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
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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.

Review: Champion by Anna Hackett

Review: Champion by Anna HackettChampion (Galactic Gladiators #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #5
Pages: 175
Published by Anna Hackett on March 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

Space marine Blaine Strong enjoyed being a composed, controlled member of space station security…until he was abducted by alien slavers. Forced into underground fight rings and pumped full of drugs, he’s now seething with anger and out for revenge.

Rescued by gladiators and fellow humans on the desert world of Carthago, Blaine is fighting to be the man he once was. But when the House of Galen is attacked, he must focus on joining the gladiators to fight back. That means teaming up with a tough, competitive female gladiator who not only challenges him at every turn, awakens a fierce desire he’s never felt before, but a woman who can sense the churning emotions inside him.

Gladiator Saff Essikani is the best net fighter in the Kor Magna Arena. Raised from young to fight, she bows to no man and uses her empathic abilities to win at whatever cost. With her House targeted and people under their care threatened, she’ll stop at nothing to find those responsible. But then she finds herself face to face with a big, tortured man from Earth who affects her like no man before. As Saff and Blaine head into the desert to uncover a conspiracy, their incendiary desire flares hotter than the desert suns. But as Blaine’s angry emotions rage out of control, Saff knows that unless he learns to embrace the man he is now, he has no chance of survival.

My Review:

There was a bit more sand than usual in this entry in Hackett’s sand, swords, and spaceships saga of gladiators on an intergalactic pleasure planet far, far, far from Earth’s corner of the Milky Way galaxy. If you like your science fiction romance with a lot of strong, sexy heroes, very evil bad guys and more than a bit of “can’t go home again” angst, this series is a winner. But you really need to at least read the first book in the series, Gladiator, to see how it all fits so marvelously together.

And it’s such a fun ride that if you like either SFR or gladiator romance, the whole thing is a winner.

But about Champion in particular, this entry in the series breaks the pattern a bit, and I enjoyed it all the more for that. Up til now, all of the heroines have been the human women who were kidnapped from Jupiter Station and dragged through a temporary wormhole as slaves of the very evil Thraxians.

And the heroes have all been gladiators of the House of Galen, a house that is dedicated not just to fighting the good fight, but also to rescuing those, like many of the women from Earth, who are simply not meant to be gladiators.

This entry in the series still features one of the gladiators from the House of Galen, but this time it’s the heroine. Saff Essikani is the team’s net fighter, and she’s damn good. She’s also someone who overcame a childhood of being property, and understands all too well how those enslaved women feel.

The hero, on the other hand, the Champion of the title, is the first human male we’ve encountered who was also part of that kidnapping. Blaine has spent his several months of captivity in the underground fight rings, where his alternatives had been reduced to death or survival. He was rescued, along with three human women, at the end of Protector, but while his body may be free, his mind is still partially locked back in those cages.

He’s lost the iron control he used to be famous for, due to the rage amplifying drugs the slave masters injected him with to keep him in the fights. The withdrawal is beyond painful.

But just as he’s getting himself back together, the House of Galen is attacked, and every gladiator is needed to discover who is responsible, and finally put down their enemies, once and for all. And just as Saff and Blaine have finally discovered each other, they are both forced to relive their greatest nightmares, hoping that someone can free them, or that this time, they can save each other.

Escape Rating A-:For this reader, it had felt as if the series were descending into just a bit of a rut. A rut that was still plenty of fun to pull up a chair in and read, but not as fresh and new as at the beginning.

This book was a welcome change. Not just because of the gender reversal, where the woman is the gladiator and the man is the human, but also because the stakes got higher. One of the running threads in the series as a whole is that the House of Galen are the good guys, and the Thraxians and their allies the Srinar are very definitely the bad guys.

For admittedly loose definitions of good, bad and especially guys.

Up until Champion, the House of Galen has won every encounter. Those wins have meant increasing numbers of slaves freed from their captivity and either given good jobs or returned to the families from which they were stolen.

