Review: Conqueror by Anna Hackett

Review: Conqueror by Anna HackettConqueror (Galactic Kings #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Kings #4
Pages: 276
Published by Anna Hackett on November 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

After two years of alien captivity, Evie is free, but her captors have changed her. Now struggling to control a terrifying new power, her only hope is one formidable, dangerous alien king.

Logistics manager Evie Mason is no longer a prisoner on an alien space station, but she’s far from Earth, suffering nightmares, and fighting to ignore the growing power inside her. She just wants to be normal, but when she comes face to face with the intoxicating ruler of the planet Taln, normal isn’t an option. He speaks to the power inside her, and ignites a fierce desire she’s never felt before.

Conqueror Graylan Taln Sarkany is the king of Taln and its people, who can control the geological forces of their planet. He’s dedicated to protecting Talnians from his evil father and uses his immense power to command the rocks, soil, and earthquakes. But Gray must always keep a part of his power leashed. The part that’s too volatile, too enormous, too dangerous. Then one small, tough woman from Earth threatens all his control.

As a final, violent showdown with Graylan’s father draws closer, Gray and Evie are swept into a whirlwind of power and passion, their powers connecting them in ways neither of them understand. With Gray’s brothers, their mates, and allies by their side, they will fight, and Gray will unleash everything he has to protect his planet, his people, and Evie.

My Review:

There is clearly something very wrong with King Zavir Sarkany, but his four sons are all very, very fine indeed. And they’ve banded together to do something about ‘not-so-dear and not-so-old dad’. They’re going to pay him back for all the damage he’s done to their solar system, their individual planets, their people, their families and themselves.

Unlike their tyrannical father, the Sarkany brothers all put themselves last behind the needs of their respective peoples. Their joint problem is that the one thing all of their planets’ peoples need most is to eliminate the man who fathered their respective rulers. Preferably before he manages to destroy all of their worlds so he can ‘get his sons back’. Zavir is delusional. And narcissistic. But unfortunately, quite charismatic when he want to be and extremely powerful all of the damn time.

Nevertheless, his sons have managed to beat back Zavir’s seriously overclocked, over-enhanced and over-genetically-engineered constructs on Zhalto (Overlord), Damar (Emperor) and even on Zavir’s space station based experimental monstrosity lab (Captain of the Guard). Now it’s time for the Sarkany brothers to get together and kick him off Taln and out of their lives for good.

No matter what it takes.

But in his quest to rule his planetary system and his sons, Zavir managed to sow the seeds of his own destruction. There’s something about the women from Earth that both enhances his horrific experiments AND makes them easy to genetically engineer. He intended to create weapons, and they are. But the moment they get free of his scientists’ clutches, each one of them has bonded with one of his sons, giving them yet one more reason to fight him with everything they have.

In this final story in the Galactic Kings series, Conqueror Graylan Taln Sarkany is juggling the protection of his world, the plot to destroy his father, the healing of Earth-refugee Evie Mason (her rescue is part of Captain of the Guard) and fighting his attraction to this woman who is still in mourning for the ‘normal’ person she used to be.

It’s a lot for any person to handle, but Graylan eventually gets the message that he’s capable of conquering anything and anyone – as long as he has Evie by his side.

Escape Rating A-: As Conqueror is the final book in the Galactic Kings series – and a marvelously cathartic one at that – this is not the place to start the series. Start with Overlord because the whole thing is just a terrific science fiction romance read from beginning to end.

Or, if you’re in the mood for a big reading binge, you can always start with Gladiator, the first book in the Galactic Gladiators series. Why? Because the wormhole that brought so many Terrans from the Jupiter outpost to their system all the way across the galaxy is just a gift that has kept on giving, with Conqueror just the latest in a long and wonderful line of interstellar romances.

A line which seems to be continuing in the Oronis Knights series early next year. But we’re not there yet.

The story in Conqueror has all the captivating elements of the previous books in the series. Evie Mason was rescued from the clutches of Zavir’s evil scientists – who honestly make the Nazis look like fluffy bunnies by comparison.

Her blood was used to make Zavir’s experimental creatures even more powerful, and she was genetically engineered to have the same capabilities as the people of one of the planets in the Sarkan system – in this case Gray’s planet Taln. She’s not ‘normal’ anymore by Earth standards and she can’t go home – even if she could.

She wants payback. She also, surprising even herself, wants Gray, although she knows that it can’t possibly lead anywhere. He’s a king and she’s basically a refugee. Also, he’s being an idiot and pursuing an arranged marriage because he thinks it will be easier if he doesn’t love his spouse. For…reasons. As I said, idiot.

So their reluctant romance is a big part of this story, but what makes this one so much fun is that it’s all about finding a final solution for Zavir – and the conflict that Gray and his brothers all have about plotting to kill their father. Who really, really needs it but is still their father. Who can be very, very charming and very, very twisted, sometimes even at the same time.

Their solution is not the one that I was expecting. At all. Which is terrific. That it’s a take on events in Star Trek: Next Gen brought a smile to my face even as I breathed a huge sigh of relief that all was well that ended well. (Although the solution in STNG is about to be undone in the final season of Picard, so who knows? Zavir could be back, too…)

If you are looking for kickass, action-adventure romance in a science fiction setting, where all the protagonists take charge, take names and definitely get the hardest and most heartbreaking jobs done with style and sass, the Galactic Kings – and their queens! – are all winners in love and war and every single one of their stories is a fantastic read!

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra HatchPets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #7
Pages: 1369
on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space® is back for a new year of adventures!

Pets in Space is back and better than ever! Featuring 13 original, never-before-released stories from some of today's bestselling science fiction romance authors, starring your favorite sci-fi pets. These furry, feathered, and slightly alien friends are always ready for a new adventure with their two-legged human and alien companions. From dogs to cats to sea creatures and unicorns, these romantic tales show that pets are more than just animals – they’re family.

This limited-edition anthology includes stories by some of the biggest names in science fiction romance. New York Times Bestseller S.E. Smith and USA Today Bestsellers R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch, plus Leslie Chase, Winnie Winkle, and Candace Colt.

The Pets in Space 7 authors continue their vital support of HeroDogs, the non-profit charity that improves quality of life for veterans of the U.S. military and first-responders with disabilities.

