Review: War Games by Jess Anastasi

Review: War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games (Valiant Knox #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Pages: 320
Published by Entangled Publishing on December 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

My Review:

The Scottish poet Robbie Burns is mostly famous for that once-per-year favorite, Auld Lang Syne. He’s also known for that saying about “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Of course that one is usually translated into something more like contemporary English.

But there’s another phrase of Burns’ that came to mind when reading War Games. It’s the one that goes, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” Because a lot of the tension in War Games is because Colonel Cameron McAllister and Lieutenant Theresa Brenner have never seen each other as they really are, not in ten years of extremely tense “acquaintance”.

Instead, they see each other through the intermediary of a third person who is no longer around, but still standing between them – the Lieutenant’s brother Jordie, dead these ten years in the war that seems never to end between the space-faring and fairly liberal Alliance and the fundamentalist wacko-crazies that have infested the planet Ilari.

Jordie’s death was suicide-by-enemy-fire, and Theresa is certain that it’s all Cam’s fault, based on everything that Jordie told her about his last mission with Cam. Cam, on the other hand, is equally certain that Theresa must be every bit as much of a selfish screw-up as her late brother. He just can’t figure out how someone who must be a terrible soldier somehow managed to become CAFF (Commander of the Flying Forces) on the Valiant Knox.

They’ve managed to mostly avoid each other for years, but circumstances have finally placed them into a close contact that neither of them wants, or trusts.

The long war may finally be reaching its end phase. After the events in Cover Fire, the Alliance has an in with the planetary resistance forces. If the Alliance can figure out just what support they need, and can manage to get it to them, the Resistance has a chance at defeating the CSS before they export their brand of crazy off-planet.

Cam is scheduled to lead an undercover mission just as one of Theresa’s fighter pilots is forced to eject over enemy territory. She attaches herself and another pilot to Cam’s mission so that she can rescue her pilot while he contacts the rebels.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Or in this case, even survives contact with the ground. Of course it all goes pear-shaped. And when it does, Cam and Theresa are forced to work together, and to see the person the other really is, instead of seeing Jordie and his mess.

But old habits die hard, and old impressions die even harder. When the chips are all very much down, Cam screws up. He may be a hero, but it looks like he’s ended the war only to lose the peace.

Or at least his own.

Escape Rating A-: War Games is the final book in the Valiant Knox series. And it’s an absolutely marvelous ending. If you like science fiction space opera romance, this series is terrific from beginning to end. I’m not positive that you need to read it in strict order, but starting with this last book is definitely a no-go. As much as many of us like to skip to the end to see how things turn out, this book is much more fun if you know more about what it is that you want to find out the ending of!

The strength of this particular entry in the series rests on the two main characters, Theresa and Cam, and the chemistry between them as well as the mess that’s keeping them apart. They’ve worked at arm’s length (actually several arms’ lengths’) from each other for a long time. They are certain that they know all about each other, and definitely don’t like what they know.

Even though the reader can easily guess that Jordie Brenner was a less-than-reliable narrator of his own life, it makes sense that his kid sister would believe everything he said, especially in the wake of his death.

On the other hand, Cam McAllister is much too good of a soldier and commander to keep conflating Theresa with her brother, especially in light of the evidence of his own eyes and that of people he respects. It’s mostly his own guilt that keeps him from seeing the person in front of him instead of her dead brother, and he really should know better.

Their mission is a SNAFU from beginning to end, but it is not either of their faults. Murphy has clearly taken up residence on Ilari and everything that can go wrong absolutely does. But the things that go wrong fit right into the military parts of the scenario. The CSS may be run by fundamentalist whack-jobs, but that doesn’t mean that some of them are not effective soldiers, even if they are fighting in a bad cause.

So as the tension between Cam and Theresa shifts from dislike and mistrust to respect and possibly love, the circumstances they find themselves in go from bad, to worse, to downright awful. It takes a lot of mess to wrap the series up with the right amount of intense catharsis, but it does get there, and with an appropriately big and loud bang. Even though their relationship very nearly ends in a whimper.

One final note, as much as I enjoyed this series, I was also glad to see it end. While each romance has moved the overarching story forward, this war needed to come to its conclusion. If it had gone on forever and six books more, it ran the potential of getting stale. Instead, we end on a high note. The Valiant Knox series is a fun mixture of military SF, space opera and science fiction romance, and now that it’s finished it’s even easier to recommend to any reader looking for something good flying on any those vectors. Start with Escape Velocity for the very best ride.

 

Review: Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it might just turn the tide of the war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDamage Control (Valiant Knox #2) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #2
Pages: 302
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on October 26th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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.

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

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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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