Category: Action/Adventure

Guardian by Anna Hackett

Guardian by Anna HackettGuardian by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Published by Anna Hackett on March 6th 2018
Pages: 139
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three-stars

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

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

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

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

Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiator series—like any other series of hers—are quick but and adventure-filled reads that, for the duration of the hundred-ish pages, have the arm-chair-travelling ability to immerse you straight into this desert world that expands as quickly as the universe itself with each book she puts out.

Back in Cathargo, ‘Guardian’ pairs former New York detective Dayna and über-rich (but cold and near-unfeeling) Casino man Rillian together, though Hackett gives a twist on the use of symbionts that gives their relationship an added dimension. The murders of Rillian’s old lovers oddly put Dayna in her element given her background, though it is the similarities of their physical makeup (post-capture and rescue) along with the pressing mission to find other Earth women that give the story its forward momentum, along with the copious amount of sexy times and the somewhat tiresome bit of instalove that Hackett writes in to satisfy even the most voracious of romance readers.

The brevity of ‘Guardian’ however, does short-change the richer world-building Hackett could have done on symbiosis; I would have loved to know more about the symbionts and the different ways they function besides invading human or humanoid hosts in Hackett’s Cathargo world at least—to what extent are they parasitic or psychic? How malevolent of a presence can they be, or are do they work in a co-operative fashion in human bodies? How many kinds are there and what forms do they come in?

My own niggling questions aside, ‘Guardian’ is a pretty decent addition to the series. Hackett’s setup of future pairings—thus far it’s a rather predictable mix of alien men with earth women—is hinted at again once more but damn if those aren’t the best hooks for her upcoming books.

three-stars

Quake by Tracey Alvarez

Quake by Tracey AlvarezQuake by Tracey Alvarez
on March 9th 2018
Pages: 236
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three-stars

He’ll shake her foundations…

Ana Grace is living a single mother’s worst nightmare. Separated from her two kids by a catastrophic earthquake, she’s trapped in her office building with a man she’s only just met. He’s a sexy former soldier, and possibly the only man able to help her navigate the dangerous landscape home.

Daniel Calder is tired of failing people he’s tried to help, but since Ana is his younger sister’s boss, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. That rock keeps shifting under his feet, shaking his determination not to become emotionally involved with another damsel in distress.

But when an unforeseen enemy rises from a city in chaos, Ana Grace and her family are in the crosshairs. There’s so much more at stake than just their hearts, and the clock is ticking.

‘Quake’ resonated with me in more ways than one. Apart from the devastating quakes that have stolen the headlines in New Zealand over the past few years, that Tracey Alvarez has chosen to set her book in Wellington—a place which I adore—and its familiar surrounds made me walk in these footsteps once again. It was all too easy to imagine the windiest city in the world swept away in the tsunami that resulted because of the fictional quake, the landslides and mudflow and the aftershocks crumbling everything that I remember all too well.

‘Quake’ is a departure from Alvarez’s ‘Due South’ and ‘Far North’ series, and I was beyond intrigued (but eager) to see how she’d tackle this book. Here, Alvarez’s distinct rom-com voice is replaced with a more sombre, direct narrative, though it’s no less engaging, well-written and realistic, more so since it’s about an area built on a faultline that has and is likely to see more of these quakes to come. The small bit of suspense does not entirely kick in until later, with the first half being more of a catalogue of how the desperate survive, though the insinuation that there are those who would take advantage of chaos to further their own malicious agendas is a brilliant idea, if a little baffling in this instance. Still, Ana’s and Daniel’s accidental, longer-than-expected involvement is only that is mostly believable, given the adrenaline and tension of a natural disaster forging stronger bonds.

It was admittedly harder to get invested in this pairing than I thought. If Daniel was the hero I thought he was, Ana’s appalling behaviour and emotional cowardice didn’t make me a fan of hers at all. The numerous times she pushed Daniel away and hurt him made me think that a smack was in fact, sorely needed, despite the spurts of courage and bravery that she showed while making her way home to her children. Painting Daniel with the same brush as her father and ex was unfair and she knew it but ultimately, Ana’s repetitive but brutal actions towards him—all the way to the very end—made her a lot less easy to like than Daniel whose loyalty and devotion seemed misplaced and undeserved.

My reservations about Ana however, shouldn’t be a deterrent to those who like disaster-type stories with romance and a hint of suspense thrown in. There is so much that’s unique about ‘Quake’’s premise but my own bias about New Zealand is probably showing here; Alvarez’s assured and confident writing just makes the pot that much sweeter.

three-stars

Levi by Anna Hackett

Levi by Anna HackettLevi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #15
Published by Anna Hackett on January 30th 2018
Pages: 130
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And…Hell Squad returns with a bang, and quite literally so. I have a soft spot for this apocalyptic world set in the smoking ruins surrounding Sydney, as unbreakable bonds are forged—mostly with hot sex—in the aftermath of an alien invasion, by people who would never have crossed paths otherwise.