In this story, evil fights back. And it scores some really disgusting wins. But it’s necessary. Evil never just curls up into the fetal position and slinks away – at least not without seriously trying to reassert its evil ways and getting cut to ribbons by the forces of good. This is that attempt. And as so often happens, it succeeds, at least at first, because no one sees it coming. As it so often does, evil attacks through the noncombatants, and scores a big surprise victory.

As part of fighting back from that attack, the House of Galen not only has to begin rally its allies for a hopefully final assault on the evil, but it also has to finally dig down and determine the depths of that evil so that they can cut it out by the root.

And that’s where this story gets its heart. Saff and Blaine have to face and conquer their own very, very serious demons both to save the day and to be worthy of each other. While it is nail-bitingly scary in the doing of it, when they finally win through its absolutely awesome.

Review: The Rescue by Diana Palmer

Review: The Rescue by Diana PalmerThe Rescue (The Morcai Battalion #4) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardvoer, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Diana Palmer returns with the next edge-of-your-seat installment of The Morcai Battalion series.
Rhemun, commander of the Cehn-Tahr Holconcom, has worked tirelessly to get where he is and he's not going to let any human drag him back down. Especially not Lt. Commander Edris Mallory, whose very presence aboard the Morcai serves as a too-painful reminder of a past tragedy he can neither forgive nor forget.
But Mallory has secrets of her own, ones she can't afford to see come to light. Frantic to protect herself, she flees, abandoning her position. When Rhemun learns of her devastating situation, he realizes the all-consuming feelings he's harbored for her may not be hatred. But in a vast universe rife with peril, is it already too late?

My Review:

I read the first book in this series, The Morcai Battalion, back in 2007 when the expanded edition was republished by Harlequin Luna. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of outright science fiction romance being published, and The Morcai Battalion filled a need I don’t even think I knew I had.

(Luna was a terrific imprint. I discovered several marvelous authors through their line of SFR and fantasy romance, not just this series but also Michelle Sagara’s Elantra series and Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose, among others, and I wish they were still around.)

Back to The Morcai Battalion. I loved the setting, and the characters, in the original book. Not just the space opera aspects of the intergalactic war, but the relationships between the characters, the culture clash of melding two species into a single crew, and the heart stopping action of the prison planet and eventual breakout. It was a winner and I kept looking for more.

There were a couple of sequels over the years, The Recruit and Invictus. And then nothing from 2010 until now, with The Rescue.

The first three books in the series followed the human doctor, Madeline Ruszel and the alien Cehn-Tahr Dtimun, who begins as her commander and eventually becomes her husband, in spite of all the taboos and restrictions that surround the Cehn-Tahr and any possible relationship between Cehn-Tahr and humans. But the story built their relationship up over time, and it worked. It worked so well that they finally won their HEA at the end of Invictus.

Which leaves either a hole or an opportunity for the series. After reading The Rescue, I’m not quite sure which we got.

The relationship in The Rescue is between Dtimun’s successor as head of the unit, and Madeline’s successor as alien-species medic. But Rhemun is not Dtimun and Edris Mallory is not Madeline. While some of those changes make for good dramatic tension, some of them just fall a bit short.

Because Rhemun hates humans, and Edris frequently acts like a scared rabbit, or perhaps a better description would be a scared schoolgirl with a crush on a strict teacher. And it doesn’t quite work.

Dtimun, Madeline and their crew went through a bonding experience on that prison planet that transcended species or pretty much anything else. They became family in the process of saving each other, and it erased any interspecies prejudices they might have started with.

Rhemun, on the other hand, feels like all of the losses that he has experienced in his life are some human’s fault, and he has an unreasoning prejudice against the entire species. His strict disciplinary style alienates the human members of his crew, which is his intention. He also cuts Edris down at every turn, because she looks just like the woman who accidentally killed his son.

And unfortunately for Edris, his species has a highly enhanced sense of smell, so she is unable to hide her really, really unfortunate attraction for him. And he resents her for that, too.

