Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna HackettThrough Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #10
Pages: 183
Published by Anna Hackett on September 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A deep-space convoy master who demands everyone follow his rules discovers a stowaway on his ship: a smart scam artist who’s never met a rule she wouldn’t break.
Dare Phoenix runs his convoy with absolute control. In uncharted space, lives depend on it. When one plain, dowdy woman comes aboard, his gut tells him that something is off about her. Soon there are assassins on his ship, sabotage, and people dying, and Dare discovers his drab passenger is definitely not what she seems. Instead, he uncovers a smart-mouthed scam artist who defies him at every turn.
Dakota Jones is a survivor. Life has taught her that if you don’t grab what you want, someone else will snatch it away. Tired of having nothing, she’s stolen a map to the location of an immense lost treasure from Earth and she’s going to find it. Okay, so maybe stealing the map from a deadly terrorist group wasn’t her best decision, but now she just needs to dodge their crazy followers, hide out on the Phoenix Convoy, and find a way to decode the map. Easy, right? Wrong. As soon as she sets eyes on the sexy, in-charge Dare Phoenix, she knows she’s made a terrible mistake.
Dare and Dakota strike sparks at every turn…but with her life in danger, she reluctantly agrees to join forces with Dare to find the treasure. But every step of their adventure is dogged by danger, and the biggest threat they face is getting burned by their incendiary attraction. On this hunt, they will find themselves going beyond their depths, tested to their limits, and deep in uncharted territory.

My Review:

return to dark earth by anna hackettI’ve enjoyed every single book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series, from the very beginning At Star’s End to this latest book in the series.

And one of these days I fully expect to discover that the contemporary treasure hunting family in her new Treasure Hunter Security series are the direct ancestors of the Phoenix brothers – both sets of them.

The Phoenix Adventures are set in a gritty far-future post-diaspora galaxy. The mother planet, Earth, is still a nuclear wreck, explored all too dangerously in Return to Dark Earth

Humans have even interbred, or genetically engineered, some interesting hybrids, like Nissa Phoenix (nee Sanders), Captain of the Phoenix convoy flagship and wife to her former nemesis, Justyn Phoenix (see Beyond Galaxy’s Edge for the details on that story.)

In this latest entry in the series, Through Uncharted Space, Dare Phoenix and his brothers Justyn and Rynan are indeed traveling through uncharted space, leading a convoy to far-distant worlds, taking their passengers into the unsettled black where there is opportunity for a better life for many, and a chance of adventure for others.

For this branch of the Phoenix family, it’s a living.

But when Dare discovers that one of their passengers is much, much more than she initially appeared to be, the whole family gets bit by the treasure hunting bug yet again. And Dare finds that the troublesome package that Dakota Jones represents is everything that he’s been searching for – whether they find the treasure she seeks or not.

As Dare and Dakota at first resist but eventually succumb to the chemistry between them, the convoy detours into a search for a long-lost Earth treasure ship – and the waterworld it crashed on.

In order to get the treasure all that Dare and Dakota have to do is find a planet that no one believes exists, while dodging a horde of determined assassins who will let nothing get in the way of getting to the treasure first – and killing anyone who gets in their way. And Dakota Jones is first on their hit list.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I was looking for a book that would carry me away to its world for a few blissful hours – and Anna Hackett’s books always do.

at stars end by anna hackettThis is a long-running series, and I enjoy it every single time. Which doesn’t mean that there are not easily discernible patterns to the stories. Just like Eos Rai in the first book, At Star’s End, Dakota is hiding who she is and what she really wants in order to reach a goal that she fears the Phoenixes will steal from her. All the while hiding from someone much more nefarious in pursuit.

And both women have roughly the same goal, to find the location of a lost Earth transport ship carrying massive amounts of pre-diaspora Earth treasure. Eos, who has a brief cameo in Through Uncharted Space, found the Mona Lisa and countless Terran art treasures. Dakota is searching for the Atocha Treasure, which may be the treasure from the Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If it isn’t this actual treasure, the prize in Through Uncharted Space was almost certainly inspired by it.

One of the fascinating things about this series is the way that the stories link together, without absolutely requiring the reader to start at the very beginning (although it’s all awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)

In this case, the assassins hunting Dakota are in the employ of Nissa Phoenix’ brother, who is the leader of a deadly cult. We’ve run into him and his gang before, and we undoubtedly will again.

But the story here, as always, is the search for the treasure and the unexpected romance between Dakota and Dare. That romance is not unexpected on the part of the reader, but it certainly is on the part of the participants.

Both of these people have a whole lot of dark buried in their pasts. They both come from histories of extreme poverty and hellish abuse, and they both escaped. But neither believes themselves either capable of or worthy of being loved, and neither trusts outsiders at all. They have a tremendous amount to overcome, and nothing that happens in this story makes it easy.

But it is so satisfying when they make it.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Hostage to the Stars by Veronica Scott

Review: Hostage to the Stars by Veronica ScottHostage to the Stars by Veronica Scott
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Sectors SF #7
Pages: 164
Published by Jean D Walker on June 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He rescued her from space pirates ... but can he keep them both safe from the far greater evil stalking a deserted planet? Space travel without Kidnap & Ransom insurance? Not a good idea. University instructor and researcher Sara Bridges can't afford it, so when pirates board her cruise liner, she's taken captive along with the mistress of a wealthy man, and brought to a deserted planet. When a military extraction team sent to rescue the mistress refuses to take Sara too, she's left to the mercies of a retired Special Forces soldier, along as consultant. Reluctantly reactivated and coerced into signing up for the rescue operation to the planet Farduccir where he once was deployed, Sgt. Johnny Danver just wants to get the job done. But when the team leader leaves one captured woman behind, he breaks away to rescue her himself. As Johnny and Sara traverse the barren landscape, heading for an abandoned base where they hope to call Sectors Command for help, they find villages destroyed by battle and stripped of all inhabitants. A lone survivor tells a horrific tale of the Sectors' alien enemy, the Mawreg, returning after being pushed out ... Searching for evidence to give the military, Johnny is captured. He regains consciousness in a Mawreg cage-with Sara next to him. Death is preferable to what the aliens will do to them... And even if they do escape their captors, can they alert the military in time to prevent another invasion of the Sectors?

My Review:

star cruise outbreak by veronica scottI picked up Hostage to the Stars because I just finished book 5 in the Sectors SF series, Star Cruise: Outbreak and I liked it so much I wanted to continue with this world. I had a bit of a book hangover and wasn’t quite ready to leave this place yet. And since I was admittedly looking for a short book, I skipped over book 6 in the series, Lady of the Star Wind, although I’m enjoying the series enough that I’ll probably go back to it at some point. But the books in this series don’t seem to directly follow one another. It’s the same universe, but different places, different crises and different people.

Just as Star Cruise: Outbreak is closest in spirit to the first book in the series, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Hostage to the Stars echoes back to the third book, Mission to Mahjundar, reviewed previously over at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

But I’ll confess that I haven’t read Mission to Mahjundar, and that lack did not influence my enjoyment of Hostage to the Stars. While the hero of Hostage to the Stars was a secondary character in Mission, it’s been quite a few years and it wasn’t his story. The story in Mission belongs to Johnny’s cousin Mike. And that’s where this story begins.

