun.

And that it’s the right thing to do. And feel.

The story of Shadowforce: Psi continues in At the Quietest Word and At the Merest Glance, and the continuing books in the series are every bit as good as this first one. I’m chomping at the bit to read the 4th book in the series, At the Clearest Sensation. Once you get started, I’m certain that you will be too!

That 4th and it looks like final book in the series will be out at the end of the month, and I wanted to be caught up before I started it. I’m definitely glad I did, because this series is complete in the four books, and it kind of IS one story spread out over the four. So start with At the Slightest Sound and get ready for one hell of a wild ride.

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense (Team 52 #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Team 52 #4
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on February 12th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers. As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

My Review:

It’s Valentine’s Day, which makes it a particularly appropriate day to post this review. Because a) it’s a romance and b) it’s by an author I absolutely love.

It would be perfect if it were my favorite genre by this author, science fiction romance, but c’est la vie. Like the song says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Team 52 series is a cross between action adventure romance and military romance. Because the members of Team 52 are nearly all ex-military, and the ones that aren’t are ex-CIA or something even more secretive. That’s certainly true in the case of our heroine, Blair Mason.

And like all of the other former military members of Team 52, Blair is ex-military not because she wanted to be, but because her last (and very nearly final) mission left her with injuries that made her ineligible to continue to serve.

But the high-tech advances kept under as many wraps as possible at Area 52 (yes, it’s next door to the place you’re thinking of) gave her back her eye, and her sight, even better than before. It’s just that if you learn the details of either her last mission, her current status, or just how it was done, she’d probably have to kill you.

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

The Team 52 series contains some of the earthbound elements of Stargate SG-1. Occasionally, although it’s starting to feel like not-so-occasionally, someone or something unearths powerful and dangerous technology leftover from surprisingly highly developed pre-Ice Age civilizations.

And that’s where Team 52 comes in. Because when these extremely dangerous devices come to light, there’s usually one or more villainous organizations who want to do very dark deeds with those devices.

So Team 52 swoops in to clean up the resulting mess.

But someone has to clean up their mess in a way that provides plausible explanations for the press and the public. It’s hard to completely cover up an entire ballroom full of dead bodies in the middle of a major city. A city like Las Vegas.

That’s where Detective Luke MacKade of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department comes in. It’s his job to make Team 52’s mess appear less messy to the powers that be and the noses that snoop. It’s not his only job, and it’s certainly not his favorite part of his job. He’s in the LVMPD for the “serve and protect” parts of the job and he’s convinced that all Team 52 does in come in and make his job harder without regard for the civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

His favorite part of the job seems to be riling up Blair Mason – even if he’s not willing to admit it.

But when one of their dangerous artifacts cuts a literal swath through his city, he gets an up close and person look at exactly what Team 52 does and why somebody has to do it.

And he finally manages to get close enough to Blair Mason to get an up close and personal view of the woman hiding under the prickly, badass exterior. And he wants to see a whole lot more.

Escape Rating A-: As far as this reader is concerned, the Team 52 series is back in fine form with this entry – even though I still think the titles are slightly cheesy.

I loved the first book (Mission: Her Protection), liked the second (Mission: Her Rescue) and thought the third (Mission: Her Security) was ok. This one is back to “love” on my list. I think because the focus is on Blair more than it is Luke.

What can I say, I like it when the heroine is every bit as badass, if not a bit more, than the hero. I also felt for her perspective of feeling like she needed to be all badass all the time in order to be respected by her teammates. And that the hero isn’t merely ok with that, but loves her and respects her for the badass she is and doesn’t need or want her to be anything else.

While her teammates respect her as she is, that she was socialized that way because the rest of the world doesn’t makes perfect sense.

One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that it so often ties into one or more of my other geekish interests. As I keep saying, this series, and the Treasure Hunter Security series it spun off of, have elements of Stargate.

The macguffin in this particular book are antique Japanese swords crafted by Muramasa, the rival of the legendary swordmaker Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. There are surviving Masamune swords in museums and private collections, but Muramasa appears to be more legendary than historical. I found this element of the story particularly fascinating because it tied in to my longstanding love for all things Final Fantasy X, where there is a sword Masamune named after the legendary but historical swordsmith and carried by the game’s resident badass.

I digress, but that’s what Team 52 does to me. It makes me digress into other geekish loves. Which is part of its charm, at least for me.

It’s awesome action-adventure/military romance, so if either of those are your jam, spread open the pages of this series!

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. BuchmanTarget of One's Own (The Night Stalkers 5E) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military romance, romantic comedy
Series: Night Stalkers 5E #4
Pages: 366
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

-a Night Stalkers 5E romance-
MISSION: Special Operations Forces barely miss capturing Pakistan’s #1 arms dealer. They know only one thing: he’s a champion driver in the most challenging car race in the world, The Dakar Rally. The Night Stalkers and SEAL Team 6 must join up again to face the race of their lives.

