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!

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Review: Guardian by Anna Hackett

Review: Guardian by Anna HackettGuardian (Galactic Gladiators #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from alien slavers, former cop Dayna wakes to discover she’s host to a powerful alien symbiont, and the only man who can help her is the mysterious and dangerous casino owner, Rillian.

Dayna Caplan has dedicated her life to protecting others…and now that she’s no longer a captive at the desert arena of Zaabha, she desperately wants to help find the last of the other human women who were abducted by the Thraxians. But now she has to deal with the intense hunger and powerful new abilities the alien living inside grants her…and the person forcing her to confront her new reality is the cool, enigmatic, and far-too-attractive Rillian.

Rillian has wheeled and dealed his way to the top of the food chain on the lawless desert world of Carthago. He lets no one close and keeps iron-clad control on his life…which vital to keeping the lethal power within him in check. But one human woman—tough, stubborn, and fascinating Dayna—works her way under his skin, and he finds himself obsessed with protecting her. But as dead bodies start appearing in his casino as a deadly warning, dangers are closing in on them.

With their allies, the gladiators from the House of Galen, Rillian and Dayna find themselves fighting for survival on every front. On the hunt to find Zaabha and the lost humans, they will face murderers, slavers, and the deadliest of all challenges…the aliens living within them.

My Review:

One of the things that I absolutely love about Anna Hackett’s writing, and particularly in her Galactic Gladiators series, is the way that so many tropes get set on their pointy little heads.

In fantasy, SF, and so many fairy tales, the woman is the reward that the man gets for finishing his quest, whether that’s fighting evil, finding treasure or simply surviving. In the Galactic Gladiators series, it feels like the gladiators are the rewards that the human refugees get for surviving all the crap they’ve had to deal with since the Thraxian slave traders kidnapped them from Jupiter Station and took them back to Kor Magna through that blasted temporary wormhole.

While in most of the stories, the human is female and the gladiator is male, the reversed trope really isn’t reversed in the one story where those boots are on the opposite feet. The gladiator Saff is Blaine Strong’s reward for surviving the hellhole that is the underground fight rings of the planet Carthago. But it can also be seen that he is her reward as well.

But in Guardian, as in most of the stories in this series, the human is female, and the one native to the Kor Magna side of the galaxy is male. But as is becoming increasingly common (and a nice change), the male in this particular entry is not a gladiator. Not that Rillian, the owner of the Dark Nebula Casino (and possibly half of Carthago) can’t fight with the best of them, but his skills lie outside of the Kor Magna Arena.

Which hasn’t stopped him from banding together with the gladiatorial House of Galen to wipe out the illegal slave trade and the underground fight rings that it feeds. Particularly now that one of those rescued humans, former police detective and security officer Dayna Caplan, is in his care.

She came out of her ordeal with a symbiont bonded to her body, and Rillian is the only person who can help her – because he has a symbiont of his own. He also suffered through a bonding process that he wasn’t expected to survive. He’s willing to use his experience to help Dayna, not just because he knows what she’s going through, but because she’s the answer to all the questions that he’s never dared to ask.

But when the Thraxians begin targeting women from Rillian’s past and his present to keep him from helping the House of Galen, he knows that Dayna is next. And that he’ll destroy anyone who threatens what’s his – even if he has to let go of his much vaunted control to make that happen.

If he can’t keep control of his symbiont, he’ll become the kind of killer of which nightmares are made. But if he can’t let go, he won’t be able to save Dayna from everyone coming after her.

And he’ll never be able to save her from the most dangerous predator that she faces – himself.

Escape Rating A-: As I said at the top, in this series it particularly feels like the gladiators (and the other oh-so-hot alien males) are the women’s reward for surviving their one-way trip across the galaxy and everything that Carthago has thrown at them. Especially as most of what’s been thrown at them has been pretty damn awful until the point where they get rescued.

But even though they are definitely in need of rescue, it’s not because they are weak women who have turned into damsels in distress. Anyone in their situation would need to be rescued, as is shown by the rescues of both their male colleague Blaine Strong and the rescue of the big blue alien warrior Vek.

There are times when everyone needs a little help from their friends, even friends they haven’t met yet.

One of the other things I love about this series is that while it may be moving towards its ending, there isn’t anything integral to this world or the situation that requires that it come to an end. (Unlike the Hell Squad series, where as much as I love it I also need the catharsis of kicking the invading Gizzida off our Earth).

Although there seem to have been a limited number of humans brought to Carthago, the real limit to the number of humans is the size of Jupiter Station, which has not been established. There could have been more ships in transit that got scooped up by the Thraxians.

And there are plenty of innocents trafficked into slavery by the Thraxians and their allies the Srinar. The series could branch out into saving other people. Or another wormhole could temporarily open up.

Unfortunately, while it looks like the House of Galen will eventually take the Thraxians down, the underground fight rings exist because there are beings who are willing to pay for the deadly “entertainment” they provide. Which means that taking down the Thraxians is not a permanent solution, because there is no permanent solution.

This particular entry in the series is interesting because neither Dayna nor Rillian follow any of the usual patterns in this series, so far. And because it expands the different types of people who got captured from Jupiter and who help them. Dayna was a cop, and has no desire to become a gladiator. She wants to work security and solve crimes – it’s what she’s good at. And Rillian still wants to buy the other half of Carthago one of these days. A casino owner can always use more good security people, and Dayna is one of the best.

They are good together. Rillian is someone who, of necessity, keeps everyone else at a distance. Dayna needs to be let in. They drive each other crazy, at least until they figure out why they drive each other quite so crazy. They’re a great match. And they’re terrifically fun to watch.

I’m looking for more great stories from this series. The next one, Cyborg, is obviously going to add a cyborg romance to the mix. And I think we’ve finally met the woman who will match Galen himself. I can’t wait!

