Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDiffraction (Atrophy, #3) by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Atrophy #3
Pages: 352
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

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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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: Atrophy by Jess Anastasi

Review: Atrophy by Jess AnastasiAtrophy by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: ebook
Pages: 329
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on December 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

No one on Erebus escapes alive...

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He's innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape...only to find himself face to face with the captain's undeniably gorgeous sister.
Zahli Sherron isn't planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he's sexy as every kind of sin, but he's no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew...even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.

My Review:

If Mal Reynolds went really, really dark, and if the Reavers were shapeshifting aliens who had infiltrated the government (wait, that sort of happened) then you’d get something like Atrophy.

Or at least, that’s the way it feels. So for those of you who have never gotten over the loss of Firefly (like moi), Atrophy is a great place to get a Firefly-type fix.

The crew of the barely profitable frieghter Imojenna is every bit as oddly assorted as the crew of Serenity. Rian Sherron is the captain, and he’s a man with a lot of demons left over from the last war. So many demons that he is on a one-man crusade to eradicate the universe’s true enemy – the shapeshifting Reidar. Rian suffered years as a lab-rat in a Reidar torture chamber, watching as his crew died in agony, and he lived on in mental and physical anguish.

The man that came back from the war became a hero – taking out the ostensible enemy of the IPC in one successful but should have been suicidal maneuver. It’s probable that Rian wanted to go out, whether in a blaze of glory or not, as long as he went. But that’s not the way things worked.

Instead, he survived to become a living legend. And now he is spending his post-war years hunting down any and all information on the shapeshifting aliens who tortured him – the Reidar. The job is all that much more difficult, as the Reidar don’t shift into animals or anything easily recognizable. Instead, the take on the face and characteristics of trusted friends and planetary leaders. They hide in plain sight and wreck havoc with human controlled space.

Rian has gathered a crew on the Imojenna that all believe the Reidar must be stopped at any cost. But that crew includes Rian’s younger sister Zahli, and Rian often finds himself torn between a desire to product the young woman and his obsession with finding the Reidar.

After one of many encounters with the Reidar, the good ship Imojenna is forced to stop at the nearest planet for emergency repairs. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that nearest planet is the prison planet Erebus. When their supply run goes slightly awry, Zahli returns to the ship after killing a prison officer who attempted to add her to his count of rapes and murders. And the ship has one extra passenger – Tannin Everette, the prisoner who helped Zahli cover up the body.

As Zahli’s relationship with Tannin becomes more emotional (as well as explosively physical) than either of them bargained for, the young lovers run directly into Rian’s twin goals of protecting Zahli and revenge on the Reidar. Because it turns out that Tannin has run into Rian’s enemies before – the trumped up charge that got him sent to Erebus was part of a plot to put a Reidar operative into his planet’s government. And it worked.

When Rian’s obsession causes him to pick up a woman who is either a political prisoner or a telepathic weapon (or both), and keep her from the agents of the Reidar, the Immojenna becomes a primary target of Reidar agents all over the galaxy.

And Rian has his hands more than full trying to keep everyone safe. But when it comes to keeping Zahli safe from Tannin – Rian takes on a force that no one, and certainly no interfering and even homicidal big brother, could ever possibly stop.

Even in a galaxy that is this messed up, love still conquers all.

Escape Rating B+:The Imojenna is a ship on a mission. And it’s a ship where the captain is one slip away from being a homicidal maniac, and the crew never knows who is out to get them, but they are always aware that someone is.

When things go to hell in a handbasket, people cuss. A lot. Especially when bullets and plasma bolts are flying at them. I understand the impulse to create cuss words – the ones we use now may not survive the centuries. Howsomever, while “frak” worked as a substitute for “fuck” in Battlestar Galactica, “freck” just doesn’t do it. At least not for this reader. I cringed every time I saw “freck” or “frecking” and it whacked with my willing suspension of disbelief.

But the story in Atrophy definitely does work.