The situation is a mess, and just gets messier, until Rhemun finally drives Edris off the ship, and very nearly drives every other human out the airlock along with her. It’s when the message finally gets through his very thick skull that he has put her in deadly danger because he can’t help but be attracted to her that their relationship moves from hate to love.

And then he drives her away again.

Escape Rating C+: I enjoyed the first part of the book. While Edris is on the ship, we see her working, we see her continuously fighting with Rhemun, we see her doing her duty as best she can under circumstances that become increasingly more unbearable by the minute. But the action clips along, and we get to see how the ship and crew both work together and don’t. It’s sad but interesting to watch Rhemun tear down a stellar unit that Dtimun spent years building up, and even sadder just how much easier it is to break than it was to build.

But through it all, Edris stands up for herself at every turn, and does her best to do her job, keep her career, and try to keep her life her own and on track. When she flees, while her reasons make sense, the story goes off the rails.

She’s in terrible danger, and it is very real. In the end, Rhemun and the crew have to rescue her to save her life from multiple dangers. And there’s a big portion of the book where she completely loses her agency, going from independent woman to beating victim to worshipful wife in a few too many steps.

And then lets herself be driven away again. Just when she finally has her new life on track, Rhemun swoops back in and tears it all apart again, even if unintentionally. The second half of the book doesn’t quite hang together. As far as the romance is concerned, his side of their relationship isn’t fully fleshed out. It’s easy to see that he wants her and wants to possess her, but we don’t see the build up of his emotions. It feels like that piece is missing.

There’s also a running theme that he omits much of the truth that Edris really needs to know. Lies of omission are still lies, and Rhemun keeps much too much from Edris that ends up biting them both in the ass – but always hers much more than his. And she’s so worshipful that she never calls him to account for any of it. She’s also much too gullible.

So I enjoyed the first half of this book, but found the second half disappointing, and sincerely hope that if the series continues, we get more heroines like Madeline Ruszel who are always part of the action and don’t let anyone steamroller them.

If you like SFR the first three books of this series are a good read, but this one feels skippable. Dammit. And they need to go back to the original cover designs, which at least hinted that this was SFR and not contemporary romance. The new covers make the series look way more like a motorcycle club romance than SFR, which is bound to disappoint people on all sides of the equation. Color me disappointed, too.

Review: Protector by Anna Hackett

Review: Protector by Anna HackettProtector (Galactic Gladiators #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #4
Pages: 218
Published by Anna Hackett on February 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

Cool and driven Madeline Cochran made a successful career for herself as civilian commander of a space station orbiting Jupiter…until the day it was attacked and she was abducted by alien slavers.

Her organized existence shattered, Madeline suffered during her captivity, but since her rescue by the tough gladiators of the House of Galen, she’s struggling to assimilate to her new life. As she navigates the desert world of Carthago and the gladiator city of Kor Magna, she desperately misses her teenage son back on Earth and throws herself into finding another human, space marine Blaine, still kept captive by the slavers. She also finds herself working harder than ever to avoid a certain charming showman gladiator who is far too attractive and far too tempting.

Gladiator Lore Uma-Xilene is a protector at heart and a sucker for a damsel in distress…although he’s well aware that the hard-shelled and sad-eyed Madeline wouldn’t appreciate the title. He knows what it feels like to be ripped from the family you love and have your life destroyed, and he wants to help Madeline heal. As the two of them go undercover into the dangerous world of underground gambling, Lore knows he’ll need all his patience, passion, and a whole lot of stubbornness to not only keep Madeline safe but to melt the icy shell around her heart.

My Review:

Protector is the fourth book in the author’s sun, sandals and stars series, Galactic Gladiators. The series begins with Gladiator, and the story there sets the stage. A temporary wormhole opens in the vicinity of the Jupiter Research Station in a near-future version of our solar system. A shipload of intergalactic slave traders takes advantage of the wormhole and the relatively low-tech Terrans to capture as many humans as possible, whipping back through the wormhole before it closes. It’s a one-way trip.