Special Forces needs to reactivate somebody with knowledge of the planet Farduccir, and they aren’t very picky about who, or what condition they reactivate them in. It’s been 15 years since either Mike or Johnny was on the hellhole called Farduccir, and neither of them wants to go back. More importantly, after the events in Mission, Mike is now married and is wife is pregnant. It’s his cousin Johnny’s professional assessment that Mike has lost the edge necessary to survive in Special Ops, and that while Mike has commitments keeping him home, Johnny is expendable. He volunteers to take his cousin’s place, knowing full well that the mission has more chances of going FUBAR than not.

Especially when he finds out that the whole purpose of the mission is to rescue an up and coming planetary governor’s mistress from space pirates. And no, she is not our heroine, just someone caught in a lot of messy crossfire.

That Farduccir is now infested with space pirates is bad enough. That space piracy has become such a common business model, completely with pirates accepting insurance certificates for ransom to be collected later, shows there’s something rotten somewhere. This whole situation is a clusterf**k of epic proportions.

But while the extraction team gets the mistress away with no problem, on her way out the lady reveals that she was not the only human female in the compound. The guards have been torturing the young woman who was kidnapped with her. Said young woman, Sara Bridges, did not have any K&R (Kidnap and Rescue) insurance, so the pirates decided to get their money’s worth out of her by other means.

The extraction team doesn’t care about Sara, but Johnny can’t stand to leave anyone behind – even someone he hasn’t met yet. Until he either rescues Sara or determines that she’s beyond reach, he’ll stay and find her.

Sara is not only still alive, but still has enough spirit to be Johnny’s partner in a race to find out what really happened on Farduccir, and what is still happening. All the while heading towards a barely possible escape.

It’s a race against time and deadly hunters, gathering vital intelligence that must be transmitted to Johnny’s old bosses at any cost. It is not the place to fall in love. But only love can save them.

Escape Rating B+: Hostage to the Stars is wonderfully improbable, and it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Also from the first page to the last. I couldn’t put it down.

Johnny is every Sergeant in any military that has ever been. He knows the job he is supposed to do, and he goes in and does it. In Special Forces, he’s not used to following strict orders or a chain of command. He’s there to get the job done.

Lucky for Sera.

One of the fun things in the story is the way that the Service can reactivate both Johnny and Mike pretty much on a whim. And they do. One of the phrases that gets used in the story is the concept of “gravity” as applied to political power. The provincial governor has a lot of it, and can use it to put pressure on anyone, even Special Forces. At the same time, Special Forces is only willing to send a retired operative, not a currently serving soldier. And they do everything in a big hurry, because Mike has “gravity” on their home planet, and if he has a chance to bring it to bear he can get himself and Johnny out of this fix.

He needs it when he has to ride to Johnny’s rescue.

But before that we have Johnny and Sara, running across a desolate planet, trying to figure out what happened to all the people that were there 15 years ago, and trying to stay a half-step ahead of their pursuers.

It’s fascinating that the Special Forces have standing orders not to remain in contact with anyone they rescue. In the highly charged scenario of a hostage rescue, it’s not surprising that the hostage would bond with her rescuer, or even vice versa.

In this case, even though things proceed at a fairly rapid pace, it feels right. And it does take them several days, as well as a brief stop in relative safety, to finally act on their feelings. These are two people who both have a bunch of scars and a whole lot of PTSD, and who discover that they make each other strong in the broken places.

In addition to being terrific SFR, Hostage to the Stars would be a good story to introduce military romance/romantic suspense readers to the genre. While the interplanetary war and space service do add to the story, it’s also a well-done take on the hostage-falls-for-her-rescuer brand of romantic suspense.

I’m looking forward to going back and picking up the stories I’ve missed, and exploring this universe further.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Star Cruise: Outbreak by Veronica Scott

Review: Star Cruise: Outbreak by Veronica ScottStar Cruise: Outbreak: (A Sectors SF Romance) by Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Sectors SF #5
Pages: 240
Published by Jean D Walker on May 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She saved countless soldiers in the wars ... but does she have the weapons to fight an outbreak? Dr. Emily Shane, veteran of the Sector Wars, is known as "The Angel of Fantalar" for her bravery under fire as a medic. However, the doctor has her own war wounds-severe PTSD and guilt over those she failed to save. Persuaded to fill a seemingly frivolous berth as ship's doctor on the huge and luxurious interstellar cruise liner Nebula Zephyr, she finds the job brings unexpected perks-a luxe beach deck with water imported from Tahumaroa II, and Security Officer Jake Dilon, a fellow veteran who heats her up like a tropical sun. However, Emily soon learns she and Jake didn't leave all peril behind in the war. A mysterious ailment aboard the Zephyr begins to claim victim after victim ... and they must race against time and space to find the cause and a cure! Trapped on a ship no spaceport will allow to dock, their efforts are complicated by a temperamental princess and a terrorist-one who won't hesitate to take down any being in the way of his target. If anyone's left when the disease is through with them...

My Review:

wreckofthenebuladream_coverFour years ago, I reviewed Wreck of the Nebula Dream here at Reading Reality. And I loved it. The story is an action-adventure/science fiction romance re-telling of the wreck of the Titanic, released for the 100th anniversary of that real-life disaster.

The disaster on the Nebula Dream was every bit as crazed as the sinking of the Titanic – but only fictional lives were lost in the making of this story.

The author Veronica Scott has continued her exploration into the universe she created for Nebula Dream in her Sectors SF series. Book 3 in the series, Mission to Mahjundar was reviewed by Jo Jones over at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly back a bit closer to when it first came out.

I haven’t read any of the books between Nebula Dream and Star Cruise: Outbreak I don’t think it matters. I enjoyed Star Cruise: Outbreak so much that I immediately purchased the previous and the next books in the series. It did help that I had read Wreck of the Nebula Dream before Outbreak. It’s not that the characters continue, but as both Nebula Dream and Outbreak are set on cruise ships, the disaster and the resulting changes in regulations after Wreck, have some effect on Outbreak. But not, I think, enough to keep people from jumping right into the series at this point.

On the other hand, Wreck of the Nebula Dream was just plain good. So if you love SFR, why wouldn’t you read it?

Back to Star Cruise: Outbreak…the title does give a bit away. There’s obviously going to be an outbreak of something or something on this cruise. And it’s something all right.

Our heroine is Dr. Emily Shane, decorated war veteran, PTSD sufferer, and reluctant temporary Chief Medical Officer on the Nebula Zephyr. Her dad, also a doctor, pretty much diagnoses that the cure for Emily’s PTSD is to take what should be a paid vacation as ship’s doctor on a luxury starliner. And then he strategically makes sure she can’t refuse the posting.