Review: Surrender My Heart by L.G. O’Connor + Giveaway

Review: Surrender My Heart by L.G. O’Connor + GiveawaySurrender My Heart: A Second Chance Romance (Caught Up in Love, #3) by L.G. O'Connor
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Caught Up in Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


Do you remember your first love in high school? What if you never stopped?

For decades, Katherine "Kitty" McNally has secretly loved John Henshaw, the man lying shot and unconscious in the hospital bed next to her. Then again, maybe not so secretly. Those closest to her, including her soon-to-be ex-husband, have suspected it for years. Their story ended with a gunshot wound the last time, too. Life seems to have taken her full circle, but only the dead know the secrets she still keeps.

Detective John Henshaw fell in love with his "Kat" the moment she became his geometry tutor in high school. When they graduated, he thought their future was sealed. Wrong. Enter life's nonstop curveballs. The worst two moments of his life were the two times he lost Kat. After thirty-five years and one failed marriage trying to forget her, he can't escape the fact that he's never stopped loving her. Maybe it's just his ego, but he could swear he sees a spark of love in her eyes every time she looks at him. That's what keeps him in the New Jersey town that holds his most painful memories. That's why he accepted his place decades ago as a family friend to the McNally sisters.

As John recovers from his hospital stay in Kitty's care, they slowly rediscover each other. This is Kitty's last chance to confront her past and rekindle their love--if John can forgive her once he learns the truth.

My Review:

Just as with all of the books in the Caught Up in Love series, be sure to bring tissues when you read this one. If you can get a cat to curl up in your lap for the extra comfort and snuggles, that would probably be good, too.

Like the previous books in this series, Caught Up in Raine and Shelter My Heart, the romance in this book is definitely a three-hankie special, as is all the drama that surrounds Kitty and John and the romance that was meant to be – but mostly never was.

In ancient history, when John Henshaw and Katherine McNally were in juniors in high school in the late 1970s, Katherine was one of the geeks and John was on the football team. Their worlds should never have collided, but John needed math tutoring to stay on the team, and Kat needed the money.

It was either a match made in heaven, a scenario out of Romeo and Juliet, or a little bit of both. It was certainly love at first sight. But John lived in what passed for the barrio in Summit, and Kat’s family owned a house where the rich folks lived.

Nothing about that situation was exactly as it seemed. John’s mother was Cuban, and even though he looks “white” he’s Hispanic and proud of it. Also not a dumb jock – he just missed a lot of school because of a family crisis and needed a bit of help getting back up to speed in trigonometry – and who wouldn’t?

Kat’s family may live on the rich side of town, and her mother certainly postures as if the family can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower, but the fact is that they are barely keeping their heads above water because one of Kat’s aunts is in a lovely but expensive care facility, and most of their income goes for her upkeep. Kat really does need the money.

What she doesn’t need is the way that her mother treats John, as if he weren’t worth scraping her shoes. Her mother does everything she can to push them apart, while her other aunt, Vera, does everything she can to help them together.

It all goes smash at graduation, not that it hasn’t been heading there for a while. Their relationship ends but it is never really over, and in spite of failed marriages on both sides, neither of them really moves on.

Their 35th high school reunion is coming up. It feels like they have one last chance to grab the happy ever after they denied themselves all those years ago. But only if they can finally let out all the truths they’ve both been holding back. Truths that will either bring them together, or tear them apart forever.

Kat can’t keep herself from betting on the latter – and she might be right.

Escape Rating B-: I loved Caught Up in Raine, and really enjoyed Shelter My Heart, but while in the end I liked Surrender My Heart, I also have some mixed feelings.

It may be that I felt some of this book a bit too deeply. When I read Caught Up in Raine, I got caught up in the older woman/younger man romance because the author did it so very right. I was Jillian’s age when I met my husband, and we have a similar age gap. Much of Jillian’s situation, minus the baby, felt real and right.

On the other hand, Kat and I are contemporaries. I was in college when Kat was a junior and senior in high school, so my memories of that time are very similar to hers, albeit in much different circumstances. The way that the late 1970s WAS felt so familiar.

But the romance between John and Kat, and the sheer level of angst and melodrama in their on again, off again relationship and history, sometimes seemed a bit over the top. John’s situation, while it had some pretty sucky aspects, was relatively straightforward. Kat’s on the other hand, had so much going on under the surface that it could have fueled several soap operas for months.

While the story is set in the here and now, we see their past in long flashbacks from both of their perspectives. John certainly has his own issues, but he mostly seems like a young man with his head on straight, in love with a marvelous girl whose mother is a complete bitch.

Kat’s side of the story is heavy with foreshadowing, to the point where there’s so much shadow that everything drags a bit. The reader knows the hits are coming, and is even able to guess what at least some of those hits are, so there are points where the reader, or at least this reader, was just waiting for her to get on with it already.

Kat’s big secret was obvious fairly early on, and it’s not one of my favorite tropes. To say anything else would be a huge spoiler – or maybe not if you figure it out as quickly as I did.

The contemporary parts of the story worked better for me. And I loved reading a hot romance between two adults who are in mid-life. Just because someone is over 50 (or 60) doesn’t meant they are dead and/or uninterested in sex or undeserving of love. A part of me wishes that the entire story had all been told from the contemporary perspective, without so much heavy foreshadowing in the flashbacks. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The sheer staying power of their romance is amazing, or perhaps it’s the power of unfinished business. That they never got over each other felt right. They never got to finish what was between them, so they never got past their shared past. That their families mostly stayed in touch provided a level of torture that most people wouldn’t go through, but John’s presence in their extended family over the course of the series has made this particular story highly anticipated.

