Review: Undetected by Anna Hackett

Review: Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected (Treasure Hunter Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Pages: 222
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road.

Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security. The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

My Review:

Darcy Ward thinks of Alastair Burke as Agent AA – otherwise called Agent Arrogant and Annoying – with all the words capitalized. But as devoted readers of the Treasure Hunter Security series are well aware, those AA letters could also refer to the power in Darcy’s battery-operated-boyfriend, because whether she wants to admit it or not – and she definitely doesn’t – Burke gets her all hot and bothered. And not nearly enough of either the hot or the bothered has to do with the way he goes out of his way to piss her off at every turn.

Growing up with two ex-Navy SEAL brothers (brother Declan’s story is in Undiscovered and brother Callum’s in Uncharted) Darcy would either come to really, really detest Alpha males, or want one of her very own. She only thinks she detests the idea, as she discovers that Burke pushes all of her buttons, both the angry and the erotic.

What she really wants is a relationship just like the ones that her brothers have found, and the one that her parents have. The romance between archaeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake is in The Emerald Tear, part of the Unidentified duology. They have the kind of romance that makes readers swoon, even if those same readers can also see that they are so absorbed in each other (still!) that their now-adult children would both envy them and feel a bit left out of their attention to each other.

While it isn’t necessary to have read the entire series to enjoy Undetected, it probably is. Yes, I contradicted myself. This author makes me do that – and tie myself up in knots waiting for her next book.

Undetected is the culmination of the entire Treasure Hunter Security series. Darcy and Burke’s relationship has been simmering since they first met, and by this eighth book in the series, it’s finally boiling over. At the same time, the scenario for the entire adventure from beginning to end was unknowingly kicked off by Oliver and Persephone in The Emerald Tear. So in addition to the smoking hot romance between Darcy and Burke, the adventure part of this action-adventure romance is payback for everything that has happened in the intervening decades as well as all the previous books in the series.

That’s a lot of plot threads to tie off. The book works a whole lot better if the reader has knowledge of those plot threads getting tied on in the first place. And this series is terrific. If you like action adventure mixed with romance and haven’t read THS, and/or if you have fond memories of the movie Romancing the Stone, this series is a real treat from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: But speaking of ends, Undetected is definitely it. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Imperator, the highly anticipated final book in Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, in that the relationship in the book has been anticipated from early in the series, and the way that it brings the series as a whole to a successful conclusion.

As much as I loved the way that Undetected brings the entire series to an epic conclusion, it’s the romance between Darcy and Burke that really makes this story work.

By this point in the series, we know Darcy pretty well. She is the co-owner of THS with her brothers, and is also their resident computer hacker/genius extraordinaire. She has an important part to play in all of their “encounters” with the Silk Road gang. But laying this particular trap for the criminals has Darcy front and center. Not that they won’t need a whole lot of serious muscle to take down these bastards, but if the setup isn’t absolutely air-tight, said bastards will get away yet again.

It’s Darcy’s job to make sure the set-up is properly set-up from every conceivable angle. It’s Special Agent Alastair Burke’s job to make sure that Darcy is protected so that she can do that job.

But being constantly in Darcy’s orbit breaks Burke out of his self-imposed laser focus on taking down Silk Road. The more time they spend together, and admittedly the more times that Silk Road targets her, the more he is forced to realize just what she means to him. The humanization of the nearly robotic agent we first met is what makes this romance sing. Or gives it its zing. Or both.

For fans of the THS series, Undetected is a treat from beginning to end. And if you haven’t yet begun the series, start with Undiscovered and enjoy the ride!

Review: Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Protection by Anna HackettMission: Her Protection (Team 52 #1) by Anna Hackett by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #1
Pages: 226
Published by Anna Hackett on August 14th, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When Rowan’s Arctic research team pulls a strange object out of the ice in Northern Canada, things start to go wrong…very, very wrong. Rescued by a covert, black ops team, she finds herself in the powerful arms of a man with scary gold eyes. A man who vows to do everything and anything to protect her…

Dr. Rowan Schafer has learned it’s best to do things herself and not depend on anyone else. Her cold, academic parents taught her that lesson. She loves the challenge of running a research base, until the day her scientists discover the object in a retreating glacier. Under attack, Rowan finds herself fighting to survive…until the mysterious Team 52 arrives.

Former special forces Marine Lachlan Hunter’s military career ended in blood and screams, until he was recruited to lead a special team. A team tasked with a top-secret mission—to secure and safeguard pieces of powerful ancient technology. Married to his job, he’s done too much and seen too much to risk inflicting his demons on a woman. But when his team arrives in the Arctic, he uncovers both an unexplained artifact, and a young girl from his past, now all grown up. A woman who ignites emotions inside him like never before.

But as Team 52 heads back to their base in Nevada, other hostile forces are after the artifact. Rowan finds herself under attack, and as the bullets fly, Lachlan vows to protect her at all costs. But in the face of danger like they’ve never seen before, will it be enough to keep her alive.

My Review:

Team 52 is a loose spinoff from Treasure Hunter Security. Very loose. It’s also a bit of a science fiction in-joke. Team 52 is based at Groom Lake, right next door to the infamous Area 51 where all of the alien invasion artifacts are supposed to be stored. Team 52 is hiding in plain sight while everyone thinks all the good stuff is next door – when it really, really isn’t.