Drone pilot Zoe DeMille
— Her career never prepared her for going into the field rather than sending her drone. Driving dune buggies at Pismo Beach throughout her teen years, oddly did.
SEAL Team 6 Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman
— Trusts no one but his team. Ever!

Zoe convinces Luke that they must go undercover to target their prey in the wildest 5E mission yet. They enter the two-week, 10,000 kilometer race across the dunes, deserts, and mountains of South America to track him down.

But when Zoe’s viral fashion blog—The Soldier of Style—sparks a media frenzy, it threatens the very nature of this Black Op. She can’t outrace the madness. And she hasn’t a clue how to navigate Luke.

My Review:

I’m tempted to review this book merely by paraphrasing the scrawls that one sees on bathroom walls by saying, “for a good time, read M.L. Buchman” and call it a wrap. But that’s a bit short on details. Still correct, though.

Also appropriate to the story, as once upon a time in Pismo Beach, it would have been Zoe DeMille’s name and number on that bathroom wall. But she’s reinvented herself since those dark days.


Her public persona is that of “The Soldier of Style: Living in the Cutey-Edgy Budget Battlespace.” It’s Zoe’s public vlog (and associated twitter feed) as a budget-minded fashionista blogger with a definite cute airhead vibe.

And it’s a cover for her real job as a drone pilot – they prefer the term RPA for remote piloted aircraft – for the Night Stalkers 5E. A job that is anything but cute, and at which she is anything but airheaded. The Night Stalkers only take, and only employ, the best of the best of the best. And she is.

But Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman of SEAL Team 6 only sees the cute little airhead persona and doesn’t really register the warrior behind the mask. Only the way she needles him at every turn through the headset that links his team in the field to Zoe’s “coffin” back on base where she controls the eyes in the sky that provide him with mission-critical intel.

At least, not until he’s on the ground in Pakistan, staring at the empty former headquarters of an arms dealing kingpin who clearly got word that ST6 was coming to get him.

Luke looks at the empty garage and sees a dry hole and blown operation. Zoe, looking through his headset, sees a golden opportunity to take down a major player among arms dealers working the shady side.

So she runs with that golden opportunity, and with Luke, straight to Senegal and one of her biggest fans. A man who races in international road rally races. Including the annual Dakar Rally. Luke thinks she’s gone off the deep end – especially as it feels like she’s the one running the op and he’s just her “personal assistant”.

But Zoe has connected the dots and spun one glance at a top flight auto mechanics shop in a remote base with the date of the Dakar Rally circled on a calendar to a strong working hypothesis that their mystery arms dealer is a regular participant in that grueling rally – and that her fan in Senegal is their ticket to the inside track of a lifetime.

It takes Luke a little while to catch up to Zoe’s flash of brilliance – and to figure out that the dots he really wants to connect are the ones that lead to her heart.

Escape Rating A-: I had a great time with this book. I had such a great time that it made me reflect on why this author’s romances always work for me – even while I’ve become aware that I’m reading less romance in general.

The answer seems to be in the characters. Not just the way that the author draws them, because lots of romance authors do a good job of creating interesting characters. But it’s the way that his characters find each other and make a relationship.

One of the things that all too often occurs in romance – in real life too – is that two people come together and meet kind of in their middle. There are always compromises on both sides. But in romance fiction, all too often the compromise results in the woman giving up more of who she is and what she wants to make the relationship work for the man.

It feels like, all too often, she becomes less and he becomes more. In historical romances it can be worse. There are too many time periods where, even if she does maintain her separate identity and career after marriage, it only happens because he allows it to happen. Because society, public opinion, and even the law say that his voice is the only one that counts.

None of that ever happens in one of M.L. Buchman’s romances. The characters begin and end as equals – even as they find a way to both work together and make a romantic partnership. Sometimes they are both equal in the same sphere, as was true in his first Night Stalkers romance, The Night is Mine. Both the hero and the heroine are military officers. Both are warriors. And both remain so even when they marry. Eventually Emily Beale gets pregnant and the situation necessarily changes somewhat, but she remains every bit the kickass heroine she was at the beginning, just in a different venue.

Zoe and Luke are also both warriors, just not in the same way. But they are both at the top of their respective fields – and they remain so at the end. One of the things that makes Luke such a great hero is that he not only eventually accepts Zoe exactly as she is, but that he is able to recognize when it is better that she lead and that he cheers her on as she does. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, either in romance fiction or in real life.

The story here is also a whole lot of fun. It’s one of those experiences that most people won’t have, but is tremendously fascinating to experience vicariously. The Dakar Rally is a real event, and the story and characters here follow the real course – or at least as much of a course as there ever is. After all, the Dakar is an off-road endurance event. A big part of this story is the way that Zoe and Luke bond, endure and find their target in the midst of this once in a lifetime event.

