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 by Robin Owens
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!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
Published by Anna Hackett on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna HackettAsh (Hell Squad #14) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #14
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on October 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can't seem to stay away...online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash's tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

My (Admittedly Squee-Filled) Review:

I’ve read the entire Hell Squad series so far, and pretty much loved every minute of it. But there’s something about this particular book that really, really worked for me. It took me a while to figure out exactly what made this one special.

It’s Marin, the heroine of the story. She’s a geek girl, and proud of it. She’s a valued member of Noah’s geek squad with a specialty in breaking Gizzida firewalls and hacking their tech. She’s also a girl gamer and one of the champions at the battle game that everyone in the Enclave is playing.

She knows who and what she is, and doesn’t apologize for any it, including the way she completely loses herself in a work the minute she has a new puzzle to solve, and doesn’t come up for air until the problem has been conquered.

She’s also a woman who knows how her world works, and one of the ways that the world works is that geek girls do not end up with hot bad boys. For any of us that grew up listening to Janis Ian’s incredible “At Seventeen”, Marin is a sister. She’s learned the truth that the rest of us have, that “love was meant for beauty queens” and that we aren’t among them.

Some of the heroines of some of the earlier Hell Squad books have been soldiers. While it’s fun to imagine being Claudia or Camryn, and it is fantastic to see them kick Gizzida ass, they are a couple of steps further into the fantasy of it all.

Geek girl Marin is a woman close to my heart. Claudia and Camryn read almost like Wonder Woman, where Marin is someone I could actually imagine wanting to be. It made her incredibly easy to identify with. I really wanted her to get her Happy For Now, but even more than that, I could see myself making some of her choices and also feeling many of her insecurities.

I hadn’t realized quite how much that would mean to my enjoyment of a story until I was in the thick of this one and just felt every step of her journey and loved it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not going to do a traditional review for this one. If you even think that post-apocalyptic science fiction romance might be your jam, pick up the first book in this series, Marcus, and just dive in. Each individual story is a hot and sexy romance. And, there’s the overall arc of the series, all about the fight against the alien invaders and the need to kick them off Earth – with extreme prejudice to pay for all the death and destruction they’ve caused.

It’s a wild ride from the beginning to where we are now. And where we are now is that I think we’re seeing the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel, and I’m really hoping that it isn’t an oncoming train. It’s time for the Gizzida to go, hopefully with a stand up and cheer, kick their alien asses off our planet big scene just like the first Independence Day movie. Which the Hell Squad series will probably remind you of more than a bit.

I’ll stop squeeing now. Go forth and get ready to go to hell with the Hell Squad. Because the Gizzida devils really, really need an ass-kicking. And it’s all kinds of adventurous, sexy fun to watch the Hell Squad deliver it!

Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2

Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 by S.E. Smith, Carol Van Natta, Jessica E. Subject, Alexis Glynn Latner, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 826
on October 10th 2017
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first month’s profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

My Review:

I loved the first Pets in Space collection, as well as all the pets collected therein, so I was happy to sign up for Pets in Space 2. And I’m glad I did.

This is a collection to savor, and possibly also one to plan on reading over a long trip. This book is huge. Why? Because this is not a collection of short stories, it’s a collection of novellas. Novellas are longer, meatier and just have room for more story all the way around. So if you like SFR in general or stories where animals help the humans get their romantic act together, this one is a winner from beginning to end.

I have to confess that I haven’t read them all, yet. I want to have time to get into each story, and possibly see how many books in each author’s series I need to add to my towering TBR pile.

That being said, I really enjoyed the stories I did read. But because this is my “best beloved” genre, SFR, I have a few quibbles.

I read the first two stories, Pearl’s Dragon by SE Smith and A Grim Pet by MK Eidem straight out of the gate, before I realized I had to pace myself a bit. I liked both of them, but Pearl’s Dragon spoke to me a bit more. It was fantastic to see a “woman of a certain age” as the romantic lead. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, even though in science fiction it is easy to posit more than enough medical advances to make it not merely plausible, but very, very possible. And it’s fun to see someone I can really identify with as the heroine!