In the end, I was glad to see them let all the poor cats out of all the suffocating bags, and finally get the HEA they deserved.

In my review of Shelter My Heart, there was one character I mentioned as deserving her own HEA, and my hope that she would get one in some future book in the series. I’m very happy to say that Lettie Soames will get her own HEA in Caught Up in Raven, later this year. I’m definitely looking forward to it!

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

I’m giving away an ebook copy of Surrender My Heart to one lucky winner!

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Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’Connor

Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’ConnorShelter My Heart (Caught Up in Love, #2) by L.G. O'Connor
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Caught Up in Love #2
Pages: 348
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


Two Weeks. One Life-Changing Proposal.

Devon, an ailing, young CEO-in-training due to inherit his dead father's conglomerate saves the day for Jenny, an engaged young woman on her way home to see her family. To repay his kindness, she agrees to be his date for his family's annual society gala and convince the board that he's healthy and going to marry. Two weeks are all Devon needs, and two weeks are all Jenny can give--until the stakes rise, forcing Jenny to answer the question: How far is she willing to go to save Devon's life?


Shelter My Heart is a Kindle Scout Winner

Contemporary Romantic Women's Fiction - New Adult, Billionaire Romance

My Review:

I picked this book because I absolutely loved what turned out to be the first book in this series. Caught Up in Raine was a terrific younger man/older woman romance, and if you like that trope I recommend it highly.

Although that book was Jillian and Raine’s story, the author decided to continue to follow the women in Jill’s family after Jill found her HEA. Shelter My Heart is her niece Jenny’s story, and the third book in the series will hopefully answer all the questions about whatever happened between Jenny’s mother Kitty (Jill’s sister) and family friend John Henshaw. We’ll see in a couple of weeks, as I’m scheduled to review that book, Surrender My Heart, in a couple of weeks.

But Shelter My Heart is Jenny and Devon’s story, and it’s a doozy.

As this story begins, Jenny is trying to rush all the way across the country to be there for Jillian when she has her baby. And things keep getting in her way. Not just the fight she has with her fiance on her way out the door, but even her airline connections are against her.

Jillian’s been rushed to the hospital, and Jenny is stuck in the middle of nowhere because her incoming flight and her outbound flight missed each other. It happens. But there are no coach seats on any of the remaining flights outbound, and tomorrow might be too late. Jillian’s is a high-risk pregnancy, and there are complications. Jenny needs to be there.

A knight in bespoke suit armor comes to her rescue, paying for her first-class ticket home. And, as it turns out, the seat right beside him. And that’s where our story really begins, with Devon Soames and Jenny Lynch on a plane together, discovering that they each have the ability to take the other one out of themselves, in spite of everything that is going wrong in their lives.

Jenny’s problems, in spite of the current scare over Jillian and her baby, are mostly either of her own making or completely beyond her control. She knows her engagement should be over, she’s just having a difficult time formalizing the ending, both to her family and to the douchebag in question.

She’s also lived through a lot of death. Four people close to her have died in the past few years, one every other year. And even though none of those deaths are remotely her fault, the events that surround the first one have made her feel cosmically responsible for the others.

Devon, on the other hand, is pretty much in the middle of a crap sandwich that isn’t his fault. But that white-knight syndrome of his won’t let him do anything but sacrifice himself and all he has in the hope of making things better for his sister and his invalid mother, if not for himself.

Jenny has the feeling that death is following her around. Devon, on the other hand, is very definitely dying. He survived cancer, but the chemotherapy he needed did a permanent number on his kidneys, and they’re failing fast. He needs a transplant to survive.

The problem is that pretending that he is completely healthy is absolutely required to keep his repulsive half-brother from taking over his late father’s company. And taking over that company is the only way to provide enough money to give his mother the care that she will need for the rest of her life.

Devon feels as if he has no future. And he might not. But meeting Jenny makes him dream about happy endings again – no matter how much he tries to convince himself that they are not for him.

Until they very nearly aren’t. The end. Almost.

Escape Rating B+: This is the kind of melodramatic, soap-opera-ish, angsty romance that you just want to eat up with a spoon. And I very nearly did – I finished in a day. As crazy as some of the situations are, there is a lot of heart in this story and I just could not stop reading until the end.

This is a story where pretty much everything piles on. There are so many points where it is angsty well past the point of melodrama, because just so much happens, and it is all a bit over the top.

And most of it happens to poor Devon.

Jenny did have a tragedy in her past, but it looms bigger in her memory than she is actually responsible for. And while her about-to-be-ex-fiance is a douche, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping Jenny from kicking him to the curb, with or without Devon in the mix.

Devon, on the other hand, seems to have drawn most of the rotten cards out of the deck. He is rich, and that’s the one thing that falls mostly right for him, except his wealth is threatened and may even be temporary.

Devon’s Dad was a real, honest-to-goodness (or make that honest-to-badness) douchecanoe of epic proportions, and it’s those proportions that Devon is dealing with, in addition to caring for his invalid mother, imminent kidney failure, and staving off a corporate takeover.

When Devon, who is not yet 25, was undergoing cancer treatment, douchecanoe daddy changed his will to leave the family corporation to Devon if and only if Devon was pronounced healthy and able to provide an heir to the family on his 25th birthday. If he dies, can’t pass a physical or doesn’t have a sperm count (Devon had testicular cancer, so this is more relevant than it seems), the company will go to his half-brother, who is an even bigger asshat than dear old dad. Which is saying something since said half-brother is the product of daddy’s adulterous affair, not a previous or subsequent marriage.

And oh by the way, this “boys club” arrangement completely disregards the existence of Devon’s twin sister, who is an absolute shark as far as executive material is concerned. She is a better CEO for the company than either Devon or the bastard, a fact which Devon fully acknowledges but that dear old dad refused to admit on account of her gender. Like I said, Daddy was a douche.