While we’ve certainly met Lachlan Hunter and his team before, their introduction in Unmapped didn’t tell us, or the THS operatives, very much. One thing that seems to be certain is that Team 52 operates under U.S. governmental aegis – not that THAT is necessarily reassuring these days.

But they seem to be the good guys. For certain definitions of “good”, and definitely not all of them are “guys”.

They are all ex-military. Or ex-CIA. Certainly ex-Special Ops of one stripe or another. And they are all damaged. Every single one of them seems to have been wounded enough in the line of duty that they were forced to retire – and none of them was ready for that step. Team 52 is their way of continuing the good fight, against forces that the regular military, even the units they mustered out of, isn’t quite ready, willing, or able to deal with.

While THS is strictly action-adventure romance, Team 52 sits much closer to the crossroads between action-adventure and science fiction. At least science fiction of the lab based variety, as well as more than a hint of the old Chariots of the Gods scenario thrown in.

There are no space ships, and no aliens. At least not so far. But this is a version of our world where advanced human, or human-ish, civilizations pre-dated the last ice age, when their people, their cultures and their technology were wiped out and buried by the encroaching glaciers.

Global warming is bringing all of their stuff back to the surface. All too much of it would make handy-dandy high-tech weaponry – especially in the hands of certain nefarious people and organizations. Team 52’s mission is to secure all this dangerous technology and keep it out of the hands of organizations that want to reverse engineer it for the, let’s call it, “greater bad”, as well as for lots of filthy lucre.

As people who have been through a hell of a lot of the worst of war, the members of Team 52 also seem to be more or less emotionally scarred, if not downright broken. And that’s where our romance kicks off. Lachlan Hunter sees himself as damaged goods, incapable of forming an emotional tie to anyone except his team, and unwilling to risk any relationship where he might find himself becoming his abusive father.

But the “Mayday” call from Dr. Rowan Schafer’s Arctic research base brings him face-to-face from the little girl who was once his light in the darkness, just as he was hers. That was back when she was 10 and he was 13. Now they are both all grown up, and both afraid of letting themselves care for anyone else – because both of them have much too much experience of love going wrong, one way or another.

It’s already too late. They are already inside each other’s hearts – and always have been. The just have to stop pushing each other away. Because someone really is out to get Rowan, and only Lachlan and his Team can keep her safe. And only Rowan can make him whole.

Escape Rating A-: This series opener is a hell of a lot of fun. It reminded me a lot of Stargate SG-1, even without the gate. One of the threads of the Stargate universe, just as in Team 52, was the idea that advanced human civilizations existed on Earth prior to the last ice age, and that remnants of that ancient tech is occasionally discovered in our present. Rowan’s Arctic research station and the artifact her team find there conjured up images of the Antarctic base on Stargate where the second gate is found. Some of the operations of the Team 52 base had a similar feel to the way that Stargate Command operated. Just no gate.

Team 52 is, as I said, a loose spinoff of Treasure Hunter Security. You do not have to have read any of THS to enjoy Team 52, but that series is a lot of fun and highly recommended. If you like the flavor of action adventure mixed with treasure hunting in Team 52, you’ll love THS.

There is, as there always is in this author’s work, a terrific romance riding on the action adventure story. Lachlan and Rowan make an interesting couple, and not just because both of them have unusual names.

Their story is an offbeat use of the friends into lovers trope. They were childhood friends at a dark time in both their lives. They gave each other a ray of hope at a time when neither of them had one. While Lachlan’s story is tragic, Rowan’s is heartbreaking in its familiarity. She had parents, successful parents, who only ever saw her as a reflection of their own importance and their own careers. They both made sure she had all the material things, but never seem to have loved her or cared about her as herself because their careers were just so much more important than anything she wanted or needed or even her near-death in the Arctic.

The interaction between them is fun to watch because they begin this story already inside each other’s skins. These are two people who are both good at pushing other people away, but they begin already too close for that to happen.

As the introduction to the series, a part of this story revolves around the team, how its set up, how it works and how its members work together. Rowan makes an excellent foil for this process as she worms her way from protectee to team member. As she adapts, we learn how the whole thing works.

And Lachlan learns that he can’t live without her – and that making the attempt isn’t living.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series, Mission: Her Rescue. While I find the titles for the Team 52 series a bit cheesy, the stories are fantastic!

Review: Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster / Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole

Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Bayside Summers #3
Length: 342
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summer #3)
Length: 324
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Fall in love at Bayside, where sandy beaches, good friends, and true love come together in the sweet small towns of Cape Cod. Bayside Summers is a series of standalone steamy romance novels featuring alpha male heroes and sexy, empowered women. They’re fun, flirty, flawed, deeply emotional, always passionate, and easy to relate to.

Drake Savage has always done the right thing, especially where beautiful and fiercely determined Serena Mallery is concerned-even when it means keeping his feelings for her to himself. Serena has always wanted more than what their small town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has to offer, and Drake’s roots are so deeply entrenched in the Cape, it’s all he can do to watch her pack up her life and move away.

Serena has always had big dreams. As a teenager she dreamed of becoming an interior designer and marrying smart, musically inclined, sexy-as-sin Drake Savage. Now she’s finally landed a killer job with a top interior design firm, but though she has spent the last four years working side by side with Drake, he’s never made a move. Four years is long enough for her to accept reality, and her new job in Boston is the perfect way to move on.