But both of these stories are in worlds that I am not familiar with, and that are several stories into their worldbuilding. As much as I enjoyed them, I always had the feeling that there was a whole bunch that I was missing because I hadn’t read the previous stories. Which look like a treat. As soon as I get a round tuit, I’ll be back to visit these worlds again.

I went hunting for a cat story, because, cats. I love cat stories, and cat’s stories, and that’s why I have two of my own. And I loved Rescued by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol, even though I have not read the series that it comes from, either. Little Mittzi added just the right touch of comfort and whimsy to a story that definitely had its dark and gritty moments. And Mittzi even saved the day!

Then I went looking for the stories in universes that was already familiar with, and explored two of those, Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise: Songbird and Pauline Baird Jones’ Time Trap.

Time Trap was a bit shorter than the rest, and just didn’t have quite enough time to deal with what feels like some very complex worldbuilding under the surface. And that’s ironic considering that this is a time travel story. I liked Briggs and Madison, but because I didn’t have a lot of background for them I found myself short-cutting what I did have and grafting it into universes I’m more familiar with. Something kept saying Stargate to me, but I’m not sure if that mental leap was remotely correct. Still, great characters, but the worldbuilding had clearly happened elsewhere. Sir Rupert, on my third hand, was an absolute hoot. Pun completely intended.

Of the stories that I read, I think that Star Cruise: Songbird was the best of the marvelous bunch. It probably helped that I have read several books in the Star Cruise series, and was relatively familiar with the worldbuilding. This story felt the most complete, in the sense that we had a chance to really see the relationship develop from its shaky start to its life-altering conclusion. The bond between Grant and his raptor was nicely done, and Karissa’s problems, while they were difficult, showed that she was dealing with her life and just needed a bit of help – not that Grant needed to rescue her at every turn. I also loved that they found a way to be together that melded both their worlds. A great story with a well deserved and interesting HEA.

Escape Rating A-: There are mostly hits in this collection, and plenty of temptation not just to immerse yourself in this book, but to go back and do a deep dive into every one of these authors’ worlds. I loved the first book, and this is a fitting continuation. I hope that there will be a Pets in Space 3 to look forward to next year, because this collection has become an annual treat.

Review: Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Review: Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian (Galactic Gladiators #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers, experimented on, and left blind, the last thing doctor Winter Ashworth needs is a big barbarian gladiator in her life, especially an annoying one who thinks she's small and weak.

Rescued by gladiators on the desert world of Carthago, Winter is doggedly working to embrace her new life. But two of her friends are still missing and she'll do anything to help get them back...even if she has to work alongside Nero Krahn: hunter, barbarian, gladiator. The scowly, brooding man is too big, has too many muscles, and pushes all her buttons.

Nero is the House of Galen's best hunter and tracker. Raised on a barbarian world, where strength and might are prized, he was bred to hunt and fight. Now the arena is his home and his loyalty is to his imperator. He knows he can use his skills to find the two lost women, even if that means protecting a small blind woman who takes every chance to misjudge his words and lash him with her sharp tongue.

But as they follow a dangerous trail to save their friends, a new enemy emerges--one who wants Winter. The pair find themselves reluctantly attracted to each other, uncovering a scorching desire that shocks them both. As Nero fights to protect Winter, the barbarian gladiator will discover the true meaning of strength from the small Earth woman he wants to claim as his.

My Review:

I always have a good time with Anna Hackett’s series, and Barbarian was no exception. This was a perfect airplane book. The plane may have been flying over the American Heartland, but I was exploring the deserts of Kor Magna and loving every minute of it.

The Galactic Gladiators series is a kind of sun and sandals meet spaceships series. Kor Magna is basically Vegas on steroids, and the gladiatorial fights are just a part of the entertainment on offer. All of the galaxy’s sins, temptations and degradations seem to be available on Kor Magna – for a price.

But it isn’t all fun and games. Kor Magna may be where the rich come to play, but it has a seamy side. Someone has to be providing all the fun, all that tempting sin, and not all of the providers are willing.

