Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayEntropy (Atrophy, #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #4
Pages: 387
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

My Review:

Initially Entropy has more of the feel of the Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series by Nina Croft (which are awesome BTW), or this author’s own Valiant Knox series than it does the earlier books in the Atrophy series. Then a significant part of the focus switches from Captain Qaelan Forster to his cousin Captain Rian Sherron, and we’re back at Firefly – or at least a version of Firefly where Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam are combined into one crazy person with Mal’s dark moods and unsavory enemies along with River’s insane powers and even more insane nightmares.

And where it turns out that this universe’s version of Inara Serra has more than a bit of River Tam in her, too.

If you’re not still mourning Firefly, or if the resonances just don’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. The Atrophy series is not a clone of Firefly by any means. But if you still have a Serenity-shaped hole in your heart, it does come more than close enough to staunch that wound.

What we do have is a band of misfits and rebels out to save the galaxy from itself. Because this crew of rebels and misfits has found itself in the midst of a galaxy gone terribly, terribly wrong. We’ve been invaded, not by the usual bug-eyed monsters, but monsters nevertheless.

The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens from another galaxy who think that homo sapiens is so far from sapient that they’re using us as lab rats while impersonating key members of every planetary government in the system.

Only Rian Sherron and the crews of the Imojenna and the Ebony Winter know the threat. And Rian Sherron is out to eliminate that threat any way he can – even if that means allying with pirates and taking the Reidar out one at a time.

But Rian’s lost his ship, and his crew has been laying low in the Barbary Belt, a notorious pirate haven run by an even more notorious pirate. And that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not even Rian’s fault – at least not this time. At least it’s not all Rian’s fault.

His cousin Qaelan Forster makes the mistake of getting involved with the pirate’s daughter. Cami Blackstone. Her father has killed plenty of men for a whole lot less. Instead, he sends Qae on a wild goose chase that might get him killed – or might pay off what the pirate sees as Qae’s debt to him. Mostly the pirate sends him on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission just to protect his own street cred. The man is, after all, a notorious pirate.

Cami has other plans. Her plans, her father’s plans, Qae’s plan to pay her daddy back, and Rian Sherron’s plans to get his ship back all collide in one big ball of wrong that might just have a chance or turning out right.

But has a much higher chance of getting them all killed. All in a day’s work for the crew of the Imojenna – even when the Imojenna herself is nowhere to be found.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this entry in the Atrophy series, and all of it turns out to be a rip-roaring good time. But be warned, while Atrophy is not so much like Firefly that you won’t get it if you don’t remember the show, it is very much like unto itself. This is a series where the action and the overall story build from one book to the next. So if this sounds like your kind of trip into the black, start with the first book in the series, Atrophy. (If you love SFR you’ll understand why this series has won multiple SFR Galaxy Awards.)

The relationship between Qae and Cami is a big part of this story, but not by any means all of it. They are an interesting couple. Qae is openly flirtations with anyone of any gender. Think of Captain Jack Harkess in Doctor Who and Torchwood, or the character of Reyes Vidal in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. Qae has plenty of charisma, no humility whatsoever, and a trail of previous lovers from one end of the galaxy to the other. He doesn’t lead anyone on, but he also doesn’t leave anyone with even a chance at a piece of his heart.

Cami, on the other hand, is buttoned up tight, and with good reason. Her daddy, the pirate Rene Blackstone, has “disappeared” any guy she’s ever looked at twice. She doesn’t know whether those guys are dead or just far, far away – and she’s way too scared to find out. She’s caught in the middle, working for her father, living at home, treated like a teenager when she’s well into her 20s, and too scared to go out on her own. She’s both afraid of her father and afraid of the kind of people who will go after her in order to get at her father – and she’s right to be afraid.

Literally chaining herself to Qae is her chance, not only at rebellion, but at putting her demons to rest and making a life for herself out from underneath her father’s heavy thumb. That Qae, Rian and their crew are strong enough to stand up to her father is a big part of her reasoning.

In addition to the romance, there is also a big piece of this book that moves the overarching story forward. Rian goes after his missing ship after a year dirtside. His need to get his ship back lines up very well with the older Blackstone’s need to get back at his deadliest rival – AND – gives Cami a chance to take her life back from the bastard who stole her confidence and her innocence years ago. It’s going to take a big, bold plan with a lot of moving pieces to make good on all of the competing and conflicting agendas in play. There are so many ways it can go pear-shaped – and so many times it very nearly does.

This story feels like a turning point in Sherron’s one-man crusade against the Reidar. He finally finds a way to take the fight to them, and it’s clear that things are going to heat up – and get a whole lot bloodier, from here.

And I’m all in with his crew. I can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this series goes through next, as well as which crew member finds that one person in the galaxy who makes them whole – and fills an empty spot on the ship’s roster!.

