Review: Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Edge of Eon by Anna HackettEdge of Eon (Eon Warriors #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #1
Pages: 225
Published by Anna Hackett on December 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Framed for a crime she didn't commit, a wrongly-imprisoned space captain's only chance at freedom is to abduct a fearsome alien war commander.

Sub-Captain Eve Traynor knows a suicide mission when she sees one. With deadly insectoid aliens threatening to invade Earth, the planet’s only chance of survival is to get the attention of the fierce Eon Warriors. But the Eon want nothing to do with Earth, and Eve wants nothing to do with abducting War Commander Davion Thann-Eon off his warship. But when Earth’s Space Corps threaten her sisters, Eve will do anything to keep them safe, even if it means she might not make it back.

War Commander Davion Thann-Eon is taking his first vacation in years. Dedicated to keeping the Eon Empire safe, he’s been born and bred to protect. But when he’s attacked and snatched off his very own warship, he is shocked to find himself face-to-face with a bold, tough little Terran warrior. One who both infuriates and intrigues him.

When their shuttle is attacked by the ravenous insectoid Kantos, Eve and Davion crash land on the terrifying hunter planet known as Hunter7. A planet designed to test a warrior to his limits. Now, the pair must work together to survive, caught between the planet and its dangers, the Kantos hunting them down, and their own incendiary attraction.

My Review:

Edge of Eon is the first book in Anna Hackett’s new science fiction romance series, Eon Warriors. So if you’ve ever had a hankering to try SFR in general or this author in particular (and you should, she’s terrific!) this is a great place to start.

The Eon Warriors series is space opera type SFR, one of my particular favorites. Lots of ships, lots of planets,, LOTS of politics, and a big universe in which to tell both big and small stories. If you’re wondering exactly what “space opera” is, think of Star Trek. THAT’s space opera.

Star Wars is more space fantasy, but I digress. As usual.

Our heroine is coerced or blackmailed into what seems like a suicide mission. Sub-Captain Traynor is in the brig. Space Corps framed her to take the fall when her Captain – the son of a high-ranking admiral – completely screwed the pooch in a mission against the predatory, insectoid warrior-race, the Kratos.

The Kratos want to conquer Earth and crack it open like an egg – and they’re winning the fight. Earth just hasn’t been spacefaring long enough to be really good at space warfare – and it looks like they won’t have time to learn.

Unless they can get the highly developed and highly advanced Eons on their side. The Eons are humanoid, a close relative of the people from Earth. But their high advancement has included a whole lot of civilization that Earth humans haven’t mastered yet. Basically, when the Earth folks met the Eons, the Earthers exhibited all the worst flaws of human behavior at one go. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t smart, and the Eons closed their borders and told the Earthers to leave them alone.

Which leads us right back to Eve Traynor. Earth’s back is against the wall. They’re losing the war with the Kratos. If the Kratos win, Earth will be stripped and its people will be either dead or food. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

So Space Corps concocts the wild idea to kidnap one of the Eons’ leading ship commanders in order to get the Eons to help them fight off the Kratos. While this may seem like a bonehead play, when the people you are desperate to contact won’t take your calls it takes a big battering ram to get your foot in the door. Especially when you need to break down the door first!

Eve’s job is to kidnap Commander Davion Thann-Eon in order to somehow win the Eons’ cooperation, or at least get their attention. In return she gets out of the brig and more importantly has a chance of saving her planet and her people. Including her two younger sisters.

The kidnapping goes swimmingly, at least at first. But when the Kratos attack during the escape, it all goes pear-shaped really, really fast. Eve, Davion and the small skimmer she’s commandeered crash land on Hunter 7, a planet notorious for its rigorous testing of Eon warrior candidates. The Kratos are right on their tails while the planet attempts to kill them at every turn.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the case of Eve and Davion, it makes them stronger together. And it still might kill them.

Escape Rating A: I have been waiting for this author to return to SFR, and Edge of Eon was definitely worth the wait. It hit that difficult balance between building a consistent science fictional world and telling a terrific love story.

It helps that the story reminds me of one of the absolutely classic SF romances, Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. And that’s epic company to be in. While Shards does not start with a kidnapping, the plot of two space commanders from not necessarily opposing sides but certainly not allies who have crashed on a dangerous planet with little hope of rescue and fall in love along the way is a classic for a reason. It’s a plot that works, forcing two reluctant allies to bond together in order to have a chance at survival.