There also turns out to be enough corporate skulduggery going on to fill an entire season of a soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty, but it does mostly take a back seat to the romance between Jenny and Devon – even though he refuses to open up about all the shit that’s going down in his life until generally the last possible moments. Over and over again.

In the end, it’s the love story that carries this tale. The reader is caught up in the two of them, as they fall in love, and its the real deal, in spite of how brief a time they’ve known each other and all the crap that they are forced to wade through. You want them to find their HEA, even though Devon is frequently too boneheaded to let Jenny in.

His sister Lettie blames that on a combination of white-knight syndrome and testosterone poisoning, with an emphasis on the testosterone poisoning. She is often the person pushing them together, and definitely the one pushing Devon to reveal all before it’s too late.

Lettie really deserves her own happy ending. She’s earned it. And I hope the series extends long enough for her to get one. But wrap Shelter My Love and it’s story up in a very pretty, neatly tied bow. In spite of the long arm of coincidence, and the octopus tentacles of family greed and corporate shenanigans, this one is like dark chocolate, yummy and gooey with just that touch of bitter to make the sweet really pop!

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. Buchman

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. BuchmanOff the Leash (White House Protection Force #1) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: White House Protection Force #1
Pages: 210
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

-White House Protection Force Romance #1-

The White House Protection Force Saves the Day! Come meet the behind-the-scenes specialists who keep our White House safe—even while they lose their hearts.

White House Chocolatier Clive Andrews takes pride in the subliminal messages hidden in his State Dinner showstoppers. But there’s more than sensual sweets at risk when his heart begins to melt.

Sergeant Linda Hamlin left the Army after a decade of service. As the newest member of the U.S. Secret Service K-9 Team she expected flak. She didn’t expect to be paired with a misfit mutt named Thor. Together they face down bombers, master spies, and a teenage genius.

All of which might be manageable, if not for the handsome chocolatier who teaches her that a little indulgence can be a very good thing.

My Review:

This was so much fun!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened this book, but whatever it was, I was absolutely charmed by the book itself. The opening scenes sucked me right in, where Sergeant Linda Hamlin meets her new dog, Thor, as part of her final exam for the Secret Service K-9 corps.

Linda was just honorably discharged from the Army Rangers K-9 unit after over a decade of very meritorious service. Now she’s a bit burned out and totally at loose ends.

Thor is not what she thought she needed, and neither is White House chocolate chef Clive Andrews.

First there’s poor little Thor. I know it’s difficult to attach the name “Thor” to something little, but this mutt seems to have gotten the name as a very bad joke. He’s a mish-mash of small terrier breeds, and not exactly the prettiest mix of them either. He looks like a purse dog, and he’s not much bigger – maybe 30 pounds. That’s not just small for a police dog, it’s downright tiny.

But he comes with one hell of a training pedigree, if not much of an actual one. Thor and Linda bond instantly, and pass the final exam course with flying colors – much to the chagrin of the exam proctor.

There’s nothing about Clive’s job as a White House chef that should have him watching Linda’s final exam. But when the mysterious Miss Watson, who occupies a hidden office in the White House sub-basement and seems to be on no known org chart whatsoever, says go here and do thus-and-such, people go there and do whatever she said. She “asked” Clive to watch Linda’s final test, so he does.

And he’s instantly captivated.

As Linda gets settled into her new duties as part of the White House Secret Service, she and Thor find themselves in the middle of a case that begins with diplomatic repercussions, but just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along.

It’s possible that two career Japanese diplomats are attempting to smuggle explosives into or near the White House – but that makes no sense whatsoever. And the more that Linda looks into the things that don’t fit about that puzzle, the stranger things seem.

When the likeliest, but oddest, conclusion is that someone is planning to disrupt a state dinner that brings Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Philippine diplomats to the table to discuss the real-life situation in the South China Sea, there’s still no clue as to why, who, or what the purpose of the disruption is.

It’s only when Linda, with a bit of help from Thor (and Clive) figures out the who that the why and the what become clear. And in the process, Linda, who has never really felt she belonged anywhere or with anyone, finally realizes that she’s come home.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, it was way more fun that I was expecting, and I was certainly expecting good things. This is the second book I’ve received as a member of the M.L. Buchman Special Mission Review Team, and based on the two examples (the other was Big Sky, Loyal Heart) I’m really, really glad I’m in it.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!)

Big Sky, Loyal Heart turns out to be the precursor for Off the Leash and the entire White House Protection Force series, of which this is the first book. But many of Buchman’s series are loosely interconnected, from his first series, Night Stalkers, through Firehawks, Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch, among others. You don’t have to read them all to enjoy any one of them, but they are all terrific.

There are two plot threads going on in Off the Leash. One is the case that Linda finds herself in the middle of, and the other is her unexpected romance with Clive. Well, it’s certainly unexpected to her, if not to the reader after their first meeting.

While I want to say the romance is a bit of “opposites attract” the more I think about it, the less that feels right. Their careers are certainly nothing alike. Linda has gone from the military to the Secret Service, so effectively into yet another protective role that involves a lot of potential danger. Clive’s career is a totally peacetime operation – he’s a chef! But both of them are driven to be the best at what they do, and both of their jobs, in very different ways, are high pressure, high stress and frequently all consuming. They have similar perspectives on their work, even if the work is very different.

They also have entirely different feelings about love and family and well, feelings. While Clive has not exactly been looking for Ms. Right when he meets Linda, he is very aware that love exists and that families are built upon that foundation. Linda, on the other hand, was a poor little rich girl with a nightmare of a family, and is certain that love is merely a hormonal imbalance that will right itself with time. Their differing beliefs on love and even its existence become the shoals on which their relationship nearly crashes and burns.

