Category: Speculative Fiction

Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52, #4
Published by Anna Hackett on 10th February 2019
Pages: 149
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three-half-stars

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers.

As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

‘Mission: Her Defense’ starts off as Kill Bill on steroids as cursed Japanese swords find themselves in the wrong hands, thus necessitating the need for Team 52 to step in. Though since it encroaches on Las Vegas Metropolitan Police turf, it means that Blair Mason and Luke Kincade cross paths (and later, body fluids) once again.

It’s not quite a rivalry between them that’s been sufficiently explained, but Blair/Luke’s fractious relationship is one that has been building for some time and is rather similar to Darcy Ward’s and Alastair Burke’s rival-to-lovers tale in the neighbouring ‘Treasure Hunter series’. Blair straddles the line between being fearless and foolhardy—the definition of bad-assery doesn’t necessarily have to extend to impulsively jumping into every fight scene—and there were too many moments when I thought ‘Slow down, woman, stop pushing away and stop being stupid!’ needed to be her mantra.

The story does start off awesomely exciting, though. With more blood-lust than the usual action blood-spilling scenes, incorporating mythology from Japanese sword-making, I was absorbed in the setup immediately, though it went a little flat for me later when the plausible scientific explanation that Hackett gave for the strange phenomenon occurring became a little too thick to swallow.

As with the typical Hackett read these days, there’s more than a hint of a quick slide into love (or lust?) before before both protagonists really get to know each other…but perhaps, the brevity of every story she puts out has made every pairing inevitably so, unless it has been one that has been hinted at over the course of several books. Still, I can’t deny that there are bits about Hackett’s other series that I miss more than her latest books, even if her imaginative writing is as strong as ever.

three-half-stars

Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon by Anna Hackett
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Pages: 143
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two-stars

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

As with every Anna Hackett book, ‘Touch of Eon’ is action-packed and a showcase of her wonderful imagination—it’s the main reason I always dive into her stories when they come out as a means of fond escapism.

The overall adventure is fun and I do see shades of all the pop culture syfy classic movies in it. The Eon world is a fascinating one, but I’d found the side-reveals—of the origins, their history—more interesting than a pairing that felt like a replication of the pairings that Hackett has been writing thus far.

I just wasn’t pulled into the characters at all; Lara Traynor’s boastful impudence and arrogance made her unlikeable from the start and the similarity the enemies-to-lovers vibe this story bears to Eve Traynor’s and Davion’s story (stubborn, super-human earth women fighting big strong eon warriors and taunting them) makes ‘Touch of Eon’ read like a copy of its predecessor save for the different challenges they go through. Throw in the instant love and attraction which happened at the speed of light between Lara and Caze and suddenly, two protagonists who never believed in relationships are pledged as mates and believers.

Essentially, the Eon series isn’t my favourite and I’m still remaining on the sceptical side of the fence with this.

two-stars

Ivan by Kit Rocha

Ivan by Kit RochaIvan by Kit Rocha
Series: Gideon's Riders, #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services on 28th March 2018
Pages: 378
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three-half-stars

As the sheltered princess of Sector One, Maricela’s life is defined by duty: to her people and to her family. Her wealth and influence have allowed her to build a better world, but they come with a price---the responsibility to secure political stability with a practical marriage. Maricela cherishes the idea of marrying for love, but there’s not much romance in the endless line of suitors interested only in prestige and power.

And her handsome, brooding new bodyguard isn’t helping the situation.
Ivan is the perfect, deadly warrior, a man trained from childhood to be the ultimate protector to the Rios family. His focus on keeping her safe is intense--and a little intoxicating. When the threat of danger cracks his icy control, Maricela realizes she’s not the only one fighting against temptation.

Ivan knows that the blood on his hands makes him unworthy of the pure-hearted princess. But from the first kiss, their forbidden affair feels inevitable. He can give her a glimpse of life outside her gilded cage and a lover who wants the woman instead of the crown. The only thing he can never do is promise her forever.
Because spurning her noble suitors to marry her bodyguard wouldn’t just be a scandal. It could set off a political firestorm that would tear Sector One apart.

Where has Kit Rocha been my entire life?

That may have been an exaggeration. This writing duo has only occasionally crossed my feed and I’d never really paid more than a cursory glance at what they’ve written.

Seduced by the blurb, I found that I loved the writing style immediately, despite having no knowledge of the world-building that Kit Rocha has done. Still, jumping straight into ‘Ivan’ was a bad idea.

Alluring and mysterious as this whole futuristic, dystopian world is—with biker-warriors mimicking the warrior Templars of old, a futuristic idea of royalty and competing sectors—, it was nothing but a struggle when characters from other books and more alarming details from a history I had no idea started slipping in and out, worsened by the insertions of different POVs at certain intervals.

Only Ivan’s and Maricela’s electric chemistry carried me through, as Rocha worked slowly through all the riders finding their HEA.