(If you want to read a romance set while the protagonists are running a completely different but equally dangerous and fascinating race, take a look at Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail.)

Part of the tension in this particular romance is that both Zoe and Luke are damaged and neither of them thinks they are worthy – not of love in general, not of the other in particular. It’s a possible interpretation that Zoe heals Luke’s inability to love, but Luke is not the healer of Zoe, because Zoe has already, for the most part, healed herself. He’s there to hold her as the last of the hard pain finally fades, but she’s already done most of the work.

He’s her reward for doing that work. And for once, we have a hero that’s worth it.

“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.”

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue (Team 52 #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Team 52 #2
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.

Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

My Review:

In this followup to the first book in the series, Mission: Her Protection, the circumstances are just a bit different but the outcome ends up being very, very similar. Archaeologist January Jones already knows who and what Team 52 is and does – because they “appropriated” an artifact from one of her previous digs.

This time she’s on her way to Area 52 willingly, because she knows that whatever her team has found its every bit as much their bailiwick as it is hers. Meaning that while the two solid jade orbs are certainly a priceless archaeological treasure, there is also something uncanny about them. They may be the key to the power of the ancient and secretive Snake Kings, but that key is also trouble that Team 52 is better equipped to deal with than she is.

A conclusion that is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt when her plane back to civilization from the jungles of Guatemala is shot down in the middle of said jungle by a group intent on killing her and taking the orbs. January is rescued in the nick of time by Team 52, who are equally intent on saving both her and the orbs – particularly Team 52 agent Seth Lynch, who is more intent on January than those orbs.

Seth and January have tangled before – on that previous occasion when Team 52 tried to take her artifacts first and talk second. January clipped him upside the head with a metal pipe in the process and no one has let him forget it. Not that he could forget. Something about January gets right under his skin and pisses him off every time they meet.

They dislike each other with an intensity that is clearly hiding a lot of other things that neither of them is ready or willing to feel. But sharing a near-death experience does have a way of stripping the inhibitions – especially when those are inhibitions that a person really, really needs to let go of.

In spite of the flare of heat that rises between them, they are coming from very opposite perspectives. January’s response to tragedy is to live life to the fullest, and feel things to the utmost. Seth’s response has been to emotionally cut himself off from trusting other people – and that includes January. That especially includes January.

A mistake that nearly costs both of them everything.

Escape Rating B+: I still find the titles of this series to be endlessly cheesy – however the stories are anything but. Unless one considers the cheese to be well-toasted over a very hot flame – because there’s plenty of heat between the hero and heroine.

At least so far, this is not a series where you need to read from the beginning. I enjoyed Mission: Her Protection a lot, it’s a terrific action-adventure romance – as is Mission: Her Rescue – but the stories don’t build on one another very much. There’s more of an introduction to the team and its work in the first book but not so much that a new reader can’t pick it up from context in this one.

Team 52 is also a spinoff of the author’s previous action-adventure romance series, Treasure Hunter Security. But again, prior knowledge of that series isn’t required for this one. There are a couple of mentions of people from THS, but they are minor mentions. It was enough to give a fan reader like myself a smile of recognition, but not knowing wouldn’t take anything away from enjoying this book.

The two things outside of THS that the Team 52 series reminds me of are Stargate and M.L. Buchman’s military romances, particularly his Night Stalkers series. Team 52, both the way that it seeks out previously hidden advanced tech and the way that its base operates – as well as where it operates – seem very similar to the Earth-bound parts of Stargate Command. There’s just no gate. Stargate also had a warehouse in Area 51 – right next door to the Team 52 operation and warehouse in Area 52.

The romances remind me of the Night Stalkers series quite a bit. Seth Lynch in particular is very similar to Colonel Michael Gibson in Bring On the Dusk. Both of them are secret operatives and both have serious trust issues. But the whole Night Stalkers series are military romance where the heroes and the heroines are equals in every single way, and that is the feeling that is also captured in Team 52. No damsels ever get rescued – they rescue themselves and sometimes they rescue the hero as well, and not just in the emotional sense.

One of the other ways that Team 52 resembles military romance as well as action-adventure is that all of the protagonists, both male and female are scarred in one way or another. Sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes both. These are all people who have been seriously carved up by life, whether because they live life on the edge or because their previous experience has pushed them that way. A big part of each story is the way that they make each other strong in their broken places.

That they often end up fused together by the heat they make together is icing on a very delicious cake!

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. BuchmanWild Justice (Delta Force #3) Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Delta Force #3
Pages: 313
on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

The best counter-terrorism force on the planet.

• Elite Delta operator—explosives just make him grin •

• Top Intel Analyst for The Activity—thinks data is sexy•

The team must face their toughest mission yet: take down a massive human-trafficking ring and a corrupt Venezuelan spy agency—without leaving a trace.