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

Jess is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett

Review: Imperator by Anna HackettImperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #11
Pages: 206
Published by Anna Hackett on July 10th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

My Review:

Imperator is the culmination of all ten previous books in Anna Hackett’s marvelous, universe-spanning Galactic Gladiators series. It brings this story to a fantastic, heart-stopping doozy of a happily ever after for the humans stolen from Jupiter station and the gladiators (and a few select others) who take these refugees into their hearts.

Even in a couple of cases where those gladiators weren’t actually sure they still (or ever) had hearts.

The series began in Gladiator when the slave-trading Thraxians exploited a temporary wormhole that led from Carthago on the far side of the galaxy to our own solar system. The Thraxians, being the bloodthirsty and evil slave traders that they are, attacked the station and kidnapped as many humans as they could, skedaddling back through the wormhole before it closed.

There may be no place like home, but there’s no way back home for the kidnapped humans.

As the series progressed, one by one, those humans were rescued from the slave traders and their illegal fighting pits by the gladiators of the House of Galen, led by their leader, the Imperator Galen himself.

The House of Galen discovered that the Thraxians and their allies were operating an underground fight ring, using kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and experimented upon fighters. At first the ring was literally underground, but when the gladiators discovered that set of pits, the masters of Zaabha moved to a floating arena, one that flies over the more deserted parts of the planet.

Imperator opens on the heels of the final events of the previous book, Cyborg. Galen and his gladiators have managed to free all the human captives save one, but at tremendous cost. Galen himself is stuck on the floating Zaabha, along with the one human woman that he has not been able to forget.

Galen would say that he stayed on Zaabha because he promised the human mates of his gladiators that he would rescue their friend Samantha Santos from Zaabha. But the truth is that he wants to rescue Sam for himself.

In the end, they’ll have to rescue each other. Not just from Zaabha, but from all of the guilt and demons locked inside their own hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I have loved this entire series. While I’m a bit sorry to see it end, I’m glad that the author left a glimmer of possibility for future stories in this world. There could be other captured humans that they have not found. Yet.

But this part of the story is done. The House of Galen and their allies have all found their happily ever afters with humans from Earth. And it was fitting that Galen’s story was the last – because he couldn’t let his own guard down until every single person under his protection had been taken care of.

And now they have.

Imperator is the final story in this series. Even if more kidnapped humans do turn up, this story ends this section. As such, this is no place to start the series. I’m not totally sure that they have to be read strictly in order, but I would recommend starting with one of the first three books, Gladiator, Warrior or Hero. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to read them all, but there’s a point in this series where things really build on the previous books – a point we’re well past by Imperator.

This book also includes a bit of, not exactly an epilog, but a few scenes where we see the present from each of the preceding couples’ points of view. And those scenes only have resonance if you know where everyone is coming from.

In all of the stories, and especially in this wrap up, those HEAs are very definitely earned.

And it’s fantastic!

Review: Hell Squad: Manu by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Manu by Anna HackettManu (Hell Squad #16) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #16
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on May 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

When former berserker Manu Rahia lost his leg on a mission, he was forced to leave his squad. He knows his new role as head of the Enclave’s firing range and armory is important, but hates that he isn’t still out there fighting face to face against the aliens and protecting his brothers’ backs. But then one woman catches his eye. A no-nonsense woman dedicated to her job as head of security. A woman who seems cool on the surface, but who Manu is convinced is hiding more under her business-like exterior.

Captain Kate Scott dedicated her life to her career in the Army. Now she works hard taking care of security for the Enclave and its residents. She learned a long time ago that she isn’t a passionate woman, and that she’s better off sticking to her work. But seeing one big, bronze-skinned, muscled man at the range every day has her hormones going into overdrive. She’s never felt like this and she’s determined to get herself under control.

But when the aliens launch a viscous new attack, right on the Enclave’s doorstep, Kate and Manu must join forces to stop the raptors before more people get hurt. Kate will fight fiercely to protect her team and the base, as well as her heart. But Manu Rahia is a man who knows what he wants, will walk through fire to get it, and what he wants is Kate.

My Review:

It was a hell of a lot of fun to return to the world of the Hell Squad, even if – or especially because – their post-alien-invasion apocalyptic world would absolutely not be a great place to visit and as the situation currently stands I wouldn’t want to live there either.

When last we left our heroes, back in book 15, Levi, it was obvious that the alien Gizzida were working on yet another superweapon in their ongoing attempts to wipe out the remaining resistance fighters – our heroes – and cement their control of our planet – so they can strip the rest of it bare and move on.

We don’t get to see the weapon, whatever it is, in Manu’s story. Instead, we get to follow along as the plucky survivors of the Enclave deal with the Gizzida’s new and always deadly distraction tactics, as they do their level best – or is that their absolute worst – to keep the fighters penned into the Enclave so they can test their superweapons someplace else.