Dad was right, even if a bit high-handed about it, but not quite in the way he planned. Serving on this cruise is the best thing that the “Angel of Fantalar” can do to find a way to occupy her time and energy – and the ship desperately needs a well-trained medic who won’t fold under extreme pressure to figure out how to treat the epidemic that breaks out among the 3,000 passengers on board.

At first, she thinks it’s a norovirus – and yes, that they are still around feels right. But when the disease mutates into more and deadlier strains, it is up to Emily and her makeshift crew to figure out the problem before it is too late. If the Nebula Zephyr becomes a plague ship, the captain will have to fly it into a sun to eradicate the disease.

Along with everyone on board, including Emily and the man she has come to love.

stardoc by sl viehlEscape Rating B+: If you’ve ever read Stardoc by S.L. Viehl, there’s a resemblance if you squint a bit. In both cases, it’s the doctor who saves the day, not any of the more traditional warrior-type heroes (or even heroines). This is a story where smart wins out over brawn. And also over a few cases of idiocy.

Let’s just say that a few of the secondary/tertiary characters are not just eligible for Darwin Awards, they actually manage to receive them!

But Star Cruise: Outbreak is Emily’s story from beginning to end. She’s a marvelous character to follow. While we don’t see the military action that resulted in her unwanted moniker, the Angel of Fantalar, we do see what she did to earn it – through the eyes of Security Chief Jake Dilon, one of the Special Forces veterans who is still alive because of her heroism on that deadly beach.

Jake has had plenty of fantasies about the woman who kept him alive, but none of them live up to the reality of meeting his “angel”. She saved his life, and now he returns the favor. Among the crew of mostly military veterans, he introduces Emily to people who understand what she went through and just how difficult the recovery is. He gives her space in which to find herself again, and to eventually, slowly, carefully, fall in love.

When the outbreak occurs, it becomes instantly clear that not only does Emily need the Nebula Zephyr but it needs her. The previous (and missing) CMO just didn’t have the skill or the discipline to handle what hits them.

One of the unanswered questions in the entire story is the fate of that missing doctor. It was necessary for the story that he BE missing, but not ever learning his fate is a gaping hole. Chekhov’s gun was on the mantlepiece, but no one picked it up and fired it. Which niggles at this reader more than a bit.

The process of dealing with the outbreak is gripping from beginning to end. Because this series uses different characters and scenarios in each book, it wasn’t necessary that everyone survive – and that wouldn’t have been realistic. So the tension is always high.

There are a lot of little stories within the big story that stand out – people who do their utmost to help solve the outbreak, people who fall victim, and people who survive. It’s their stories that make the tale so fascinating, even though the eventual solution was just a bit deus ex machina.

If you like SFR, if you loved the Stardoc series, or if the episodes of Star Trek Next Gen where Dr. Beverly Crusher saved the day are your favorites, you’ll love Star Cruise: Outbreak.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Trouble in Mind by Donna S. Frelick

Review: Trouble in Mind by Donna S. FrelickTrouble in Mind (Interstellar Rescue #2) by Donna S. Frelick
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Interstellar Rescue #2
Pages: 341
Published by INK'd Press on February 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

She couldn’t get him out of her mind—and that’s when the trouble started.
FBI Special Agent Alana Matheson is good at her job, despite a past that would make even a seasoned agent cringe. She has no time for the outside help the victim’s family has brought in on a kidnapping case, no matter how good-looking he is.
But galactic tracker Gabriel Cruz is no ordinary private investigator, and the skills he brings to the job will save both their lives. Because Lana and Gabriel are not the only ones seeking an unusual little boy and his mother. Their rivals in the chase are not of this world, and only an alliance built on the bonds of love can ensure that Lana and Gabriel beat the alien hunters to their prey.

My Review:

unchained memory by donna s frelickI read and reviewed the first book in this series, Unchained Memory last year on Reading Reality  and Weirde reviewed it in an issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.  I think I liked the first book more than Weirde did, but as always, your warp speed may vary.

I was certainly looking forward to seeing where the author took her exploration of alien abductions, from the perspectives of humans who remember the trauma, the aliens who exploit those humans, and the good guys who want to shut the whole thing down.

For those who love the X-Files, there are certainly elements of that kind of “truth is out there” mystery. Both that there really are aliens doing unspeakable things to us, and that our government is not only covering up that fact but also committing some unspeakable acts of its own.

The truth is out there, and it doesn’t want to be found.

The story in Trouble in Mind takes place several months after Unchained Memory, and uses the characters from the first story to hook us into the second. Asia Clarke is one of the few humans who is immune to both the alien and human mind-wipe process. (Retcon doesn’t work on everyone). Her husband is the psychiatrist who allowed her to access her hidden memories. Their adopted son, like Asia, is a survivor of the aliens’ experiments. His new parents just don’t know what experiments Jack was subject to.

As this story begins, Asia and Jack are kidnapped. None of the witnesses are mind-wiped, this action occurs in plain sight in broad daylight. The cops bring in FBI detective Alana Matheson to work the kidnapping. The presumption is that the husband is the real target, that he pissed off some bad people who are holding his wife and son as collateral damage. They are sure that if they dig deep enough into his past, they will find just where and how he’s “dirty”.

Ethan calls in Sam and Rayna, Asia’s interstellar rescuers from Unchained Memory. And they, in turn, bring in Gabriel Cruz, an interstellar recovery agent. While none of them are sure exactly who kidnapped Asia, they are certain that it wasn’t Ethan, and that it was connected to her time in alien custody. They also assume that Asia is the target, and that Jack just wouldn’t let his mother go.

They are about half right. The people who took Asia and Jack were just after Asia. But there are intergalactic forces right on their tails, chasing after Jack. At first, it doesn’t matter who is after whom, as long as Gabriel can track down Asia and Jack and retrieve them from their kidnappers.

Until it all goes pear-shaped. Gabriel falls for the cop, and his brothers come chasing after Jack, and him. And the fate of the universe turns out to be held in Jack’s small hands.

Escape Rating B-: I struggled with the first half of this book. There is a lot going on, and it didn’t feel clearly explained. We don’t get enough time with any of the various factions to really understand who is after whom and for what purpose.

Some of that is still true at the end, but the action in the second half is fast and furious enough that it carries the reader past some of the less-explained bits.

The story begins with Ethan, Alana and Gabriel as our points of view. The story they follow is pretty clear. Asia and Jack have been taken, Ethan wants them back, and because he knows more than he can possibly tell the cops, he brings Sam and Rayna in. The cops are rightfully suspicious of any of Ethan’s friends, and of Ethan. That the husband is responsible may not be true in this particular case, but it is the way to bet.

While Alana and Gabriel are still marking territory as far as who gets to do and see what in Alana’s investigation, we see two other points of view. A high-level government official on the planet that relies on human slave labor is planning a coup, and his assistant is secretly spying on him for the resistance.

And Gabriel’s half-brothers, who appear to be evil personified, are dragged into the case by that government official to track down Jack. Which means we have no clue about who grabbed Asia.

There is also a lot of unexplained and unrelieved evil going on. It’s not that Gabriel’s half-brothers are the scum of the galaxy, although they are, it’s that they inherited their scum of the galaxy gig from their shared father, and that they seem to revel in it. The older one at least comes off as evil for evil’s sake.