A weak moment leads to sizzling, sensual kisses, opening a door through which they’ve both been aching to walk. But Serena’s determined not to give up her shot at the career she’s always dreamed of, and Drake has loved her for too many years to stand in her way. With true love at their fingertips and a world of unstoppable passion igniting between them, can the two star-crossed lovers find their way to their happily ever after?

My Review:

This is going to be a bit different – which is kind of ironic because I’m going to be talking about two books that are pretty much the same – but are different in some crucial ways.

Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole and Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster are the same book. Except when they’re not.

Let me explain…

Sweet Heat at Bayside, and the entire Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers series, is the “sweet and clean” version of the story. Bayside Heat, and the entire Bayside Summers series, are the steamier and naughtier versions of the very same stories.

So first the story…

This is a really good take on the classic “friends to lovers” trope. Drake and Serena grew up together (along with all of their friends and siblings!) in the tiny town of Bayside on Cape Cod.

But not only was Drake Serena’s first crush, it seems like she never really got over it. Drake is about three years older than Serena, a gap that looms large in grade school and even high school, but now that they are in their late 20s/early 30s it no longer matters.

What does matter is that Serena has always dreamed of taking her interior design talents from tiny Bayside to the big city, meaning Boston. But when Drake started opening his chain of music shops four years ago, Serena came to help out. She’s not only designed the look and feel of all the stories, but helped Drake run both his whole operation as well as the inn that his family owns in Bayside.

She was clear from the very beginning that her work in Bayside was only temporary. And now its time for her to move on. Partly because the stores, the inn and even the local design firm that she’s been working at have all reached a point where the trail has been blazed and now it’s all just keeping on keeping on. But it’s also because as much as she wishes it were otherwise, her relationship with Drake has never moved out of the dreaded “friend zone”.

But Drake is so protective of her that even when she does date in order to try to get over her crush he doesn’t really let any other man get close. It’s obvious to Serena that in order to move on with her life on every front, she really needs to move away.

No matter how much she’s going to miss her friends, her sister, and especially Drake.

But the idea of Serena moving away finally hits Drake with the clue by four. Or another way of putting it is that now that she’s leaving, now that each dinner and each meeting is nearly the last, he discovers that he’s no longer able to hide his feelings for Serena.

No matter how “noble” he’s trying to be, and he thinks he is, he’s always loved her. He’s just never let himself show it.

At first it was because of their age gap. When he was a senior in high school, she was just a freshman. That gap is huge. When she was a senior in high school, he was in college – and away. Also a gap. The timing wasn’t right. When she came back to Bayside to work with him, they were both adults and both in the same place at the same time.

But her declaration that it was only temporary held him back. He didn’t want to get between her and her dreams. What he didn’t know was something important that Serena’s mother told her, that “what you wish for today may not be what you truly want tomorrow.”

So he never asks if she still wants that big city career more than anything else. And he never tells her how he feels. So when they finally begin breaking down the barriers between the friendship they have and the romance they both want, there’s more than a bit of confusion and anger on Serena’s side. It does feel like he’s messing with her.

But she’s committed to Boston and her new job. Over time both she and Drake become committed to figuring out how to make a long-distance relationship work. And then a miracle occurs, and they find a way to move forward so that they both get not just what they want, but what they need – and each other.

Escape Rating for Sweet Heat at Bayside: B-
Escape Rating for Bayside Heat: B+

Even though the story is the same, I think it does matter which version you read. And the steamier version just reads better. It’s not just about the sex. Actually, it’s not about the sex, per se, at all.

The series is about a group of 20- and 30- something who have mostly known each other forever, some of whom are siblings, who have met and/or recognized the love of their lives and have found their happy ever afters. Most of the ones who have paired off by the third book in the series are still newlyweds. They are all adults and there’s a fair amount of sexy talk and sexual teasing among the entire group. Both about who is and isn’t getting any, and how little anyone’s brother or sister wants to hear any details about their sibling’s sex life. It’s frequently funny and often a bit dirty and it all loses something in the translation when it has to all be toned down.

Also, one of the characters just has a potty mouth. Every time she means to drop an “f-bomb” and it’s changed to “frick” it drops me out of the story.

Part of Drake and Serena’s mutual seduction uses a lot of hot, steamy, dirty talk as foreplay. It’s as intelligent and as much fun as the eventual sex. At the point they are in their relationship, convincing themselves as well as each other that they are all in for whatever their relationship might become, seduction by words is every bit as hot as when they finally touch. It needs to be suggestive and naughty and dirty and the need to keep it sweet lets too much of the steam out of the room.

There is also one sexual encounter early in their relationship that is very sexy but does not include actual sex. It’s a scene where exactly what they did, and exactly what they didn’t, is a part of the emotional confusion between the two of them. Because the clean version can’t detail what happened, the entire scene is reduced to a single sentence – one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you go back and read the steamy version.

As a friends into lovers story, Drake and Serena’s romance is a whole lot of fun to read. While they do have a lot of baggage that makes the arc of their relationship finally make sense, it’s not so heavy that it can’t be lifted with a little help from their friends. The gang as a whole has really great chemistry, so even though this is Drake and Serena’s story and we don’t see how everyone else got together, they are still a fun bunch to be with and we do get a good view of how our hero and heroine for this story fit into the whole.

And even though I haven’t read either version of the previous books in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – except that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with these folks myself. We’d all like to have a circle of friends this tight.