The kidnapping is a nice twist – and reminds me a bit of Quantum, the second book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series. That book also has the reluctant allies face a deadly planet scenario, with the protagonists each wondering if the other has betrayed them.

There are also a couple of classic SFR tropes built into Edge of Eon that are difficult to do well, but that are done quite well in this story.

The Eons have a population problem. Or rather, a procreation problem that leads to a population problem. The warriors are only fertile with their “fated mates”, and true matings have become very rare. Science has found a way around the problem through in vitro fertilization of scientifically selected genetic material, but it’s not an ideal solution for an entire species.

So the Eon Warriors need to increase their pool of potential partners in order to find their true mates. This is jokingly referred to as the “Mars needs women” trope. And when they do find them,  because of the way things are set up in this story, that’s the “fated mate” trope.

Of course, in our story, Eve and Davion turn out to be true mates. A fact which is going to sooner or later in the series lead to somebody figuring out that Earth is a potential source for mates for the Eons, giving the two species a reason to get together to fight the Kratos.

So far, this aspect is done subtly, but it’s definitely there. And it’s an aspect that has the potential to grow as the series progresses.

The fated mate trope can lead to insta-love, and if done poorly tends to feel a bit like an arranged marriage where the participants don’t really have a choice about who they mate with.

While Eve and Davion do fall for each other rather quickly, the circumstances that they have found themselves in do lead to fast bonding without the fated mate issue. That they don’t even guess that they might be true mates until after they have already fallen for each other keeps the fated mate situation from being too heavy handed.

But what really sells the story are the characters. We empathize with Eve and the rock and the hard place she’s caught between. Unfortunately it is also all too easy to see how a hide-bound bureaucracy turns into an “old soldier’s club” where children of the elite accrue favors they have not earned and people like Eve get the shaft. Or the cell.

That Davion falls for this tough, competent and dangerous woman makes sense. She’s someone who can meet him as an equal, and there are very few people who can do that, whether male or female. Forced to rely on each other, it’s not a surprise that they fall for each other, even if it does happen just a bit fast.

That the underhanded and desperate dealings of Eve’s Space Corps also set the scenarios for books 2 and 3 in this series makes perfect sense. I can’t wait for Touch of Eon in January to see how it all begins to play out.,

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #3
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on November 11th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like. But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

My Review:

I’ve always said that this series reminded me of Stargate. I had to laugh out loud when they headed to Denver, the home of the Cheyenne Mountain Base. There may not be a Stargate in the mountain, but as many artifacts as Team 52 has turned up so far, you never know!

This story begins when Team 52’s logistics expert, Kinsey Beck, is kidnapped from their in-town “Bunker” in Las Vegas. Her kidnapping sets off several chain reactions, reactions of all different kinds.

One is the chain reaction her kidnapping sets off in Smith Creed, one of the loners in Team 52. He’s interested in Kinsey, but as has been the case with the other heroes in this series, Smith believes that he’s too damaged to be good for Kinsey. Kinsey has more than few emotional scars of her own, and has assumed that her own interest in Smith is one-sided. Wondering whether or not you’re going to live another day has a way of focusing one’s priorities.

Although Smith tries to keep Kinsey at more than arm’s length, when the first snatch and grab turns into the second and eventually the third, he gives in to the inevitable – and Kinsey is more than willing to give in to him. She just doesn’t think it will last.

There are also some subterranean chain reactions, set off by the ancient artifact that Team 52 is forced to trade for Kinsey’s life. Someone seems to think that setting off earthquakes is the perfect way to get attention – and remake the world.

Of course Team 52, with more than a little help from Treasure Hunter Security, is going to stop the villains from carrying out their nefarious plans – once they manage to stop everyone from kidnapping Kinsey!

Escape Rating B-: My favorite scene was when Team 52 meets up with Treasure Hunter Security in the THS offices, and Darcy Ward (co-owner of THS and heroine of Undetected) tell them, “THS badasses meet the Team 52 badasses.” What a hoot!

However, I also found myself thinking that for all the prep that the badasses of Team 52 do for their missions, they did a really lousy job of taking care of the security for their logistics manager. So much of what happens to Kinsey in this story happens because she wasn’t prepared. Not that she didn’t do fairly well with the hand that she was dealt, but she gets kidnapped so damn often because she wasn’t nearly well trained enough for a situation that seemed inevitable.

Some evildoer was bound to figure out that Kinsey was the weak link in Team 52’s security sooner or later – and they really should have bet on sooner. After all, it’s what they do.