Sofia and Duane.
In common: black sheep of extremely wealthy families, renegades against the status quo.
Differences: tactician vs. explosives expert, thinker vs. pure warrior.

Together: fight to keep their team alive, and their love.

My Review:

Wild Justice is a story with layers, like an onion. And also like an onion, some of those layers will make the reader at least sniffle a bit.

Like all of the Delta Force series, this is a story of a crack military team ghosting into someplace where angels fear to tread and governments fear to leave official footprints. Members of “the Unit” go in, they get the job done, and they were never there.

The series, which began with Target Engaged, is about one particular team of Delta operators. Not that they call themselves that. To its members, Delta is just “the Unit”, and they are the best of the best.

As this case begins, they are joined by an intelligence analyst from an equally elite but completely different U.S. Black Ops agency, one known only as “the Activity”.

Sofia Forteza has called in an operational unit to help her take down a Venezuelan military officer who is a local kingpin in the human trafficking cesspool. She’s found her dirtbag, she just needs help with the extraction as well as the rescue of the women and children he is currently holding.

What she gets is Duane Jenkins, nicknamed, of course, The Rock. He may not quite match up to the actor, but he gets damn close. Even more important, when he brings in the rest of his team, he trusts Sofia to have his back, and gives her just enough pointers to help her help him without ever insulting her capabilities or her intelligence.

And he helps her come down from her first field kill without thinking or acting as if she’s weak for any reason whatsoever.

Duane gives her respect, and Sofia is forced to admit that he’s the first man she hasn’t had to prove herself to, over and over and over, even within the top ranks of the elite units – or within her own family.

There’s something between them from the moment they meet, and it’s something that neither of them has ever experienced before. They are fortunate that their coinciding missions give them the chance to explore what it might be.

Even if neither of them believes that love is remotely possible. Not for who they are now, and not for what they came from. But just because neither Sofia nor Duane believes in love, that does not mean that it does not believe in them.

Escape Rating B+: Any reader who loves military romance should pick up the first book in M.L. Buchman’s series of interconnected books, The Night is Mine, and just binge. He starts with an elite SOAR unit, branches some of them off into an elite civilian wildfire fighting operation, and then links others to Delta Force. You don’t have to read all of them to get the sense of any individual book in the series, including this one, but they are all tremendously fun.

And Buchman has a gift for making sure that his female protagonists are every single bit the kick-ass warriors that his male protagonists are. And as they should be under the circumstances. But it’s not something that we see nearly enough.

Wild Justice operates on multiple layers. A big part of the story is the operations that the team takes on to help dent the human trafficking trade in South America. This part of the story is based on very real and very harrowing events. The civilian team they partner with is based on a real organization that works similarly to the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed.

In the middle of the operation, there’s also a romance. Of course there is. Unusual for this series, though, Sofia and Duane are both from similar backgrounds, both, in their own ways “poor little rich kids” who grew up with all the monetary advantages in the world but not much in the way of nurturing or moral support. Sofia had one person who had her back, her grandmother, the powerful owner of a premier wine-making company. However, she also had not merely a narcissistic and nasty mother, but also an abusive older brother.

Duane’s dad is a Coca-Cola executive, his mother is a high-powered attorney, and Duane is a disappointment to both of them. He chose to join the military to try to fix at least a few of the things that can’t be fixed with “a Coke and a smile.” They’ve never forgiven him, not that they ever gave much of a damn about him in the first place.

That both of them grew up as part of the 1% and chose a career in service to make a difference gives them something in common. It also means that Duane is not over-awed by the wealth of Sofia’s family’s winemaking empire – an empire that Sofia will someday inherit.

Although the course of true love never does run smooth, these are two people who plausibly have a chance, and also plausibly have a rocky road ahead of them. It works.

One final note. In the midst of the current #MeToo campaign, one scene early in the book had a tremendous amount of resonance. As part of a training mission, Duane and his Delta team, along with Sofia, take down a cruise ship being “held” by a Black Ops team from another agency. After the operation is over, Duane and Sofia overhear the “losing” team indulging in what is often dismissed as “locker room talk”. They are evaluating the women on the Delta team, including Sofia, by their physical attributes and discussing just how much they want to “punish” the women for beating them. It’s not just disgusting, it’s actual rape talk. Sofia wants to dismiss it. She’s fought this battle all of her life, and it never ends well for her. Her response is one that so many of us often make, that it’s only talk. That it doesn’t really matter. Or most tellingly, that it can’t be fixed.

What makes the scene stand out is the way that the Delta team does indeed “fix” it. As a unit. This is not something they will tolerate, not the men in the unit, and not the women. It’s a joint effort to make these assholes pay.