★ Don't miss out — grab this limited-edition anthology before it's too late! ★

Exclusively in Pets in Space 7:
◆“Wynter and the Stone Dragon” by S.E. Smith: Love blossoms between a human king and an alien princess when a portal between their worlds opens.
◆“Life-Debt” by R.J. Blain: Hybrid human Viva and her pet fox have two rules: no names and no attachments. Why does the handsome man she rescued makes her want to break both?
◆“Marked Mate” by Grace Goodwin: An elite hunter pursues a dangerous criminal on an unsuspecting Earth, only to be distracted by a mysterious woman and her furry pet.
◆“Alien Abduction for Unicorns” by Skye MacKinnon: Unicorns are real, and alien Bruin is sexy as the stars. Can Scottish tour guide Tara forgive them for kidnapping her in the name of science?
◆“An Entanglement of Griffins” by Carol Van Natta: A space pirate and a pet sanctuary owner suspected of grand larceny get help from genetically-engineered griffins to recover the goods and find love.
◆“Cyborg Rider” by Honey Phillips: Can a bioengineered mole named Eglantine find a way to rescue the scientist and the cyborg who are depending on her?
◆“Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke: A telekinetic healer on a mission and a telepathic killer who is afraid to feel must trust an intelligent cat to help them save a group of children from death.
◆“Myra’s Big Mistake” by S. J. Pajonas: She’s burdened by a lifetime of disappointment. He’s been her secret admirer for years. Will a roll of the dice lead to a cosmic courtship?
◆“Desert Flame” by JC Hay: Dr. Cerridwen Lewis is prickly, foul mouthed, and quick to anger; in other words, she’s everything Captain Kal and his pet scythewing ever wanted.
◆“Death Angel” by Kyndra Hatch: How do you choose between your people and your mate? Especially when you're a Korthan cyborg captain and your human mate unknowingly holds the key to lasting peace or unending war?
◆“Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase: Megan isn’t looking for love, especially not from an alien mercenary just passing through. But love, and her winged cat Nebula, have other plans.
◆“Liquid Courage” by Winnie Winkle: Powerful sea witch Morgan is determined to save her beloved ocean creatures from thieving aliens. Tony offers to help, but he's got secrets.
◆“Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by by Candace Colt: Eccentric witch Rhea only dreamed of the stars. So how did she and her snarky cat end up in a junk-picker spaceship with sexy alien captain C'tloc?

My Review:

Pets in Space is always an utterly marvelous treat. Every year an absolutely stellar group of science fiction romance writers get together to create this annual collection of space ships and adventure, featuring romance between humans and/or aliens, ably assisted by companion creatures, whether animals or AI, whether furry or feathered or something out of this world.

The proceeds from the sale of each Pets in Space collection go to charity, specifically to Hero Dogs, an organization which provides trained service dogs to heroes, specifically to wounded military veterans and first responders.

So the book supports a terrific cause, and the stories within are always out of this world. This is the seventh collection, and it contains a lucky THIRTEEN science fiction romance novellas in a whopping 1369 page book.

That’s a lot of book, and a lot of treats to savor until the next one arrives!

For me, the annual collection is a reading delight that will last through lots of reading time, especially over the winter with a cat in my lap and a cup of tea or hot cocoa at my side. It’s much too big for one sitting or even one weekend. I always want to take my time and enjoy every page.

This is a book that requires a plan of attack!

I confess that I always read the cat stories first. Partly because it’s always fun to imagine what cats would have to say if they could talk. And because my own feline overlords wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m supposed to reassure them that they’re the best cats in the universe and they aren’t shy about telling me so!

But seriously, I generally do read the cat stories first – as I did this time around. I save the stories about other animals, and in worlds I’m not familiar with, for times when I can dive into the towering TBR pile – or add to it – to get stories in the same worlds featured in the collection that are new to me.

So I’ll be treating myself to more of Pets in Space 7 over the months ahead.

Howsomever, I can’t leave you without making a few review-type comments about those three cat stories, “Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke, “Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase and “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt.

“Healer Heart” was interesting because it contained some elements of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, particularly her genetically engineered and ruthlessly trained assassins, the Arrows. In the universe of the Telepathic Space Pirates there is also a group of genetically engineered assassins. And like the Arrows, some of those born and bred killers want more from life than just death. Which is where telepathic healer Nayla and the hunter cat Rasalas come in. While she personally wants to help one particular assassin, her assignment is to help assassin-trained children before the training is too deeply ingrained to be countered. She helps the kids with dogs, but it’s the cat pushing her to make things right with the man who broke her heart trying to protect her from himself.

There’s just so much to love in this one. Nayla is beating her head against the wall using her own gifts and training to help people who are determined to blame her for every break from tradition; the man she loves is terrified he’ll kill her if his training overcomes his reason; and the kids she is able to help are heartbreaking but hopeful. This universe is an absolute mess but this healer seems to have a cure for at least a bit of what’s ailing it.

“Written in the Stars” revolves around a woman stranded on a failing space station with her vast collection of books, her flying cat, and her determination to save up enough money to get back to something a little bit more like civilization. Megan is plucky beyond belief, and lucky beyond reason, as she finds both someone to love and a purpose for living in helping to rescue the space station from itself. Her winged cat Nebula is both very cat and very reminiscent of some famous literary felines, as Nebula is an intergalactic traveling version of the winged cats in Nebula-Award winning Ursula LeGuin’s lovely Catwings series.

Last but not least, “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt. This one was my favorite because Rhea is a witch of a certain age who learns that love has not passed her by, and that she is not yet ready (if, admittedly, she ever will be) to settle down and help raise her grandchildren. Her conundrum is a devastating one, as the necklace that powered her journey to C’tloc’s spaceship can either take her back to her home or power his spaceship so that he can get back home, but not both. If she leaves, he’ll die. If she stays, by the time she manages to get back to Earth her family will probably be long dead. She can only live one life, and she has to make a bittersweet choice between loves – with the help of her very snarky cat. This one was a heartbreaker.

Escape Rating A: This collection is always a Grade A read, no matter when I pick it up or where I choose to dip into it at any given time. The stories are always a delightful range of styles and worlds and pets, and this year is no exception.

That it supports a wonderful cause while giving hours if not days of reading delight is just icing on a very lovely reading cake – with a puppuccino on the side.

But Pets in Space 7 is, as always, a limited edition. So if any – or hopefully ALL – of the stories appeal to you, be sure to get your copy before they fly off to the stars for another year. Because every collection, every year, is a feathery, whiskery, winged delight!

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Review: Captain of the Guard by Anna Hackett

Review: Captain of the Guard by Anna HackettCaptain of the Guard (Galactic Kings #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Kings #3
Pages: 290
Published by Anna Hackett on May 17, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

An alien warrior and a fierce shapeshifter who drive each other crazy must work together to save an entire planet from a terrifying evil.