There’s an unfortunately thriving slave trade that feeds the fleshpots of Kor Magna, and an ever expanding number of humans have found themselves under its thumb. Slavers exploited a temporary wormhole from Kor Magna to Jupiter, and kidnapped or killed an entire space station.

But that wormhole was a temporary fluke. Our solar system is too far away to get to, over 600 years away at the fastest sublight speeds currently available. So the humans that were captured are exotic and rare, therefore valuable in the wrong hands. And none of them can get home.

Over the course of the series, the captive humans have been rescued, one by one, by gladiators from the successful and honorable House of Galen. Galen and his gladiators have made it their mission to rescue slaves, especially those who just aren’t suited for the life of a gladiator.

And one by one, as each human is rescued, another gladiator falls into the arms of love. At this point, the remaining unmated gladiators are getting a bit sick of all the mushy stuff, and worried about when it will be their turn to fall. (This reader is really looking forward to Galen’s fall, but that’s probably a couple of books away at least. Damn)

The story in Barbarian is the romance between blind Winter and warrior Nero. Winter is a doctor who was blinded in an experiment after she was captured by the slavers. She has a lot of fears and insecurities about how she will make a life and a place for herself now that she is blind. A surgeon can’t operate if they can’t see what they are operating on.

The warrior Nero pushes all of Winter’s buttons, both the good ones and the insecure ones. A warrior from a savage planet, Nero was taught to believe that the weak were a drain on resources, and that protecting them only drains the tribe. He’s learned better in the House of Galen, but Winter’s presence makes him even more tongue-tied, and more blunt, than usual. And she takes all of his comments and runs with them, generally in the wrong direction.

There is more than one kind of strength, and more than one version of bravery. As the gladiators trek out into the harsh desert to rescue more humans from extremely inhumane conditions, Winter and Nero finally figure out that all of their arguments mask a whole lot of deeper emotions that neither of them is ready to deal with.

But life on Kor Magna, even under the best of circumstances (something the gladiators never seem to find) is too harsh to put off loving the person who makes your heart sing.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Nero and Winter. In the end, they made a great team. And it was good to see Winter take her new life by the horns, in spite of her handicap. She’s scared, she’s uncertain, but she never retreats and she never gives up.

Not even when an evil robot is dragging her to its leader.

That leader is what keeps this book, for me at least, from rising into the A grades.

The slave traders, as awful as they are, make a bad kind of sense. They’re in it for the money. It’s a disgusting motive, and their tactics are brutal, but we understand why they do what they do, even as we abhor it.

The villain of this piece, the Catalyst, is just plain nuckin’ futz. Crazy as a loon. A few parsecs short of a quadrant. You get the picture. He’s doing what he’s doing just because he can, and because he believes he’s so intelligent that he’s entitled, and that no one will be able to stop him. He was terrible and awful and dangerous, but he just didn’t make enough sense. At least not for me.

The gladiators, on the other hand, are terrific. And they are all very much individuals, just as are the humans they fall for. So far, it’s been one male human and five females, but there is nothing in the structure of the series that says that couldn’t change. One of the things that I like about the series is that each of the humans, upon recognizing that they literally can’t go home again, buckles down and finds work and hope and purpose as well as love. And the work varies – only two so far have become gladiators. In addition to Winter finding a way to continue as a healer, one has become an engineer, another an inventor, and one has taken on the sometimes thankless task of business manager for the House of Galen.

One thing that makes this series so much fun is that the pattern can be stretched indefinitely without feeling too stretched. The Hell Squad series has hit that point for me, even though I still enjoy the individual entries in it. And you don’t have to read the entire series to get in on the action (but probably the first one (Gladiator) just to introduce the scene, setting and players) But the Galactic Gladiators only has to stop when the plausible number of captives from the Jupiter station has been reached, and that’s a LONG way off.

Thank goodness!

Review: Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayCover Fire (Valiant Knox #3) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Pages: 333
Published by Entangled Publishing on June 19th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?
If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.
After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

My Review:

Cover Fire is the third book in the Valiant Knox series, and it both lives up to its predecessors and takes the action in several new directions. If you like science fiction romance, start with Escape Velocity and jet right on over to Damage Control before jumping into Cover Fire. You’ll be glad you did.