The physical payback meted out is relatively minor, but the response from the higher ups is stellar. Instead of dismissing the complaint, as we so often fear will happen, because it so often does happen, the perpetrators are punished severely with loss of jobs, loss of promotions, loss of assignments, retraining, black marks in their files. The authorities do what they are supposed to do, and what we always hope they do but frequently don’t. At the same time, there’s the very real world acknowledgement that the worst offenders will go out and offend somewhere else. The powers that be in both agencies can drum these bastards out, and get the word out to all their reputable contacts not to hire them. Which means that, unfortunately but all too likely, the less reputable outfits will hire them. But they have done everything they can reasonably do to pull the rotten apples out of their own barrel.

And that’s still a big win.

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne BrockmannThe Admiral's Bride (Tall, Dark & Dangerous, #7) by Suzanne Brockmann
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Tall, Dark & Dangerous #7
Pages: 256
Published by Mira Books on April 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

His mission was to pretend that Zoe Lange, beautiful young scientist—nearly half his age!—was his new bride. Former Navy SEAL Jake Robinson was sure that his romantic years were behind him, but for God and for country, he would look into Zoe’s beautiful dark eyes, kiss her senseless, hold her as if he would never let her go... and then, when the job was done, do just that.

The only problem was, with each hour in Zoe’s company, the stakes were becoming higher. The game more real. And the dangers within their "honeymoon" chamber more and more apparent...

My Review:

I borrowed this one from the library because I was jonesing for a good older man/younger woman romance. I read a lot of fanfic, and one of the pairings that I’m following from a video game I’m playing deals with this trope, so I had a taste for it. And I’ll admit that I was looking for one where the story was finished. As much as I love fanfic, one of the problems with reading a lot of it is that even the best stories don’t always get finished, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

But it gave me a yen for a story with this trope, and browsing the Goodreads list brought this one to the top. That it also reminds me a another fanfic pairing was an added bonus.

The Admiral’s Bride was originally written in 1999. Technology has changed, and has certainly become more ubiquitous. On that other hand, the terrorist militia group that the Admiral and his Bride have to infiltrate could be ripped from today’s headlines. Technology may change, but human nature doesn’t seem to.

The Admiral in this story is Jake Robinson. And he really is an Admiral, or at least he is now. But he’s a former Navy SEAL, and Admiral is the nickname that his unit gave him back in Vietnam, where he seems to have made it his own personal mission to rescue units that Command said couldn’t be saved from the enemy.

The hospital started keeping track, calling the men he saved “Jake’s Boys”. There were nearly 500 of them by the end, and one of the last ones was intelligence agent Zoe Lange’s father. As Zoe wasn’t conceived until after her dad came home from Vietnam, Zoe quite literally owes Jake Robinson her life.

She’s hero-worshipped him from afar for almost her entire life. Which does add a certain amount of complication when they finally meet face-to-face. Because the man hasn’t lost a scintilla of his looks or his charisma in the 30 years since ‘Nam. He’s already the fuel for entirely too many of Zoe’s fantasies, but meeting him in real life turns out to be much more electrifying than she ever imagined.

And it’s completely mutual, as much as Jake keeps telling himself it shouldn’t be. He’s only been a widower for three years, and he still thinks of himself as married. Zoe is a member of his team, and should be off-limits. And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to back off, she’s 24 years younger than he is, she couldn’t possibly be interested in him.

But of course she is. And in the circumstances in which they find themselves, pretending a relationship is the only way to get the mission done. And when the pretense turns real, it gives them both a reason to survive.

If the entire mission doesn’t go totally FUBAR first.

Escape Rating B+: This was exactly what I was looking for. So I dove right in and came up for air about four hours later, ready to read the book I was supposed to read (actually yesterday’s review of Cover Fire).

In spite of Cover Fire being science fiction romance and The Admiral’s Bride being an almost 20-year-old contemporary, they have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the black hats are a repressive, conservative cult conducting terrorist attacks. And in both stories, the man is career military while the woman is an intelligence operative. Both romances feature people who believe that the person they have fallen for could not possibly be interested in them, and that they have no possible future together. The reasons may be different, but the emotions they engender are surprisingly similar.

And both cults contain entirely too many people who are absolutely nucking futz. The crazy, hate-fueled BS gets a bit hard to read. In neither case are the heads of these arseholes places we want to stay for any length of time.

But one does get caught up in both the action and the romance of The Admiral’s Bride. Jake and Zoe are in tremendous danger, and they have to work together (and get their heads out of their emotional asses) in order to survive and succeed.

At the same time, one of the things that this book does well is to air the doubts that are all going through Jake’s head. 24 years is a big age gap. He and Zoe are not at the same places in their lives. It is hard to think about forever with someone, when your version of forever is 20 or 30 years shorter than theirs. The other person is potentially signing up for a lot of pain at the end. There are ways to deal with all of those issues, and this story doesn’t gloss them over. That Zoe’s job is so dangerous actually helps the situation. The mess they are in together brings home the possibility that she could be cut down in the line of duty at any moment.