First Claw Annora Rahl is tough, fierce, and loyal. She stands at her emperor’s side to protect the wolf shapeshifters of the planet Damar, and she isn’t afraid to use her claws. Stopping an evil king from a neighboring planet, who’s intent on enslaving all the planets in their system, is her top priority. She won’t fail her family, her people, or her emperor. Even if it means joining forces with an infuriating rival warrior…one who she isn’t sure if she wants to kill or kiss.

Captain Thadd Naveri is strong, unyielding, and dedicated. As captain of the guard for the overlord of the planet Zhalto, he lets nothing threaten his king or his people. He’s still recovering from his capture and torture by the enemy, but he readily accepts a top-secret mission into enemy territory. He’s less than pleased to share that mission with Annora—the one woman in the galaxy who fills him with scalding hot anger…and burning desire.

To save their allies on the planet Taln, Thadd and Annora must sneak into the enemy’s most feared science labs. As they fight side by side, they are forced to face their overwhelming attraction. But as the enemy closes in, it is a race against time to save not only Taln but themselves.

My Review:

We met First Claw Annora Rahl and Captain Thadd Naveri in earlier books in the Galactic Kings series. Annora is the leader of Emperor Brodin Damar Sarkany’s elite shapeshifting warriors, while Thadd is the captain of Overlord Rhain Zhalto Sarkany’s guard (hence the title). As their respective rulers have begun working more closely together to throw their sperm donor’s evil minions off of their respective planets in the first two books in this series, Overlord and Emperor, Annora and Thadd keep getting thrown together.

When they do, explosions happen. The First Claw and the Captain get along about like kerosene and matches. It’s always a combustible combination, but until the end of Emperor all of that explosive energy manifested as explosive temper. They could manage to work together to accomplish assigned goals – but it wasn’t easy for either of them. Or for anyone around who had to listen to them bicker.

But all that energy had to go someplace. At the very end of Emperor it went into a kiss that rocked both of their worlds – even if neither of them was willing to admit it – either at the time or as this entry in the series opened.

It does mean, however, that neither of them is all that enthused to be assigned to take a small ship and infiltrate the top-secret research base where the minions working for Rhain, Brodin and Graylan’s sperm donor carry out their genocidal research experiments.

Dear old dad, or rather, his chief scientist Naberius (the scientists in this series make the Nazis look like fluffy bunnies in comparison) is making biological weapons on that station that are genetically engineering to decimate the population of Taln, the planet where Graylan rules.

It’s up to Thadd and Annora to destroy the research along with any samples that have been made – and even the base if they can manage it. If they can manage to eliminate the scientist as well, so much the better.

But first, they have to get past all of his tricks and traps that are genetically engineered specifically for their people’s individual biology – along with Thadd’s simmering PTSD after his previous encounter with Naberius. An encounter where he was tortured and implanted with alien devices, and where his own personal powers were irrevocably changed.

In spite of the pressure they are under – and all the battles yet to come, Thadd and Annora finally let themselves acknowledge what’s been simmering between them all along. Whether their new-found bond makes them stronger or merely gives them each a hostage to fortune is something that can only be tested in the heat of battle.

And they are not, either of them, found wanting.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not sure what I was expecting with Captain of the Guard beyond the rollicking good reading time that I always get when I pick up one of Anna’s books. And I most definitely got that!

What I mean is that normally, my favorite book in any series is the one that features the leader of the gang, or band, or company, or whatever. But in this series, the Galactic Kings, the heroes have all been those kings. In other words, they’re all leaders.

This book, Captain of the Guard, is the one that’s different. Both Thadd and Annora ARE leaders, but they’re not the ‘alpha’ of this series. I think what made this book a bit different from the others so far is what made this one special.

Also because unlike the previous books in the series – and from the way this book ended, the next book in the series – is that they keep finding women from Earth all the way over on the other side of the galaxy near Carthago, the setting for the Galactic Gladiators series(es). So part of what made Captain of the Guard so much fun was that Annora and Thadd are not traumatized and forced ‘immigrants’ to this side of the galaxy. Not that both of them haven’t had their share of trauma.

But their positions give them perspective into each of their societies in a way that still involves them with the movers and shakers but doesn’t put them at the top of their respective pyramids. Not that they’re not high up, but they both had normal childhoods for their worlds and were not raised in the rarified – and in the kings’ cases deadly – atmosphere of any palace.

It was also excellent that they are peers and equals. That a woman is the leader of one planet’s elite warriors, that she holds exactly the same position as a man and garners exactly the same amount of respect.

Which also meant that in order for them to truly get an HEA they had to find a solution that let both of them keep their high ranking jobs. I always love a romance of equals, and this is certainly that.

All of the above made Captain of the Guard an excellent entry in this long-running series of series. And, as is the author’s style, the ending of this book set up the beginning of the next book in the series, Conqueror, which looks like it will be Graylan’s story. It’s just too bad I’ll have to wait until November to see what happens next!

Review: Love Code by Ann Aguirre

Review: Love Code by Ann AguirreLove Code (Galactic Love #2) by Ann Aguirre
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Galactic Love #2
Pages: 324
Published by Ann Aguirre on January 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

He's cute. He's cranky. His code is sleek as hell.What's an amnesiac AI doing in a place like this? Helix has no idea. He knows he planned to build a life for himself on Gravas Station, but he has no clue what he's been doing for the last half cycle. Nor does he understand why his ship crashed. A genius Tiralan scientist saved him by copying his code into an organic host, and after meeting her meddling mothers, it seems like his problems have only just begun...
She's clever. She's creative. She claims that he's her mate.Qalu has no interest in relationships. She'd much rather be working in her lab, innovating instead of socializing. Problem is, the Tiralan believe that one cannot be happy alone. When a solution literally falls from the sky, she leaps at the opportunity to advance her research and teach Helix how to be Tiralan while calming her mothers' fears. It might be unconventional, but she's ready to break all the rules for a little peace.
They agree to pose as each other's mates for the most logical reasons, but love always finds a way.

My Review:

Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. Data wanted to experience what it meant to be human. Howsomever, Helix, the self-aware, self-willed and occasionally downright deceptive AI of Strange Love had no desire to experience “meat space”.

So of course he gets what he absolutely did not wish for. The chance to experience “life” in a mostly organic body. And in a case of karma being a bitch galaxy-wide, his program has been deposited into an organic construct on Tiralan. He knows plenty about Tiralan history, customs and behavior because he fabricated a Tiralan identity in order to lure his friend Zylar off of Baranth, through an equally fabricated data glitch so that he could get the shy, self-effacing Baranthi to Earth where his friend had the best chance of meeting someone who would be willing to go through his planet’s Mating Trials with him.