Not that those tactics don’t become readily apparent pretty early on. The survivors in the Enclave wouldn’t have survived this long if they weren’t really, really smart as well as very, very brave.

So unlike many of the stories in this series, Manu sticks fairly close to home. And that gives us a chance to see more of Manu, who was a member of the Berserker Squad along with his brothers Tane and Hemi.

(Hemi has already had his own book, and gotten his own HFN. It’s been pretty obvious for a while that Tane has his eye on his own, but he’s not ready. Or she’s not. Or both. Yet. Even if all the readers certainly are!)

Manu is no longer a member of the Berserkers because the Gizzidas ate his leg. Well, they certainly took his leg and they probably ate it. His former squadmates went out – against orders – and stole a high-tech prosthetic for him, and he gets around the Enclave just fine. He’s now the head of their armory, and seems to have adjusted to his new life – sort of. He’s certainly good at his job, but there’s no denying that he misses being out with his squad and his brothers.

Being stuck in the Enclave has one advantage. He gets to see a whole lot more of Kate Scott, the head of Enclave security. And he likes everything that he sees – even if Kate isn’t willing to acknowledge the chemistry between them.

When they are forced to work together when the Gizzidas latest threat strikes much too close to home, it’s impossible for them to deny what’s happening between them. But they are both too independent or make that too stubborn and too battle-scarred, to let themselves lean on anyone else – even if that’s the only way to not merely survive – but to really live.

Escape Rating B+: I always have a good time with any of the author’s stories, and Manu was certainly no exception. I’m not sure whether this was just the right story for the right time, or whether it had been long enough since the previous book in the series (Levi) to make the established patterns pleasantly familiar rather than merely predictable.

One of the things that this author does very well in all of her series is that her heroines are always every bit as strong as her heroes, whether that is the same type of strength as it is here, or whether they are in completely different fields with completely different sets of strengths and weaknesses.

In this particular case, they are also both the same kind of stubborn. Kate is the kind of strong, driven woman that a lot of men, especially weak ones, want to tear down so that they can feel big. And she’s had enough of that. She’s old enough and experienced enough to know herself, and that she is who she is and that the core parts of her personality are not going to change. She’s never been able to lean on anyone, because too many people, especially men, will see that as a sign of weakness, and she’s never been able to afford to be weak.

I liked Kate a lot.

At the same time, Manu is still mourning the loss of his leg and the forced changes in his life, while trying to pretend that he’s completely adjusted. He’s used to being strong and can’t even stand the thought of being seen as weak. But when he wants Kate to lean on him when she needs to, she rightfully calls him on his BS. It has to go both ways, and that’s a hard adjustment for him. But definitely, definitely worth it.

Earlier, I referred to Manu’s brother Hemi getting his HFN in his book. For this reader, it feels as if HFN is the only option available for any couple in the series. Not because they don’t want to stay together or are not likely to stay together. None of these people are going to change their minds about their partners. It’s that the situation they are in is so fraught with deadly danger that HFN is all that’s available because “ever after” is far from assured.

Not that I don’t want to see it, because I really, really do. I’m still hoping for an Independence Day kind of ending (the original movie, not that horrible sequel) where the human resistance kicks the invading Gizzida off our planet in an explosive stand-up-and-cheer ending. And I hope that ending isn’t too many books in the future.

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

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

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana Palmer

Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana PalmerThe Pursuit (The Morcai Battalion #5) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #5
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first time Mekashe, Captain of the Imperial Guard, meets blue-eyed human beauty Jasmine Donally, the two nearly come to blows. Forever devoted to the Cehn-Tahr, Mekashe is forced to sever ties with the object of his adoration. Years pass before their paths cross again, but Mekashe hasn’t forgotten what transpired—or the way she makes his heart race. But even if he can forgive the past, insurmountable barriers still threaten to keep them worlds apart. With their mutual attraction escalating quickly, they’ll have to find a way to bridge the gap—or be lost to each other forever.

My Review:

At first it seemed like this book had a vampire problem. Not literally, there are no vampires in this science fiction romance. (If you want vampires in space read Break Out by Nina Croft – it’s awesome) But The Pursuit still began with the same problem that most vampire romances have – what in the galaxy does a 250 year old male want with an 18 year old female? Beyond the obvious. But in order for this to result in a believable happy ever after, she has to be something really really special for this relationship to work. After all, what do they have in common? While her fresh perspective on pretty much everything may seem charming for a while, she will grow out of it. Will the person she grows into still fit into his already very much established life?

Just as I got frustrated with the corner that it seemed this book was painting itself into, it took a sharp turn and jumped completely out. And got a whole lot better as a result.

At first, the story in The Pursuit reads an awful lot like a old-fashioned Harlequin category romance moved into space. The hero is rich, powerful and much, much, MUCH older than the naive, innocent, sheltered, beautiful and virginal heroine. It’s only when the story breaks that pattern that things really take off.