The case feels just a bit made-for-television. It was a lot of fun to watch Linda figure it all out, but the resolution was just a bit over the top. We don’t really see enough of the villain or his motivations for the crime to make sense in context. Which didn’t make it any less interesting seeing the whole thing come together.

One final note. That secondary character, Miss Watson, absolutely fascinates me. A long time ago, when I read the author’s first book, The Night is Mine, I said then that the story reminded me of some of the best Jack/Sam fanfiction from Stargate SG-1. Miss Watson, on the other hand, reminds me very much of the inimitable character of Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the mysterious operations manager in NCIS: Los Angeles. Making the character of Miss Watson tall with her hair in a bun feels like the cosmetic equivalent of filing off the serial number. This is a character I am really looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of. She’ll never be the focus of one of the romances, except possibly in flashback, but she certainly is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I’d love to know more.

I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of this series. Off the Leash was both a heartfelt romance and a page-turning bit of romantic suspense. And Thor is a scene-stealer at every turn. I can’t wait for more!

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna HackettLevi (Hell Squad, #15) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #15
Pages: 182
Published by Anna Hackett on January 29th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a bad boy berserker collides with a spunky mechanic on a dangerous sabotage mission.

Levi King has always lived rough. Raised by a biker dad, he fought for everything he had—including being president of the Iron Kings motorcycle club. But when the aliens invaded, he lost it all. Now he wades through the muck with his fellow berserkers, fighting to protect the last of the human survivors. He fights hard and parties harder, and follows no one’s rules but his own. But then he finds himself fascinated by a mouthy, auburn-haired mechanic who isn’t afraid to give him a piece of her mind.

Chrissy Hagan survived months of alien captivity and now she’s found a purpose at the Enclave—as mechanic in charge of the armored Hunter vehicles. She keeps her babies purring…and hates every scratch the soldiers put on them, especially when a certain arrogant, cocky, and annoying biker is responsible. Did she mention annoying? What about tattooed, man-bunned, and far too sexy? Chrissy and Levi do more than strike sparks of each other…they start full blown infernos, and she isn’t afraid to use her wrench on his hard head when required.

But then a vital mission requires Chrissy to step out of the safety of the Enclave, and sabotage and steal an alien vehicle. Working side by side, desire burns white-hot. Levi discovers he will give everything he’s got to keep Chrissy safe and claim her as his…if they both get through the deadly mission alive.

My Review:

OK, we’re now 15 books into the Hell Squad series. And it’s still pretty damn awesome.

This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction romance series that will even work for people who don’t generally like post-apocalyptic science fiction. Like me. In a way, the series is kind of an extended version of the first Independence Day movie. The aliens have landed, and they are determined to wipe out humanity and strip the planet. (Or absorb humanity and strip the planet, as the Gizzida definitely have some Borg-like features).

Unlike the movie, instead of the happy ending where the aliens get kicked off Earth with extreme prejudice happening relatively quickly, and before all of the planetary-wide organization has been wiped out, the Hell Squad series stretches out over a relatively long period of time. At this point in the series we’re definitely a couple of years into the mess, and the human population has been decimated, using something closer to the original meaning of the term. But instead of one person in ten being wiped out, the results of the Gizzida invasion have been more like the other way around – one person in ten has survived.

The series focuses on one group of survivors in Australia. The inhabitants of the Enclave have been taking the fight to the Gizzida, and the aliens are determined to wipe out this last bastion of resistance by any means available. And they are unfortunately very, very inventive at thinking up new ways of targeting the remaining human population.

While all of the books in this series are definitely romances, there is an overarching story about the ongoing resistance to the Gizzida  as well as the neverending search for a way to kick them off our Earth. (I’m really, really looking forward to that story!)

In each story in the series, the romances have featured different people among the resistance. While the original story (Marcus) was all about the romance between one of the soldiers and the squad communications officer, as the series has unfolded the romances have featured every sort of person who would be needed to keep a place like the Enclave running.

In the case of this particular story, the romance is between Levi, one of the members of the Berserker Squad, and Chrissy, an ace mechanic in the equivalent of the motor pool. If it has an engine, Chrissy can fix it, armor it up and keep it running, no matter what.

But as a woman who has always worked in a man’s world, she’s kept her heart to herself. As someone who was once a prisoner of the Gizzida, she also highly values her freedom. That combination has meant that she keeps herself to herself, does her job, and is not impressed by the high-testosterone members of the Squads. Not until Levi breaches her defenses.

As with many books in the series, a situation arises where the noncombatant partner has to go on a mission that will put them directly in harm’s way. In this case, the Gizzida have flooded an area near their Sydney Airport base, and are obviously building something that they don’t want the humans to see. It’s up to Chrissy to help steal one of their amphibious vehicles and help drive it into the underwater compound so that the Berserkers can investigate at close quarters.

And of course the mission goes pear-shaped. Until Chrissy saves the day. And her man.

Escape Rating B+: The first third of this book, while a lot of fun, felt a lot like previous books in the series. A lot of patterns have developed over the course of the series and they are pretty easy to spot. Still fun to read, though.

Howsomever, at about ⅓ of the way in, the book suddenly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I have no idea why, but once I hit that point, I was all in for the rest of the wild ride.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the author keeps expanding the base. It’s not just soldiers, and the women are never damsels in distress. We see all the people who are needed to keep a place like this, and a resistance, up and running and taking it to the enemy. Every single person is busy, and everyone contributes something to the fight.

Chrissy is a terrific heroine for this series. Like many of the women, she’s both strong and vulnerable. That she was a prisoner of the Gizzida and was rescued gives her a different perspective on life in the Enclave. She never mourns what she lost in the invasion – only who she lost. But after her imprisonment, she sees every tiny luxury as a gift to be grateful for. And she is.