As with all of this author’s work, I found the story to be a lot of fun, but it also felt like the cheesy factor lived up to the title. I’ve always found the titles of this series to be particularly cheesy, and this entry lives up to the cheese.

First, Kinsey gets kidnapped way too often. One of the things I like about this author is that she usually doesn’t resort to the stereotypical “heroine in jeopardy” plot devices. This outing got way too close to falling into that trope trap.

That being said, I still had a good time with Mission: Her Security – even if poor Kinsey wasn’t very secure for a good chunk of the book. But then, that’s why it needed to be a mission!

I’m looking forward to Anna Hackett’s return to science fiction romance in Edge of Eon, coming in December. OMG that’s next month! YAY!

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe KennedySeasons of Sorcery : A Fantasy Anthology by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy, Jennifer Estep
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance
Pages: 410
Published by Brightlynx on November 13, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

WINTER'S WEB BY JENNIFER ESTEP

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . .

 A WILDERNESS OF GLASS BY GRACE DRAVEN

 The stretch of sea known as the Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced.

 A CURSE FOR SPRING BY AMANDA BOUCHET

 A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves.

 THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER BY JEFFE KENNEDY

 As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

My Review:

Jeffe Kennedy seems to be participating in one of these fantasy romance anthologies every year, because that’s where I get them from. There’s always a story from her awesome Twelve Kingdoms series, and I’d get the whole thing for that alone. But the other stories are frequently awesome, occasionally even awesomer, so I’m glad to collect the set!

Seasons of Sorcery contains four fantasy romance novellas, all but one set in its author’s ongoing series.

Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep is set in her Elemental Assassin series, which I haven’t read – or at least not yet. The story takes place at a Renaissance Faire in an urban fantasy-type world where magic exists but seems to be mostly, but not totally, hidden in plain sight. As I said, I haven’t read this series, but I still enjoyed the story. The Ren Faire setting always provides an interesting backdrop for urban fantasy, and this story is no exception. I suspect that the story didn’t have quite the resonance for me as it would for readers who are familiar with the series, but it still worked well and I didn’t feel lost at all. I liked it more than enough to put this series on the towering TBR pile!

Escape Rating for Winter’s Web: B+

Although A Wilderness of Glass by Grace Draven is set in her Wraith Kings world, which I have not read, the setting felt awfully familiar. Only because it was. This story is set in the same town and among the same people as Night Tide, her fantastic story in Teeth Long and Sharp. A story that I loved.

I didn’t find this story to be quite as good as Night Tide, possibly because it was a bit too reminiscent of The Shape of Water. Albeit with a slightly different version of the happy ending. At least as far as we know.

Escape Rating for A Wilderness of Glass: B

There’s nearly always one story in a collection that doesn’t work for me. It’s the nature of collections that you get to sample authors you may not be familiar with, but might like because they are like someone you already do.

Not that any fantasy romance reader is not familiar with Amanda Bouchet and her terrific Kingmaker Chronicles!

But A Curse for Spring by Amanda Bouchet is the story in this collection that just didn’t work for me. Which is ironic because it is the one story that is not in a previously created world of any kind. For this reader, the problem with this story was that it felt too obvious. It seemed clear from the very beginning what was going on, who was responsible, and how the problem was going to get solved. I kept wanting the story to either just get on with it or go someplace interesting – but it did neither.

Escape Rating for A Curse for Spring: C

Last but definitely not least, The Dragons of Summer by Jeffe Kennedy. This is the story that I got this collection for, and it did not disappoint – although it did occasionally infuriate – but in a good way.

This story is set in Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. While it seems to take place directly after The Arrows of the Heart, much of the emotional heft of the story comes from its relationship to the heroine of her Chronicles of Dasnaria series. The long shadow cast by the lost Dasnarian princess Jenna still looms over her brothers Harlan and Kral. Neither of them know their sister’s fate, but both had a hand in setting her on her path.

It’s not just her brothers that are ignorant of whether Jenna is alive or dead. The final book in that series, Warrior of the World, is due out on January 8. I’ve never been so glad to have an ARC! It’s not so much that either the previous story, Exile of the Seas, or this short story end in a cliffhanger as that it is now obvious that Jenna’s fate is going to be the key that resolves EVERYTHING in both series.