That was the story in the first book in this series, Strange Love. And it’s absolutely marvelous, so if you like science fiction romance or alien romance at all – read it before picking up Love Code.

By the end of Strange Love, Helix the rather conniving AI had become self-aware, sentient and even sapient – making him too much AI to get around the laws of Baranth. So Zylar set Helix free and on his way to a place where he might be safe to explore his own destiny, while untethering the AI from the shit that is just about to hit Zylar’s personal fan.

The best laid plans and all that meant that Helix crash landed on Tiralan instead, to be rescued by Qalu, a femme Tiralan cybernetic engineer who was experimenting with placing AI consciousness into mostly organic constructed bodies. Who just so happens to have the perfect body all ready for her to transplant Helix’ code into.

Well, it’s perfect from her perspective. The body she designed is ready in an engineering sense, as well as fully functional and perfectly designed to trip every single one of her triggers. After all, even in the ancient Greek myth about Pygmalion, that long ago sculptor didn’t design nor fall in love with an ugly statue.

When Helix recovers from the surgery/transplant/metamorphosis, he has a difficult time adjusting to his new circumstances. He’s never experienced ANYTHING to do with having a meat space body made of real meat. The scene where Qalu has to explain hunger, eating, and the inevitable result of the latter is a marvel of cringing hilarity.

The story here is initially about the dovetailing – you might almost call it fated – of Qalu’s needs with Helix’. Helix needs a safe place to learn and recover – both his newly physical self and the puzzling gaps in his memory. Qalu needs to evaluate the results of her experiment – which is after all her life’s work.

More immediately, she also needs a fake potential mate to fend off the well-meaning interference of her four mothers, all of whom want Qalu to find a nice partner or two or three (love groups are the usual form of family on Tiralan), stop spending so much time alone in her laboratory or with her pet Pherzul Aevi (think intelligent, talking cat – which may not be strictly correct but works anyway).

So Helix and Qalu – with Aevi’s agreement – choose to tell a bit of a white lie. But just as their fake relationship tilts towards a actual one, reality rears its ugly head. A bounty hunter has come to Tiralan, chasing Helix. Possibly just for existing as a self-aware AI, but more likely for something Helix did before he crashed on Qalu’s doorstep.

It’s time for them to run, in the hopes of escaping whatever is dogging Helix’ heels. It’s already too late for them to run from each other – no matter how much Helix believes that they should.

Escape Rating B+: While Love Code wasn’t quite as much fun as the first book in the trilogy, Strange Love, it was still an awful lot of fun. Which is exactly what I was looking for as yesterday’s book wasn’t quite up to its series and the book I planned to review today just wasn’t working for me. It happens.

I loved Strange Love so much that I was reasonably sure that I’d have a good reading time with Qalu and Helix – and I was NOT disappointed.

Howsomever, the planet Tiralan turned out to be a surprising place for a meet-cute and a fake relationship type of romance – especially with the fascinating issues of power dynamics and informed vs. forced consent in all their permutations.

Helix is very much in the experimental stage with his new and initially unwelcome body and all of its many sensations – not all of which are pleasurable or even seemly from his perspective. He’s learning, he’s trying, he’s adapting and he’s confused more often than not. He also doesn’t know what either attraction or love feel like. So he doesn’t recognize those feelings when they start happening to him.

Qalu knows what she wants, and also knows that it would be unethical for her to reach for it. Or rather, reach for Helix, the way that she wants to. She recognizes that he’s dependent on her on Tiralan.

But when they go on the run, the situation changes. Helix has traveled the stars. He may be in a meat space body now, but he knows how to act and react and has lots of information to help them on their clandestine journey.

Now Qalu is lost. She’s always stuck close to home, not just the planet but her own homespaces. She’s scared, she feels inadequate and useless, and she’s homesick. So is Aevi. Qalu doesn’t know how to help and fears she’s an actual hindrance that Helix will eventually leave behind. (She kind of regrets that she made him so very handsome for their species!)

What makes this story work so well is the way that their power dynamics shift, and the way that they both adapt in spite of so many things standing – sometimes literally – in their way.

The story in Love Code ended up being a bit more of a straightforward romance than Strange Love, which is probably why I liked Strange Love a bit more. I enjoyed the journey of exploration of this new universe as much as I did the romance. But I definitely had a good reading time with Helix and Qalu so I’m glad I was able to follow up with this series so quickly.

The final book in the series, Renegade Love, is set up in this book, just as this one turned out to be set up in the first book. And I am so looking forward to reading it!

Review: Strange Love by Ann Aguirre

Review: Strange Love by Ann AguirreStrange Love (Galactic Love #1) by Ann Aguirre
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Galactic Love #1
Pages: 304
Published by Ann Aguirre on January 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

He's awkward. He's adorable. He's alien as hell.Zylar of Kith Balak is a four-time loser in the annual Choosing. If he fails to find a nest guardian this time, he'll lose his chance to have a mate for all time. Desperation drives him to try a matching service but due to a freak solar flare and a severely malfunctioning ship AI, things go way off course. This 'human being' is not the Tiralan match he was looking for.
She's frazzled. She's fierce. She's from St. Louis.Beryl Bowman's mother always said she'd never get married. She should have added a rider about the husband being human. Who would have ever thought that working at the Sunshine Angel daycare center would offer such interstellar prestige? She doesn't know what the hell's going on, but a new life awaits on Barath Colony, where she can have any alien bachelor she wants.
They agree to join the Choosing together, but love is about to get seriously strange.

My Review:

“We like someone because. We love someone although.” Or so goes the quote. Another way of putting it as far as Strange Love is concerned, wraps around the question about where does love spring from? Does it come from the heart, from the brain, or from somewhere below the waist?

Is it possible for Beryl Bowman and Zylar of Kith Balak to fall in love with each other and make a strong partnership, although they are not from the same planet, they don’t breathe the same air, and their anatomical parts do not line up AT ALL?

Their people even took different evolutionary paths. Humans evolved from mammals and share common ancestors with the great apes, way, way, way back when. Zylar’s people seem to have evolved from something insectoid, also way, way, way back when. And on the other hand, or grabber, or limb, or whatever other species call it, Zylar’s people managed planetary unity and intergalactic space flight quite some time ago, while we’re definitely not there yet.

Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect

I went into this story because I wanted to see that happy ever after in spite of all the factors that would argue against it even being possible. That predisposition to see them make it work can be laid at the door of the Mass Effect trilogy and the possible romance (if you chose it) of a female Commander Shepard and the Turian Garrus Vakarian. Whose people also evolved from their planet’s insectoids, and who may give great voice (he really does) but otherwise isn’t anatomically compatible with the human Shepard.