I liked Chrissy as a character quite a bit, as was happy to see her find her Happy for Now. All the romances in this series are all HFNs, not for the usual reasons, but because the Now is so precarious.

I hope to see them all become HEAs when the Gizzida get kicked back into space – or into Hell – for good. Hopefully in the not too distant future.

Review: Rogue by Anna Hackett

Review: Rogue by Anna HackettRogue (Galactic Gladiators #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on November 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing she expects is to be claimed by a handsome alien rogue. Rogue contains two action-packed novellas in the Galactic Gladiators series.

Information Rogue: arrogant information merchant Zhim doesn’t know what hits him when he collides with feisty human hacker Ryan.

Rescued by the humans and gladiators from the House of Galen, Ryan Nagano is working hard to piece her life back together. Her priorities are conquering her anxiety, recovering from her captivity, and using her exceptional computer skills to help the House of Galen decrypt alien data that could reveal the location of other abducted humans. That’s all she’s focused on. But when she needs help, she finds herself having to work with arrogant genius Zhim…and discovers that the two of them redefine the word explosive.

Zhim thrives on the need to uncover information and ensure his wealthy, carefully constructed life is exactly as he wants it. Then one infuriating menace of a woman blasts into his life. Ryan matches him skill for skill, drives him crazy, and worms her way under his skin. But forced to take her deep into Kor Magma’s shadowy hacker underworld, Zhim soon learns exactly what he’s willing to risk to keep Ryan safe.

Desert Rogue: prickly, independent human Neve doesn’t want or need any help…but a certain cocky desert rogue isn’t taking no for an answer.

Neve Haynes survived her abduction through grit and determination. She’s always made her own way through life, depends on no one, and is determined to achieve her own personal mission. So as she sneaks out of the House of Galen, the last thing she needs is help in the form of a tawny-haired, lean-hipped caravan master with more confidence and swagger than any man she’s met before.

Corsair is a man of the desert and leader of the Corsair Caravan. He listens to his gut and something about Neve draws him in. He can’t let her go off and get herself killed, but she’s the most skittish, strongest woman he’s ever met. As they trek deep into the desert on a dangerous mission to find a map to an infamous desert arena, they will fight side by side and be forced to depend only on each other to survive. And in Carthago’s desert sands, they will uncover a desire that burns hotter than the desert sun

My Review:

Unlike the rest of the Galactic Gladiators series, Rogue consists of two novelettes instead of a single novella. The stories center around a bit of a theme, in that both of the heroes are rogues – as much anti-hero as they are hero, and more in the mold of a rogue-type character in a video game than the gladiators themselves, who are straight-up tanks. Not just tanks, but definitely tanks, big and strong and hard fighters who can take a lot of punishment – even the female gladiators.

But worlds don’t consist entirely of straightforward fighters, not even worlds whose economy is based on old-style gladiatorial contests. Fortunately for the gladiators, these interstellar blood and sand games have lots of very high-tech healing operating in the background.

But the heroes of Rogue are cut from another cloth entirely. The first story features the information merchant and data-hacker Zhim, our second hero is Corsair, leader of the desert caravan that assisted in the rescue of the women re-captured from House Galen by the Srinar.

Zhim, the hero of Information Rogue, has been part of the series almost from its beginning. As Galen discovered that there were more victims from Earth than he first believed, he reached out to Zhim to help him discover who they were, where they were hidden and how best to rescue them. As the series has progressed, Zhim’s services have been in increasing demand, hunting not just for any remaining Earth captives but also for any other people or creatures who have been enslaved and need rescue.

He’s also figured out a way – a very expensive way – for the Earth refugees to “call home” – because they are stuck on the far side of a collapsed wormhole and can’t go home again. He’s been a lifeline in so many ways, and now it’s his turn to find the woman he belongs to, and very much vice versa.

While many of the stories in this series have featured opposites attract romances, Zhim and Ryan have much more in common than they have differences. Both are their own galaxy’s variety of nerds, hackers and info-junkies who lust after the latest hardware almost as much as they discover they lust after each other.

But it takes a lot for two people who both have serious trust issues to give anyone else the cipher key to their hearts.

In Desert Rogue it is Corsair’s turn to find his HEA. Corsair first appeared out of the desert sands at least as early as Champion, if not before. It is his caravan that Galen trusts to help rescue the women who were kidnapped a second time while under his protection. And Corsair keeps coming back to help as the gladiators find themselves returning to the desert over and over to rescue more slaves and break up more underground fight rings.

Neve Haynes is a fascinating choice for Corsair. She’s a very different character from many in the series, because she has a hidden agenda, hiding under yet another hidden agenda, and its hidden agendas pretty much all the way down. She was on the Jupiter Station as a corporate spy, and she’s used to hiding herself in plain sight and operating completely alone.

Now that she’s stuck on Kor Magna, her agenda has shifted. She needs to rescue her sister, who is still in the hands of the slavers. But as much experience as Neve has in operations under all types of deadly conditions, there are no deserts in space. Or in the corporate headquarters she used to prowl. She may want to rescue Ever all on her own, but she needs Corsair’s help to navigate the deadly landscape that is second nature to him.

It takes her a long time to realize that she just needs Corsair, and it takes him every bit as long to convince her of what has become, for him, an unalterable fact.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed both of these stories, but I wish that they had both been a bit longer. Not that I don’t always wish that Anna Hackett’s stories were a bit longer, but that seemed particularly true in this case.