It’s just the kind of ginormous wrap-up that makes readers salivate waiting for the next book in the series. But it also means that this story, of all the stories in the collection, is the one that really only makes sense if you’ve followed the series. And if you love fantasy romance and you haven’t read the series, what on earth are you waiting for? Begin your journey with The Mark of the Tala, and settle in for a marvelous read.

Escape Rating for The Dragons of Summer: A

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue (Team 52 #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Team 52 #2
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.

Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

My Review:

In this followup to the first book in the series, Mission: Her Protection, the circumstances are just a bit different but the outcome ends up being very, very similar. Archaeologist January Jones already knows who and what Team 52 is and does – because they “appropriated” an artifact from one of her previous digs.

This time she’s on her way to Area 52 willingly, because she knows that whatever her team has found its every bit as much their bailiwick as it is hers. Meaning that while the two solid jade orbs are certainly a priceless archaeological treasure, there is also something uncanny about them. They may be the key to the power of the ancient and secretive Snake Kings, but that key is also trouble that Team 52 is better equipped to deal with than she is.

A conclusion that is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt when her plane back to civilization from the jungles of Guatemala is shot down in the middle of said jungle by a group intent on killing her and taking the orbs. January is rescued in the nick of time by Team 52, who are equally intent on saving both her and the orbs – particularly Team 52 agent Seth Lynch, who is more intent on January than those orbs.

Seth and January have tangled before – on that previous occasion when Team 52 tried to take her artifacts first and talk second. January clipped him upside the head with a metal pipe in the process and no one has let him forget it. Not that he could forget. Something about January gets right under his skin and pisses him off every time they meet.

They dislike each other with an intensity that is clearly hiding a lot of other things that neither of them is ready or willing to feel. But sharing a near-death experience does have a way of stripping the inhibitions – especially when those are inhibitions that a person really, really needs to let go of.

In spite of the flare of heat that rises between them, they are coming from very opposite perspectives. January’s response to tragedy is to live life to the fullest, and feel things to the utmost. Seth’s response has been to emotionally cut himself off from trusting other people – and that includes January. That especially includes January.

A mistake that nearly costs both of them everything.

Escape Rating B+: I still find the titles of this series to be endlessly cheesy – however the stories are anything but. Unless one considers the cheese to be well-toasted over a very hot flame – because there’s plenty of heat between the hero and heroine.

At least so far, this is not a series where you need to read from the beginning. I enjoyed Mission: Her Protection a lot, it’s a terrific action-adventure romance – as is Mission: Her Rescue – but the stories don’t build on one another very much. There’s more of an introduction to the team and its work in the first book but not so much that a new reader can’t pick it up from context in this one.

Team 52 is also a spinoff of the author’s previous action-adventure romance series, Treasure Hunter Security. But again, prior knowledge of that series isn’t required for this one. There are a couple of mentions of people from THS, but they are minor mentions. It was enough to give a fan reader like myself a smile of recognition, but not knowing wouldn’t take anything away from enjoying this book.

The two things outside of THS that the Team 52 series reminds me of are Stargate and M.L. Buchman’s military romances, particularly his Night Stalkers series. Team 52, both the way that it seeks out previously hidden advanced tech and the way that its base operates – as well as where it operates – seem very similar to the Earth-bound parts of Stargate Command. There’s just no gate. Stargate also had a warehouse in Area 51 – right next door to the Team 52 operation and warehouse in Area 52.

The romances remind me of the Night Stalkers series quite a bit. Seth Lynch in particular is very similar to Colonel Michael Gibson in Bring On the Dusk. Both of them are secret operatives and both have serious trust issues. But the whole Night Stalkers series are military romance where the heroes and the heroines are equals in every single way, and that is the feeling that is also captured in Team 52. No damsels ever get rescued – they rescue themselves and sometimes they rescue the hero as well, and not just in the emotional sense.

One of the other ways that Team 52 resembles military romance as well as action-adventure is that all of the protagonists, both male and female are scarred in one way or another. Sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes both. These are all people who have been seriously carved up by life, whether because they live life on the edge or because their previous experience has pushed them that way. A big part of each story is the way that they make each other strong in their broken places.

That they often end up fused together by the heat they make together is icing on a very delicious cake!

Review: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe KennedyThe Arrows of the Heart (The Uncharted Realms #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #4
Pages: 297
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Karyn af Hardie is on her own, for the first time in her life. While all around her brace for war with Karyn’s former homeland, the Empire of Dasnaria, all Karyn really wants is to find a husband who will care for her. After all, she gave up everything for the chance at a normal family life with love and children. She has no way of supporting herself and the only thing of value she has to offer is her virginity. The last thing she’ll do is squander that on the flirtatious shapeshifter Zyr.