And yet, it’s the sweetest romance in the game (IMHO) and I wish they’d gotten their HEA (There is no HEA no matter which romance you choose because reasons.) So I went into Strange Love hoping for a vicarious happy ending for that epic tragic romance.

I got EXACTLY what I was hoping for. With bells on!

Escape Rating A: The romance in Strange Love combines a “meet cute” – for intergalactic definitions of that phrase – with a version of the TV shows The Bachelor AND The Bachelorette combined into a multi-day gladiatorial contest. A contest which it is possible to “win” but still lose at the same time.

To mix SFnal metaphors even further, it’s as if the Vulcan mating ceremony from the Star Trek Original Series episode Amok Time or the Next Generation episode Code of Honor involved multiple potential couples in a competition for both parties rather than only one side of the potential partnership being decided by a fight to the death.

The Strange Love that arises between Beryl and Zylar is also a romance between a “beta” male who has been told all of his life by his family that he is just not good enough in any possible way – especially in comparison to his alphahole sibling Ryzven. Zylar has HUGE confidence issues – and understandably so.

Beryl, on the other hand, is one of those people who feels the fear and does it anyway. She leaps and hopes the net will appear, but even if it doesn’t, she’ll survive. Not that life hasn’t also beaten her down, but her reaction to that metaphorical beating has been to pick herself up, dust herself off, and survive. She fakes it till she makes it, and if she doesn’t really think she’s made it no one else has to know.

It’s a confidence she can pass to Zylar – if he’ll let her. If his family will let them try. And that’s the story – the two of them trying to survive the Choosing, together, and win his family’s grudging acceptance if not approval. If they can.

That they manage to give his alphahole sibling the comeuppance he so richly deserved is the icing on the cake. Bittersweet icing, as the douchecanoe manages to do a LOT of damage along his selfish, self-centered, spoiled and self-indulgent way.

That Zylar and Beryl learn that love can be found in the strangest places with the strangest people makes Strange Love a strange and wonderful story. That Beryl’s “bestest boy” dog Snaps learns to talk and becomes part of their strange little family made the story, which was already lovely and exactly what I was hoping it would be – just that much better.

Strange Love is the first book in what looks to be a marvelous series. I bought the whole thing, and now I can’t wait to start reading the next book, Love Code, the minute I get the chance!

Review: Emperor by Anna Hackett

Review: Emperor by Anna HackettEmperor (Galactic Kings #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Kings #2
Pages: 300
Published by Anna Hackett on January 18th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When an experimental starship test goes horribly wrong, a scientist from Earth finds herself fighting for her survival, and her only lifeline is a wild, powerful alien king.

Waking on an alien world, wracked by pain, Dr. Poppy Ellison is confused and adrift…until his voice calls to her in the darkness. The big, wild, enthralling man reveals that she’s been infected and is turning into an alien shapeshifter. Poppy has always been smart, practical, and boring, but with her entire life turned upside down, there is no one she can trust…except for this alien wolf.

Emperor Brodin Damar Sarkany is king of Damar and its shapeshifters. As wild as the forest city they call home, the Damari can be volatile, always fighting to control the wolf inside. Brodin uses his immense strength to keep his people in check and protect them from the most dangerous evil of all—his war-mongering father. He can’t afford the distraction of a small, tantalizing woman from Earth, even when everything about Poppy sings to the instincts of both man and wolf.

As his father’s ruthless warlord attacks, innocent children are at risk, and Poppy knows she has to help by mastering her new, emerging abilities. She must also face the shocking passion that explodes between her and Brodin. But as Poppy and Brodin hunt down the enemy, they uncover a plot that could mean the destruction of all the Damari…if they don’t stop it in time.

My Review:

Emperor reads more than a bit like it’s part 2 of the story we started in Overlord. In that first book in the Galactic Kings series, we got further acquainted with Overlord Rhain Zhalto Sarkany, a character we were introduced to at the end of the author’s Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone series, in the book Weapons Master.

When Overlord opened, I confess to wondering exactly how a woman from Earth was going to make her way to Rhain’s system. It was established in the Galactic Gladiators series that Carthago and its nearby systems, including the Sarkany system, are so far from Earth’s solar system that the only way to get from one to the other was through a wormhole. A VERY temporary wormhole.

Science – especially in science fiction – often finds a way where one did not exist before. Sometimes even when it shouldn’t. This may or may not be one of those times.

It may not be possible to send people from one side of the galaxy to another without that wormhole, but communication is another matter. The Terrans stranded on Carthago sent back plans for advanced technology, including space ships, in the hopes that someday someone might bridge that gap.

And that’s where Pilot Mallory West and her best friend and mission engineer Poppy Ellison enter the story. They were on an experimental ship that was supposed to generate its own wormhole and skip through our galaxy on a test flight.

Well, they did manage to create that wormhole, but it extended a whole lot further than anyone planned. The ship crashed on Zhalto, in the Sarkany system. Mallory was rescued by Rhain and his people, the story which is told in Overlord.

But Poppy fell into the hands of an evil, mad scientist working for Rhain’s dastardly father. By the time she was rescued, she was suffering from the results of that mad scientist’s evil experimentation. (I’m not really hyperbolising here, it seems like all of dear old dad’s high-ranking minions are insane AND evil.)

Poppy can’t be cured, but she can be helped. Whatever the experiment was intended to do, its result gave Poppy many of the powers of the inhabitants of another planet in the Sarkany system, Damar.

The people of Damar are wolf shifters. Poppy can’t fully shift, but she seems to have received most of the rest of the suite of powers; enhanced sight, hearing, smell, faster reflexes – and the ability to shift her fingers into claws.

Along with a few extras that no one even thought were still a part of the Damar genome. And maybe they aren’t, unless that genetic heritage is given to someone from Earth. Like Poppy.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, Emperor reads like it’s the second part of that story we began in Overlord. Mallory and Poppy arrived together, and they’re besties. Brodin, the Damari Emperor, agrees to help Poppy as a favor to his brother Rhain. So in a lot of ways, Emperor reads like a continuation of Overlord.

(It’s not necessary to read the Galactic Gladiators series to get into this one. But they’re fun so why wouldn’t you?)

As there often is in Anna Hackett’s series, there’s an overall arc to the story. In this case it’s the three sons of King Zavir Sarkany, united in their determination to throw their father’s evil minions off of their respective planets and overthrow their hated father. And it certainly seems like they have cause.

Even though there’s a scene near the end of Emperor that makes me wonder about more than a few things. We’ll see in later installments.

