Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna Hackett

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

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

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

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

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

My (Admittedly Squee-Filled) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Unmapped by Anna Hackett

Review: Unmapped by Anna HackettUnmapped (Treasure Hunter Security #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #6
Pages: 147
Published by Anna Hackett on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Perfect for the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security.

Former Navy SEAL and CIA agent Ronin Cooper is used to living his life in the darkness. A loner by nature, he enjoys his work at Treasure Hunter Security, stays busy on the road, and never lets anyone too close. That is until he notices a mystery redheaded woman spying on him and his colleagues. Then he finds himself sucked into a dangerous rescue mission to Antarctica with a fiery, outspoken woman who pushes every one of his buttons.

Peri Butler will do anything to save her sister. The experienced polar guide knows the deadly black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road, has her twin, but Peri isn’t sure who she can trust. She wants to believe Treasure Hunter Security can help, and soon finds herself facing off with the dark, intense, enigmatic Ronin.

As their mission takes them into the frigid ice and snow of Antarctica, Peri and Ronin’s intense attraction generates a lot of heat. Drawn irresistibly closer, they work to track down Silk Road and Peri’s sister, but what they find buried in the ice could threaten everything. Ronin will sacrifice it all to protect Peri, while she will take every risk, not only to save her sister, but to break through the protective shell around Ronin’s heart.

Note to readers: This action-adventure romance contains a lot of action (think wild chases and ancient treasures), cool offsiders (sexy former Navy SEALs) and a steamy romance (lots of sexy times between an outspoken polar guide agent a tough, sexy SEAL). This is treasure hunting Navy SEAL style. So if you like it fast, and fun, and sexy, this is for you!

My Review:

Antarctica hasn’t seen this much action since they found the second Stargate. In 1998, during the first season of the absolutely marvelous series Stargate SG-1. But Stargates notwithstanding, Antarctica is a place that most of us think of in terms of ice, snow, freezing cold and inevitable death. It’s not exactly a vacation spot.

But just as climate change recently caused a big chunk of the Antarctic ice sheet to break off, the not-so-slow warming of the planet could cause other, formerly solid blocks of ice to break away, or melt away, revealing long-hidden lands. And possibly, as turns out to be the case in Unmapped, long-hidden ancient archaeological sites containing priceless artifacts and even weapons of great and deadly power.

This isn’t the first long-lost archaeological treasure trove where the agents of Treasure Hunter Security have crossed paths (and swords) with the power-hungry mercenaries of Silk Road, and it probably won’t be the last. But it’s certainly the coldest and most remote.

Which is why Silk Road made polar guides (and twin sisters) Amber and Peri Butler offers that they really should have refused to lead an expedition to Antarctica, in the WINTER. Unfortunately, only Peri turned them down, and now Amber is out of contact and Peri fears the absolute worst – with good reason.

Peri stalks the THS offices, in the hopes of either finding an ally to help her rescue her sister, or a Silk Road affiliate that will lead her to her sister’s location. It’s a good thing she finds the former, because either she’s not nearly as good at hiding as she thinks she is, or the THS agents are much better at stalking spies than she gave them credit for. Or at least ex-SEAL and current THS agent Ronin Cooper is.

Unlike many of the adventures in the THS series, while the good people of THS may not know everything they need to know about what Silk Road is after this time, they do at least know as much as the heroine who hires them knows. Once Peri is in, she is all in, sharing her intel with THS along with the danger of the rescue.

Of which she is an integral part. While all of the heroines and heroes who have become involved with the THS agents have all been capable in their fields, Peri has an expertise in extreme cold-weather expeditions that is crucial to the success of the mission.

She’s going to need all the help she can get to melt the ice around Ronin Cooper’s heart.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about Unmapped is that the hero and heroine are equals every step of the way. They both have skills that are necessary to accomplish the mission, which is not saving either one of them, but saving a third person, Peri’s sister Amber. Who is herself a strong heroine.

This is a hallmark of not just the whole Treasure Hunter Security series but ALL of Anna Hackett’s fiction. It never comes down to the strong hero rescuing the weaker heroine. Ever. Instead, it’s always two strong people discovering that they are stronger together than they are separately, and that they help glue each other’s broken places together. Nothing is ever one-sided.

Which does not stop Ronin, the hero of Unmapped, from being an idiot when it comes to his own heart. He falls into the trap of believing that he is not worthy of being loved, due to horrific circumstances in his past. He does attempt to do the stupid and try to send Peri away. Fortunately she’s too smart for that.

In addition to her usual fantastic blend of action, adventure and romance, one of the parts of Unmapped that I liked best was the portrayal of conditions in Antarctica and the portraits of the scientific team at the base camp. It takes a special kind of person to want to spend season after season in the loneliest place on earth, and the author captures that beautifully.

Last but not least, the ending of Unmapped seems to be setting up the story that I have been waiting for since the very beginning of this series back in Undiscovered. It looks like we’re finally going to get the romance between Darcy Ward, THS’ co-owner and technical wizard, and the FBI Agent she can’t get out of either her head or her system (in both senses of that word), Alistair Burke.