There’s a romance here, between ex-prisoner Tannin and Rian’s sister Zahli. While their romance contains a high quotient of insta-love, they do bond under very stressful circumstances. And there are other elements – Zahli is the first person who has ever given Tannin a hope of redemption, and for Zahli, Tannin is the first man in her life who isn’t completely under big brother Rian’s whacked-out thumb.

The wild card on the crew isn’t Tannin, it’s actually the telepathic priestess Mirella. She seems to be a pawn between the Reidar, their agents, and Rian. However, her telepathy gives her insights into Rian’s character and his horrible experiences that he finds both soothing and irritating at the same time. He needs help, but he’d need to let down his guard to get it. And he’s afraid that if he does, he’ll lose control and kill someone before the healer can put the genie back in the bottle. So Rian is afraid of Mirella, because he needs her and can’t accept it. I hope that their relationship gets some resolution in later books in the series, because the depths of Rian that Ella is plumbing are dark and scary and need to be brought out into the light. As a reader, I found myself more intriqued by the hints of Rian’s and Ella’s crazy possible relationship than the obvious hot spark of Tannin and Zahli.

I’ve been trying to figure out how the title “Atrophy” fits. On the surface, there isn’t anything atrophying, or wasting away. However, a deeper dive reveals that it might be Rian’s humanity that is atrophying – his thin edge of control is all that is keeping him from going permanently postal – or so he fears.

But the human controlled universe is also atrophying, at least in a way. One of the causes of atrophy, at least according to Wikipedia, is mutations. Part of the ongoing war with the Reider is their infiltration of human space by replacing human leaders with Reidar operatives. In other words, mutations.

Food for thought as the series progresses, anyway.

And speaking of that progression, the series continues (thank goodness) with Quantum and Diffraction, hopefully next year. And they look awesome.

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Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDamage Control (Valiant Knox #2) by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: ebook
Series: Valiant Knox #2
Pages: 302
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on October 26th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon

In space, you can't hide from temptation...
Nick-named Hardass by the new recruits, Leigh Alphin is captain of the Fighter Force of the battleship Valiant Knox. He’s honorable, straightforward, and hard as nails – except for the soft spot he has for a young woman he rescued off a transport under attack. Now that she’s one of his new recruits, it’s imperative he stop thinking about her in that way.
Especially now that the Knox has been secretly infiltrated by the enemy.
Mia Wolf’s new commanding officer is icy, no-BS, and completely gorgeous. His glances send heat searing through her. Neither of them can afford to make this mistake, yet desire takes hold, consuming them. For the first time, Leigh’s iron sense of honor falters as his heart fights for love… and against an enemy trying to destroy everything they hold dear.

My Review:

Welcome to the Valiant Knox, a floating city in space. More like a flying city. Think Battlestar Galactica, with the long-running war being not quite as devastating. At least not yet.

The Valiant Knox is an Alliance space battleship, on the side of the good guys fighting the evil CSS. The CSS believes in bombing everyone back to a religious-based stone age, even as they use stolen Alliance space ships to get that job done.

escape velocity by jess anastasiThe CSS still strikes this reader as basic fundamentalist-type loonies, but they seem to be damn effective loonies. If space opera with a very strong romantic element is your thing, start with Escape Velocity (reviewed here) to read this series from its start.

While the setting of the Valiant Knox itself is very cool, the series as a whole still strikes me as gateway science fiction romance for readers who love military romance and just aren’t sure about the whole “space” thing.

A lot of the story, and an equal amount of the tension in the romance, will feel very familiar to readers of military romance. New recruit Mia Wolfe is rescued by Captain Leigh Alphin of the Valiant Knox. Wolfe needs a rescue because the CSS has infiltrated the Alliance hierarchy, and someone knew just when the shuttle carrying new recruits to the Knox would be the most vulnerable to enemy action. Her shuttle squeaks into the Knox cargo bay, with the engines about to explode. Instead, Alphin disobeys orders and board the fire ship all by himself. He barely makes it to the bridge controls to cut off the doomed shuttle’s engine in time. In time before he succumbs to smoke inhalation, and in time before the cargo bay is vented to space to prevent the shuttle from taking the Knox with her in a ball of flame.