We also don’t see quite enough of the governance of that mining planet to get fully invested in that plot twist either. While the official is evil for aggrandizement sake, we don’t get quite enough there, either.

And we follow along with Asia and Jack as their kidnappers take them across the country, still with no idea who went after them. Because it wasn’t either Gabriel’s brothers or the Mining Planet Official.

All of the above setup felt like both too much and not enough for this reader. There wasn’t enough background for the various interstellar factions, but they were all unrelievedly grim. And brutally evil. Asia and Jack are in a deep well of loss and depression, because they are in the middle of being kidnapped and are certain of their upcoming death or enslavement. It felt like too many bits of awful stuff without hope or light or in some cases, much explanation or backstory. Gabriel and Alana are at the beginning of several long and nasty fights, because they need each other (and want each other) but are hedged about by too many dangerous and necessary secrets.

In other words, the first third or so was darker and grimmer than I like.

It all comes together in a place and a way that is surprising and interesting but again, not very well explained. When Asia, Jack, the kidnappers, the intergalactic scum and Gabriel and Alana all meet up for one final pitched battle, they are in the middle of Navajo country, and get help from the spirit world in ways that are difficult to follow, but ultimately result in changes for the better.

I think I understood more of what was going on at that point from my earlier readings of Tony Hillerman’s books than anything that was explained in the story. The last battle was epic, but the mythology and legends that set it up aren’t all in this text.

And on that other hand, part of the story is the triumph of not just good over evil, but also of love over hate. Not just Jack’s love for his adopted parents, but also the love that Gabriel and Alana find with each other.

SFRQ-button-vsmallMy joint review of Trouble in Mind with Norm Zeeman was published in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Bad Kitty by Teresa Noelle Roberts

Review: Bad Kitty by Teresa Noelle RobertsBad Kitty by Teresa Noelle Roberts
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Chronicles of the Malcolm #2
Pages: 202
Published by Samhain Publishing on September 22nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When you make the Devil's bargain, be prepared to take the heat. A lot of heat. Chronicles of the Malcolm, Book 2 Most of Xia's early memories are repressed, thank the Great Cat Mother. But her body remembers how to kill. The longer she and her fellow Malcolm crewmates are holed up on Cibari hiding from assassins, the twitchier she gets-until the planet's insanely sexy Warlord, Rahal Mizyar, borrows her skills to take out slavers. Rahal suspects Xia is his mate, but the human-raised female never learned the finer points of felinoid rituals. The solution: make her fall hard and fast for him, even if it means playing dirty. Hired to determine if Xia is the long-missing granddaughter of the felinoid prime minister, Cal Janssen has finally tracked her down. Getting past Rahal, though, is a problem-until he's mistaken for a notorious arms dealer and playboy. And he finds himself the object of both Rahal's and Xia's seduction. When their first mission brings Xia's memories bulleting back to the surface, she realizes she's fallen for two men who don't exist. Running away, however, could be her deadliest mistake. Warning: Contains an assassin with a swiss cheese memory, a badass warlord who's getting tired of his own con, and a freelance lawman. Secrets, lies, and hot sex with no rules.

My Review:

thrill kinky by teresa noelle robertsBad Kitty is the direct followup to Thrill-Kinky (reviewed yesterday). And while it helps in understanding the world of the space-freighter Malcolm to read both books, I think it would be possible to read Bad Kitty without reading Thrill-Kinky first.

On the other hand, why would you? These are short bursts of Firefly-type fun, and the worldbuilding gets deeper the further in you go.

Where Thrill-Kinky was mechanic Rita’s story, Bad Kitty is felinoid Xia’s journey. While it isn’t completely clear what Xia does on the Malcolm, it is very clear who she is. Mik and Gan rescued her after she killed her rapist, back when she was about 7. Mik and Gan are her dads, no matter who (and what) her birthparents might have been.

But in the big action scene in Thrill-Kinky, the now adult Xia begins to unravel the secrets of her life before Mik and Gan rescued her, and those secrets begin to unravel her. Felinoids, in spite of their generally cute appearance, are apex predators. They are very smart, with long retractable claws and very sharp teeth, and they like to hunt. But Xia is a special case. Somewhere between the death of her birthparents and her adoption by Mik and Gan, someone trained Xia to be an assassin. A very, very good one.

However, Xia had learned to suppress those bad memories, and not see everyone and everything as prey. The meditation techniques that Gan taught her have helped, but not enough. Now that the memory genie is out of the bottle, the darkness inside Xia wants her to feed it with more blood and more death.

Most felinoids learn how to distinguish prey from play when they are young. They are taught by their parents as part of growing up. But at that critical juncture, Xia was taught to kill instead. Her ability to keep her instincts at bay is fraying.

When the Malcolm lands on the lawless planet Cibari, Xia finds someone who can help her deal with all her felinoid impulses. The warlord of Cibari, Rahal, is an adult felinoid who strikes Xia as sex-on-legs. Rahal sees Xia as the mate he never expected to find. So while Rahal was more than willing to help his buddy Drax out of jam, he is highly motivated to protect Xia at all costs.

Little does Rahal or Xia know that the cat-girl is firmly fixed in someone else’s sights, and that her long-buried memories are about to jump out and bite everyone who cares about her. Especially the undercover bounty hunter who has lied his way into both Rahal’s and Xia’s hearts.

Escape Rating B+: Just like Thrill-Kinky, Bad Kitty is also a very-hot-sex-into-love story. Rahal and Xia (and eventually Karn/Cal) are definitely into the screw first and work out relationships later school of thought (or libido). There is plenty of insta-lust all around, but it works in this story.

Xia and Rahal are both members of a species that just likes playing, with anyone and everyone, in infinite combinations. Often with infinite diversity. Cal/Karn is pretending to be an interstellar playboy and arms dealer who is notorious for swinging every way possible. These three are just meant to fall into bed (or a pile of cushions) together.

As their stories combine, the play becomes more serious, and none of them are expecting it. Rahal is pretty sure that Xia is his mate, but Xia has no idea that the mating drive exists among her species. It’s a private thing, and she was raised by non-felinoids. But they all end up feeling it long before the drive is so all-consuming that rational thought disintegrates.

But the underlying story here is the story of Xia’s birth and origins. Cal/Karn comes to Cibari on a mission to bring Xia back to her grandmother. But something about the way that the job is given to him doesn’t mesh with the way felinoids operate. Something is off, and Cal/Karn decides to figure out what that something is before he takes Xia away from the only security she has ever known.

The more Xia remembers about her true past, the more heartbreaking her story is. The climactic moment when she has to decide whether to be the girl that Mik and Gan raised or the assassin that she was trained to be is surprisingly touching.

Her reluctance to reach for true intimacy, and to let go of the nightmares that rightfully haunt her sleep, gives this story its heart. The mission to take down the baddies who are after all of them gives the story its punch. And it’s fun!