In summary (I know I can’t say “in short” at this point) it feels like Bayside Heat is the better and more authentic version of the story. But for those who feel like they have already read enough “f-bombs” for their lifetime the sweet version does a credible job of telling this “friends to lovers” tale with plenty of love but a bit less lust.

For this reader, the next time I’m faced with this particular dilemma, I know I’ll choose the “full Monty” version for my reading…pleasure.

Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + Giveaway

Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + GiveawayFrenchman Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #6) by Suzanne Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #6
Pages: 374
Published by Suzanne Johnson on July 24th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The uneasy truce between the preternatural species of New Orleans has shattered, with wizards and elves, shifters and vampires—not to mention the historical undead—struggling for ultimate control of the city, including the humans who still think they’re atop the food chain.<

They aren’t, however—and the Summer Prince of Faerie wants them to know it.

Stuck in the middle? One unemployed wizard sentinel. For DJ Jaco, war makes for strange bedfellows as she finally embraces her wizard-elven heritage and strikes a deal with the devil so she and her ragtag band of allies can return to defend her hometown. After all, when the undead French pirate Jean Lafitte has been hired by the mayor as a consultant, things could go horribly wrong.

War is coming to New Orleans just in time for Mardi Gras, with the elves and wizards lined up on opposite sides, the shifters without a leader, the vampires promising loyalty to the highest bidder, and the soul of the Crescent City resting on the outcome of the civil war going on in Faerie between the rival princes of summer and winter.

Mardi Gras Day is approaching fast, the much-anticipated new Krewe of Enyo is not what it seems, and the line between friends and enemies grows thin as DJ tries to stave off open warfare between faeries on the St. Charles Avenue parade route.

Laissez les bons temps rouler…but be careful, or the good times might roll too close for comfort.

My Review:

When it comes to the life of DJ Jaco, the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” doesn’t begin to cover the level of trouble DJ usually finds herself in. A better description might be out of the conflagration and into the inferno. Or something about jumping from one hot circle of hell into an even hotter one.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonDJ hasn’t gotten a moment’s rest since Hurricane Katrina brought down the wards between New Orleans and the various realms of the Beyond – events that are detailed in the opening book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, Royal Street.

(BTW, if you are looking for urban fantasy that deals with Hurricane Katrina well and really describes the feel of the city both before and after, I highly recommend both Royal Street and The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. But I digress…)

Frenchman Street is the culmination of the series. All the chips are down, all the old alliances are in tatters, and all the old (and new) enemies have chosen New Orleans as their battleground.

DJ has been forced by circumstances as well as inclinations from what was originally a very junior position as a magical enforcer to the center of a substantial power nexus. She certainly did not start this fight, but she arrives in Frenchman Street determined to finish it, or die trying.

Not that death has necessarily stopped all of either DJ’s allies or her enemies. Ever since Katrina, the various preternatural factions have been lining up for a showdown. The only group firmly on DJ’s side are the Historical Undead led by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Jean will live as long as people remember him, and people in New Orleans will remember Lafitte for a long, long time. After their rocky beginning in Royal Street, Lafitte is the only powerful person on DJ’s side.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonThe elves are mostly backing DJ, but out of a kind of twisted self-interest after the events in Elysian Fields.

The Wizards’ Congress has declared DJ an outlaw to be killed on sight. Not because she did anything wrong, but because she embarrassed their leader more than his tiny “ego” could tolerate.

Most of the shifter population has either lined up behind the wizards or stayed scrupulously neutral. Except for DJ’s best friend, the merman Rene Delachaise. Meanwhile, the fae courts of Winter and Summer have chosen to battle it out for the supremacy of both the fae and human worlds – with New Orleans in the midst of Mardi Gras.

If the above sounds confusing, that’s because this is the final round in a six-book series, and all of the tension has been building from the very beginning back in Royal Street. If you’ve been following the series, Frenchman Street is every bit as satisfying a conclusion as beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the end of a fantastic night.

Escape Rating A: The Sentinels of New Orleans has been an utterly marvelous urban fantasy series from its beginning in Royal Street to its ending here on Frenchman Street. If you love urban fantasy and have not started this series, pick up Royal Street and settle in for a fantastic binge read.

Obviously, this is not the place to start the series. Some series are loose enough to be picked up in the middle, but this isn’t one of them. Now that the story is over, it is easy to look back and see that it has been one continuous story from beginning to end.

Part of what makes this so good is the worldbuilding. There is no place else like New Orleans. There are plenty of cities that are older, but there are few if any that have both the history and the gumbo of cultures that make New Orleans what it is. And it’s that melange that makes it a great setting. Many urban fantasy series use both vampires and shapeshifters. There are some that include the elves and/or the fae, sometimes as separate creatures and sometimes as the same species. The Sookie Stackhouse series certainly used all of these species.

But the Historical Undead in the Sentinels of New Orleans are something special. And New Orleans is one place that has the kind of long, crazy, colorful history that makes the concept work. The addition of Jean Lafitte as DJ’s frenemy turned flirtatious ally is a delight from beginning to end.

The other thing that makes this series so good are the characters. Not just Lafitte, or not even especially him, because he is not the point of view character. The person we identify with, with all of her faults and virtues and flaws and weaknesses and strengths is DJ Jaco. She begins as someone pretty low on the magical pecking order, but is forced to step up and become something very major. She’s the eye of the storm. And sometimes she’s the storm itself.