That this story reminded me of a lot of early NCIS fanfic (which I love) was just a bonus. It was all too easy to see Gibbs as Jake Robinson, even though he’s not nearly tall enough. But it still added to my enjoyment of a story that just plain hit the spot.

Review: Heart Strike by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Review: Heart Strike by M.L. Buchman + GiveawayHeart Strike (Delta Force #2) Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Delta Force #2
Pages: 384
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org

Richie Goldman is the team geek of Delta Force, a warrior and a technical wizard-but nothing is more mysterious to him than women. When a feisty new recruit joins the team just in time for a dangerous mission in the Colombian jungle, he'll have to make it out alive if he ever wants to figure her out.
Melissa Moore is going to be the best woman in Delta Force. Ready to do battle, her biggest challenge is avoiding Richie's sweet and sexy distractions. She was prepared for combat, but falling in love is an entirely different battlefield…

My Review:

target engaged by ml buchmanHeart Strike continues the Delta Force series begun in Target Engaged, and just like the first book in the series, it makes for a pulse pounding military romance from beginning to end.

In Target Engaged, we saw both the formation of an elite squad within Delta Force, and the hot as fire relationship between team leader Kyle Reeves and one of the members of his team, the first woman in Delta, Carla Anderson. By the time the story ends, Kyle and Carla are in a solid relationship, and the team that formed around them in training has become the premier Delta team in South America.

But this wouldn’t be a romance if the other three men on the team didn’t get their chance at an HEA, now that Carla is taken.

And that’s where Melissa Moore comes in. Carla was the first woman to pass Delta training, but she won’t be the last. Melissa is second, and there are days when it feels like her entire training consists of following in Carla’s footsteps and not quite measuring up. Not that Melissa doesn’t measure up to Delta, but that Carla seems to have set a mark that only perfection could possibly match.

Melissa is good, but she is far from perfect. And part of her feeling that she isn’t quite everything Carla is boils down to Melissa not quite figuring out what she specializes at. She very, very good at so many of the skills that Delta operators, need, without being an expert in any one of them. It’s hard for her to see that generalization is itself a skill.

Colonel Michael Gibson, the highest ranking field officer in Delta, sends Melissa to join Kyle and Carla’s group in Colombia. Generalist Melissa immediately hits it off with the squads ultimate specialist, Richie Goldman. Richie is the unit’s chief geek and technical wizard. Everyone calls him “Q” after James Bond’s gizmomaster. And just like “Q” in the Bond world, Richie is more than a bit tongue-tied around women. At least until Melissa lets her own nerd flag fly.

They get each other, at a level that goes beyond sense. But one member of the team believes that Melissa is not what she claims to be, or that her motives are less than pure, or that Richie is her victim and not the man she hasn’t known she’s been looking for all of her life.

So as the team pursues dangerous drug kingpins in the depths of the Colombian jungle, the team has to sort out where, whether and if they all belong. Before they tear each other apart.

Escape Rating B: I love this series almost as much as The Night Stalkers series it spawned from. One of the terrific things about both sets is that this is military romance where the women are every bit as much soldiers as the men. No one is weak, no one needs to be rescued. It’s all about joining strength to strength. And that’s awesome.

One of the things that is similar in both series is the intense team-building. These people all have to rely on each other in every extreme. Guarding each other’s backs is the only chance any of them have of making it out of each mission alive.

On the one hand, the way that Chad distrusts and disrespects Melissa from the get-go shows just how much of a problem it is when that mutual trust is breached. On my other hand, his reasons for his extreme reaction didn’t quite fit for this reader. As deep and strong as his instant antipathy was, and as many problems as it caused within the group, the reasons that were given for it, and the sudden reversal, didn’t quite gel. I was expecting some of the motives for his unreasonable reaction to be personal, and when that personal connection wasn’t there, his behavior didn’t make much sense.

On my third hand (consider me an alien) the relationship between Richie and Melissa was smoking hot from the instant they met. Just as with Kyle and Carla in Target Engaged, their problem was resisting the attraction long enough to build an emotional connection before the physical, and also to find a safe and private place.

They do have some of the worst, and funniest luck!

But if you love military romance, this series in particular, and M.L. Buchman’s books in general, are always bullseye shots to the heart..


Sourcebooks is giving away 10 copies of the first book in the Delta Force series, Target Engaged, to entrants on this tour!

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Review: Unexplored by Anna Hackett

Review: Unexplored by Anna HackettUnexplored Formats available: ebook
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #3
Pages: 150
on July 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

One former Navy SEAL. One woman in search of her kidnapped brother. One ancient lost city in the cloud forests of the Andes.