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Thrill-Kinky by Teresa Noelle Roberts

Review: Thrill-Kinky by Teresa Noelle RobertsThrill-Kinky by Teresa Noelle Roberts
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Chronicles of the Malcolm #1
Pages: 216
Published by Samhain Publishing on May 12th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sexual freefall is like a game of chicken: except the first one to let go wins.
"Chronicles of the Malcolm, Book 1"
Humans may have expanded to the stars, but they still have the annoying need to work for a living. Which is why Rita, crew member of the space freighter "Malcolm," is stuck collecting recyclable slag rather than attending her favorite festival celebrating love and sexuality.
Things go from boring to interesting when she discovers a badly injured man who s been thrown into a recycling bin to die. The catch, he s gorgeous, winged, and "naked."
Drax Jalricki, reformed (mostly) art thief and reluctant covert operative, is on an undercover mission to protect three planets when someone in his own government brands him a traitor. By virtue of association, Rita and her crew are going down with him.
From their first, hide-in-plain-sight quickie, the erotic spark between Rita and Drax is fueled by danger and adrenaline. But their growing suspicion that there s more to their connection than lust may not matter if they don t live through the night.
Warning: Hero and heroine who straddle the line of criminal behavior and definitely violate public indecency statutes. Exhibitionist, dangerous sex. Dark, sordid pasts. Wild risk-taking. Giggly cat-girl sidekick who s not just another pretty tail. And the greatest risk of all: true love."

My Review:

For a TV show that ran for 14 episodes (plus one movie) Firefly is a show that is turning out to have a very “long tail” when it comes to influencing SF, particularly science fiction romance. And that the show’s influence seems to show most strongly in SFR rather than hard SF or space opera probably says something about its appeal and what fans see as its underlying strengths.

Getting down off soapbox now. Well, sort of.

Thrill-Kinky is the first book in at least two that the author has set in the future world of the tramp space freighter Malcolm. Malcolm, like the Firefly-class ship Serenity, is crewed by a bunch of verging-on-criminal misfits who mostly do good while occasionally carrying enough freight to barely pay the bills and docking fees.

bad kitty by teresa noelle robertsHowever, unlike in Firefly, the crew of the Malcolm is made up of multiple species, a polyglot that only gets more poly as the story continues through Thrill-Kinky and into Bad Kitty.

The captain Mik is human, but his first-mate/business partner/husband Gan is not. The mechanic (and star of Thrill-Kinky) is the very human Rita, but her best friend Xia is definitely felinoid. And the final member of the crew is Buck, an ex-soldier with a few mechanical body parts and a whole lot of PTSD.

The story begins with Rita out picking up garbage on a planet that sounds like Risa on steroids, during the planet’s annual festival celebrating sex and love. The entire crew of the Malcolm is partying except Rita, and Buck. Buck’s PTSD doesn’t like crowds.

Rita likes them just fine, but the slag she is picking up is a cash crop on a planet famous for its neuro relays. Supposedly they are paying extra to get the crap picked up during the multi-day festival. Of course, anything too good to be true, like the payoff they will get for this surprisingly simple and totally legit job, turns out to be not true.

Rita finds a Banjali tied up and severely bruised inside one of the dumpsters she’s supposed to, well, dump. Drax is an agent for his planet of flyers, and he’s on planet to prevent an interplanetary incident between his people and the local government. Obviously, he’s been betrayed.

Fortunately for Drax, the crew of the Malcolm and especially Rita are exactly what he needs to thwart the bad guys (and girls, and others) and protect the cultural artifact on loan from his planet. He was planning to catch the thieves in the museum red-handed (or pawed, or whatever) by flying in through the skylight and waiting for the baddies to show up.

Instead, Rita climbs through the skylight, and the cat-girl goes all predator on the assassin who is out to take Drax (or pieces of Drax) in. And while everyone chases down the baddies and tries to stay alive, Drax discovers that it is possible to fall in love in just a couple of days – if the person you fall for is wired to the same thrill-kinky strain that you are.

Will true love conquer all, or will Drax return to his planet, his people, and his suddenly boring life as a secret agent?

Escape Rating B: Thrill-Kinky is fun and surprisingly fluffy for a romance about two people who like to have sex while threatened with death and dismemberment. Rita and Drax both get off on being in danger, and the high that comes from surviving it. This is actually fairly normal for Drax, after all, his people have sex while flying. Both because they can and because it aids conception. But sex is distracting and flying is dangerous and the combination is definitely a thrill if your heart can take it.

The romance here is of the lust at first sight persuasion. Drax and Rita set each other off from the moment that they meet. That they are being chased by bad guys in a speeding (and shooting) vehicle just adds spice to their first encounter.

The plot device of the Malcolm crew needing to handle Drax’s assignment without his skillset or his high-end tech toys is a great way for readers to get to know the crew and just what they are capable of.

While the action, and therefore the thrills, never let up, Rita and Drax discover that they are made for each other in every possible way, except one. Rita is a spacer, and Drax is an agent for his planet and people, willing to give his life (which he very nearly does) to protect his home. Also the Malcolm is definitely on the low-end of space freighters, and Drax is very used to a high-living, “smoothstyle” life. Rita is pretty much from the wrong side of the tracks. And Rita is all too aware that whatever they have can’t last, and probably can’t even be real, because there isn’t enough time, and there isn’t going to be enough time, to make it real.

Unless Drax is willing to gamble his whole life for the ultimate thrill – with Rita.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Game of the Red King by Jael Wye

Review: Game of the Red King by Jael WyeGame Of The Red King (Once Upon a Red World, #3) by Jael Wye
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Once Upon a Red World #3
Pages: 139
Published by Capricorn Press on June 21st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

On a ship sailing to undreamed shores...
Martian doctor Sita Chandra left her rich and powerful lover Max Ross years ago to protect their child from his enemies, never thinking she'd see him again. But now she and Max are stuck together on a space ship traveling from Earth back home to Mars, and the passion between them is as hot as ever before--and just as dangerous.
Max has never forgotten Sita, or forgiven her for breaking his heart. Now that the beautiful, infuriating woman is back in his life, he can't lose her and his family again. But the shadows that darkened their past together may yet destroy their future.
When a madman targets Max for a diabolical experiment, threatening the lives of everyone on the ship, It will take all the skill and all the heart Sita and Max possess to survive his deadly game.

My Review:

ice red by jael wyeGame of the Red King is the short but slightly epic conclusion to the author’s Once Upon a Red World series. The series begins with Ice Red (previously reviewed on SFRQ and also here) and continues with Ladder to the Red Star (reviewed  here).

The setting is a future solar system, where Earth is overburdened and under-funded, and the future of humanity looks like it will happen on the advanced tech Mars colonies. Earth is dying, slowly but probably inevitably, and Mars is in the ascendant.

Earth has exploited all of her resources, where Mars and the asteroids are still untapped. Earth is also extremely polluted and at the bottom of deep gravity well, where Mars scientists have developed gene therapy to keep them from dying of radiation poisoning, and incidentally cure every disease from the common cold to old age.