The slave-traders have unfortunately found out that human slaves are profitable, if only because they are rare. But once the surprisingly noble gladiatorial House of Galen buys the contract of the first human available to them, one after another the stranded humans have been rescued – even if they can’t return home.

Protector is Madeline Cochran’s story. On the Jupiter Station, she was the commander. Now on Kor Magna, her life has been reduced to one purpose – rescue the other human that she saw in the slave pits, Blaine. Not because there’s any relationship there, but because she can’t bear to leave anyone in the clutches of the slave trade.

And she’s so focused on that mission because her other reason for living was left behind back on Earth. Unlike the other heroines so far, Madeline left someone dear to her back home. Her teenaged son. That she knows she can never see him again eats at her like acid. She’s closed herself off to feeling anything else.

That’s where Lore comes in. One of the premier gladiators of the House of Galen, Lore can’t stop what Madeline makes him feel. And he doesn’t want to. What he wants is to give her a reason to keep living, and a reason to open her heart.

If she’s not too scared, and too guilt-ridden, to reach for it.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed this story a lot, but there wasn’t anything that made it rise to the level of Hero. Maybe every story needs a robotic pet? (Just kidding)

But Protector felt a bit formulaic. There’s a pattern to this series, and that pattern was on full display here, along with a whole lot of muscled flesh. At the very end of the previous book, Madeline is rescued, and Lore is the one that she briefly clings to during that rescue. Neither of them can forget those moments, and thus this book becomes their story.

In case you’re wondering, the pattern repeats at the end of Protector. Blaine and three more human women are rescued, and they are all set to fall in love with their rescuers.

As part of Madeline’s story, we see even more of the dark underbelly of Kor Magna. And it is very dark indeed. The remaining unrescued humans (that we know about) have been swallowed up by the illegal pit fighting underworld. That the illegal pits are entered by way of the sewers is a perfect metaphor for what is going on there.

The humans are expected to die in that underworld. That Blaine has managed to survive and even become a sort of champion is a surprise to everyone. It’s a surprise that brings the organizers even more money than they expected, and they don’t want to lose their source of revenue.

And some of them are just plain evil.

We also learn more about the above-board (ish) side of Kor Magna, particularly the information broker Zhim. He’s an interesting character I’d like to see more of. And he’s the creator of an event that changes the tenor of the series. It’s an event that reminds me of the Pathfinder Project in Star Trek Voyager, and I’m still not sure if it is a good plot device in this case or not. Time (and more books) will undoubtedly tell.

This series is great fun if you like science fiction romance, action-adventure romance, human/non-human romance, or just a good story with Big Damn Heroes. I can’t wait to see if my guesses turn out to be true in the next book, Champion.

Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDiffraction (Atrophy, #3) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #3
Pages: 352
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

After his unusual reaction to a weapon, Commando Varean Donnelly is accused of being a shape-shifting alien and imprisoned onboard the Imojenna. Sure, he has abilities he keeps hidden from everyone--including the gorgeous doc examining him--because the government makes sure people as different as him disappear. For good.
Imojenna doctor Kira Sasaki knows there's something different about the handsome commando the captain's thrown in their brig. She doesn't think he's Reidar, although he might have been a victim of their cruel experiments. But when Kira learns the stubborn commando's racial make-up, she finds herself torn between defending him to Captain Rian Sherron and his crew or urging Varean to escape while he still can.

My Review:

atrophy series by jess anastasiThe Atrophy series is still hitting my “I miss Firefly” button, but as the series goes on the linkages both get more obvious and more tenuous at the same time.

Let me explain.

The universe of the Atrophy series, along with its protagonists, feel very much like the crew of the Serenity, but with some significant differences.

Rian Sherron at first seemed like a ringer for Mal Reynolds, but a Reynolds who had gone way, way further into the Dark Side than even the gloomy and driven Reynolds seemed to have reached. As the series has continued, we learn a whole lot more about why, and the why is where things diverge.