So to speak.

Mekashe is the commander of the Imperial Guard on his home planet, a member of the mysterious and secretive race called Cehn-Tahr. He is also a member of the Royal Clan, but fairly far down the line of succession.

He is also 250 years old, but looks like he’s in his mid-30s at most. His race was genetically engineered and enhanced at a point far back in their history. While they appear mostly human in public, their real form is clearly derived from a giant and sentient cat species. By position, Mekashe is a high-ranking military officer. His would-be inamorata has problems with both.

His emperor (and great uncle) has insisted that he take some of the R&R he’s entitled to by traveling on a passenger liner from Terravega, now the human home planet, to Memcache, his home.

On that journey he meets the woman of his dreams. Quite literally. He has been dreaming of tall, slim, blonde Jasmine Dupont for years. She is the daughter of the first human ambassador to Memcache, and honestly, at the beginning of the book she’s the epitome of the TSTL heroine.

Not only is she basically a child at 18, she is self-absorbed and offensive at every turn, to the point where she commits a diplomatic faux pas so bad that it costs her father his job and eventually his life, as well as kills any hope for the budding relationship between herself and Mekashe. Her stupidity could literally have killed her, as the offense she committed usually carries the death penalty.

It’s only when things hit absolute bottom that Jasmine finally becomes the person she was meant to be – a person who might be able to stand beside Mekashe as an equal – if they ever find each other again.

Escape Rating B: The first part of this book is frustrating as hell. Jasmine may be 18, but she acts like a child at every turn. She is derisive of the military and she hates and fears cats. Poor Mekashe sees her as his fated mate, or at any rate his mate for life, but is rightfully worried that she will react badly when she discovers his true identity and form. And he’s right to worry. It’s a disaster.

But a disaster that she is still strangely shielded from. The Cehn-Tahr are so secretive that her father is not allowed to tell her the reason for his dismissal. She doesn’t know what she did and therefore can’t learn from it. Her parents have protected, indulged and cosseted her at every turn, and it has done neither her nor them any favors.

It’s only when she’s at the very real end of her rope that she really takes responsibility for herself and her own life, even if she still doesn’t know what it was she did wrong. She finally grows up. She also tells herself that she hates the Cehn-Tahr in general and their emperor in particular, but her feelings for Mekashe never die – no matter how much she wants to kill them.

Circumstances (with a little help from their friends) finally push Mekashe and Jasmine into each other’s orbit again. And while the HEA resolves awfully quickly and the problems are solved too easily (to the point of deus ex machina  or in this case, perhaps deus ex medica, easy), by the time it happens, Jasmine has grown into a person who is worthy of it.

About that ending and all the people in it, as well as those who help along the way… This book probably makes no sense if you have not read the first and foundational book in the series, The Morcai Battalion. Which was surprisingly awesome military science fiction. While the main characters in that book are mostly secondary or tertiary characters in this one, the worldbuilding is all done in that first book. The romances that follow it, including this one, are the wrapping up of the loose ends created in that original scenario. So while I don’t think you need to read all of the intervening books to get to this one – that first one is essential. And highly recommended.

Review: Guardian by Anna Hackett

Review: Guardian by Anna HackettGuardian (Galactic Gladiators #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from alien slavers, former cop Dayna wakes to discover she’s host to a powerful alien symbiont, and the only man who can help her is the mysterious and dangerous casino owner, Rillian.

Dayna Caplan has dedicated her life to protecting others…and now that she’s no longer a captive at the desert arena of Zaabha, she desperately wants to help find the last of the other human women who were abducted by the Thraxians. But now she has to deal with the intense hunger and powerful new abilities the alien living inside grants her…and the person forcing her to confront her new reality is the cool, enigmatic, and far-too-attractive Rillian.

Rillian has wheeled and dealed his way to the top of the food chain on the lawless desert world of Carthago. He lets no one close and keeps iron-clad control on his life…which vital to keeping the lethal power within him in check. But one human woman—tough, stubborn, and fascinating Dayna—works her way under his skin, and he finds himself obsessed with protecting her. But as dead bodies start appearing in his casino as a deadly warning, dangers are closing in on them.

With their allies, the gladiators from the House of Galen, Rillian and Dayna find themselves fighting for survival on every front. On the hunt to find Zaabha and the lost humans, they will face murderers, slavers, and the deadliest of all challenges…the aliens living within them.

My Review:

One of the things that I absolutely love about Anna Hackett’s writing, and particularly in her Galactic Gladiators series, is the way that so many tropes get set on their pointy little heads.

In fantasy, SF, and so many fairy tales, the woman is the reward that the man gets for finishing his quest, whether that’s fighting evil, finding treasure or simply surviving. In the Galactic Gladiators series, it feels like the gladiators are the rewards that the human refugees get for surviving all the crap they’ve had to deal with since the Thraxian slave traders kidnapped them from Jupiter Station and took them back to Kor Magna through that blasted temporary wormhole.