I personally enjoyed the way that, while DJ has a love life that frequently sputters, this isn’t a romance, at all. She tries, she fails, she trusts the wrong people, and she loves unwisely and not too well into the bargain. And she never gives up her essential self, no matter who or what tries to take it from her.

DJ’s adventures have been a wild, crazy, hair-raising, teeth-gnashing ride.

I’m going to miss her.

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

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Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett

Review: Imperator by Anna HackettImperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #11
Pages: 206
Published by Anna Hackett on July 10th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

My Review:

Imperator is the culmination of all ten previous books in Anna Hackett’s marvelous, universe-spanning Galactic Gladiators series. It brings this story to a fantastic, heart-stopping doozy of a happily ever after for the humans stolen from Jupiter station and the gladiators (and a few select others) who take these refugees into their hearts.

Even in a couple of cases where those gladiators weren’t actually sure they still (or ever) had hearts.

The series began in Gladiator when the slave-trading Thraxians exploited a temporary wormhole that led from Carthago on the far side of the galaxy to our own solar system. The Thraxians, being the bloodthirsty and evil slave traders that they are, attacked the station and kidnapped as many humans as they could, skedaddling back through the wormhole before it closed.

There may be no place like home, but there’s no way back home for the kidnapped humans.

As the series progressed, one by one, those humans were rescued from the slave traders and their illegal fighting pits by the gladiators of the House of Galen, led by their leader, the Imperator Galen himself.

The House of Galen discovered that the Thraxians and their allies were operating an underground fight ring, using kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and experimented upon fighters. At first the ring was literally underground, but when the gladiators discovered that set of pits, the masters of Zaabha moved to a floating arena, one that flies over the more deserted parts of the planet.

Imperator opens on the heels of the final events of the previous book, Cyborg. Galen and his gladiators have managed to free all the human captives save one, but at tremendous cost. Galen himself is stuck on the floating Zaabha, along with the one human woman that he has not been able to forget.

Galen would say that he stayed on Zaabha because he promised the human mates of his gladiators that he would rescue their friend Samantha Santos from Zaabha. But the truth is that he wants to rescue Sam for himself.

In the end, they’ll have to rescue each other. Not just from Zaabha, but from all of the guilt and demons locked inside their own hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I have loved this entire series. While I’m a bit sorry to see it end, I’m glad that the author left a glimmer of possibility for future stories in this world. There could be other captured humans that they have not found. Yet.

But this part of the story is done. The House of Galen and their allies have all found their happily ever afters with humans from Earth. And it was fitting that Galen’s story was the last – because he couldn’t let his own guard down until every single person under his protection had been taken care of.

And now they have.

Imperator is the final story in this series. Even if more kidnapped humans do turn up, this story ends this section. As such, this is no place to start the series. I’m not totally sure that they have to be read strictly in order, but I would recommend starting with one of the first three books, Gladiator, Warrior or Hero. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to read them all, but there’s a point in this series where things really build on the previous books – a point we’re well past by Imperator.

This book also includes a bit of, not exactly an epilog, but a few scenes where we see the present from each of the preceding couples’ points of view. And those scenes only have resonance if you know where everyone is coming from.

In all of the stories, and especially in this wrap up, those HEAs are very definitely earned.

And it’s fantastic!

Review: Unidentified by Anna Hackett

Review: Unidentified by Anna HackettUnidentified (Treasure Hunter Security, #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #7
Pages: 172
Published by Anna Hackett on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Unidentified contains two action-packed novellas starring sexy archeologists, feisty treasure hunters, and tough former Navy SEALs on the hunt for two priceless Incan emeralds.

The Emerald Tear: ambitious archeologist Oliver Ward leads a dig in the wild jungles of Ecuador and collides with feisty, independent treasure hunter Persephone.

Oliver Ward loves getting his boots dirty on fascinating digs, and investigating strange ruins in Ecuador is no exception. When bandits threaten his team, a small, tough treasure hunter bursts into his world to save the day. He finds himself captivated by the bright, vibrant woman and sucked into a wild and dangerous treasure hunt for a lost Incan emerald.

Daughter of a con artist, Persephone Blake trusts no one and has a plan—find and sell artifacts until she can retire on a white-sand beach. But her plans are derailed when a handsome, smart, and stubborn archeologist pushes his way onto her hunt. She finds herself irresistibly tempted by Oliver, and as they trek deeper into the jungle, danger follows. And Persephone isn’t sure what is in more danger—her body or her heart.

The Emerald Butterfly: former Navy SEAL Diego Torres finds himself helping the one woman who drives him crazy—the DEA agent who boarded his ship and handcuffed him.

Injured and tortured on a mission, Diego Torres was ready to leave the SEALs and loves being captain of his salvage ship, the Storm Nymph. As he begins his vacation, he planned for solitude, late mornings, and drinking beers while watching the Florida sunsets, what he didn’t plan for was the gorgeous DEA agent who boarded his ship several months before. And he really didn’t plan for an underwater expedition in search of a shipwreck and a priceless Incan emerald.

Sloan McBride’s grandfather dreamed of finding the Emerald Butterfly his entire life. Now he’s dying and she vows to find it for him…even if she has to work with the hard-bodied ex-SEAL she got off to a very wrong start with. But as Sloan and Diego work side by side, dogged by dangerous black-market thieves Silk Road, they uncover a scorching hot passion. They will do anything to protect each other, including calling in their friends from Treasure Hunter Security, and they’ll risk everything to beat Silk Road to the emerald.