The evil forces in Atrophy are not the mindless Reavers, but the sound-alike but not really do-alike Reidar in the Atrophy universe. The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens, and they have spent the last several decades, if not far longer, placing shapeshifted Reidar into positions of power and authority all over the human Alliance.

For several years, Rian Sherron, Alliance military hero, was a brainwashed captive of the Reidar, forced to act as one of their elite assassins. He escaped, with the help of Arynian priestess Ella (yes, think Inarra Sera, it’s close enough). Rian managed to claw some of himself back from the brink, and now the Reidar and all their operatives are hunting Rian and Ella across the galaxy.

In Diffraction, the Reidar manage to capture Rian’s ship Imojenna, and his crew is scattered as they attempt to continue their mission to expose and eliminate the Reidar. Meanwhile, Kira Sasaki, the Imojenna’s ship’s doctor, has managed to find her own version of River Tam, but she certainly doesn’t see Commando Varean Donnelly as a sibling.

She also doesn’t see him as someone she can keep in her life, no matter how much she wants to.

Escape Rating B: This is a solid entry in the series, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the first two books, Atrophy and Quantum. It mostly feels like a middle book, as in between all of the chases and captures, the arc of the story-as-a-whole is trending downwards.

The crew of the Imojenna have found a weapon against the Reidar, but no way to mass produce it, or even ship it. They’ve lost some of their own, and currently have more questions than answers to the mess they find themselves (and their galaxy) in.

In the middle of all the action is the romance between Kira and Varean. Varean is a mystery to the Imojenna crew. He reacts to the Reidar weapon, not exactly like a Reidar, but definitely not like a human. He’s something other, and they don’t know what. Under the circumstances, that they don’t trust what they don’t know is hardly surprising.

What is surprising is the doctor’s reaction. Kira is incensed at the way Varean is being treated, and it leads to an emotional involvement that springs just a bit out of nowhere, even in these desperate circumstances. There’s been a lot of insta-love in this series, and in this particular case it’s on a hair trigger. At the same time, there is absolutely no time for these two to fall in love. They just do. I hope the romance in the next book in the series takes just a bit longer to build.

This is a series that almost requires being read in order. While the romances in each book are separate, the overall story builds from one book to the next. Also, the relationship between Rian and Ella is something that we see glimpses of in each book, but is nowhere near any resolution – at least not yet. The long arc of the series is fascinating. How do you manage to defeat an enemy who could be anyone, anywhere, and can command all the resources of your own people against you at every turn? I definitely want to know what happens next.

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

Jess is giving away one copy each of the first two books in the series, Atrophy and Quantum, to lucky winners on this tour.

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Review: Hell Squad: Devlin by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Devlin by Anna HackettDevlin (Hell Squad #11) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: dystopian, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #11
Pages: 145
Published by Anna Hackett on December 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a spy and a soldier find themselves locked in an alien cage and told…mate or die.

A covert mission gone horribly wrong. Cool, composed spy, Devlin Gray is used to bad situations, but locked in the bowels of an alien facility with tough, sexy soldier Taylor and told to mate is bad. Very bad. During his career, he’s had to lie and kill, he’s been betrayed, and he knows he works best on his own. Now he is forced to depend on Taylor, and together they have to find a way to escape before it’s too late…

Taylor Cates has already been to hell once before. She lives to fight for others, just like her mother once fought for her, and Taylor vows to do whatever it takes to escape the aliens. As she works with the sexy, suave Devlin, she starts to see glimpses of the man beneath the cool exterior. An exterior she soon finds she wants to melt.

In the worst of circumstances, a passion is born. But on the run for their lives, Devlin and Taylor soon discover far worse things in the alien facility: human prisoners and a weapon that could be the very downfall of the human race. A weapon that will threaten their friends, their home, and everything they hold dear.