Former Navy SEAL Logan O’Connor is big, rough, and a little wild. He thrived as a SEAL…until he trusted the wrong woman. After a horrible betrayal that almost left him dead, he now works for his best friend at Treasure Hunter Security. He doesn’t like the sand, the jungle, or the mosquitoes, but he gets the job done—protecting archeological digs and expeditions. What he likes even less are liars. As he finds himself heading to Peru with a cool, classy CEO in search of her kidnapped brother, Logan knows one thing: Sydney Granger isn’t telling him the entire truth.

After the death of her father, Sydney is trying to learn the ropes as CEO of Granger Industries while her brother runs off to research a pre-Incan culture. But one ransom demand leaves her terrified­—a lethal black-market antiquities syndicate has kidnapped her brother. The only people she can turn to is Treasure Hunter Security, and that includes big, annoying Logan, who makes it clear he doesn’t like her.

As they are swept into a deadly adventure into the cloud forests of the Andes, tracing the steps of the mysterious Warriors of the Clouds, danger dogs their every step. Logan and Sydney are drawn closer together, secrets are uncovered, shots are fired, and both of them might just find something more valuable than treasure.

My Review:

undiscovered by anna hackettThree books in (after Undiscovered and Uncharted), the Treasure Hunter Security series still feels like a cross between Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones. In the case of this entry in the series, there is even a shout-out to the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

At the beginning of Raiders, Indy is searching the booby-trapped ruins of a Cloud Warrior temple in the Andes. Indy is searching for a golden idol. In Unexplored, Sydney Granger and the crew of THS are searching for Cloud Warrior ruins in the Andes. Not because they expect to find a golden idol, but because they are desperately hunting for Sidney’s brother Drew.

Silk Road called Sidney to say that they had kidnapped Drew, when the truth of the matter, not surprisingly, was that they wanted to kidnap Sidney so that they could use her as leverage to make Drew tell them where the Cloud Warrior treasure was hidden – which would hopefully (for Silk Road) include much, much more than just one golden idol.

And that pretty much sums up the action/adventure part of the story. Corporate hotshot Sydney Granger gets a phone call that her wandering brother has been kidnapped by Silk Road. Not being a fool, and having enough money to hire the help she needs, Sydney searches for information about Silk Road and anyone who has tangled with them, and that leads her straight to Treasure Hunter Security’s brawny arms. Literally, in one particular case.

While they all question why Silk Road has suddenly turned to kidnapping for ransom as a new revenue stream, they all agree that going down to the Andes to scope things out makes the most sense. What doesn’t make sense is the heat of the attraction between Sydney and THS operative Logan O’Connor. Logan knows she’s hiding something, and he’s painfully learned not to trust women who don’t seem upfront about who they are.

From Sydney’s perspective, Logan is all alpha-male prowls and growls, not safe like the men she dates. But even though he’s nothing like she thinks she should go for, he’s everything she needs. Not just because he has the ability to save her brother, but because he’s able to take her out of herself.

Assuming they can keep each other alive long enough to find her brother, thwart the bad guys and take home a treasure that isn’t even supposed to exist.

It’s all in a day’s work (and a day’s play) for Treasure Hunter Security.

uncharted by anna hackettEscape Rating B: I enjoyed the story, and I liked Logan and Sydney, but the story here is just too much like the stories in Undiscovered and Uncharted to get up into the A ratings.

I had fun, but this one isn’t memorable. The series is starting to blend one into another a bit, which makes them great mind candy while I’m reading, but doesn’t lift them above the B’s.

One of the things that is starting to feel necessary is more information about Silk Road. They are still in the category of bwahaha evil, without a particularly clear motive or even a particular face. Yes, I know they want to make a profit, and a big one. But there are other ways. Who are they behind the name, and why did they choose treasure hunting? And why so nasty about it?

I accept that some people and/or organizations, particularly in fiction, can be evil for evil’s sake. But it isn’t nearly as interesting as evil with a motive or a vision. Or particularly evil evil that justifies its evil as being somehow good or necessary.

The treasure in this story was a bit different. Except for that stray reference in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Cloud Warriors are a surprisingly neat lost civilization that hasn’t been fictionally exploited nearly often enough.

If you are looking for a fun way to while away a couple or a few hours on a hot, lazy summer afternoon, Treasure Hunter Security is a great way to kill a few hours and vicariously dispose of a few bad guys while thrilling along with a hot romance.

I’m still waiting for Darcy’s romance with the hot and annoying FBI agent. I like Darcy a lot, and I want to see this series break pattern a bit. It should be fun!

romancing the alpha 2Reviewer’s Note: Unexplored is currently available as part of the Romancing the Alpha 2 set. It will also be published separately in August.