My Review:

The stories in the Unidentified duology are wrapped around a pair of matched emeralds that were discovered or rumored to be discovered in the jungles of Ecuador. These two beautiful stones sat on matched statues at the entrance to a lost Inca Temple.

Naturally, such priceless treasures draw the eyes of the infamous Silk Road gang. But, as always, the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security are there to stop them – even before there actually is a Treasure Hunter Security.

The first story takes place in the 1970s, and it’s all about the 20th century discovery of the temple and the Emerald Tear. It is also the story of how archeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake, the parents of the THS team, found each other.

The Emerald Tear is a story where Indiana Jones is both Romancing the Stone and discovering The Lost City of the Monkey God. What’s even more fun is that the Lost City book is actually non-fiction, but the description still fits.

(For casting purposes, think of Oliver Ward as Indy, and Percy as a female version of the mercenary Jack Colton in Stone – not that Oliver is in the least bit as mousy as Joan Wilder – far from it!)

It feels like The Emerald Tear is the meatier of the two stories. We get Oliver and Percy meeting and falling in insta-lust if not insta-love. But they are just made for each other. Percy is scouting Oliver’s village dig and Silk Road – or its predecessor – is following her. She has clues to the location of the temple, and her clue (and Silk Road’s) is smack in the middle of Oliver’s dig.

Once they get together, the story, and their romance, are off to the races. Or at least off to the middle of the jungle on a dangerous and deadly quest to find the temple, the emerald, and the key to each other’s hearts.

Oliver and Percy’s story is a fast-paced adventure in a steamy jungle with just the right amount of equally steamy sex.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Tear: A-

On my other hand, the story when it picks up in The Emerald Butterfly isn’t nearly as compelling. In comparison to The Emerald Tear, The Emerald Butterfly is pretty but not nearly as riveting.

It’s not that the romance between THS operative Diego Torres and DEA agent Sloan McBride isn’t steamy and sexy, it’s the action that isn’t between the sheets feels a bit formulaic. Or at least obvious and predictable.

We know Silk Road are following, we know they’re going to do their level worst to take the Emerald Butterfly from our heroes, and we know that THS is going to swoop in and save the day, the stone and our heroes.

So this was fun but nearly as interesting or exciting as the first story. I wanted a bit more of The Emerald Tear but was more than content to finish The Emerald Butterfly.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Butterfly: B

Review: Sin and Tonic by Rhys Ford

Review: Sin and Tonic by Rhys FordSin and Tonic (Sinners, #6) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #6
Pages: 270
Published by Dreamspinner Press on May 15, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Miki St. John believed happy endings only existed in fairy tales until his life took a few unexpected turns… and now he’s found his own.

His best friend, Damien, is back from the dead, and their new band, Crossroads Gin, is soaring up the charts. Miki’s got a solid, loving partner named Kane Morgan—an Inspector with SFPD whose enormous Irish family has embraced him as one of their own—and his dog, Dude, at his side.

It’s a pity someone’s trying to kill him.

Old loyalties and even older grudges emerge from Chinatown’s murky, mysterious past, and Miki struggles to deal with his dead mother’s abandonment, her secrets, and her brutal murder while he’s hunted by an enigmatic killer who may have ties to her.

The case lands in Kane’s lap, and he and Miki are caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. When Miki is forced to face his personal demons and the horrors of his childhood, only one thing is certain: the rock star and his cop are determined to fight for their future and survive the evils lurking in Miki’s past.

My Review:

If you are a fan of this series, this finale is going to seriously cut you up emotionally. And if you’re not a fan, or at least not yet, I suggest starting with the first book, Sinner’s Gin. Be prepared for one hell of a ride.

This is also a giant hint that Sin and Tonic is not the place to start reading the Sinners series. This is where it ends, and the emotional resonance of that ending will be completely lost if you start here. This one packs a hell of an emotional wallop, along with the solutions to all the mysteries that stand at the heart of Miki St. John, but only if you go back to where it all began in Sinner’s Gin.

You might need one – or more – of the drinks that all the titles are based on before you finish.

In the end, this entire series is the story of one man learning over and over again to become strong in all of his many, many broken places. And that in order for that to happen, he needs to let people (and a dog named Dude) into his life and his heart.

In this series finale, Miki thinks he has everything he needs to step into his future, when his past blasts into his life and tries to end it, once and for all. And nearly succeeds, Again. But with the help of his lover, his new-found family and finally his old-found family, Miki is the one left standing.

After one hell of a lot of tragedy, there’s finally triumph. And a happy ending.

Escape Rating B+: As much as loved Sin and Tonic, and in fact the entire Sinners series, I also have to admit that the first 2/3 of this book wasn’t as absorbing as some of the other books in the series, and I think that has to do with its length and what it took to make it as long as it was.

And it feels long. I have an eARC in my kindle app, and at 5156 kindle locations, this book is considerably longer than the 270 pages that Goodreads and Amazon claim that it is. I’d estimate that it is closer to 400 pages if not more. And as much as I hate to admit this, too much of those extra 130 or so pages is sex. While I enjoy a good sex scene as much as the next romance reader, for me at least there is a limit to how much of other people’s sex lives I find interesting. I was completely invested in solving the riddle of Miki’s origins and all of the truly awful things that have happened to him, and the sheer volume of sex scenes got in my way.