The colonists may not be immortal, but they can be pretty sure of seeing their second century, and possibly even their third, if they keep up their “Correction” treatments. Correction has the added benefit of functioning as a Fountain of Youth, keeping their appearance in their late 20s to early 30s, no matter how many extra decades they’ve experienced.

In the first two books of this series we met Max Ross and his incredible daughters, Bianca and Devi. Max is the genius behind the Earth Space Elevator, but is possibly the worst father in the universe. In Ice Red, Bianca is nearly murdered by her stepmother’s goons, and in Ladder to the Red Star Devi is nearly murdered by her dad’s psychopathic ex-partner.

Dad is not very good at picking business associates. He’s been much too busy looking for new projects to conquer. His daughters seem to love him anyway.

So it is fitting in Game of the Red King when all of his past mistakes come back to haunt him, possibly to the point of death. It’s about time that he is threatened directly, after all the times his associates have tried using his daughters to reach his heart or his wallet. It’s been a good thing that his daughters have rescued themselves, because Max Ross’ possession of a functioning heart is certainly questionable.

When Devi brings herself to her dad’s attention, he had no idea that she existed. And now that he does know, it’s time for him to settle things with her mother, possibly his first and biggest mistake.

At the time Devi was conceived, Max was too busy courting partners for his proposed space elevator to recognize that Devi’s mother Sita was the best thing that had ever, or possibly would ever, happen to him. And he threw her away on the altar of his ambition. Now he’s angry that she hid his daughter from him for over 30 years, and she’s still angry that he doesn’t see that his own actions precipitated the break.

But even after 30 years, the fire between them is still burning. So is all the anger. And so is Sita’s fear that Max will love her and leave her again, without seeming to even look back.

Instead, the last vestige of one of Max’ ill-considered partnerships rises up from the past to finally put Max in the same life-threatening danger that nearly took both of his daughters. And it’s up to Max to use his genius to find a way back to the life he left behind, and the heart he never recovered.

Escape Rating B: Game of the Red King is very short, about half the length of the two previous books. A lot of the worldbuilding has already been done. However, this means that it is necessary to read the other two books in the series before embarking on Game.

I’ll also say that because it has been a while since I read the first two books, it took some definitely memory searching to figure out how this whole scenario fit together. I enjoyed the first two books when I read them, but they are a bit like cotton candy – they tasted good at the time but the flavor didn’t linger.

ladder to the red star by jael wyeIn the first two books, there was definitely a fairy tale theme going on, as the author attempted, with some success, to recast traditional fairy tales into a high-tech Martian setting. This was particularly apparent in Ice Red, but less so in Ladder to the Red Star. I didn’t see that theme in Game of the Red King, but maybe it’s there and I missed it.

I still really like both Bianca and Devi. While Max was a neglectful father, he also didn’t hamper Bianca, and Sita did a good job with Devi. Both young women are intelligent, and are not shy about inserting themselves where needed and making sure shit gets done. If they are fairy tale princesses, they owe way more to Princess Leia than Cinderella.

But the main story in Game of the Red King is Max and Sita. It feels like she did the right thing 30 years ago by leaving Max. He was a selfish and self-centered (also uncommunicative) ass, and he deserved what happened. Of course, his response was to retreat even further into his engineering and let other people (very, very unscrupulous people) handle the business aspects of his very lucrative company.

In every story, Max’s tunnel vision has come back to bite someone. First it was Bianca, and then it was Devi. It feels good that this time the person who gets threatened with death and dismemberment is Max himself, because it really is all his fault.

That he gets himself out with a whole lot of MacGyver and some timely help from Sita made a satisfying solution to his dilemma. Unsatisfyingly, however, is that his problems are caused by a villain who has tipped way too far over into bwahaha evil. And also into sheer nutjob territory.

All in all, though, a fitting conclusion to the series.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Honour Bound by M.A. Grant

Review: Honour Bound by M.A. GrantHonour Bound by M.A. Grant
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Lawmen of the Republic #2
Pages: 250
Published by Escape Publishing on August 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Lawmen of the Republic: fierce, honourable, soldiers, men. But what happens when all that they’ve been told turns out to be lies?

The wars to establish the Republic are over. The families of the Ton have risen from the blood and ashes to claim the new aristocracy. Their prodigal son, First Lieutenant Alexander Cade, is the Lawmen Academy’s youngest and most successful graduate. However, his muddied bloodlines force his exile to the Northern Wastes, the last unclaimed territory of the Republic.
Lailian scout Natalia Volkova knows that her survival in a rebel labour camp rests entirely on her iron will and killing prowess. Her fierce quest for freedom is tempered by only one thing: conflicting memories of the young Republic lieutenant who helped liberate her camp, and then returned to the fold of her people’s oppressors. She never expects that their paths will cross again – under very different circumstances.
Cade’s honour limits his choices to one: take his band of specialised Lawmen into the Wastes, and protect it and its people. There, he meets Talia, a tough, resilient refugee who holds little respect for the Republic and its laws. But as a deathly outbreak leads to a desperate race for a cure, Talia and Cade will find themselves on uncertain ground: What is right is not always obvious, and what is honourable is not always right.

My Review:

Lace & Lead by M.A. GrantI reviewed the first book in this series, Lace & Lead, all the way at the beginning of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, possibly even the very first issue. As part of the SFR Galaxy Awards, I also gave Lace & Lead an award for Best Space Western. I called it the Firefly in a Jar Award, because Lace & Lead felt a lot like Firefly, even though that isn’t logical when you break it down.

I never expected a sequel to Lace & Lead, and now that I’ve read Honour Bound, I’m still not sure I have one. Honour Bound is the second book in the author’s Lawmen of the Republic series, but there’s nothing here to reference the previous book. They can be, and according to the author they are, set in the same universe, but the perspective on this universe is so different in Honour Bound that there is no need to read Lace & Lead before embarking on Honour Bound.

Not that you might not want to – Lace & Lead was awesome and surprisingly complete for such a short novella. I want to say that Honour Bound is the icing on what was already a marvelous cake, but I just can’t do the visual on icing that is more than three times bigger than the cake it covers.

So, while Lace & Lead read like a space western, Honour Bound reads more like epic fantasy with a romantic twist. I certainly found shades of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera in the relationship between Cade and Talia, and also in its similarity to a fictionalized Roman Empire, but there was also a lot of political skullduggery, outright bigotry, and lots and lots of military tactics and action.

Where Lace & Lead reminded me of Firefly, Honour Bound feels more like Pern or Darkover, in that it is science fiction that feels like epic fantasy. There’s no magic, so it isn’t really fantasy, but there’s also very little high tech to push it into the military SF camp. What tech there is feels very contemporary, meaning contemporary to us now. I don’t see the kind of advanced tech that firmly grounds a story in SF. But this is definitely not our world, so SF it is.

The story in Honour Bound is about a system that’s gone to hell, as told from the perspective of a small group of people who at least at the beginning believe that the rot can still be cut out. Again, shades of an alternate Roman Empire.