If these were not part of an already well-established series, there wouldn’t be nearly enough setup to make the stories work. As it is, the romances still felt a bit rushed, especially in Desert Rogue. While Zhim and Corsair have both been around for awhile, and Ryan and Zhim have been teasing each other over their version of the interwebs for a bit, Neve was barely introduced in the previous books, and her backstory is so different from everyone else’s that I really wanted to know more of what made her tick and especially about her relationship with her sister, particularly as Ever is set up to be the heroine of one of the future stories in this series.

But I’m always happy to receive a treat from Anna Hackett, and Rogue was no exception. It made for a great Thanksgiving read!

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna Hackett

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna HackettFury & Darkness (Warriors of the Wind #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, paranormal romance
Series: Warriors of the Wind #3
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The Warriors of the Wind are the only thing protecting humans from a centuries-old evil, but with their potential mates, the Aurae, long gone, these alpha warriors are in danger of becoming the very evil they hunt.

Note: Re-release. Fury and Darkness contains two short, sexy novellas. These are re-released stories originally published as Defying by the North Wind and Claiming the East Wind. They have been updated and have new scenes and/or extended scenes added.

Fury: his new personal assistant is hiding more than just dangerous curves under her suit.

Billionaire Luca Venti is CEO of Venti Enterprises and the Warrior of the volatile North Wind. He is used to giving orders and being in charge, and as he hunts a deadly Tempest Wind in the heart of Venice, he refuses to ask for help. But the vice of rage beats within him, and when he discovers his new personal assistant is really a spy, his fury demands to be unleashed.

Rayne Santini was sent to monitor Luca, not to get involved with him and his explosive temper. But as she watches him fight the evil he’s hunting and struggle against his vice, she refuses to stand by and do nothing. But convincing the stubborn Luca to accept her help is the biggest challenge she’s ever faced. Drawn together, their white-hot desire threatens to burn brighter than Luca’s fury…and as his control crumbles, the only thing standing between him and destruction is Rayne.

Darkness: a man on the verge of succumbing to the evil he fights.

Skye Santini has lived her life in the shadows and hiding from the horrors of her past. Tired of always being afraid, she vows that now is her chance to make a difference. She will be the sacrifice to appease Soren Venti, the Warrior of the East Wind, who has succumbed to his vice of greed. The fate of the world rests on her slim shoulders.

Locked away in his villa on Lake Como, Soren has no memory of his identity. He is driven only by the whispers of greed to take, own, and possess…but then one small woman enters his domain. Mesmerized by Skye’s quiet beauty and hidden strength, Soren finds something he wants more than everything else. But a dangerous enemy is bearing down on them. The final Tempest Wind wants Soren to join him and rule the world…and he knows that Skye is the only thing standing in his way

My Review:

Fury & Darkness is the final book in the author’s re-release of her Windkeepers (now titled Warriors of the Wind) series, following Tempest and Storm & Seduction. The stories are all novelette-length, so they are short treats. And that’s a good thing, because this stories are interconnected, and you really do need to read the series in order to get the overall story.

Not that the individual romances in each story aren’t plenty hot and steamy on their own. Also with a bit of sweet. Think of them as lucious, sinful, hot dark cocoa for a cold winter’s night.

That’s a particularly appropriate image for Fury, as that story is all about the Warrior of the cold North wind, Luca, and his nemesis Caecius, the Tempest Wind of the Northeast. Each of Warriors faces a lifelong internal battle to keep the darker side of their nature caged, just as the Tempest Winds themselves spend centuries trapped in the bodies of horses and caged on the island of Isola.

But the Tempest Winds were freed in Tempest, and the subsequent books have been the story of each of the Warriors mastering the darker side of their own natures and re-capturing the Tempest Winds before they can spread their particular version of darkness through the even more susceptible human population.

The power of the Northeast Tempest Wind is anger, and under its relenting onslaught, Luca can barely contain his own. At least, not until Rayne Sinclair, descendant of the Aurae who once aided the Warriors of the Wind, comes to his aid.

Just as her fellow Aurae have aided, and fallen for, Luca’s brothers in the previous stories. Like Luca, Rayne is also a warrior in her own way, fighting both to save Luca and to defy her own mother, the leader of the Aurae. And especially to defend her sister Skye.

Just as each of the Warriors has fought to master their nemeses and protect their own brothers, their fellow Warriors.

It might be best to consider this series a “venti” sized cup of that hot cocoa, as the Warriors of the Wind are the Venti Brothers, Lorenzo (Tempest), Dante (Storm), Antonio (Seduction), Luca (Fury) and Soren (Darkness)

Darkness is Soren’s story as he fights his battle against his own inner demon, Greed. A fight that he nearly loses, until Skye Santini enters his life. They both have their own internal demons to fight. Only together do they have a chance.

And that’s the story of all of the Warriors of the Winds. Only together with their Aurae do they have a chance of fighting those internal (and external) demons. And only together with their brothers do they have a chance of containing the worst of those demons for another century or two.

Mankind has enough trouble fighting off the worst impulses of anger, lust, greed and pride, without having them jacked up by the Tempest Winds.

Escape Rating B: This series is just plain fun. Hot, sweet and naughty fun. They are each little treats, like the most sinful of dark chocolate.

The stories do follow somewhat of a pattern, but that works for things that are this short. They brothers all do resemble each other, not just in looks but also in attitude. That’s not a surprise. After all, they are brothers.

But the women are all delightfully different, and that helps to differentiate the stories. Rayne in Fury is a protector, and she feels like she failed with her sister. (She didn’t) But that sense of failure is what motivates her to defy her mother and help Luca. And it also powers her desire to protect Skye, and Skye’s desire to finally stand on her own feet, that begins Darkness.

If you are looking for a short and naughty treat of a story (or five) start by picking up Tempest and be blown away!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
Published by Anna Hackett on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. BuchmanWild Justice (Delta Force #3) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance
Series: Delta Force #3
Pages: 313
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc. on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

DELTA FORCE
The best counter-terrorism force on the planet.