This will be grand!

Review: Untraveled by Anna Hackett

Review: Untraveled by Anna HackettUntraveled (Treasure Hunter Security #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #5
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on August 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

After a mission gone terribly wrong, former Navy SEAL Hale Carter has made a good career for himself at Treasure Hunter Security. He gets to use his engineering skills designing new gadgets, his SEAL skills providing security for exciting expeditions and treasure hunts, and he enjoys a variety of ladies on his downtime. He might still be plagued by nightmares, but all in all, life is good. Then he volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission into the Kalahari Desert, alongside a cool, attractive FBI agent who challenges him at every turn.

Special Agent Elin Alexander is driven to bring down the deadly black-market antiquities ring Silk Road. She's experienced firsthand how they destroy lives and she's vowed to end their greed and killing. After months of undercover work, she's eager for the mission to find the Lost City of the Kalahari. What she wasn't expecting was six-feet-three inches of former Navy SEAL as her partner. Hale is too handsome, too sexy, and isn't inclined to follow orders.

As the pair infiltrate the Silk Road hunt, Hale and Elin find themselves fighting a scorching attraction as they work to discover just what the lost city is hiding. But stuck in the bowels of a legendary ancient mine, Hale and Elin must put their trust in each other, to not only save the day, but to get out alive.

My Review:

I keep wanting to type Unraveled instead of Untraveled, because there is plenty of travel in this entry in the Treasure Hunter Security series, and plenty of things that get unraveled, including the misapprehensions that hold FBI Agent Elin Alexander and Treasure Hunter Security Agent (and ex-SEAL) Carter Hale back from getting involved with anyone, especially each other.

THS and FBI nemesis Silk Road is at it again, on the track of a mythical site that they are certain holds great treasure and great power, this time hidden somewhere in the brutal Kalahari Desert. Agent Alexander has been operating undercover with the Silk Road cell that believes they have pinpointed the famous Lost City of the Kalahari, and that somewhere amongst its legendary treasures lies the equally famous Seal of Solomon, a ring that supposedly gave King Solomon the power to command demons and djinn, and to speak with animals – and possibly more.

If it exists, it is valuable beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, just as a symbol, especially since that symbol is purported to contain one of the largest uncut diamonds ever discovered.

Agent Alexander sees this operation as her way to get back at Silk Road for the death of her father, as well as a way to score her long-sought promotion to a multi-agency team in Europe with Interpol. It’s a promotion that is guaranteed to give her way more opportunities to settle her score with Silk Road, but her single-minded pursuit of that goal has left her little time or inclination for relationships that might get in the way of her career. Her marriage was just one of the casualties of that pursuit.

Carter Hale sees himself as damaged. He left the SEALs as the last survivor of his team, a team that he was not able to save. THS keeps him busy and gives him a way to use the skills that the U.S. Navy spent so many years training into him. His sideline, tinkering with operations gear and making the top-of-the-line even better has brought him a surprising measure of financial security. He’s at THS to keep his demons at bay.

But traveling undercover through the unforgiving Kalahari desert, knowing that their companions are homicidal lunatics, only able to trust each other, forges a bond that neither Erin nor Carter is willing to break.

Even though they both believe that they must. If they get out alive.

Escape Rating B: Untraveled is a solid entry in the Treasure Hunter Security series. It’s a lot of fun to read, as are all the books in the series. And while Undiscovered is the story that begins the journey, it probably isn’t necessary to read them all, or to read them all in order, in order to enjoy any particular one.

Untraveled very much fits into the pattern of this series, where THS is hired to protect an an absolutely fabulous find or legendary place and has to battle the entirely evil and mercenary Silk Road. As the adventure progresses, the hero and heroine find themselves isolated and in deadly danger, and finally give in to the attraction that has been simmering between them from their first meeting. As an added bonus, the “macguffin” that they eventually find is usually even more magnificent and more legendary than anyone imagined.

In this particular case it’s that the Lost City of the Kalahari, King Solomon’s Mines and the legendary treasure city of Ophir are all one and the same.

It’s a fun pattern, and Untraveled certainly shows just how well it works. Because I love this author and her writing, I have a couple of small quibbles that kept Untraveled from rising to a B+. As an undercover FBI agent, Erin Alexander plays a bit fast and loose with her cover. If she’s embedded with a group this crazy and this paranoid, she would not break cover for anything, certainly not to interrogate a low-level operative and then turn him over to local police forces. Someone is bound to talk, and they do, exposing both Alexander and her THS partner.

The ending of the story includes one of my least favorite tropes, the one where the guy, deciding that he’s unworthy, tries to give up the love of his life because he’s so damn certain that it’s better for her, without bothering to ask her what she wants. I hate that one every time. Erin should have slapped him silly after she grabbed him.

And unlike most of the other THS books, while we do find the mysterious artifact, we don’t seem to discover what the thing is or does. I mean, yes, it’s a ring with a honking big diamond in it, but we knew that at the beginning. While no one expects it to be able to call demons or djinn, so far, all of the previously discovered artifacts have had some surprisingly cool powers, which have generally been revealed in rather spectacular rescues, catastrophes or bits of both. On this one, the jury seems to still be out, even when the book ends.