Our hero is a man who has seen his world from both sides. While he is technically an aristocrat, his mixed race makes him a despised outsider to his own corrupt class. He has come to consider their hatred for him as the highest compliment. As a “prole” Alexander Cade is given the worst military assignments in the Republic, in spite of having been the top graduate of his class at the Lawmen Academy.

He forms a tight unit with the men he both leads and befriends, and uses an obscure law to make sure that they all stick together and watch each other’s backs. They survive when they are not supposed to, sometimes only by the skin of their teeth, or the skills of their medic.

Which brings us to our heroine, Talia. Cade meets Talia when he is part of the liberation of the labor camp that she was imprisoned in at the age of 8. The labor camps appear to be operated by the Rebel faction, and they are horrific. Talia survives by becoming a cage fighter.

After meeting Talia, Cade makes it his mission to eradicate all the labor camps he can locate. He is effective, but makes many more political enemies along the way. There is something very rotten at the heart of the Republic, when his exposure of the network of labor camps nets him more political enemies than it does praise.

The blueblooded upper class that he hates is making money from the supposedly Rebel labor camps, and does not want its gravy train disrupted.

But as we see Cade rise in rank and gain horrific experience, he is always searching for Talia. When they met, he was all of 19 and she was 13 or 14, but her fighting spirit inspired him to continue his lonely crusade for justice.

When they finally meet again, they are both scarred adults who have been through too much in their too short lives. But they are finally both ready for each other.

And in the middle of a war to save as many of the despised tribal peoples of the Northern wastelands as they can, Cade finds himself at a terrible crossroads. Talia is the only woman who will ever be his equal, but the Lawman’s code he swore to uphold states that she should be killed for having seduced him away from marrying a pure blue-blooded woman and maintaining the pure bloodline.

Exposure of their relationship will get them both killed, along with all the men in Cade’s unit. But his life isn’t worth living without Talia.

And is a system that would require that he kill the woman he loves just because of her mixed race worth spilling his own blood for? Is the Republic he serves worth saving?

Escape Rating A-: Honour Bound was marvelous. Up until 3 am marvelous. The only reason I didn’t finish was that I could tell they were about to experience something very dark and ugly before the end, and I didn’t want that to be the last thing I read before sleeping.

The revelations at the end of the story are brutal and disgusting. Not unexpected, but it was the effect that those events had on the characters that sticks with me. I was very, very glad to discover on the author’s website that she is continuing the series, because there is just so much left to uncover. And hopefully fix.

The setting definitely has the feeling of an updated Roman Empire, or similar analog of a place that started out with the best of intentions and went completely to hell in the handbasket. The center is so corrupt that it is obvious that it needs to topple, the only question is who will do the toppling? We aren’t there yet, but I hope that getting there will be at the heart of later books in the series.

The romance in this story is a relationship between equals, and I always love those. While Cade has the formal military training, Talia has learned in a school of very hard knocks, and is every bit his equal as a warrior. Different, but equally tough and strong. The difference is that he is a leader, where Talia has always fought alone. Part of the story here is not just about Cade and Talia finding their balance together, but also Talia learning to work as part of a unit.

The members of Cade’s unit are all very different individuals, but they have a team spirit that can overcome anything, including their own government. Seeing the way that they work together in spite of their differences is a treat.

But as much as I enjoyed the romance and the camaraderie, it’s the political situation that has kept me thinking about this book. The saying goes that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The Republic has become expert at silencing, suborning and ultimately killing good men (and women) so that they are not able to effect change. It’s hard to fight back when you’re dead.

They’ve tried to get Cade and his men killed in a military action to prevent them from fighting for change. We see them fight back at every turn, thinking that they are fighting the good fight.

Then suddenly they are. And it’s awesome.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Phoenix Inheritance by Corrina Lawson

phoenix inheritance by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #4
Length: 278 pages
Publisher: Samhain
Date Released: March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

To save their son, they might have to sacrifice their love—and their lives.

Ex-Navy SEAL Daz Montoya and rescue dog handler Renee Black have made a career out of saving people. But when their whirlwind affair resulted in pregnancy, Daz’s verbal fumble tore their budding relationship apart.

It’s been a tough eight years for Renee, raising Charlie alone with his autism-fueled impulsiveness, but she’s managed—until now. When she has to chase him to the edge of a cliff in a snowstorm, seeing the face of their rescuer is just the rotten cherry on top of an already rough day.

In the close confines of a snowbound cabin, Renee and Daz rediscover the heat still simmering between them. But while Renee welcomes Daz’s renewed determination to help Charlie however he can, she’s reluctant to trust him with her heart.

With the Phoenix Institute’s help, Renee and Daz discover their son’s gift for animal telepathy is real. And that to save him from old enemies that would kill to control him, they must join forces—and risk losing everything they’ve ever loved.

My Review:

Back in Issue 5 of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly I reviewed Corrina Lawson’s entire Phoenix Institute series to date. Because I can’t leave a job unfinished, and because I wanted to read the rest of the story, I’m back with a review of the final book in the series, Phoenix Inheritance.

When last we left our heroes…no that’s not quite right.

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonDaz Montoya has been part of the main sequence of The Phoenix Institute (Phoenix Rising, Phoenix Legacy, Ghost Phoenix) from the very beginning. But Daz doesn’t have any superpowers of his own. Daz was hired by the late and completely unlamented Lansing to both babysit firestarting telekinetic Alex and help Alex become the leader of a paramilitary team.

When Alex finally rebels against his psychopathic foster father in Phoenix Rising, Daz follows the kid he has trained, and leaves Lansing in their burning dust. As Alex has taken over the Institute, Daz has continued to lead the team.

But in Ghost Phoenix, Daz discovered just how difficult and deadly it can be to be the human pinball in a contest between two supers – and Daz has the hand-shaped burn scar to prove it.

Daz is used to being the biggest and baddest thing out there, and he’s having a damn hard time figuring out how to “level up” in a world where he is just a vulnerable human and his opponents can read his mind, control his body, or set him on fire with a thought. And when they heal in an instant, and he definitely doesn’t.

Daz has another big adjustment to make. While he was still a Navy SEAL, he very unofficially participated in the rescue of a downed plane filled with medical supplies and personnel headed for a refugee aid station. As part of this off-the-books search and rescue mission, he met Renee Black and her beautiful SAR dogs Thor and Loki.

The affair between Renee and Daz burned hot, and produced a child. But Daz couldn’t make the right words come out of his mouth to tell Renee he loved her, and Renee has Charlie without him. Even though Daz continues to meet his obligations where Renee and Charlie are concerned, he’s not the 24/7 parent that Renee is forced to be.

Daz is a part of Charlie’s life, but 2 weekends a month are not enough for him to absorb, or even accept, that his eight-year-old’s autism is real and that keeping Charlie mostly on track is wearing Renee down. No one can be on watch 24/7 indefinitely and not hit burnout.

Until a freak snowstorm and a feral cat conspire to get Daz back in Renee and Charlie’s lives long enough for a whole bunch of home truths to finally sink into his skull. It takes a whole host of crises to finally get Daz to accept Charlie exactly for who he is, and for him to figure out that in order for him to have a place in Renee’s life, he has to accept her as a full partner, and not someone he holds at arm’s reach.