My Review:

marcus by anna hackett“Aliens made them do it” is a classic trope in fanfiction. It is also the opening gambit in Devlin, book 11 in the Hell Squad series. It’s hard to believe that we are 11 books into this series and that it’s only been a little over a year and a half since Marcus first walked into Elle’s heart (and ours) in the early days of the Gizzida invasion of Earth.

A lot has happened in those intervening books (and months). The desperate fighting squads of Blue Mountain Base, and the civilians they protect, managed to find their way to the hidden human Enclave, just barely ahead of the Gizzida. Now that the humans have gotten back together in Australia, and made a daring and successful attempt to re-establish communications with human outposts around the globe, it is time to take the fight to the Gizzida and throw them off our planet.

There’s an Independence Day vibe (the original, not the blasted sequel) to the whole thing. Along with a little bit of Borg thrown in for spice. And bodies.

But we’re not there yet. In this entry of the series, super-spy Devlin Gray finds himself locked in a Gizzida interrogation cell with Taylor Cates of Squad Nine. The aliens want to watch them mate. And as much as Devlin and Taylor suddenly realize that it might be more than fun under other circumstances, what they are currently in is neither the time nor the place. In the best tradition under these circumstances, they put on a show. Admittedly, not quite as hilarious a show as the one that Ivanova puts on in the Babylon 5 episode “Acts of Sacrifice”.

I said this trope had a long tradition.

But as so often happens when the aliens make two team mates “do it”, or even pretend to, the act makes the two partners realize that there is more between them than merely comradeship.

And that’s the case here. As Devlin and Taylor make their harrowing escape from the Gizzida factory, they discover both a horrific new weapon and their growing desire for each other. The weapon is a pain in the ass to even capture, let alone find a way to defeat.

What they feel for each other? There is no way to defeat love. Not even the hero’s stupid attempt at being a complete asshat. Whatever the future brings, they are both all in.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. If you enjoy science fiction romance and/or alien apocalypse stories and or dystopian romance, Hell Squad is a winner. Every book is a terrific combination of post-apocalyptic action with steamy hot romance. Each story contains both an individual HFN and moves the fight that forms the basis of the series arc forward a few notches.

I say HFN rather than HEA not because there is any doubt about or between any of the couples, but because the overarching question in the series is whether any humans have any chance at any kind of “ever after”. At all.

But as much as I love the series, and as much as I enjoy each outing, for this reader it feels like time to arc toward kicking the Gizzida’s asses off our planet. The patterns of the romances are starting to feel a bit too familiar each time, and the overall situation can’t remain in stasis. The Gizzida want to wipe out the human race, and have made entirely too much progress towards that goal. They have nearly overwhelming force, and it’s going to take a miracle or a giant deus ex machina to blow them off. But it feels like time for that to happen.

In Devlin, the human survivors both make progress towards that goal and discover a new roadblock, which seems to be a pattern as well. I want to see this world get its HEA.

Review: Hero by Anna Hackett

Review: Hero by Anna HackettHero (Galactic Gladiators #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #3
Pages: 150
Published by Anna Hackett on December 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

Raised from birth to be a soldier, Kace Tameron is a disciplined, military-trained gladiator. He is on contract to the Kor Magna Arena to hone his fighting skills on the blood-soaked arena sand and then return to the military. He lives for one thing: to protect his planet, and on his world, love is forbidden. But then he collides with a feisty redhead from Earth who threatens to shatter his legendary control.

One moment, Rory Fraser was an engineer on a space station circling Jupiter and the next, she is abducted by evil alien slavers. After suffering at the hands of the Thraxians, she is rescued by her friends—with the help of the tough gladiators of the House of Galen. Rory finds herself outrageously attracted to straight-laced Kace. He is a skilled fighter, ultra-disciplined, and a hero at heart—but she knows passion beats within him, if only he’ll let it loose.

Rory is obsessed with finding another fellow abducted female from Earth, but as she asks questions, she finds herself ducking bullets and explosions. Someone wants Rory dead. Kace steps in as her protector, and together, they embark on a dangerous mission that will take them deep into the bowels of the arena, and deep into a scorching desire…both of which could lead them to lose not only their guarded hearts, but their lives as well.