While in most of the stories, the human is female and the gladiator is male, the reversed trope really isn’t reversed in the one story where those boots are on the opposite feet. The gladiator Saff is Blaine Strong’s reward for surviving the hellhole that is the underground fight rings of the planet Carthago. But it can also be seen that he is her reward as well.

But in Guardian, as in most of the stories in this series, the human is female, and the one native to the Kor Magna side of the galaxy is male. But as is becoming increasingly common (and a nice change), the male in this particular entry is not a gladiator. Not that Rillian, the owner of the Dark Nebula Casino (and possibly half of Carthago) can’t fight with the best of them, but his skills lie outside of the Kor Magna Arena.

Which hasn’t stopped him from banding together with the gladiatorial House of Galen to wipe out the illegal slave trade and the underground fight rings that it feeds. Particularly now that one of those rescued humans, former police detective and security officer Dayna Caplan, is in his care.

She came out of her ordeal with a symbiont bonded to her body, and Rillian is the only person who can help her – because he has a symbiont of his own. He also suffered through a bonding process that he wasn’t expected to survive. He’s willing to use his experience to help Dayna, not just because he knows what she’s going through, but because she’s the answer to all the questions that he’s never dared to ask.

But when the Thraxians begin targeting women from Rillian’s past and his present to keep him from helping the House of Galen, he knows that Dayna is next. And that he’ll destroy anyone who threatens what’s his – even if he has to let go of his much vaunted control to make that happen.

If he can’t keep control of his symbiont, he’ll become the kind of killer of which nightmares are made. But if he can’t let go, he won’t be able to save Dayna from everyone coming after her.

And he’ll never be able to save her from the most dangerous predator that she faces – himself.

Escape Rating A-: As I said at the top, in this series it particularly feels like the gladiators (and the other oh-so-hot alien males) are the women’s reward for surviving their one-way trip across the galaxy and everything that Carthago has thrown at them. Especially as most of what’s been thrown at them has been pretty damn awful until the point where they get rescued.

But even though they are definitely in need of rescue, it’s not because they are weak women who have turned into damsels in distress. Anyone in their situation would need to be rescued, as is shown by the rescues of both their male colleague Blaine Strong and the rescue of the big blue alien warrior Vek.

There are times when everyone needs a little help from their friends, even friends they haven’t met yet.

One of the other things I love about this series is that while it may be moving towards its ending, there isn’t anything integral to this world or the situation that requires that it come to an end. (Unlike the Hell Squad series, where as much as I love it I also need the catharsis of kicking the invading Gizzida off our Earth).

Although there seem to have been a limited number of humans brought to Carthago, the real limit to the number of humans is the size of Jupiter Station, which has not been established. There could have been more ships in transit that got scooped up by the Thraxians.

And there are plenty of innocents trafficked into slavery by the Thraxians and their allies the Srinar. The series could branch out into saving other people. Or another wormhole could temporarily open up.

Unfortunately, while it looks like the House of Galen will eventually take the Thraxians down, the underground fight rings exist because there are beings who are willing to pay for the deadly “entertainment” they provide. Which means that taking down the Thraxians is not a permanent solution, because there is no permanent solution.

This particular entry in the series is interesting because neither Dayna nor Rillian follow any of the usual patterns in this series, so far. And because it expands the different types of people who got captured from Jupiter and who help them. Dayna was a cop, and has no desire to become a gladiator. She wants to work security and solve crimes – it’s what she’s good at. And Rillian still wants to buy the other half of Carthago one of these days. A casino owner can always use more good security people, and Dayna is one of the best.

They are good together. Rillian is someone who, of necessity, keeps everyone else at a distance. Dayna needs to be let in. They drive each other crazy, at least until they figure out why they drive each other quite so crazy. They’re a great match. And they’re terrifically fun to watch.

I’m looking for more great stories from this series. The next one, Cyborg, is obviously going to add a cyborg romance to the mix. And I think we’ve finally met the woman who will match Galen himself. I can’t wait!

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.

Review: War Games by Jess Anastasi

Review: War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games (Valiant Knox #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Pages: 320
Published by Entangled Publishing on December 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

My Review:

The Scottish poet Robbie Burns is mostly famous for that once-per-year favorite, Auld Lang Syne. He’s also known for that saying about “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Of course that one is usually translated into something more like contemporary English.

But there’s another phrase of Burns’ that came to mind when reading War Games. It’s the one that goes, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” Because a lot of the tension in War Games is because Colonel Cameron McAllister and Lieutenant Theresa Brenner have never seen each other as they really are, not in ten years of extremely tense “acquaintance”.