Review: Undiscovered by Anna Hackett

Review: Undiscovered by Anna HackettUndiscovered by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #1
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on May 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

One former Navy SEAL. One dedicated archeologist. One secret map to a fabulous lost oasis.
Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Perfect for the men of Treasure Hunter Security. Former Navy SEAL Declan Ward is haunted by the demons of his past and throws everything he has into his security business—Treasure Hunter Security. Dangerous archeological digs – no problem. Daring expeditions – sure thing. Museum security for invaluable exhibits – easy. But on a simple dig in the Egyptian desert, he collides with a stubborn, smart archeologist, Dr. Layne Rush, and together they get swept into a deadly treasure hunt for a mythical lost oasis. When an evil from his past reappears, Declan vows to do anything to protect Layne.
Dr. Layne Rush is dedicated to building a successful career—a promise to the parents she lost far too young. But when her dig is plagued by strange accidents, targeted by a lethal black market antiquities ring, and artifacts are stolen, she is forced to turn to Treasure Hunter Security, and to the tough, sexy, and too-used-to-giving-orders Declan. Soon her organized dig morphs into a wild treasure hunt across the desert dunes.
Danger is hunting them every step of the way, and Layne and Declan must find a way to work together…to not only find the treasure but to survive.

My Review:

Somewhere, in the dim, dark reaches of the Phoenix Brothers’ family tree, lurk Declan Ward and Layne Rush. Not that having those two as ancestors would be a bad thing AT ALL. It’s much more that having met these two contemporary heroes, it’s impossible not to see their descendants thriving hundreds of years later, and carrying on the family business – treasure hunting.

The situation reminds me of the early years of Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz’s Arcane Society series, along with her Harmony books as Jayne Castle. I just knew that someday, somehow, those two series were going to connect – as they eventually did.

at stars end by anna hackettSo thinking of Declan and Layne as 21st Century versions of Dathan Phoenix and Dr. Eos Rai from At Star’s End doesn’t seem all that implausible. But every bit as much fun.

The story is a familiar one. Dr. Layne Rush is a professional treasure hunter – well, not exactly. Rush is an archaeologist who seems to have a knack for finding buried treasure – and recently dead bodies where she’s expecting to find only centuries-dead ones. Her dig is investigating a previously undiscovered tomb, and is trying to determine exactly who is buried there, as well as what might have been buried with them. When she is attacked and her discoveries stolen by a gang of well-armed thugs, her university calls in some security experts to keep her, her team and their finds safe.

Enter Declan Ward and the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security. Declan’s father is also a well-known historian, and his mother is a famous and intrepid treasure hunter. Declan himself is an ex-SEAL, and he heads a team of men and women who learned how to fight and survive in some of the deadliest places on Earth, against some of the nastiest people that you never want to meet.

Including Rush’s attacker. Anders is a former SAS officer with a penchant for torture and murder. He likes to toy with his victims, and he kills for fun. It seems as if stealing treasures is just a way of funding his sadistic life, and it puts him in faraway places where policing isn’t top notch and a few people from the lowest classes won’t be missed – not even when they turn up dead and dismembered.

Declan and Anders have met before. Declan exposed Anders’ depravity, but was too busy trying to save his victims to gather enough evidence to prosecute the bastard. Now Declan feels responsible for every fresh kill. He wants to get Anders and save Rush.

Mostly he just wants Rush. So Declan and Layne find themselves on a hunt for a long-lost treasure, with Anders and his goons hot on their heels.

It’s a race for survival – with love, fame and fortune if they win, and death in the desert if they lose. In this case, winning really isn’t just everything, it really is the only thing.

Escape Rating B+: There are a lot of similarities to the first Phoenix Adventures story, At Star’s End. There is also more than a bit of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series in here as well. And for those who miss that series, the callback to The Last Camel Died At Noon brings back some terrific memories. The whole story along with the series titles, also reminds me more than a bit of the Uncharted video game series. Nathan Drake would fit right into Declan Ward’s crew.

In both Undiscovered and The Last Camel Died at Noon, the search is for a mythical lost Egyptian city that is supposed to be filled with treasure. And turns out to be rather different from what the seekers believe they are seeking. Along with a whole lot of interesting debate about who the ancient Egyptian gods really were and what their stories meant.

There was a moment in Undiscovered where I feared that the author might take the easy way out and make Rush’s professionally jealous male colleague into either the scapegoat or the villain. I was glad to see that not happen. Also grateful that his jealousy was purely professional.

On that other hand, Anders comes off as “bwahaha” evil. He seems to be evil for evil’s sake. And there is something about the way that he revels in his evilness that came off as more SF monster than sociopathic human. Your mileage may vary.

uncharted by anna hackettBut this story is all Declan and Layne. He keeps her alive on an unexpected desert trek, and she pulls her own weight AND figures out all the puzzles. He knows just enough to provide the occasional clue, or more often just an intelligent listener to bounce things off of. But the archaeological mystery is all her show. As it should be.

I’m looking forward to meeting (and falling for) the rest of Declan’s team in the upcoming books in this series. Next up is his brother Callum’s story in Uncharted, and I can hardly wait.