And that Batman still has a place in the Justice League, even though he doesn’t have any superpowers of his own.

Escape Rating B: As much as I enjoyed Phoenix Inheritance, it felt like a story in the middle, and it leaves a lot of loose ends dangling regarding the Institute that I hope get picked up, and wrapped up, in a later book that does not currently seem to be on the drawing board.

The story between Renee and Daz also has a feeling of being “in the middle” because so much of their story, the mission where they met, is told in flashbacks that interrupt the story in the present. I found those flashbacks informative but a bit jarring. I was invested in the story in the present and felt like I was getting enough information about how they started that I didn’t need to see all the details – I was much more interested in how they were going to resolve their current problems.

Which are, admittedly, huge.

The biggest thing is that Daz keeps treating Renee as someone he needs to protect, instead of as someone who is right in there with him. He hasn’t let her into his life. And this is crucial, because Charlie says that animals talk to him telepathically, not that he uses that term. Renee believes Charlie is imagining what he wants to hear because he has a very powerful and inventive imagination. She doesn’t know that telepathy is real, but Daz does and doesn’t share that information.

Charlie’s potential telepathy puts him in danger from the same forces that are targeting the Phoenix Institute, and Daz doesn’t do a proper threat assessment because he just doesn’t want to admit that his son is autistic.

Of course, there is evil afoot, and that evil is after Charlie, just as they are after everyone connected with the Phoenix Institute. I feel so sorry for the poor cat that they use as both bait and trap, and I’m glad that Odin finds a much better home with Charlie – who really does understand him.

The issues that remained from Ghost Phoenix, that Rasputin and his gang of extra-fanatic crazies are after Alex and anyone connected with the Institute, are not resolved at the end of Phoenix Inheritance. While they managed to neutralize his local representative, that presence also made it apparent that there are plenty of tentacles left on this particular monster.

So the story ends with everyone currently safe, but with the sure and certain knowledge that evil is still out there and still has them in its sights. So even though the romance between Daz and Renee has reached a lovely Happy For Now, a happy ever after seems far outside everyone’s control.

I hope we find out how they neutralize Rasputin one of these days. This series deserves a fitting and final wrap.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: On a Cyborg Planet by Anna Hackett

on a cyborg planet by anna hackettFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #6
Length: 78 pages
Publisher: Anna Hackett
Date Released: December 21, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

After a vicious coup, cyborg Axton Saros, Prime of the planet of Centax, is trying to rebuild his world. Still recovering from his captivity and dark guilt, he won’t let anything get in his way. But a priceless artifact, stolen during the attack, is still missing and Axton wants it back. What he doesn’t want is the emotionless and infuriating Centax Security cyborg, Commander Xenia Alexander, heading the investigation.

Everybody knows CenSecs are the galaxy’s deadliest killers. So enhanced that their emotions are dampened to nothing. But Xenia’s been keeping a secret her entire life–her systems don’t work and she feels. Working with Axton to find the Codex Da Vinci, he makes every emotion in her flare to brilliant life, but to be the perfect CenSec, she must not succumb.

As they follow a trail of clues and booby traps, Axton vows to do everything he can to show his beautiful cyborg the pleasure she’s never experienced. Even if she fights him every step of the way. But as the hunt takes a deadly turn, their desire might be the only thing that can save Xenia from annihilation.

My Review:

on a rogue planet by anna hackettOn a Cyborg Planet is a direct follow up to the Phoenix Adventures story On a Rogue Planet (reviewed here). And while it isn’t necessary to read the entire Phoenix Adventures series in order to enjoy On a Cyborg Planet (although why wouldn’t you, the series is awesome) it probably helps continuity a LOT to read On a Rogue Planet first.

In Rogue Planet, Malin Phoenix and Xander Saros find an ancient Earth artifact and save Xander’s planet, Centax, from hostile invaders. It’s a fun story and a terrific human/cyborg romance.

But while Xander is out saving their world, his brother Axton Saros, the planetary leader of Centax, is being tortured for his security codes and secrets – which he does not give up, and Xander is finally able to send his best operative in to rescue his brother.

That operative is Commander Xenia Alexander of Centax Security. Xenia, like Xander in Rogue Planet, is a cyborg. Everyone knows that the implants that enhance the abilities of CenSecs (Centax Security members) inhibit the emotions of the CenSecs. The best CenSecs, like Xander and Xenia, are not supposed to be able to feel. Their implants supposedly filter out all emotion.

Most of the people on Centax seem to have some implants, but not even close to the degree that CenSecs do.

In Rogue Planet, Xander discovers that whatever he was told, or believed, about the lack of emotional capacity on the part of CenSecs was all a bunch of horsepucky. Because Xander very definitely loves Malin. Of course, he practically turned himself inside out trying to either not believe it was happening or fix it.

By the point of this story, Malin and Xander are definitely living their happily ever after on Centax. And it seems like Xander wants to make sure that his brother Axton finds the same happiness, no matter who it might be with.

Whether or not he knows that his brother is infatuated with his second-in-command or not, Xander definitely fixes them up. He assigns Xenia to Axton as his assistant and bodyguard, figuring that constant contact will break down the reserve on both their parts. Especially since Xander has always known that Xenia’s emotions were not suppressed. Xenia just learned to be a damn good actress.

Axton is hunting for one of the artifacts that were stolen while their planet was occupied by the disgustingly evil Rahl. Xenia is there to prevent him from setting off any remaining Rahl booby-traps, or at least to make sure he survives any he finds.

Neither of them has a clue that the traps were ingeniously designed to catch both of them. Or that Xenia’s awakened emotions are the only thing that can save her. But only if she loves Axton enough.

Escape Rating A-: This is a short novella, and it can afford to be. The worldbuilding has already been done in On a Cyborg Planet (Centax being the cyborg planet). All of the characters are introduced in the previous book.

The cyborgs remind me an awful lot of Data. They’ve been told that they are not supposed to feel, so they think they are broken when they do. Data was also told he didn’t have emotions, so he continued to believe that he needed an “emotion chip” to allow him to have feelings, even though his behavior shows that he has plenty of emotions all along. He just doesn’t know how to express them.

So we know all along that Xander feels quite a lot for his brother Axton, no matter how much he pretends that it is respect for their planetary leader and not simply love for the brother he likes and respects. Likewise, Xander knows that Xenia’s emotions have not been dampened. Even more important, he likes and respects her as a fellow officer. He also feels loyalty, which is yet another emotion.

Xenia rescued Axton at the lowest point in his life – saw him at his absolute worst. Even more important, she comforted him because she could tell he needed it. Those moments where she protected him from the world and gave him the strength to go forward have created a bond between the two of them. A bond that Axton wants to act on, and that Xenia fears will be her undoing.

It is beautiful to watch as that supposedly forbidden bond saves them both.

And the thought of a “First Lady” who can and will totally kick the ass of anyone who steps out of line is fantastic. I suspect it’s a talent that a lot of First Ladies would like to have.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.