SERGEANT DUANE JENKINS
• Elite Delta operator—explosives just make him grin •

AGENT SOFIA FORTEZA
• Top Intel Analyst for The Activity—thinks data is sexy•

The team must face their toughest mission yet: take down a massive human-trafficking ring and a corrupt Venezuelan spy agency—without leaving a trace.

Sofia and Duane.
In common: black sheep of extremely wealthy families, renegades against the status quo.
Differences: tactician vs. explosives expert, thinker vs. pure warrior.

Together: fight to keep their team alive, and their love.

My Review:

Wild Justice is a story with layers, like an onion. And also like an onion, some of those layers will make the reader at least sniffle a bit.

Like all of the Delta Force series, this is a story of a crack military team ghosting into someplace where angels fear to tread and governments fear to leave official footprints. Members of “the Unit” go in, they get the job done, and they were never there.

The series, which began with Target Engaged, is about one particular team of Delta operators. Not that they call themselves that. To its members, Delta is just “the Unit”, and they are the best of the best.

As this case begins, they are joined by an intelligence analyst from an equally elite but completely different U.S. Black Ops agency, one known only as “the Activity”.

Sofia Forteza has called in an operational unit to help her take down a Venezuelan military officer who is a local kingpin in the human trafficking cesspool. She’s found her dirtbag, she just needs help with the extraction as well as the rescue of the women and children he is currently holding.

What she gets is Duane Jenkins, nicknamed, of course, The Rock. He may not quite match up to the actor, but he gets damn close. Even more important, when he brings in the rest of his team, he trusts Sofia to have his back, and gives her just enough pointers to help her help him without ever insulting her capabilities or her intelligence.

And he helps her come down from her first field kill without thinking or acting as if she’s weak for any reason whatsoever.

Duane gives her respect, and Sofia is forced to admit that he’s the first man she hasn’t had to prove herself to, over and over and over, even within the top ranks of the elite units – or within her own family.

There’s something between them from the moment they meet, and it’s something that neither of them has ever experienced before. They are fortunate that their coinciding missions give them the chance to explore what it might be.

Even if neither of them believes that love is remotely possible. Not for who they are now, and not for what they came from. But just because neither Sofia nor Duane believes in love, that does not mean that it does not believe in them.

Escape Rating B+: Any reader who loves military romance should pick up the first book in M.L. Buchman’s series of interconnected books, The Night is Mine, and just binge. He starts with an elite SOAR unit, branches some of them off into an elite civilian wildfire fighting operation, and then links others to Delta Force. You don’t have to read all of them to get the sense of any individual book in the series, including this one, but they are all tremendously fun.

And Buchman has a gift for making sure that his female protagonists are every single bit the kick-ass warriors that his male protagonists are. And as they should be under the circumstances. But it’s not something that we see nearly enough.

Wild Justice operates on multiple layers. A big part of the story is the operations that the team takes on to help dent the human trafficking trade in South America. This part of the story is based on very real and very harrowing events. The civilian team they partner with is based on a real organization that works similarly to the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed.

In the middle of the operation, there’s also a romance. Of course there is. Unusual for this series, though, Sofia and Duane are both from similar backgrounds, both, in their own ways “poor little rich kids” who grew up with all the monetary advantages in the world but not much in the way of nurturing or moral support. Sofia had one person who had her back, her grandmother, the powerful owner of a premier wine-making company. However, she also had not merely a narcissistic and nasty mother, but also an abusive older brother.

Duane’s dad is a Coca-Cola executive, his mother is a high-powered attorney, and Duane is a disappointment to both of them. He chose to join the military to try to fix at least a few of the things that can’t be fixed with “a Coke and a smile.” They’ve never forgiven him, not that they ever gave much of a damn about him in the first place.

That both of them grew up as part of the 1% and chose a career in service to make a difference gives them something in common. It also means that Duane is not over-awed by the wealth of Sofia’s family’s winemaking empire – an empire that Sofia will someday inherit.

Although the course of true love never does run smooth, these are two people who plausibly have a chance, and also plausibly have a rocky road ahead of them. It works.

One final note. In the midst of the current #MeToo campaign, one scene early in the book had a tremendous amount of resonance. As part of a training mission, Duane and his Delta team, along with Sofia, take down a cruise ship being “held” by a Black Ops team from another agency. After the operation is over, Duane and Sofia overhear the “losing” team indulging in what is often dismissed as “locker room talk”. They are evaluating the women on the Delta team, including Sofia, by their physical attributes and discussing just how much they want to “punish” the women for beating them. It’s not just disgusting, it’s actual rape talk. Sofia wants to dismiss it. She’s fought this battle all of her life, and it never ends well for her. Her response is one that so many of us often make, that it’s only talk. That it doesn’t really matter. Or most tellingly, that it can’t be fixed.

What makes the scene stand out is the way that the Delta team does indeed “fix” it. As a unit. This is not something they will tolerate, not the men in the unit, and not the women. It’s a joint effort to make these assholes pay.

The physical payback meted out is relatively minor, but the response from the higher ups is stellar. Instead of dismissing the complaint, as we so often fear will happen, because it so often does happen, the perpetrators are punished severely with loss of jobs, loss of promotions, loss of assignments, retraining, black marks in their files. The authorities do what they are supposed to do, and what we always hope they do but frequently don’t. At the same time, there’s the very real world acknowledgement that the worst offenders will go out and offend somewhere else. The powers that be in both agencies can drum these bastards out, and get the word out to all their reputable contacts not to hire them. Which means that, unfortunately but all too likely, the less reputable outfits will hire them. But they have done everything they can reasonably do to pull the rotten apples out of their own barrel.

And that’s still a big win.