My Review:

When Rory Fraser holds out for a hero, she ends up with two – the clean-cut warrior Kace and the robotic dog he gives her. Both the man and the dog save Rory’s life, and more than once at that. And I think that Hero the robotic dog adds just that special something that makes Hero the book my favorite (so far!) of the Galactic Gladiators series.

gladiator by anna hackettThe overall arc of the series was set in the first book, Gladiator. In a not too distant future, an intergalactic slave ship rode an unstable wormhole from the arena planet of Kor Magna to our own solar system. In a lightning raid, the Thallaxians hit a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter, and grabbed as many of the personnel as they could manage before beating a hasty retreat before the wormhole closed.

Kor Magna is over 200 light years from Earth. There is no going back.

So one by one, the crew of that station have been rescuing each other from deeper and deeper pits of hell on Kor Magna. Gladiator was Harper’s story. In many ways, she was the lucky one, because she was “bought” by the House of Galen and immediately freed. Harper rescued Regan, and her story is told in Warrior. Regan, in her turn, rescued Rory.

Although many of the trappings of the Kor Magna Arena sound a lot like the gladiator fights in Imperial Rome, there’s much more under the surface. The fights are not to the death, and the better Houses spend a lot of money on high-tech healing equipment and excellent healers. The gladiators are an investment, and the Imperators of the better Houses want to protect that investment.

The House of Galen is more than just one of those “better” Houses. All of the gladiators are free – no slaves among them. And while on the surface they swagger just as much as any other group of gladiators, under that surface they invade other Houses, and even worse places, to free those who are abused or who just aren’t meant to be gladiators.

In other words, they are Big Damn Heroes.

Kace Tameron is one of the biggest. Not that all of the gladiators aren’t big, especially in comparison to the human women. Humans in general seem to be smaller than the galactic average as represented on Kor Magna. But Kace is one of the military volunteers in the arena. His planet sent him to Kor Magna for two year’s worth of special training. But his planet, locked in perpetual warfare, has done a good job of brainwashing him into believing that the fight is all there is, and that duty is honor and honor is duty.

Rory Fraser breaks through all that conditioning. She’s been freed from horrific captivity, and she wants to live. And she wants Kace to take that step forward into living life to the fullest right there with her. If he can.

Because he’ll break her heart if he can’t.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one. I definitely think it’s the best of the series so far, and I can hardly wait for more.

One of the things that made this particular entry in the series so special was the introduction of little Hero. Rory is an engineer, and she always wants to tinker and fix things. When Kace gives her Hero, it shows both the love that he is trying to run away from, and also just how much he understands her. Hero is both someone she can love and something she can tinker with, all wrapped into one dog-shaped package.

Hero may be mechanical, but he acts just like a dog. And it’s awesome and sweet. I’ve been looking for a word equivalent to anthropomorphic to describe Hero. There is no attempt to make the robot seem human, instead, the robot is completely DOG. Caninomorphic?

One of the other things I really liked about this particular story is that neither of the characters gets into the “I’m not worthy” shtick. Kace has been programmed to believe that love is basically a hormonal imbalance wrapped up in a distraction. And he’s right in that Rory certainly does distract him. But it’s never about thinking he’s unworthy, it all about thinking that love doesn’t exist, and that he’s not supposed to emotionally connect to anyone. Likewise, while Rory is finding her footing, she has some pretty good and realistic ideas about how to earn her place in the House of Galen. She has both engineering chops and mixed-martial-arts skills. She never doubts her ability to make herself useful. Her only frustrations are getting Kace’s head out of his gorgeous ass and following the clues to the next enslaved human.

In each book, the ending foreshadows the next one, as each heroine rescues another human, who finds herself safe in the arms of one of the gladiators of the House of Galen. So I think I know who’s next. And hopefully saw some foreshadowing of the one after that. And they both look marvelous!