It’s not that each individual scene isn’t well written, because they are. But there were so many that they got in the way of the story. At least for me. Your mileage, and certainly Miki and Kane’s mileage, definitely may vary.

However, and in this case it’s a great big however, once past that ⅔ mark, the story kicks into high gear with a series of gut-wrenching revelations and a hail of bullets. More than one hail.

From the point where Miki finally learns the truth about his own origin story until the end, the story races in high gear from one crisis to the next, and the hits just keep on coming until the hitter is finally taken out.

That last third leaves the reader reeling, as all the secrets that have been powering this book, and in fact the entire series, are revealed and shot away, one after another. And that ending is glorious.

There is a tour for this book, and even though I’m not part of the tour, I loved this series so much that I can’t resist linking to it. I really want to share the love for this awesome series. So if you want to learn more about the book and the series, check out the tour. Rhys Ford’s site has all the details.

Review: Hell Squad: Manu by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Manu by Anna HackettManu (Hell Squad #16) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #16
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on May 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

When former berserker Manu Rahia lost his leg on a mission, he was forced to leave his squad. He knows his new role as head of the Enclave’s firing range and armory is important, but hates that he isn’t still out there fighting face to face against the aliens and protecting his brothers’ backs. But then one woman catches his eye. A no-nonsense woman dedicated to her job as head of security. A woman who seems cool on the surface, but who Manu is convinced is hiding more under her business-like exterior.

Captain Kate Scott dedicated her life to her career in the Army. Now she works hard taking care of security for the Enclave and its residents. She learned a long time ago that she isn’t a passionate woman, and that she’s better off sticking to her work. But seeing one big, bronze-skinned, muscled man at the range every day has her hormones going into overdrive. She’s never felt like this and she’s determined to get herself under control.

But when the aliens launch a viscous new attack, right on the Enclave’s doorstep, Kate and Manu must join forces to stop the raptors before more people get hurt. Kate will fight fiercely to protect her team and the base, as well as her heart. But Manu Rahia is a man who knows what he wants, will walk through fire to get it, and what he wants is Kate.

My Review:

It was a hell of a lot of fun to return to the world of the Hell Squad, even if – or especially because – their post-alien-invasion apocalyptic world would absolutely not be a great place to visit and as the situation currently stands I wouldn’t want to live there either.

When last we left our heroes, back in book 15, Levi, it was obvious that the alien Gizzida were working on yet another superweapon in their ongoing attempts to wipe out the remaining resistance fighters – our heroes – and cement their control of our planet – so they can strip the rest of it bare and move on.

We don’t get to see the weapon, whatever it is, in Manu’s story. Instead, we get to follow along as the plucky survivors of the Enclave deal with the Gizzida’s new and always deadly distraction tactics, as they do their level best – or is that their absolute worst – to keep the fighters penned into the Enclave so they can test their superweapons someplace else.

Not that those tactics don’t become readily apparent pretty early on. The survivors in the Enclave wouldn’t have survived this long if they weren’t really, really smart as well as very, very brave.

So unlike many of the stories in this series, Manu sticks fairly close to home. And that gives us a chance to see more of Manu, who was a member of the Berserker Squad along with his brothers Tane and Hemi.

(Hemi has already had his own book, and gotten his own HFN. It’s been pretty obvious for a while that Tane has his eye on his own, but he’s not ready. Or she’s not. Or both. Yet. Even if all the readers certainly are!)

Manu is no longer a member of the Berserkers because the Gizzidas ate his leg. Well, they certainly took his leg and they probably ate it. His former squadmates went out – against orders – and stole a high-tech prosthetic for him, and he gets around the Enclave just fine. He’s now the head of their armory, and seems to have adjusted to his new life – sort of. He’s certainly good at his job, but there’s no denying that he misses being out with his squad and his brothers.

Being stuck in the Enclave has one advantage. He gets to see a whole lot more of Kate Scott, the head of Enclave security. And he likes everything that he sees – even if Kate isn’t willing to acknowledge the chemistry between them.

When they are forced to work together when the Gizzidas latest threat strikes much too close to home, it’s impossible for them to deny what’s happening between them. But they are both too independent or make that too stubborn and too battle-scarred, to let themselves lean on anyone else – even if that’s the only way to not merely survive – but to really live.

Escape Rating B+: I always have a good time with any of the author’s stories, and Manu was certainly no exception. I’m not sure whether this was just the right story for the right time, or whether it had been long enough since the previous book in the series (Levi) to make the established patterns pleasantly familiar rather than merely predictable.

One of the things that this author does very well in all of her series is that her heroines are always every bit as strong as her heroes, whether that is the same type of strength as it is here, or whether they are in completely different fields with completely different sets of strengths and weaknesses.

In this particular case, they are also both the same kind of stubborn. Kate is the kind of strong, driven woman that a lot of men, especially weak ones, want to tear down so that they can feel big. And she’s had enough of that. She’s old enough and experienced enough to know herself, and that she is who she is and that the core parts of her personality are not going to change. She’s never been able to lean on anyone, because too many people, especially men, will see that as a sign of weakness, and she’s never been able to afford to be weak.

I liked Kate a lot.