But in the meantime, Poppy is trying to figure out where she fits, and Emperor Brodin is trying to ignore just how well she fits into his heart, his people, and his bed. He’s determined to remain alone to focus all of his concentration on the needs of his people. Poppy’s determined to make a place for herself in her new circumstances, no matter how much she misses her family back home. She has Mallory and that’s going to be enough.

But yes, Brodin is an idiot. Not about most things, but definitely about what both he and his people need when it comes to strength and focus – both his and others.

The story here is twofold. There’s Poppy, an engineer and scientific genius, who can help his people – even before its discovered that she’s brought back a talent his people thought had been lost over the centuries.

Then there’s the Damari fork of his father’s plan to bring Brodin back to his side – by attacking, kidnapping and experimenting upon Brodin’s people.

Something is really wrong with either King Zavir or his plans or both. Terrorizing the people in each of his sons’ kingdoms is NOT going to win them to his side – unless that provides an opportunity for them to get close enough to kill him. After meeting Zavir at the end of this story, I’m suspecting that there’s something rotten on Sarkan that we haven’t seen yet – and that’s it not just Zavir.

The Damari people remind me a lot of the Changelings in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Which means that their reaction to this invasion of their world and threat to their population brings a predictable result – they fight back with everything they have. And they are intelligent and strategic in that fight.

(I think that resemblance made me like this story just a bit more than Overlord. It felt like I was already familiar even though technically I wasn’t.)

I loved the relationship between Brodin and Poppy. There’s nothing stopping them from being together except their own misguided beliefs, insecurities and fears. Well, Brodin has the mistaken beliefs and Poppy has the insecurities and fears. But they’re a good match and I really enjoyed watching them figure that out.

As this book ends, it leads into the next book in the series in a way that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I was expecting the next book to focus on Rhain’s and Brodin’s remaining brother, Graylan, ruler of the planet Taln. And I’m sure we’ll get to his story eventually, but I wasn’t ready for this series to end so soon.

And it isn’t. Rhain’s second-in-command, Thadd Naveri, and Brodin’s second, Annora, get along about like kerosene and matches. Combustible in every situation. They’ve been given a joint command to investigate whatever King Zavir is up to – undoubtedly no good – on the unpopulated but mineral rich planet Andret. They’ll find out what mischief Zavir is mining on Andret – or they’ll make the planet explode. Or both. Probably both.

I can’t wait to watch the fireworks in Captain of the Guard, coming in May!

Review: Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews

Review: Fated Blades by Ilona AndrewsFated Blades (Kinsmen, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Kinsmen #3
Pages: 222
Published by Montlake on November 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

An uneasy alliance between warring families gets heated in this otherworldly novella from bestselling author Ilona Andrews.
At first glance, the planet Rada seems like a lush paradise. But the ruling families, all boasting genetically enhanced abilities, are in constant competition for power―and none more so than the Adlers and the Baenas. For generations, the powerful families have pushed and pulled each other in a dance for dominance.
Until a catastrophic betrayal from within changes everything.
Now, deadly, disciplined, and solitary leaders Ramona Adler and Matias Baena must put aside their enmity and work together in secret to prevent sinister forces from exploiting universe-altering technology. Expecting to suffer through their uneasy alliance, Ramona and Matias instead discover that they understand each other as no one in their families can―and that their combined skills may eclipse the risks of their forbidden alliance.
As the two warriors risk their lives to save their families, they must decide whether to resist or embrace the passion simmering between them. For now, the dance between their families continues―but just one misstep could spell the end of them both.

My Review:

This book was an absolutely delightful surprise in more ways than one!

First, I have to say that it was a surprise that it existed. The first two books in the Kinsmen series, Silent Blade and Silver Shark, came out over a decade ago. When I reviewed them both in 2014 for the late and much lamented Science Fiction Romance Quarterly, they were all there were.

But that’s a long time ago in, let’s call them, “book years”.

They were both terrific – although unfortunately terrifically short – and I stopped hoping for more a long time ago. Yet here we are.

After a very long hiatus, the Kinsmen series is back in Fated Blades. And it’s every bit as much fun as the previous books, as well as blissfully more than a bit longer.

That’s always been my one complaint about the series – that the books aren’t nearly long enough. And it’s still true – although getting better each time.

The story, on its surface, is simple enough. This is an enemies to lovers story with a vengeance. Literally. The Adlers and the Baenas have been enemies and rivals for centuries – all the way back to the founding of the colony on the planet Rada.

A rivalry that has occasionally bloomed into a hot war, but has always simmered as a lukewarm if not cold conflict between merciless rivals. An evenly matched antagonism between rival clans with the same business interests and the same dedication to continuing the extreme martial training of their ancestors.

But the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And this story begins when Ramona Adler stalks into Matias Baena’s office – into the heart of her enemy’s territory – because she and Matias have a desperate common cause – he just doesn’t know it until her one-woman invasion of his family’s corporate tower.

His wife has run off with her husband. Not that either of them loves their arranged spouse any more than those spouses love them. Or anyone but themselves. This betrayal isn’t nearly that simple.

Both companies have invested all their resources, pushing themselves to the brink of collapse, in order to research the genetic modifications that made them both the warrior clans that they are. And both of their spouses have run away with each other and with all of both companies’ research with the intent to sell it to the highest bidder.

Leaving both companies, and both families, destroyed in their wake. Not that either of their errant spouses give a damn.

Ramona and Matias must ally with each other – their deadliest rival – in order to stop the destruction of everything they hold dear.

In their hunt to stop their traitorous spouses, they discover two things. That said spouses are even bigger traitors than either of them thought.

And that Ramona and Matias, the heirs of generations of mutual hatred, are each other’s perfect match. In love and in war.

Escape Rating A-: Fated Blades is a tremendously fun use of all of the best tropes in science fiction romance – not that most of them can’t be applied to other types of romance as well!

But seriously, the thing about SFR is that both sides have to be balanced. The SFnal worldbuilding has to be self-consistent and hold together, and the romance has to be a solidly satisfying romance set in that well-built SFnal world.

Fated Blades delivers a story that walks that tightrope balance beautifully.

Even three books in, the world of the Kinsmen has plenty of facets to explore – but what we do have feels solid. It’s a well-established Earth-diaspora colony in a sector filled with more of them. The world of Rada and its sector read like a livable place that is just enough like our own time and place to seem familiar while being just different enough to seem exotic. Rada and its sister worlds have an established history that we get just enough glimpses of to think we know what’s going on and what went on in their past.