Review: Warrior by Anna Hackett

Review: Warrior by Anna HackettWarrior (Galactic Gladiators #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #2
Pages: 155
Published by Anna Hackett on November 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, honor, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

It was supposed to be an exciting job on a space station, but instead, scientist Dr. Regan Forrest finds herself fighting for her life when she’s kidnapped by alien slavers. Far from Earth and forced into a violent gladiatorial arena on the outer rim, she finds herself swept into the brawny arms of a big, wild alien gladiator.

Weapon, brute, gladiator, warrior… Sirrush warrior Thorin has been called many things. As a warrior of his people, he was a dark, dangerous weapon until even his own family were too afraid of him. Sold into slavery in the Kor Magna Arena, he has long ago earned his freedom. Now he enjoys the violent but rewarding life he’s carved out for himself. Until he rescues one small, smart, and perplexing female from alien slavers.

Regan is determined to make a place for herself in her new home. She may not have the skills to fight in the arena, but she’s smart and knows she can help...even as she fights her attraction to the big, bold, and fascinating Thorin. She knows he’ll never be interested in her. But when Regan catches a glimpse of her cousin across a crowded market, she needs help to mount a rescue, and it comes in the form of the gladiator she desperately wants. A gladiator hiding a dark, uncontrollable secret with the power to destroy them both.

My Review:

This was the perfect book to read last night after I gave up on watching the election news. It was ALL bad, so I decided to go to bed and live in delusional hope for one more night.

I got swept away by Warrior, and I’m oh so grateful that I did. For a brief hour or two, I was as far away from Earth as I could get, cheering on the fighters in a gladiatorial arena on the far side of the galaxy.

gladiator by anna hackettThe first book of Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series is Gladiator, and it sets up the worldbuilding and the overarching story for the series, as well as featuring its very own Happy For Now. It doesn’t feel like an HEA, not because there are any doubts about or between the romantic leads, but because they are living in a dangerous situation. They are both arena gladiators, and while the combat isn’t supposed to be deadly, accidents certainly do happen. And sometimes they’re not accidents.

And this particular group of gladiators spends some of its nights hiding in the shadows, rescuing captives who have been purchased by other, less honorable gladiatorial houses,

Gladiator ends with one such rescue. The Thraxians kidnapped at least three women from a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter. Harper, the heroine of Gladiator, has become one herself. At the end of Gladiator Harper, along with the other fighters from the House of Galen, rescue the second, Regan.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, at the end of Warrior they rescue the third. Her story will be told in Hero, and I can’t wait!)

But Warrior is Regan’s story. She’s not the warrior of the title, though. That would be Thorin. He is one, big, tough warrior, but he’s also a man who has been wounded and betrayed too many times to believe that he is worthy of being anything more than a fighter and a killer. He believes that the monster who lives inside him makes him less than man.

Regan thinks he’s more man than she ever expected might be interested in her shy and bookish self. Of course they’re both wrong. The romance (and the danger) are in the ways that they finally figure things out.

But only while dodging a kidnapping attempt and using Regan as a very vulnerable Trojan Horse in order to rescue her friend.

The action and the hot romance never stop in Warrior. Prepare to be swept away for a steamy good time.

Escape Rating A-: I liked Warrior even more than I did Gladiator. Some of that is right book, right time, and more of it has to do with the world being just a bit more established. The heavy worldbuilding lifting was done in Gladiator, now the author has the opportunity to flesh out more of the details.

The flesh is definitely worth ogling, too. Your mind will be filled with visions of eye candy during this series.

At the same time, while the romance heats up, we also get to see a bit more of how the arena system, and the House of Galen, operate. This world is like Las Vegas hopped up on steroids and blasted into outer space. It’s a gritty place, where the lights and the glamour hide a whole lot of seedy underbelly. Which makes it darkly fascinating.

hero by anna hackettIf you like your setting a bit desperate, your action nonstop and your romance hotter than a rocket ship, I highly recommend that you let Warrior sweep you off your feet for an evening. And then hold out for Hero, coming in December.