Anna Hackett’s series advances the whole narrative arc slowly and ‘Levi’—the 15th book in the series—takes a tiny step further in unveiling new developments in this ruined world: the Gizzida strengthen their hold on earth with their strange technology as the humans fight back slowly but surely. There isn’t much of a huge leap forward here, or a turning point that throws the entire series into a spin, except for the creation of a situation that is tailored to push Levi King and Chrissy Hagen together. The ride is as always, nonetheless, an action-packed and fun one, as are the hints of the couples to come in the next few HS books.

Like most series I read however, there’ll always be characters I like more than others and unfortunately, Levi King wasn’t one of them. Simply put, I’m way too sceptical about over-the-top bad-boys and Levi, with his manwhoring, presumptuous ways didn’t really win me over. That he suddenly sought something committed with Chrissy only because she challenged him still left me wondering about his staying power (blame the daddy-issues here), apart from the possessive vibe he often emitted.

But Chrissy…be still my heart. Hackett, wrote a champion with the marvellous, tough, sassy Chrissy, who was more than a match for Levi, in her stubbornness and refusal to give an inch to his crude pursuit. I loved her grit and her strength, cheered her in every way and was almost sorry when she finally gave into Levi.

That said, Hackett’s HS books are always an easy read; too many of her books in this series feel as though they end too quickly—but ‘Levi’ seemed the perfect length this time around, which definitely made it more satisfying than usual.

Crashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett

Crashed on an Ice World by Anna HackettCrashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett
Series: The Phoenix Adventures #9
Published by Anna Hackett Pages: 125
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three-stars

He’s her boss. She’s his best friend. These two deep-space convoy security specialists are fighting their simmering attraction…until a starship crash on a deadly ice world changes everything.

Elana Korra loves her security job as a medic on the convoy ship, the Sky Nomad…except for the fact that she’s in love with her boss. Rynan is tough, loyal, and protective, and she knows he will never cross the line with her despite her deepest fantasies. But one scorching kiss sets up a smoldering tension, and as they head off into uncharted space on a treasure hunt to find an invaluable old Earth treasure, Elana knows it is time to make a change—get Ry to admit how he feels about her or leave. But a deadly attack leaves Ry and Elana on a damaged, out-of-control ship hurtling toward an unforgiving ice world.

Rynan Phoenix lives for his job of keeping the Phoenix Deep-Space Convoy safe. The nightmare of his childhood has taught him to steer well clear of romantic relationships, and he’s forced himself to ignore Elana’s compact body and gorgeous face. But when they find themselves stranded on an ice world with passengers to protect and space pirates hunting them down, Ry is forced to confront just how he feels about the most important woman in his life.

Ry and Elana will need all of their training in order to keep themselves alive. As they find hints to the old Earth treasure, their desire turns hotter and deeper…but then they discover that far more dangerous things call this ice planet home…

I got into this one with trepidation, not because of Anna Hackett’s world-building—that one’s flawless, imaginative and has a tendency to suck you in no matter what book series Hackett is publishing at any time. The search for a Viking treasure trove on an ice planet, the chase by space mercenaries, the ultimate find…let’s just say it’s an exhilarating ride, the way any Indiana Jones movie is.

But if I found the treasure-hunting adventure fascinating, the relationship between Rynan and Elana was less so, simply because this dealt with the unrequited love of a woman who had gone years putting her dreams aside for her best friend who didn’t want to see her as anything more, yet hooked up with everyone and anyone in this time, right in her face. All this because of his mummy-issues that he couldn’t get over, and also used as excuses for his lifestyle and behaviour.

That alone nearly made me put down the book several times in the story.

In ‘Crashed on an Ice World’, several pivotal moments changed this holding pattern, though apparently all it took was the word of an old woman to make Rynan realise that he had been in love with Elana all along, to suddenly want to be all-in with her. Elana quitting to finally move on with her life, was still not enough for Rynan to risk stepping past that boundary. This ‘conversion’ was way too unbelievable, but apparently a leopard could change its spots, as Rynan went from commitment-phobic to all-committed in the space of second…free to suddenly take up with Elana at the flip of the switch.