On my other hand, one thing I’m very, very curious about is that another player was introduced into this rivalry between THS and Silk Road. There’s another group sticking their oar into these particularly choppy waters, and its someone that the FBI seems to think they can play some kind of ball with.

Or at least lead FBI Agent Alistair Burke acts as if he can control them. Whether he can control anything, including the crazy unresolved sexual tension between himself and THS’s co-owner and tech wizard Darcy Ward is something that readers will hopefully see resolved in a future entry in the series. I’m really waiting for that one.

Review: Barbarian by Anna Hackett

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank goodness!

Review: 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: 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: Unfathomed by Anna Hackett

Review: Unfathomed by Anna HackettUnfathomed by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #4
Pages: 198
Published by Anna Hackett on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Long, tall, and deadly Morgan Kincaid enjoys her job at Treasure Hunter Security. Raised by a tough Marine father, she loves her guns and knives, and never backs down from a fight. She’s yet to find a man who can keep up with her and after a string of first dates, she’s not feeling hopeful. Assigned to an underwater archeological expedition on the trail of a long-lost shipwreck, Morgan finds herself protecting the very hard, delicious body of a certain globe-trotting archeologist. A smart rogue with a wide smile and a boat-load of charm.

Dr. Zachariah James has information leading to a shipwreck filled with history and treasure. After growing up with nothing, he’s forged a stellar career for himself, but history is more than just a job, it’s his lifeblood. So Zach is amazed to find himself as excited by a woman as he is by his dive. Dangerous Morgan fascinates him, and he’s eager to see what she’s hiding under her tough exterior.

As they dive the azure waters off the coast of Madagascar, they uncover a sizzling attraction and clues to an impossible artifact, but soon they are under attack by dangerous black-market thieves. Among traitors, kidnappings, and ancient temples, Zach and Morgan will need to put everything on the line to have any chance at surviving.

My Review:

There are times when I’m astonished by the depths of human stupidity. Possibly in this case I mean willful blindness. Or a bit of both.

No one ever seems to believe that whatever treasure they are hunting could possibly be of interest to the nefarious Silk Road gang. And no one ever seems to think that telling the agents of Treasure Hunter Security that just maybe, possibly, Silk Road might find their find just the teensiest bit intriguing never seems to occur to people – at least not until Silk Road arrives in a metaphorical cloud of evil and kidnaps or kills someone.

This time THS is hunting sunken treasure with Dr. Zachariah James. James believes he has the location of a wrecked treasure ship off the coast of Madagascar. The cargo manifest says that the ship was filled with gold, diamonds and porcelain, a friendship gift from the King of Siam to the French. The Soliel d’Orient is a prize worth finding, both for its wealth and for the archaeological treasures it holds.

But Dr. James is only figuring on normal treasure hunters. Admittedly, lots and lots of them. That’s why he hires THS. Of course, he neglects to mention that there might be an artifact with mystical or mythical powers amongst the treasure. He doesn’t believe that the talisman even exists. And he certainly doesn’t believe in any mystical powers.

But Silk Road does. And they are on his trail from the moment the expedition starts.

Meanwhile, Dr. James is hunting more than just treasure. There’s something about Morgan Kincaid, the deadly female THS operative, that makes teasing and tormenting her even more exciting than a treasure hunt. To Morgan’s surprise, she feels those same sparks from Zach. She just doesn’t believe that any man’s interest in her will survive his knowledge of just how dangerous and deadly she really is.

But Zach loves the adrenaline thrill. And when Silk Road kidnaps them and drags them off on their own deadly treasure hunt, Zach knows that they will need every single one of Morgan’s deadly skills to survive.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Zach and Morgan as characters. They make an excellent hero and heroine for this story. They both have hidden depths and secret pains, and they are both slow to share any of themselves with another. They’ve both been hurt before by people who were supposed to love and protect them, and they are both wary of trusting again.

Morgan’s hesitation feels particularly real. She is a warrior, and that is a big part of her identity. That many men find her ability to take them down and beat them hard to be a turnoff is no surprise. She’s smart enough to know that if who she is isn’t what they want, that she’s better off alone. Which doesn’t stop her from feeling lonely.

But as much as I enjoyed the rising heat between Morgan and Zach, and the little glimpse of the ongoing tension between Darcy Ward and her buttoned-up FBI agent, I’m still feeling a bit of villain fail in this series.

Silk Road and their agents are definitely evil. But they keep coming off as bwahaha evil. Along with, in the case of the villain in Unfathomed, an unhealthy dose of cray-cray. But crazy doesn’t organize and fund an organization as big and as effective as Silk Road. We still don’t know who they are and why they are doing this. There are plenty of other ways to make oodles of money that aren’t half this complicated.

Inquiring minds really, really want an answer to those questions.

Even so, Unfathomed is another marvelous tale of action, adventure and romance, and I can’t wait for the next one.

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.