At the same time, Manu is still mourning the loss of his leg and the forced changes in his life, while trying to pretend that he’s completely adjusted. He’s used to being strong and can’t even stand the thought of being seen as weak. But when he wants Kate to lean on him when she needs to, she rightfully calls him on his BS. It has to go both ways, and that’s a hard adjustment for him. But definitely, definitely worth it.

Earlier, I referred to Manu’s brother Hemi getting his HFN in his book. For this reader, it feels as if HFN is the only option available for any couple in the series. Not because they don’t want to stay together or are not likely to stay together. None of these people are going to change their minds about their partners. It’s that the situation they are in is so fraught with deadly danger that HFN is all that’s available because “ever after” is far from assured.

Not that I don’t want to see it, because I really, really do. I’m still hoping for an Independence Day kind of ending (the original movie, not that horrible sequel) where the human resistance kicks the invading Gizzida off our planet in an explosive stand-up-and-cheer ending. And I hope that ending isn’t too many books in the future.

Review: Path of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy by M.L. Buchman

Review: Path of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy by M.L. BuchmanPath of Love: Cinque Terre, Italy Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Love Abroad B&B #2
Pages: 282
Published by Buchman Bookworks on April 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

-a Love Abroad B&B romance-

Welcome to the Cinque Terre, the jewel of the Italian Coast. In shades of warm gold, apricot, and peach, these remote stone villages face the Mediterranean. Their narrow cobbled streets are car-free. Instead they’re filled with soft sunlight and hope.

Erica Barnett always dreamed of visiting Italy. But she never planned to arrive alone and devastated. Putting her life back together ranks as a distant second to the priority of fixing her heart.

Ridley Claremont III, wealthy son of a Californian vintner and his trophy wife, discovers the shallowness of his life when his parents are killed in a car wreck. Seeking forgetfulness on a motorcycle driving the European backroads, he stumbles into the tiny cliffside town of Corniglia. Vibrant life greets him around every corner: food and flowers, gelato and friendship. And the wine, most especially the wine.

A man who never faced himself and a woman who finally has, meet in the only place they can. Along the Via dell’Amore, the Path of Love, in Cinque Terre, Italy.

My Review:

I was still looking for light and fluffy after those two epic grimdarks earlier this week, and while M.L. Buchman’s military romances don’t quite qualify as “light and fluffy”, with their HEAs they are still lighter and fluffier than my week began. And this isn’t a military romance, it’s a contemporary. I’ve only read one of his contemporary romances (so far) and that was a real treat. It was Off the Leash if you are in the mood for a light and fluffy romance with just a hint of suspense.

Today’s little gem, in spite of its absolute mouthful of a title, is indeed a light and fluffy little treat, with just a tiny bit of serious mixed in to give it just the right hint of bittersweet to make the HEA feel earned. And it ends with a teensy bit of Brigadoon-type magic.

The story here is about two lost people finding themselves on the Via dell’Amore (that’s Path of Love in English)  in the area of Italy known as Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera. In other words, the places named in this book really exist, except for one, the little Bed and Breakfast and attached bar called Il Cane, named for a dog named Snoop. Not Snoopy, just Snoop.

Erica Barnett and Ridley Claremont III are both on voyages of discovery – even if neither of them thinks of their Italian peregrinations quite that way. Erica is fleeing the loss of her job and the breakup of her relationship with her boss. Her married boss. Ridley is running away from his grief over the unexpected death of his much-beloved mother. Both of them are convinced that they are running away, and it’s only after their separate journeys collide in the tiny village of Corniglia that they both stop running long enough to figure out that maybe all that running away has put them in the place where they belong.

Whether they belong there separately or together is just another part of that journey – the part that will be either the most heartbreaking, or the most rewarding, or even a little bit of both.

Escape Rating B: I was looking for light and fluffy, and I certainly found it, along with loving descriptions of the Cinque Terre region that made me want to book a vacation there immediamente!

Both Erica and Ridley ran away to Italy to lose themselves, although for much different reasons. Erica is at loose ends in so many ways. To a significant extent, she is angry with herself. She’s always seen herself as a smart and capable person, but she let herself be used and now she’s second guessing herself and trying to figure out where she missed the signs. She’s letting her doubts and her fears control her life, and she’s mad at herself for letting it happen and the self-doubt cycle is pretty vicious. Then she wrecks her rental car, gets stuck in Corniglia and runs right into Ridley Claremont III pretending to be a badass.

But Erica is the only person who seems to recognize it as a pretense. Not that Ridley doesn’t have bad-boy playboy written all over him, but the act doesn’t seem to reflect the man she keeps running into. He keeps telling himself that he’s the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, but can’t manage to leave either Erica or the welcoming little town. And can’t even think to himself that he might have found a love, or loves worth staying for.

But while Ridley flounders around emotionally, Erica gets over the self-defeat that brought her to Corniglia and emerges from her shell. Part of that emergence is due to her love affair with Ridley, but Ridley is the catalyst and not the real reason for the change.

So even when Ridley can’t admit to himself what they are to each other, and makes emotional hash out of both of them, Erica picks up the pieces and moves on with the life she’s figured out she wants.

It takes Ridley a lot of heartache as well as a significant amount of backbreaking labor to finally get on the same page. But it’s lovely when they reach it. Together.

If you’re interested in my little hint about Brigadoon, you’ll need to get the book for yourself. Or reach back to the first book in this series, Heart of the Cotswolds. That’s certainly my plan for the next time I need a bit of fluff!

 

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

a Rafflecopter giveaway