Instead, they see each other through the intermediary of a third person who is no longer around, but still standing between them – the Lieutenant’s brother Jordie, dead these ten years in the war that seems never to end between the space-faring and fairly liberal Alliance and the fundamentalist wacko-crazies that have infested the planet Ilari.

Jordie’s death was suicide-by-enemy-fire, and Theresa is certain that it’s all Cam’s fault, based on everything that Jordie told her about his last mission with Cam. Cam, on the other hand, is equally certain that Theresa must be every bit as much of a selfish screw-up as her late brother. He just can’t figure out how someone who must be a terrible soldier somehow managed to become CAFF (Commander of the Flying Forces) on the Valiant Knox.

They’ve managed to mostly avoid each other for years, but circumstances have finally placed them into a close contact that neither of them wants, or trusts.

The long war may finally be reaching its end phase. After the events in Cover Fire, the Alliance has an in with the planetary resistance forces. If the Alliance can figure out just what support they need, and can manage to get it to them, the Resistance has a chance at defeating the CSS before they export their brand of crazy off-planet.

Cam is scheduled to lead an undercover mission just as one of Theresa’s fighter pilots is forced to eject over enemy territory. She attaches herself and another pilot to Cam’s mission so that she can rescue her pilot while he contacts the rebels.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Or in this case, even survives contact with the ground. Of course it all goes pear-shaped. And when it does, Cam and Theresa are forced to work together, and to see the person the other really is, instead of seeing Jordie and his mess.

But old habits die hard, and old impressions die even harder. When the chips are all very much down, Cam screws up. He may be a hero, but it looks like he’s ended the war only to lose the peace.

Or at least his own.

Escape Rating A-: War Games is the final book in the Valiant Knox series. And it’s an absolutely marvelous ending. If you like science fiction space opera romance, this series is terrific from beginning to end. I’m not positive that you need to read it in strict order, but starting with this last book is definitely a no-go. As much as many of us like to skip to the end to see how things turn out, this book is much more fun if you know more about what it is that you want to find out the ending of!

The strength of this particular entry in the series rests on the two main characters, Theresa and Cam, and the chemistry between them as well as the mess that’s keeping them apart. They’ve worked at arm’s length (actually several arms’ lengths’) from each other for a long time. They are certain that they know all about each other, and definitely don’t like what they know.

Even though the reader can easily guess that Jordie Brenner was a less-than-reliable narrator of his own life, it makes sense that his kid sister would believe everything he said, especially in the wake of his death.

On the other hand, Cam McAllister is much too good of a soldier and commander to keep conflating Theresa with her brother, especially in light of the evidence of his own eyes and that of people he respects. It’s mostly his own guilt that keeps him from seeing the person in front of him instead of her dead brother, and he really should know better.

Their mission is a SNAFU from beginning to end, but it is not either of their faults. Murphy has clearly taken up residence on Ilari and everything that can go wrong absolutely does. But the things that go wrong fit right into the military parts of the scenario. The CSS may be run by fundamentalist whack-jobs, but that doesn’t mean that some of them are not effective soldiers, even if they are fighting in a bad cause.

So as the tension between Cam and Theresa shifts from dislike and mistrust to respect and possibly love, the circumstances they find themselves in go from bad, to worse, to downright awful. It takes a lot of mess to wrap the series up with the right amount of intense catharsis, but it does get there, and with an appropriately big and loud bang. Even though their relationship very nearly ends in a whimper.

One final note, as much as I enjoyed this series, I was also glad to see it end. While each romance has moved the overarching story forward, this war needed to come to its conclusion. If it had gone on forever and six books more, it ran the potential of getting stale. Instead, we end on a high note. The Valiant Knox series is a fun mixture of military SF, space opera and science fiction romance, and now that it’s finished it’s even easier to recommend to any reader looking for something good flying on any those vectors. Start with Escape Velocity for the very best ride.

 

Review: Heart Sight by Robin D Owens

Review: Heart Sight by Robin D OwensHeart Sight Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, futuristic, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #15
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley Books on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Journey back to the planet Celta with award-winning author Robin D. Owens in this novel about shadowed enemies and unimaginable psi power.

Muin "Vinni" T'Vine has been the prophet of Celta since he was six years old. A unique and lonely child, his strong psi power made most people wary of him. But now that he's older, he's ready to marry and protect the girl he's known was his HeartMate for years.

Avellana isn't as fragile as Vinni believes...nor as compliant. She fights to be considered Vinni's equal and a strong member of her Family and community. Both of them have kept Avellana's main power secret for over a decade.

But rumors of her strange psi talent are spreading, and Vinni is experiencing premonitions of danger to Avellana--even from the highest people of the land. When the whispers become threats, Vinni and Avellana must discover and defeat their secret enemies before they can finally claim happiness together.

My Review:

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens new cover

After a rocky start (I didn’t like the first book, Heart Mate, the first time I tried to read it), Celta’s Heartmates has become one of my all-time favorite series. I look forward to the new book every year, and read it as soon as I get my hands on it.