Zyr is fascinated by the golden-haired and exotic Karyn—but not enough to put up with all of her mossback rules. She’d be considerably happier, in his opinion for some good bouts of healthy sex. Still, that’s not his problem and he has plenty that is. His sister Zynda has disappeared, possibly never to return, leaving him with a mission to use the mysterious map-sticks to find ancient n’Andana and recruit help for a war they seem doomed to lose to otherwise.

Suspected as a Dasnarian spy, Karyn can’t stay in Annfwn while the defense is planned—so she’s sent with Zyr to assist on his desperate quest. If they can keep from killing each other, Karyn and Zyr might just discover they hold more than a map to saving the world.

My Review:

As our story begins in this fourth book in the Uncharted Realms series, Karyn of Hardie, the exiled former future Empress of Dasnaria, is adrift among the shape shifting Tala in Annfwyn – trying to figure out where she belongs and looking for a purpose to replace everything she left behind.

Meanwhile clinging to the rules and restrictions of her past that marked her as a pampered, protected, caged upper-class woman in Dasnaria.

Considering that the Tala have very few rules about behavior of any kind (I don’t think they have much past Wheaton’s Law), almost no respect for rank and very little consideration of privilege of any kind, Karyn is as completely at sea as anyone could be on dry land.

To add to her complete and utter confusion, she is being romantically pursued by Tyr, who would be a kind of prince where she came from, but in Annfwyn is just another Tala. And a seemingly feckless one at that.

Tyr has plenty of power, but he’s been a bit flighty for most of his life. Particularly when it comes to sexual conquests – not that the Tala have anything like the taboos and prohibitions that Karyn is used to. But Tyr has been fairly free with his favors for most of his life – while Karyn risked literally everything for the possibility of true love, real romance, permanence and eventually children.

She’s looking for normal, while Tyr seems to be looking for a good time. Unfortunately for both of them, life in the now Thirteen Kingdoms is anything but normal. Annfwyn and the rest of the Kingdoms are preparing for war. War with the evil Deyrr, and war with Karyn’s former home – Dasnaria.

The Tala are sorcerers whose power is based on life magic. The Deyrr are as far opposite as can be imagined. To call them necromancers is possibly an insult to necromancers. They’re really that bad.

But the Queen of the Tala has foreseen that the war is at a crossroads. In order for there to be even the possibility of victory, she must send Karyn and Tyr, together, into the heart of darkness. And hope against hope that Karyn makes the hard choice one more time.

Escape Rating A-: Like nearly all of the books in the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series, this book is absolutely awesomesauce. But also like many of the books in this series, and the spinoff Chronicles of Dasnaria series, it is not for the faint of heart. The treatment of women in Dasnaria is enough to give any woman flashbacks of one kind or another. And the Deryrr seem to worship evil as well as death. Anytime they show up, it makes for very hard reading. Necessary to the story, but hard.

This story is the fourth book in the Uncharted Realms series, which makes it the seventh in the combined series. That’s a lot of backstory. And while you don’t HAVE to have read the whole thing, if you enjoy epic fantasy with romance blended in, the series is definitely worth a read. Howsomever, the action in this particular entry is a direct followup from its two immediate predecessors in the series, The Edge of the Blade and The Shift of the Tide. How Karyn ended up in Annfwyn is a result of events in The Edge of the Blade, while Tyr’s emotional state follows from his sister’s actions in The Shift of the Tide. Neither begins this story in a good place.

However, I found Karyn’s actions and reactions much easier to understand after reading the Chronicles of Dasnaria, particularly the first book Prisoner of the Crown. In that story, we see how a woman very similar to Karyn was raised, or perhaps it should be phrased as brainwashed or conditioned. Having followed Jenna’s journey it’s much easier to understand why Karyn acts the way she does to the lack of strictures in Tala society.

And that’s what makes The Arrows of the Heart so much Karyn’s story. She’s the butterfly that has broken out of its chrysalis. And it hurts. So she has to decide whether to try her wings or retreat back into her “safe” little shell. Freedom is hard, and the choices she has to keep making to retain it are harder still. That’s what makes her such a powerful heroine.