Mia Wolfe is one of many in the ship of recruits, but her dogged determination to keep both her unconscious friend and herself alive with one gas mask during the fire snags at Alphin’s heart. A heart most people claimed he didn’t have.

He assumes that the raw recruit will be assigned somewhere else in the war effort, probably to the planet below. Which gives him a bit of license to let the young woman know how much he admires her courage, and lets him just be human for a minute in her company, instead of always sealing himself inside his hard ass, Captain Air Fighter Forces (CAFF) persona.

(His rank feels borrowed directly from BSG, as both Lee Adama and Starbuck served as CAFF on that series at different times. Leigh is high in the chain of command, serving as the commander of all the fighter squadrons on the ship.)

Of course, Murphy’s Law states that the one woman Leigh let his guard down in front of is assigned to the fighter squadron. Now she’s not just forbidden because she’s a recruit, but because she is his recruit and he will have the responsibility of judging her fitness for the squad or washing her out and kicking her planetside to the ground forces.

They are as stupid for each other as romance readers could want. They both know that any relationship is a career-killingly bad idea for both of them, but they can’t seem to resist. To make the situation fraught with even more peril, the ship’s commander, Kai Yang from Escape Velocity, is fighting for his career as he tries to ferret out just how many CSS moles are aboard the Knox, and he asks for Leigh’s help.

Leigh gets Mia Wolfe involved in his covert intelligence operation, which provides even more opportunities for them to be dangerously alone together. But as the attacks against them and the Knox escalate, their relationship also shows them just what they have to fight for.

If they survive.

Escape Rating B+: I like this series a lot. It reminds me of a cross between BSG and Stargate SG1, but in my book those are awfully good progenitors for a military SF series.

The relationship between Mia and Leigh is a slow burn that heats up fast. And that any relationship will be extremely damaging to both their careers just adds that luscious flavor of forbidden fruit to the whole thing.

It’s easy to see why their relationship is so dangerous. At the moment, he controls her future career. And by entering into a relationship with a recruit, he leaves himself wide open to charges of favoritism by any other recruit. And then there’s the power imbalance. This just shouldn’t happen.

But they have something for each other. Leigh is tired of having nothing in his life except his job. A good job will not love you back, as the saying goes. Mia has the potential to be his equal, given time and experience. But with a deadly war escalating, time is one thing they do not have.

There is a traitor in their midst. Leigh knows it, and so does Yang, but can’t figure out who among his trusted officers might be the moles. Mia has some mad computer skills, and is capable of ferreting out the truth, if Leigh can keep them both alive.

The tension ratchets up in every direction. Not just the romantic and sexual tension, but the tension of the situation. They need to find the moles and plug the leak. They need to keep their relationship under wraps. Yang needs to fend off the bureaucrats who want to end his career, and possibly the effectiveness of the Knox along with it. And the moles are out to get them personally, as well as get the Knox and the Alliance in general. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the political movement against Yang may turn out to also be a product of CSS moles, but only future entries in the series (please let there be some!) will tell me if I’m right)

The plot doesn’t let up for a minute.

As much as I’m enjoying this story, I still want to know a lot more about the crazy CSS. Because we see everything from the side of the Knox, we aren’t able to get deeply into their motives and operation. They still seem like lunatic fringe fundamentalists. For this story to move from B+ into the A’s this reader needs to see more explanation for why these bad guys have turned so bad.

But Damage Control (and Escape Velocity), the continuing adventures of the Valiant Knox, are still a marvelously fun ride.


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So that new readers can get caught up with the Valiant Knox, Entangled is giving away two ebook copies of Escape Velocity to lucky commenters on this tour.

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