The pairing alone however, is an unexpectedly sweet one; both Ivan/Maricela weren’t what I thought they’d be at all and if I skimmed parts I didn’t fully understand, I sat absorbed in their slow-burn relationship that burned hot as it picked up.

If ‘Ivan’ didn’t really work for me, it was only because I lacked the the backdrop that the entire series would have provided. All it does however, is make me want to start from scratch.

three-half-stars

Sleight of Hand by Julie Rowe

Sleight of Hand by Julie RoweSleight of Hand by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #3
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 28th January 2019
Pages: 247
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four-stars

CDC nurse Joy Oshiro is stressed to the breaking point. College students are dying and no one knows why. And her new partner Dr. Gunner Anderson is frustratingly annoying--and sexy, but mainly just plain annoying--and proving difficult to avoid. He spent three years with Doctors Without Borders, and disillusioned is just the tip of his issues.

They’ll need to learn to trust one another if they have a chance at figuring out who is behind the attacks. She makes him laugh, makes him forget--for a little while. But each new clue keeps them one step behind the terrorists, with buildings and evidence being destroyed just as they near.

Now they’re in a race against time to not only find a cure but also to avoid becoming the next targets themselves.

I’ve been an avid follower of Julie Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force series from the beginning, but then again, I do get the thrills from biological warfare-type romances even if some parts always stretch my ability to keep the suspension of disbelief going.

‘Sleight of Hand’ juggles interagency politics, disease and a head-on plunge into outbreak and Rowe quite capably writes a suspenseful and tense story that had me enthralled from the start: an e-coli from beer that has all the frat houses on their knees is something I devoured with glee along with a mystery to solve.

I did mostly like Gunner Anderson and Joy Oshiro as they proved to be a no-nonsense working pair that fitted oddly but well, though their attraction seemed almost like instant love, sidelined as it was because of the outbreak.

I was however, rather bewildered by the rushed climax that didn’t quite feel like one after a fantastic build-up and an even quicker resolution that made the story feel unfinished when the last few events went from showing to telling. The case didn’t feel like it was resolved at all, in fact, apart from the protagonists recovering and getting their act together by the time I turned the last page.

The bad guys remained nebulous while the fall guy conveniently cracked and killed himself as the secondary characters who flitted in and out of the picture themselves became loose ends who disappeared into the background. For a romance, I understood that the focus stayed mainly on Gunner/Joy who battled their own demons, their pull towards each other and the rapidly developing outbreak that couldn’t seem to be contained, yet I was left tapping my e-reader impatiently to check if I’d actually missed a chapter or two in the end.

four-stars

Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett

Edge of Eon by Anna HackettEdge of Eon by Anna Hackett
Series: Eon Warriors, #1
Published by Anna Hackett on 9th December 2018
Pages: 225
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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.

Anna Hackett does write fun things; Eon Warriors is her latest series and comes off as a mash-up of her Galactic Gladiators series with the ever-popular apocalyptic Hell Squad one as future earth women—when humans finally come of age to travel and explore space in earnest—find themselves tangling with a race of Eon warriors. Who are naturally, buff, muscular, big and bonded with a symbiont that gives them a near-untouchable demeanour from the start.

The setup is intriguing of course: a criminal blackmailed into kidnapping a War Commander into helping earth save itself from an insectoid enemy, though that is far from achieved in this establishing book. A fair bit of ‘Edge of Eon’ deals with context and history, though there’s the usual enthusiastic inclusion of sex and action from the very start.

My own issues about Hackett’s writing do show up: the wrap-it-up-conveniently scenes when all hope seems lost, the lack of any sense of gravity (admittedly no one quite wants that in a romance where HEAs and magical saves should happen), the instant lust and how the supposedly kickarse heroine turned out to be an impulsively petulant teenager at times full of chest-puffing bravado that suspiciously resembled several strutting male lead characters in action movies.

But it didn’t meant I wasn’t eager to read the blueprint that will pretty much define the rest of the series: the ways of bridging the supposedly insurmountable gap between Earth people and a humanoid race, the mating process (the syfy-romance staple) and how it’s achieved—and that’s mostly through humans behaving badly to get the attention of a superior alien race.

I liked Hackett’s world-building and the way the narrative arc revolved around the mysterious planets of Eon and their entire civilisation. There’re cool bits to enjoy, which I certainly did, but I’m still crossing my fingers that the next few books won’t quite follow this pattern to a ‘T’ nonetheless.

Captain Rourke by Helena Newbury

Captain Rourke by Helena NewburyCaptain Rourke by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 1st September 2017
Pages: 440
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three-stars

Captain Rourke. A brooding Scottish treasure hunter who carries a sword, lives on his boat and bears the scars of a shark attack on his muscled torso. He’s the only man who can help me. A mystery disease is attacking my family and the only cure lies on a pirate ship that sank three hundred years ago. Rourke’s a loner, determined to push everyone away...but when he looks at me, he melts my clothes right off my body.