And if you have a friend who likes military romance but is hesitant about the whole SF thing, this series is a terrific gateway drug for those who are thinking about trying SFR. It definitely has the flavor of military romance, but in setting that easily evokes contemporary military romance.

Because that Valiant Knox that the series is named for? She’s a battleship. She just happens to be a space battleship.

She’s also a floating city in space, much like a considerably less battered Battlestar Galactica, or a Babylon 5 that does more than just orbit a planet.

While the previous two stories in this series have focused more on the military side of the military police action to embargo the planet Ilari and its fanatic CSS soldiers, Cover Fire is all about the truly dirty side of war. Not black ops, but much, much dirtier. Jenna Maxwell is a member of Command Intelligence. She’s a spy, an infiltrator, and on occasion, assassin.

And somebody on her own side wants her dead. The question in her mind is whether she did something wrong that CI thinks needs to be “cleaned up”, or whether someone in CI is a mole for the CSS. All too many CSS moles have been uncovered among the crew of the Valiant Knox, so there’s plenty of reasons to believe that CI might have some too, in spite of the extreme vetting its agents go through on their way in.

That’s where our story begins. Hot-shot pilot Sebastian Rayne is still reeling after the revelation that his best friend was a CSS mole all along. They were best buds for years, and Seb never noticed a thing. He’s still kicking himself, and questioning his own judgment at every turn.

And taking suicide missions, like the one he’s offered to drop Jenna behind enemy lines on Ilari, the enemy stronghold, in a top-secret mission using a POS stolen CSS space shuttle. Of course the whole thing goes FUBAR. There was a damn good reason that shuttle didn’t look spaceworthy. It wasn’t.

But in their enforced togetherness while running from the wreck and escaping the CSS soldiers sent to investigate, Jenna and Seb have a little too much time to spend together. Just enough for Seb to notice that the tough-as-nails exterior doesn’t always match the woman who begins to question, just a little, whether her lonely, dark place in the underbelly of this war is worth the price she has to pay for it.

And just when both their missions seem to be back on track, Jenna is betrayed by her own side, and Seb is sent to pick up the pieces – pieces that are supposed to include Jenna’s body. Instead, he finds a live, scared and pissed off Jenna who has been forced to expose her real appearance, because that’s the only face that CI doesn’t have on file.

Jenna needs Seb’s help to track the reasons for her would-be assassination. And she needs Seb to remind her that the lonely life of a field agent is no life at all. And Seb needs Jenna to help him find closure for the biggest betrayal of his life.

But there is someone gunning for them both. Whether that’s CI, a CSS mole, or a player to be named later is anyone’s guess. But running for their lives together is the best thing that’s ever happened to both of them.

And it might just turn the tide of the war.

Escape Rating B+: I always have a great time aboard the Valiant Knox – or flying around it. But as much as I like the stories and the setting, I’m still not totally clear on the motivations of the CSS. They come off as “standard evil repressive fundamentalist cult” which is a common trope but doesn’t give me enough.

It also, as this story discovers, isn’t enough for some of its adherents. The CSS claims they want independence to go about their evil, repressive ways, but they may not be the only dog in this fight. We’ll see. That possibility gives me very high hopes for subsequent books in this series.

But about Cover Fire. All the stories in this series, so far, have dealt with forbidden romances in one way or another, and this one is no exception. Unlike the standard trope of the fighter pilot jock, Seb is not out to notch his bedpost. He is much more interested in a real relationship, or at least trying for one. And as much as he comes to want Jenna, as long as she believes that she has to run, he’s not after just a one-night-stand, no matter how he wants her.

He’s also going through a lot of self-doubt after the exposure of his friend as a CSS mole. He’s not sure what he feels, or with Jenna, who he feels it for. She turns her CI mask on and off like flipping a switch. Meanwhile, Jenna isn’t sure not just what she feels, but who she really is and whether she has a life expectancy longer than a few hours. She thinks her own organization is out to get her, and they are very, very effective at tying up loose ends.

Any relationship between them is the ultimate distraction from the effort to find out who ordered the hits and to keep them both alive long enough to expose the rot. There are plenty of times when that effort seems doomed, and often by their own mistakes.