As I did this year. In spite of the towering TBR pile, and reading commitments now stretching into February, I devoted one glorious day returning to Celta.

Celta is one of those places, like Pern (Anne McCaffrey), Darkover (Marion Zimmer Bradley) and Harmony (Jayne Castle) that sits right on the dividing line between fantasy and science fiction.

All of these series read like fantasy, where the residents have some kind of special powers – and of course Pern has dragons. But all of these worlds, including Celta, are lost Earth colonies, and their human residents arrived by spaceship sometime in the dim past of their planet. A dim past that they rediscover during the course of the series – or one that rediscovers them.

Celta and Pern are standouts in one particular aspect – they both feel liveable. These worlds are internally self-consistent, and, for lack of a better word, they both feel “real”. And they both feel like places where it would be not just possible, but actually reasonable, to live.

If only we could.

The Celta’s Heartmates series also features the best use of the fated mate trope I think I’ve ever seen. Some, but far from all, of the people of Celta have heartmates. And if they have them, they do discover who that person is during their rites of passage where they come into their “flair” (read as psychic or ESP) powers.

But the road is never easy.

Just because you know who your soulmate is, does not mean that the course of love will run smooth. There have been stories in the series where someone’s heartmate has died young, or where the protagonists just don’t have heartmates and have to make do with good, old-fashioned love.

The story in Heart Sight, however, is about two heartmates who are on a road that is filled with rocks, ruts and roadblocks, many of which have been put in place by Vinni T’Vine, the Oracle of Celta, all by himself. Unfortunately for him, the relationship that he’s messed up is his own, and his heartmate has finally called him on his manipulations and general oracular bullshit.

Because the one future that Vinni can’t see is his own. And the person most closely tied to that future is his heartmate Avellana. He can’t see her future, because he can’t see his. But he can sense when her future holds danger. Just not how much.

The story in Heart Sight is, in some ways, more Avellana’s than it is Vinni’s. Because Vinni has been an adult for some time, and has been the Oracle since he was six years old. He’s used to manipulating people for their “own good”.

But Avellana is supposed to be his partner in life and love. The one person that he should be able to confide in and lean on. And that can’t happen if he’s constantly sending her away “for her safety”. Or if he keeps thinking of her as weak and fragile. Because she is neither.

The only way to confront the danger is to face it, head on, together. And that’s the only way that they will have any future together worth having. Or any future at all.

Escape Rating A: I carried this around for a day, because I absolutely could not put it down. Even just five or ten minutes progress on “MORE STORY” was worth ignoring the rest of the world for.

One of the things I enjoy about Celta is that the place feels alive. Time passes, life moves on, things change. Readers first met Vinni when he had just inherited his title from his late grandmother, at the ripe old age of six. We’ve watched him grow up over the course of the series, always as a side character, sometimes significant, sometimes just a walk-on moment in someone else’s story, but always interesting.

Some of the other characters, Like T’Ash and Danith from Heart Mate, have matured into their powerful prime, while others, like many in the Holly Family, have gone from middle age to respected seniority.

The other part of the series that I love is that there is an overarching story of the changes and developments of Celtan society. The people are changing and their planet is changing them. There are forces that embrace those changes, and forces that are determined to fight those changes – with violence if necessary.

The danger that Avellana has faced all of her life is very real – and is part of that conflict. The arch-conservatives see her as an aberration that must be eliminated at all costs. And they don’t care how much collateral damage they do to get to Avellana. But, while the danger to Avellana was real and tied into the long-running conflict, the motives of the current avatar of those arch-conservatives strayed from being merely a dangerous enemy into downright nuckin’ futz. He was more dangerous – and more comprehensible – when he was thinking relatively clearly – even if that clear thinking was down a terrible path.

All in all, I am thrilled with my recent visit to Celta, and as always, I can’t wait to go back. The sooner, the better!

Review: Rogue by Anna Hackett

Review: Rogue by Anna HackettRogue (Galactic Gladiators #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on November 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing she expects is to be claimed by a handsome alien rogue. Rogue contains two action-packed novellas in the Galactic Gladiators series.

Information Rogue: arrogant information merchant Zhim doesn’t know what hits him when he collides with feisty human hacker Ryan.

Rescued by the humans and gladiators from the House of Galen, Ryan Nagano is working hard to piece her life back together. Her priorities are conquering her anxiety, recovering from her captivity, and using her exceptional computer skills to help the House of Galen decrypt alien data that could reveal the location of other abducted humans. That’s all she’s focused on. But when she needs help, she finds herself having to work with arrogant genius Zhim…and discovers that the two of them redefine the word explosive.