I’m a small-town girl from Nebraska. But to save my family I’ll have to take to the sea with Rourke and enter a whole new world of smugglers, sunken gold and deadly storms. In the close confines of his boat, there’s no way I can ignore that smoldering gaze, or the way my legs go weak whenever he takes hold of me. He claims he’s no hero yet he protects me like no other. ..can I save him from the pain that’s tearing him apart? I’m from the prairies; he’s from the sea. But I need to learn his world, fast, because others want what’s on that sunken ship...and they’ll kill both of us to get it.

‘Captain Rourke’ captured my imagination in a way that few contemporary romances these days do: it felt mortifyingly like an old bodice-ripper pirate romance (the sword’s included as well) only with updated technology, a mysterious and science-defying genetic illness, treasure hunts, grizzled (and clichéd) bad guys rushing after gold and multiple instances of heaving bosoms, tight nipples, bare chests and fluttering groins.

Yet Helene Newbury pulls this off with that panache typically associated with such pirate acts anyway and it’s sort of…fascinating to go through the book with a rather naive heroine who romanticises 17th century pirate affairs, a seemingly impossible (and hard to believe) quest and a jaded, crippled captain who keeps reminding himself to push away from the woman he wants.

Apart from Newbury’s trademark use of the protagonists’ exaggerated lust and extreme sexual reactions to each other, ‘Captain Rourke’ is quite the audacious (sometimes cheesy and incredible) take on the treasure-hunting tale. Repetitive phrases however, do make the story longer than I thought necessary: Rourke’s insistence that he’s just waiting to die at sea and that Hannah deserves someone better than him; both seem to have overly long meditative monologues about how their bodies stir when they are near each other, just to begin with.

The sheer amount of action makes this an easy story to go through. I did cringe many times, reminded as I was from time to time of the historical romances that I used to read quite a long, long time ago where clichés knew no bounds. But this works solely on actively suspending any sense of disbelief, so leave every last shred of reality at the door before you start.

three-stars

Saving the Princess by Helena Newbury

Saving the Princess by Helena NewburySaving the Princess by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 430
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She's a princess. I'm a 6'6" former Marine who grew up on a farm. I know I've got no business being around someone like her. But she's so gorgeous, so gentle and sweet, I can't look away. Then someone tries to kill her. And for the first time in years, I find something worth fighting for.

She's no spoiled brat. She's brave and smart...she's the leader her country needs. But powerful people want her dead. To keep her safe, I have to go on the run with her. But every time I say "your highness," all I can think about is kissing those sweet lips and tearing that dress right off her. Neither of us can resist...but if I let her get close, she's going to see how broken I am inside. As her country spins towards war, I'm the only one who can protect her. I'm no prince. But I *will* save my princess.

I’m typically hesitant to read about fictional countries and royalty because my own mental map of Europe is set in reality as it is. Implausibility is what I struggle with the most in such romances that involve contemporary aristocrats who hail from yet another European country that doesn’t exist and the hard-to-believe factor shoots way up. So ‘Saving the Princess’ was a book that I waded in softly, softly, even when the world of difference between Kristina and Garrett became blindingly painful to read about, even as we’re plunged straight into the aftermath of an ill-fated flight that brings a jaded American ex-Marine into the path of an innocent princess.

I did think this imbalance between them needed some addressing however, at least for them to be considered equals before I could buy into them as a pairing. Helena Newbury’s enthusiasm in highlighting the rough-hewn vs. the royal, the naive innocent vs. the cynical, the protector and the victim—essentially polar opposites—also had the unwitting effect of creating a huge and nearly insurmountable gap in terms of experience between Garrett and Kristina.

Instead, there were paragraphs dedicated to their initial and relentless attraction and how much Garrett and Kristina wanted to get hot and heavy with each other (too many long descriptions of bulging biceps, smooth skin, how they wanted to rip each other’s clothes off), which detracted from the growing emotional connection that could have been more clearly brought out. So there was instant lust, but also unbending loyalty from the start and not a small amount of wanting body parts wanting to merge and wobble, but there was also a fairytale element in here as Garrett and Kristina were repeatedly put in situations where she simply needed constant rescuing.

The surprising thing however, was that it didn’t just end there. Where most books end after a building conflict, Newbury pushes it a step further with a whodunnit-mystery, adding impossibility for both Garrett and Kristina to be together after they left US soil to face yet more insurgents in her home country. As absorbing as some scenes were, ultimately, I still had a problem with the believability factor: some events and circumstances were too coincidental and too easy at times to pave the way forward for both Kristina and Garrett. By the end, I finished the book with an eyebrow still cocked in reluctant scepticism instead of waving a ‘kerchief saying ‘long live the princess (and Garrett)’.