I’ll admit that I did figure out whodunnit quite a bit before the end. I had the motives wrong, but the perpetrator seemed obvious, and was. Which didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the story and the series one iota.

I can’t wait to see what happens next. In the somewhat ominously titled War Games, coming out later this year.

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Review: Hell Squad: Hemi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Hemi by Anna HackettHemi (Hell Squad #13) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #13
Pages: 201
Published by Anna Hackett on May 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

My Review:

Science Fiction Romance (SFR) has to walk a tightrope. It has to have convincing and consistent SF worldbuilding, AND it has to have a romance at its heart. For the most part I absolutely love this author’s SFR and her action/adventure romance, but this particular entry didn’t quite work for me.

While on that one hand Hemi feels like it is intended as the reverse of Theron, the two stories may just have come out too close together for me. Both romances feature members of the Squads that protect the Enclave from the nasty, reptilian, invading Gizzida. So these are both stories where the romance is between two members of the military defense force.

In Theron, it was Sienna who was ready to rock her teammate’s world, and Theron who was the initially reluctant partner. In Hemi, the roles are reversed, with Hemi already all in and Cam putting up walls. The circumstances that this little remnant of the human race is currently stuck in creates all kinds of baggage for absolutely everyone. But in addition to the usual standard heaping helping of survivor’s guilt, Cam’s miserable childhood and toxic parents left her convinced that while love may be possible for other people, she’s not capable of believing in it for herself.

Especially with someone like Hemi, who in spite of being very big and badass, came from a loving home filled with siblings and cousins and parents who loved each other deeply. He believes in forever, and while their current situation keeps forever firmly on hold, she doesn’t think she has it in her to care that deeply for anyone, because she’s seen just how wrong it can go.

It takes nearly losing Hemi twice for Cam to finally see that love is real, and that they need to grab every minute of it they can, because there might not be a tomorrow.

Escape Rating B-: The stories in Hemi and Theron are much too similar, and came much too close together for this reader. While Shaw also explores this same theme, two Squad members who fall for each other, it still stands out, both because it was the first of the theme and because Shaw and Frost are both so completely blindsided by what they feel for each other.

Also, although Hemi may be intended to be the engine driving this book (I can’t resist the pun) something about the way he pursued Cam didn’t quite work for me. It very much had that flavor of “man knows best”, and that particular flavor never tastes good to me.

Even though Hemi turns out to be right, they really do belong together, that particular trope has a nasty aftertaste of the man ignoring the woman’s thoughts, feelings and desires. It so often, as it does in this case, becomes a story of “even though she said no she really means yes” and using seduction to change the woman’s mind. Everyone is wrong sometimes, but not having a woman’s stated wishes respected, even if the other character thinks they are off-base, is not something I enjoy reading.

It also feels as if not enough progress is made towards kicking the Gizzida off Earth. I’m still holding out for an Independence Day ending (the original, not the bleeping sequel) where we all stand up and cheer while the aliens get their asses kicked back into space. While the new alien creepers we see in Hemi are particularly creepy (the scene where Hemi hacks his way out from the inside is gruesome and awesome at the same time), and the swath of destruction that the Squads wreck in their base is spectacularly explosive, it still feels like a guerrilla action and not major movement forward.

For this reader, it is just plain time for the Gizzida to GO!

Review: Hell Squad: Theron by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Theron by Anna HackettTheron (Hell Squad #12) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #12
Pages: 223
Published by Anna Hackett on April 30th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Squad mates, best friends, and fighting to survive in the middle of an alien invasion. Can she make one stubborn alpha male soldier see her as something else?

Sienna Rossi has always been a mix of contradictions. She loves ice cream, likes cooking, and is skilled at taking down aliens with her squad. Sweet and tough, soldier and woman, most people can't seem to make sense of her...even the loving family she lost in the invasion and especially men. One man accepts her as she is, her best friend Theron. But the big, silent, muscled soldier has her firmly in the 'friends' zone...except that Sienna knows he wants her, and she's determined to claim the stubborn man as hers.