I wish I could recommend this one more, but the pairing and the convenience of it just made me cringe. The whole treasure-hunting journey kept me reading however—it’s a very, very short read that tops out at 125 pages—though I found it simply hard to get on board with a protagonist who’d for so long, wanted the woman in front of him, but shoved it aside for other women.

three-stars

Rogue by Anna Hackett

Rogue by Anna HackettRogue by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Published by Anna Hackett on November 28th 2017
Pages: 144
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four-stars

Anna Hackett’s ‘Rogue’ is in fact, a collection of 2 stories (and 2 pairings) fitted into the typical length of her book, which is kind of a surprise considering how her Galactic Gladiators series has hit its stride. Still, ‘Rogue’ is as always, an adventure-filled book that follows a certain pattern that Hackett subscribes to: a pairing that is cemented through the undertaking of a massive quest—typically a search for something or someone—in which sparks fly, and love eventually comes along.

I’m a little uncertain about the short length of this novella duo—most of my other reviews of Hackett’s books often gripe about length and/or development of plot or relationships—though it’s easy to say as always, that there’s a lot packed into the 70-odd pages allotted to each couple here. For something already so short, Hackett’s couples do run the risk of instalove and I did get the feeling that things got hot and heavy way too quickly (along with the revelation that they’re falling in love with each other, which leaves me feeling sceptical) despite the slight buildup in the previous books.

‘Rogue’, for its 2 novellas, magnifies this problem of believability (I’m just speaking pairing-wise), but it isn’t to say that the ride isn’t a fun one. It’s wild, crazy and showcases the author’s sheer imaginative power that always brings to mind the great adventure movies with the backdrop of an epic syfy series. And obviously, I’m left still wanting more.

four-stars

War Games by Jess Anastasi

War Games by Jess AnastasiWar Games by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on December 11th 2017
Pages: 343
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four-stars

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

‘War Games’ closes Jess Anastasi’s ‘Valiant Knox’ series and I’ve obviously been waiting a while to get my paws on it, ever since I sniffed out the tension between Cameron McAllister and Theresa Brennan in the last book. In a nutshell, mutual dislike best characterises Bren’s and Cam’s relationship for the past decade, for mistaken reasons that have them mostly avoiding each other when they can.

With a strong element of pride and prejudice working here means that they start off cool, distant and rocky, until a downed pilot pushes them into close confines and forces them to reevaluate their grudges. But Bren and Cam are likeable characters who don’t generally play games—hard to do so during war when more important things matter—; both have a core of compassion and integrity that I’ve come to associate with the standout protagonists of syfy-romance, so it isn’t hard to get into their developing relationship even as the pace amps up towards the end.

The enemies-to-lovers (with frenemies being the state in between) is one of my favourite tropes, but apart from that, ‘War Games’, like every other book that Anastasi writes, is akin watching an action-packed, hour-long episode of a tv series merrily chugging its way through the season, as a primary conflict specific to the episode plays out and is by and large, resolved by the time the end credits roll. That said, ‘War Games’ isn’t quite suitable as a standalone read, considering there’s a whole universe and a bit of history behind the warring factions, so it could be a hard book to follow if you’re starting straight here.

What I’ve always loved about the Valiant Knox’s series is that the books are very easy to read, or maybe it’s because I’ve been following this from the get-go, when I was still high off my syfy addiction. Anastasi’s books are typically pitched at a level I can enjoy and follow without getting too confused, which I can’t always say of the detail-suffused and complex worlds of several syfy or fantasy epics that I’ve tried to sink my teeth into.

Still, it’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to a series that I like very much, even when the curtain finally falls on every couple’s HEA several years later.

four-stars

Beast by Anna Hackett

Beast by Anna HackettBeast by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
on October 31st 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

Vek—the blue man/beast who has been roaring and growling his way into the hearts of Anna Hackett’s readers since the series introduced him—finally takes centre stage in this novella, with a woman who has the strange power to soothe him.

It’s nothing less than a thrilling ride with several surprisingly revelations along the way, as Hackett’s imaginary Cathargo (a mix of an ancient gladiatorial theatre in a dusty Star-Wars world with the technology of Bladerunner) springs to life yet again with an enthusiastic expansion of this odd place and the mad number of species that populate it. This far down the series, Galactic Gladiators has definitely gotten better and more enthralling as Hackett’s world-building expands—which possibly makes many of her books difficult to enjoy as standalones—as ‘earth people’, post-capture after the raid of a space station near Jupiter, find themselves in situations too alien (pun intended) for them to resist while finding love on the way.

There were many parts of ‘Beast’ that I liked, and the action and the secondary characters populating the universe notwithstanding, Vek and Mia actually turn out to be a pairing that’s probably the most unusual and heartrending thus far. Hackett proves that Vek is so much more than a killing machine with a sad past, and that with a shave and haircut, along with the love and care of a pint-sized human, is just as redeemable and deserving of a HEA as any of her other characters.

four-stars