While the real enemy that they face is the stuff of SFnal nightmares that combine the Reavers from Firefly with every 21st century totalitarian nightmare into an enemy that must be feared, respected and eliminated to the last soldier and damn the diplomatic consequences.

At the same time, the romance combines the classic enemies to lovers trope with just a touch of fated mate syndrome and more than a bit of the crash and mutual rescue dynamic of Shards of Honor. A winning combination if ever there was one.

I had a great reading time returning to the Kinsmen universe, even after all these years. I loved the stuttering, back and forth relationship between Ramona and Matias, although I wish I’d gotten a bit more about their families and how their part of this universe came to be. I’d love to read more in this world, hopefully sooner rather than quite this much later after the previous book.

And they’re still too damn short.

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne Castle

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne CastleGuild Boss (Harmony, #14) by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #14, Ghost Hunters #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Illusion Town on the colony world of Harmony—like Las Vegas on Earth, but way more weird.
Living in this new, alien world doesn’t stop the settlers from trying to re-create what they’ve left behind. Case in point—weddings are still the highlight of any social calendar. But it’s the after-party that turns disastrous for Lucy Bell. Kidnapped and drugged as she leaves the party, she manages to escape—only to find herself lost in the mysterious, alien underground maze of glowing green tunnels beneath Illusion Town. She’s been surviving on determination and cold pizza, scavenged for her by a special dust bunny, when help finally shows up.
Gabriel Jones is the Guild Hunter sent to rescue her, but escaping the underground ruins isn’t the end of her troubles—it’s only the beginning. With no rational reason for her abduction, and her sole witness gone on another assignment for the Guild, whispers start circulating that Lucy made it all up. Soon her life unravels until she has nothing left but her pride. The last thing she expects is for Gabriel Jones to come back to town for her.
The Lucy that Gabriel finds is not the same woman he rescued, the one who looked at him as if he were her hero. This Lucy is sharp, angry, and more than a little cynical—instead of awe, she treats him with extreme caution. But a killer is still hunting her, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to heroes. Despite her wariness, Gabriel is also the one person who believes Lucy—after all, he was there. He’s determined to help clear her reputation, no matter what it takes. And as the new Guild Boss, his word is law, even in the lawlessness of Illusion Town.

My Review:

This entry in the Harmony series has one of the best opening lines in pretty much ever, “The Lord of the Underworld showed up with the dust bunny and a pizza.” Not that Gabriel Jones is actually Hades – even if he does go along with the somewhat macabre joke.

The pizza is a small cheese and olive from Ollie’s House of Pizza. The dust bunny’s name is Otis, and a small is all he can manage to carry. He gets a slice and Persephone, otherwise known as Lucy Bell, gets dinner in the underground chamber she’s been trapped in for the past several, hazily counted days.

Gabriel Jones is there to rescue her – with the help of the dust bunny. After all, Otis has been helping Lucy all along, and Gabriel is just carrying out yet another mission for the sometimes famous, sometimes infamous Ghost Hunters’ Guild.

Welcome to Harmony, a planet in the human diaspora that lost contact with the homeworld a couple of centuries back, and has been not just surviving but thriving ever since. With the help of the dust bunnies and the boost in psychic power that comes from living on this planet with a murky alien past and a wealth of finely tuned resonating amber.

No one knows why the aliens left, only that they left their ruins behind both above and below ground. And that the colonists from Earth discovered that their psychic powers were enhanced by the amber – and that they needed to hone those enhancements to survive on this planet where so much of the weather and everything else could be deadly to those without protection from the psychic phenomena that permeate the place.

But the colonists were part of Earth’s Arcane Society, so they had what it took to make a go of Harmony when their Earth tech began failing after they were cut off.

Two centuries later, everyone on Harmony has at least a bit of talent. Guild members have a lot as they handle security in the most ghost-ridden and psychic phenomena rich areas – and are both celebrated and envied as a result. And occasionally good guild members, like good cops, go bad or get seduced to the dark side by the power and adulation.

But Lucy Bell isn’t a guild member – she’s a weather channeler. She’s able to direct and redirect the deadly power-storms that Harmony regularly throws up. When this story begins, she’s trapped underground among the storms and the phenomena without her amber while recovering from Harmony’s equivalent of a “Mickey Finn”. Even when he locates her, Gabriel doesn’t believe she was drugged by ‘person or persons unknown’. He’s sure, just as everyone else seems to be, that she got herself drunk, took the drugs voluntarily and got herself lost in a blackout. That she’s unstable and damaged.

Even her parents believe it.

That her rescue results in another forced round of hallucinogenic injections only makes her situation worse – but by that time Gabriel Jones is off on his next mission leaving Lucy to suffer the fallout.

He expects her to fall straight into his arms when he returns to Illusion Town as the new Guild Boss. She just wants to give him a piece of her mind over the downturn her life has taken since he carried her out of the Underground and left her in the hands of the men she saw as demons.

It’s only when they combine forces, he looking for a lost Old Earth artifact with still deadly powers and she attempting to revive her reputation and her business by assisting him, that they discover that her kidnapping and his hunt are all part of the same deadly game.

Just because you’re paranoid does not preclude someone being out to get you – and there’s definitely someone, or perhaps more than one – out to get them both.

Escape Rating B: All of the Arcane Society’s chickens have come to roost on Harmony to lay some VERY bad eggs. Some, but not all, are Easter Eggs in this book for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s interconnected series, her historical Arcane Society (written as Amanda Quick), her contemporary Arcane Society (written as Jayne Ann Krentz) and her futuristic Harmony (sometimes referred to as Ghost Hunters) books, of which Guild Boss is the 14th, written as Jayne Castle. (The author referred to it as the “Jayneverse” although I personally prefer “Arcaneverse” as a collective title).

I actually read this back in May when I first picked up the eARC. I have to admit that it didn’t grab me at the time the way that this author’s books usually do, no matter what pen name they are written under. And because I didn’t get into it the way I usually do, I didn’t write it up.

Having reread it over the holiday weekend, I’m not sure what happened the first time that it didn’t work for me, because it certainly did this time. Whether it was the right book at the right time now when it wasn’t then, or I’m just in the mood for an action/adventure type romance, I don’t know. But I did like Guild Boss the second time around quite a lot so I’m glad I went back to it.

One of my favorite things about the Harmony series are the dust bunnies. Every single one of them has a personality that is just so huge compared to their size. And they are, every last one of them, inveterate scene stealers. Otis is no exception. In fact, he loves to be in front of the camera. Any camera. All the cameras. For a dust bunny he’s kind of a ham.

The mystery in this one is big and convoluted and it’s a bit easy to get lost in it. There are a lot of moving pieces and it doesn’t quite all tie up neatly. Likewise, the romance is hot and electric, but a bit on the instalove side of that equation.