Zhim thrives on the need to uncover information and ensure his wealthy, carefully constructed life is exactly as he wants it. Then one infuriating menace of a woman blasts into his life. Ryan matches him skill for skill, drives him crazy, and worms her way under his skin. But forced to take her deep into Kor Magma’s shadowy hacker underworld, Zhim soon learns exactly what he’s willing to risk to keep Ryan safe.

Desert Rogue: prickly, independent human Neve doesn’t want or need any help…but a certain cocky desert rogue isn’t taking no for an answer.

Neve Haynes survived her abduction through grit and determination. She’s always made her own way through life, depends on no one, and is determined to achieve her own personal mission. So as she sneaks out of the House of Galen, the last thing she needs is help in the form of a tawny-haired, lean-hipped caravan master with more confidence and swagger than any man she’s met before.

Corsair is a man of the desert and leader of the Corsair Caravan. He listens to his gut and something about Neve draws him in. He can’t let her go off and get herself killed, but she’s the most skittish, strongest woman he’s ever met. As they trek deep into the desert on a dangerous mission to find a map to an infamous desert arena, they will fight side by side and be forced to depend only on each other to survive. And in Carthago’s desert sands, they will uncover a desire that burns hotter than the desert sun

My Review:

Unlike the rest of the Galactic Gladiators series, Rogue consists of two novelettes instead of a single novella. The stories center around a bit of a theme, in that both of the heroes are rogues – as much anti-hero as they are hero, and more in the mold of a rogue-type character in a video game than the gladiators themselves, who are straight-up tanks. Not just tanks, but definitely tanks, big and strong and hard fighters who can take a lot of punishment – even the female gladiators.

But worlds don’t consist entirely of straightforward fighters, not even worlds whose economy is based on old-style gladiatorial contests. Fortunately for the gladiators, these interstellar blood and sand games have lots of very high-tech healing operating in the background.

But the heroes of Rogue are cut from another cloth entirely. The first story features the information merchant and data-hacker Zhim, our second hero is Corsair, leader of the desert caravan that assisted in the rescue of the women re-captured from House Galen by the Srinar.

Zhim, the hero of Information Rogue, has been part of the series almost from its beginning. As Galen discovered that there were more victims from Earth than he first believed, he reached out to Zhim to help him discover who they were, where they were hidden and how best to rescue them. As the series has progressed, Zhim’s services have been in increasing demand, hunting not just for any remaining Earth captives but also for any other people or creatures who have been enslaved and need rescue.

He’s also figured out a way – a very expensive way – for the Earth refugees to “call home” – because they are stuck on the far side of a collapsed wormhole and can’t go home again. He’s been a lifeline in so many ways, and now it’s his turn to find the woman he belongs to, and very much vice versa.

While many of the stories in this series have featured opposites attract romances, Zhim and Ryan have much more in common than they have differences. Both are their own galaxy’s variety of nerds, hackers and info-junkies who lust after the latest hardware almost as much as they discover they lust after each other.

But it takes a lot for two people who both have serious trust issues to give anyone else the cipher key to their hearts.

In Desert Rogue it is Corsair’s turn to find his HEA. Corsair first appeared out of the desert sands at least as early as Champion, if not before. It is his caravan that Galen trusts to help rescue the women who were kidnapped a second time while under his protection. And Corsair keeps coming back to help as the gladiators find themselves returning to the desert over and over to rescue more slaves and break up more underground fight rings.

Neve Haynes is a fascinating choice for Corsair. She’s a very different character from many in the series, because she has a hidden agenda, hiding under yet another hidden agenda, and its hidden agendas pretty much all the way down. She was on the Jupiter Station as a corporate spy, and she’s used to hiding herself in plain sight and operating completely alone.

Now that she’s stuck on Kor Magna, her agenda has shifted. She needs to rescue her sister, who is still in the hands of the slavers. But as much experience as Neve has in operations under all types of deadly conditions, there are no deserts in space. Or in the corporate headquarters she used to prowl. She may want to rescue Ever all on her own, but she needs Corsair’s help to navigate the deadly landscape that is second nature to him.

It takes her a long time to realize that she just needs Corsair, and it takes him every bit as long to convince her of what has become, for him, an unalterable fact.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed both of these stories, but I wish that they had both been a bit longer. Not that I don’t always wish that Anna Hackett’s stories were a bit longer, but that seemed particularly true in this case.

If these were not part of an already well-established series, there wouldn’t be nearly enough setup to make the stories work. As it is, the romances still felt a bit rushed, especially in Desert Rogue. While Zhim and Corsair have both been around for awhile, and Ryan and Zhim have been teasing each other over their version of the interwebs for a bit, Neve was barely introduced in the previous books, and her backstory is so different from everyone else’s that I really wanted to know more of what made her tick and especially about her relationship with her sister, particularly as Ever is set up to be the heroine of one of the future stories in this series.

But I’m always happy to receive a treat from Anna Hackett, and Rogue was no exception. It made for a great Thanksgiving read!