One final note – I keep conflating this title with Mercedes Lackey’s debut fantasy, Arrows of the Queen. After having finished The Arrows of the Heart, that conflation is not entirely wrong. Although this book, is deeper and darker – as it should be. Lackey’s book was aimed at a young adult audience, while The Arrows of the Heart, and the entire Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series is definitely for adults.

But the part about a brave heroine being on a difficult mission for the Queen – well that’s true in both stories. And wonderfully so.

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Love That Saved Him by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 219
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He needed escape…

Suffering from the recent loss of his wife, Pierce Jackson leaves behind his corporate job in New York City and heads to the Klondike. There he meets Sarah Palmer whose eighty-five year old gold mining grandfather wants to lease the most dangerous part of Pierce's property. The last thing Pierce wants is to fall for Sarah. But as they start working together, a bond begins to form, and Pierce must eventually ask himself if he can overcome guilt and heartache and welcome the love of another woman into his heart.

And found a new beginning instead.

Sarah has a lot more on her mind than starting a relationship with her handsome new neighbor. But as she gets to know Pierce, she begins to wonder, what if? Encouraged by her matchmaking grandfather whose biggest wish is to see her settled, Sarah finds herself swept up in the most unexpected romance. But with shocking family history unfolding and a gold-mining expedition that could go wrong in so many ways, there's a lot for Sarah and Pierce to take care of before they can find their happily ever after.

My Review:

It’s also about the love that saved her. And it got me right in the feels, on multiple levels. On all the levels. I’m still reeling.

The cover for this one just looks so adorable, but the story is much deeper than it appears. This is one of those ones where not judging the book by its cover is good. Because the cover looks fluffy, and this is not a fluffy story.

It’s an excellent story, but not a fluffy one.

Both Pierce and Sarah have suffered from terrible tragedies. At 35, Pierce lost his wife to leukemia. It was swift and sudden and awful and a year later he is still in the midst of his grief and not dealing with it well. But what he is not is also in the midst of the tatters of the life they planned together. Once the dust settled a bit on her passing, he packed himself up and moved to the Klondike, to the land she inherited from her grandfather.

Whatever starting over he was or wasn’t going to do, he planned to do it far from New York City, their apartment, their career-driven lives, and the friends she left behind. And both his and her still-grieving parents. Because so far all they were sharing was pain, and Pierce just couldn’t.

Sarah Palmer has suffered her own tragedy. At 25 she is living with her grandfather, estranged from her parents, still grieving the loss of her unborn child and reeling from the drunken brute that the baby’s father turned into.

She’s still living in the midst of all her pain, because that’s where her grandfather lives, and his support and their work together are the things that have kept her going through everything.

Sarah’s grandfather Thomas is a gold miner. So is Sarah. They still exist in the Klondike (and other places) even though the easy, close to the surface stuff was gone long ago. There are plenty of smaller veins that were inaccessible but now are thanks to modern machinery. It’s those veins that Thomas and Sarah’s company tries to explore.

But the one place that Thomas Palmer has always been dead certain held a rich vein has always been out of his reach. It’s the ridge on the property that Pierce has just moved into – and for the first time in 30 years the lease on that land is available to him.

Just in time for one last hurrah – and a chance for Pierce, Sarah and everyone else in both their families to heal what’s been broken for far longer than they ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: For a relatively short book it’s a surprisingly slow-burning romance at the beginning. But then again, once you get into the story the romance turns out to be not the half of what’s waiting to be explored. And that’s pretty awesome.

One of the things that makes this story work is the instant closeness between Pierce and the Palmers. It could have seemed much too fast, that they were all too quick to trust, but it reminded me of my own experience in Alaska. In places that are remote and have relatively small populations, those “six degrees of separation” are more like three, or maybe two. And it happens surprisingly fast – as it does in this story.

The reason this story hit me so hard is personal. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so we’ve had to have the conversation about what happens if he ends up in the situation that Pierce is in, because that is the more likely scenario – although hopefully not for a long time yet. But still, this felt so REAL to me that it made my own heart hurt in sympathy with the character.

Part of what I loved about the story was the way that both Pierce and Sarah, coming out of their very different but equally difficult wounds, managed to reach towards each other so slowly and so carefully but still find a way through – and just how much of their respective family traumas managed to get healed in their wake. In spite of the blows yet to come.

The characters of this story, especially Thomas Palmer, are right. Life is too short to not take the time to say and do the things that need to be said. And in spite of the ever increasing height of my towering TBR pile – and the number of sniffles engendered by this reading, it’s too short not to take a couple of hours and fall into this book.

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

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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 with 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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