I think I felt like a couple of issues were a bit unresolved or got swept under the carpet. When Gabriel comes back to Illusion Town, Lucy, well, I want to say she didn’t make him grovel enough but her situation wasn’t his fault. At the same time, it’s understandable that she blamed him for it. That internal conflict, and it is mostly internal, got wrapped up a bit too easily, especially considering how often she chided him throughout the book about her being just another mission to him and how focused he was on climbing the Guild ladder.

It also seemed like her conflict with her parents was left hanging. Not that life’s conflicts generally get wrapped up with a tidy bow, but their disappointment and disapproval was a bit Chekhov’s Gun, even if the only possible resolution would be inside her head.

All of that being said, my re-read of Ghost Boss was much more fun than my original read, so I’m very glad I took the trip back to Harmony. While it looks like it’s going to be awhile before the author returns to Harmony, I still have two books with her signature blend of romance, adventure and psychic phenomena to look forward to this year, Lightning In a Mirror next month and When She Dreams in May. I expect them both to be marvelous reading treats, just as Guild Boss turned out to be!

Review: Overlord by Anna Hackett

Review: Overlord by Anna HackettOverlord (Galactic Kings #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Kings #1
Pages: 300
Published by Anna Hackett on December 12, 2021
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When an experimental starship test goes horribly wrong, a test pilot from Earth is flung across the galaxy and crash lands on the planet of a powerful alien king.
Pilot Mallory West is having a really bad day. She’s crashed on an alien planet, her ship is in pieces, and her best friend Poppy, the scientist monitoring the experiment, is missing. Dazed and injured, she collapses into the arms of a big, silver-eyed warrior king. But when her rescuer cuffs her to a bed and accuses her of being a spy, Mal knows she has to escape her darkly tempting captor and find her friend.
Overlord Rhain Zhalto Sarkany is in a battle to protect his planet Zhalto and his people from his evil, power-hungry father. He’ll use every one of his deadly Zhalton abilities to win the fight against his father’s lethal warlord and army of vicious creatures. Rhain suspects the tough, intriguing woman he pulls from a starship wreck is a trap, but when Mal escapes, he is compelled to track her down.
Fighting their overwhelming attraction, Mal and Rhain join forces to hunt down the warlord and find Poppy. But as Mal’s body reacts to Zhalto’s environment, it awakens dormant powers, and Rhain is the only one who can help her. As the warlord launches a brutal attack, it will take all of Mal and Rhain’s combined powers to save their friends, the planet, and themselves.

My Review:

We first met Overlord Rhain Zhalto Sarkany at the end of the Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone series, as Rhain and several others rode their spaceships to the rescue of Magnus Rone and his allies in the final book of the series, Weapons Master, in the final takedown of the series nemesis, the slave-trading Edull.

It was pretty clear at the end that we’d be following Rhain back home to see him fall the same way that his gladiator counterparts have, even if neither Rhain nor the reader had any clue yet as to just how a Terran woman was going to, figuratively if not literally drop into his lap.

And so it begins.

Pilot Mallory West opens the story about to “slip the surly bonds of Earth” on an experimental test flight, in a spaceship build using advanced designs from the remote planet of Carthago, far across the galaxy, where the people captured by slave traders through a temporary wormhole ended up. They can’t go home again, but they can send messages and plans in the hopes of getting a bit of home just a bit closer to them.

Mal’s ship is the result of some of those plans and hopes. The engines are supposed to create a temporary wormhole that’s supposed to take them from Earth’s orbit to Jupiter – where everything began. Whether the design wasn’t tested enough, or Murphy’s Law is simply stronger than any other force in the galaxy, Mal and her friend Poppy may never discover.

Things went pear-shaped. That’s what happens when you string that many variations of “supposed to” together in a design. Instead of ending up near Jupiter, their experimental ship came out of its temporary wormhole a LOT closer to where the first one did. Too far away to come home, but much, much too close to the planet Zhalto. Close like well within the planet’s gravity well.

The crash is spectacular – not in a good way. The ship is also broken. Mal lands – for certain extremely rough definitions of landing – to discover that she has no idea where she is, the animals are people-eaters, and that the part of the ship where her friend was strapped in is just gone. Not burned, not broken. Gone.

And that her rescuers, in the form of Overlord Rhain Sarkany and his guards, are absolutely certain that Mal is a spy sent to infiltrate his court and his country by Rhain’s worst enemy. The man who ordered his mother’s assassination.

His own father.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. Just plain fun. I always love the opening book in this author’s series, and Overlord – or as Mal calls him, “Your Overlordness” – makes a fantastic introduction to this follow-on from the Galactic Gladiators.

(The connection between the Gladiators and the Galactic Kings is a loose one. They obviously know each other, but the reader doesn’t have to know the Gladiators to get right into the Kings.)

The “Big Bad” in this series is King Zavir Sarkany, Rhain’s not-so-dear-old-dad. It’s going to be interesting to see how those very real “daddy issues” play out as the series goes on. Beyond the obvious, that Zavir is sending evil surrogates to each of his sons’ planets in an attempt to force his rebellious offspring back into the family fold, Rhain at least has concerns that he’s in danger of giving in – not to his father – but to the same aggressive violence that has made his father hated and feared across their system.

He wants the man dead but is afraid that killing him will make him fall prey to his own, personal, dark side. That he’s not actually in danger of such is just one of the many things that Mal has to convince him of – in her own inimitable way.

It’s not until Rhain discovers that Mal is from Earth that he begins to trust her – or at least to trust that she’s not a spy for his father. Once he does, they both fall, and fall hard for each other, even if neither is willing to admit it.

One of the things that makes this one so much fun is that Mal is every bit as much of a badass warrior as Rhain. It’s not something he’s used to seeing, as women in his culture are generally not warriors. It makes Mal perfect to be his queen, even if neither of them is quite willing to go there, at least at first.

Rhain’s and Mal’s relationship reminded me just a bit of Aral and Cordelia in Shards of Honor. And that’s a marvelous book for any SFR to hearken back to, even a little bit.

As I said at the top, the series opener is always one of my favorites in this author’s series. My other favorite tends to be the one where the leader of the group finally lets himself fall in love. As all of the obvious protagonists in this series are already kings of their own worlds, I’m wondering how that’s going to work out. There’s not an obvious leader among the royal brothers, at least not yet. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the next book in the series is clearly going to belong to Rhain’s brother Brodin, Emperor Brodin Damar Sarkany, Emperor of the Damari shapeshifters. I can’t wait!