Theron Wade lives to fight aliens. They killed his parents, his foster siblings, and his fellow Rangers. Now he has a new team--the tough, mostly-female Squad Nine. But one certain female haunts his dreams and stars in his darkest fantasies. Sienna is his sunshine in the darkness. He wants to her to be happy...and he knows that would never be with a man like him. A man with darker, rougher tastes that would shock her.

As Squad Nine works to track and destroy a dangerous alien device, best friends collide. Theron introduces Sienna to a world of rough, edgy passion that she craves. But as a mission goes off track, the two of them will risk everything for love, for their lives, and to save the world.

My Review:

I absolutely adore this series. I open each entry with the sure and certain knowledge that I’m in for a good time. But I think it’s time for the series to end.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a rip-roaring good time with Theron and Sienna, because I most certainly did.

The Hell Squad series, which begins with a roar and a bang and a whole lot of gunfire in Marcus, is post-apocalyptic science fiction romance. The apocalypse that these events are post of is the invasion of the alien Gizzida and their ongoing attempt to bomb Earth back to the Stone Age while capturing and converting as many humans as possible into Gizzida.

Think Borg, but with more individual free will. Which often translates to even more cruelty and ambition, and even less conscience. And I never thought I’d say that anything had less conscience than the Borg. But individual Borg aren’t aware of the horror of their actions, and individual Gizzida are.

Each story in this series pushes the human agenda of getting the Gizzida off our planet just a tiny bit further, while featuring a romance between two of the many characters who are fighting back against the invaders with everything they have.

In Theron, the alien invasion part of the story revolves around a daring raid on the Australian Gizzida headquarters, with the first order of business to destroy the alien mind control device they are building, and the second order to investigate the rumored superweapon that the Gizzida are developing. The scary thing is that the giant mind control weapon is not the superweapon.

The romance is between Theron and Sienna, two members of Squad Nine. The Squads are the military arm of the resistance, and Theron and Sienna are two of their best. They are also partners in the squad, best friends, and always have each other’s backs in a fight.

And they not-so-secretly want to bang each other’s brains out. I’d say they were also secretly in love with each other, but part of the secret is that neither of them is willing to explore those feelings. They are both suffering from a whole lot of survivor’s’ guilt like pretty much everyone in the Enclave, and they are rightfully afraid that attempting to be anything more to each other will mess up their friendship.

There’s a betting pool on whether and when they will finally give in to each other. Can someone manage to win the pot before it’s too late for them all?

Escape Rating B+: I enjoy each outing in this series, but I can kind of see the patterns coming. Theron and Sienna’s story is a combination of the romances in Marcus and Shaw. Marcus thinks he’s too big and bad-assed for former society princess Elle, and Shaw and Frost are squad partners and friends who are afraid to mess up what they already have for something that might not work out.

Theron is sure he’s too rough for Sienna, and they are both afraid of messing up their partnership for a relationship that might not work out. While I’ve enjoyed each individual relationship, the predictability of the patterns is getting to me. I’m glad there was a few months break between Devlin and Theron.

So it’s the science fiction aspects of this SFR series that keep me going. I really, really, really want to see the Gizzida get kicked off of Earth. And I read each book in the series for the clues about how that longed-for event is finally going to happen.

But there’s something about the Gizzida that made me think. I compared them to the Borg, because that’s who they initially reminded me of. Both species conquer planets purely so they can mine those planets’ resources, and in both species those resources include any desirable DNA characteristics they can add to their own species to upgrade it. In both cases their process is to turn the conquered people into themselves. Borg make more Borg by turning other species into Borg, and Gizzida do the same thing.

Science fiction has managed to discover what feels like a literal “fate worse than death”. Not to be killed, or to suffer a terrible trauma that changes you forever, but to have your entire selfhood erased and converted to the enemy. I’m playing Mass Effect Andromeda right now, and it also explores this same theme, as did the original Mass Effect Trilogy. The worst fate in the universe is not to die, but to be permanently and irrevocably converted into the enemy.

The Gizzida are part of a fine and frightening trend in SF, and I want them kicked off Earth ASAP. But I suspect that our heroes are going to have to suffer through even more awful revelations before that glorious day.